suntimes
ADMIRABLE 
Weather Updates

Oklahoma’s Ikard may be wise pick if Garza leaves Bears

Updated: February 25, 2014 12:50PM



INDIANAPOLIS — Football only was part of the conversation when Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard had a one-on-one chat with Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“My meeting with coach Kromer at the combine was very laid-back,” Ikard said. “We talked about his family, my family and told some pretty entertaining stories.”

Why would Kromer entertain such a cordial visit?

If the Bears are unable to re-sign center Roberto Garza — “It’s a tough business,” coach Marc Trestman said when asked about the pending free agent at the combine — there will be a considerable hole right in the middle of the offensive line.

The Bears re-signed center Taylor Boggs (along with safety Derrick Martin) to a one-year contract Monday. But Boggs — who made his NFL debut last season — might not develop into the long-term solution.

Even if Garza is re-signed, an eventual successor must be found, especially with the rest of the starters on the offensive line (Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills) in place for at least the next three seasons.

“I am aware of the Bears’ need for a [guard/center], and I made it very clear to coach Kromer that I would love to play for him,” Ikard said. “It would be an honor to play for the most storied program in professional football history.”

Kromer is very familiar with Ikard, who started 50 of 52 career games and was a three-time first-team All-Big 12 selection.

Kromer’s son, Zach, is a student-coach at Oklahoma, and Ikard said they have “a good friendship outside of football.” Ikard first met Kromer when he was with the New Orleans Saints through former Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton, a close friend of Kromer’s.

Ikard might be best known for his part in Oklahoma’s innocent “PastaGate,” where the school’s compliance department self-reported an NCAA secondary violation in which three student-athletes were served “excessive” pasta at a graduation banquet last May.

“We had to donate $5 to a charity in order to make sure we were eligible to play for the 2013 season,” the 6-4, 304-pounder said. “I chose to donate it to the Lupus Foundation of America because one of my closest friends, Daniel Orton, lost his mother to lupus when we were seniors in high school.”

The media ate up “PastaGate,” and Ikard ended up receiving hundreds of dollars worth of food from Olive Garden to share with other players at the combine.

“The president of Olive Garden, Dave George, actually called me and wished me luck the night before the combine drills,” Ikard said. “PastaGate has been really entertaining for everyone involved and brought some much-needed humor to a very stressful process.”

It worked as Ikard put together a strong performance. He recorded the best times among all offensive linemen in the three-cone drill (7.30 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.37 seconds).

“I think those times helped answer any questions people had about my movement skills,” said Ikard, who played in the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. “Hopefully, it gave coaches and scouts a better idea of my ability to move in space and change direction.”

The Bears still want to re-sign Garza. Trestman praised everything about him, saying, “We believe he should finish his career with the Bears.”

But Ikard, the fifth-best center in NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock’s rankings, could be tough to pass on in the late rounds after the Bears address their defensive needs.

Ikard enjoys the responsibilities that come with being a center. And he has the mental makeup for it, graduating with special distinction and a 4.0 GPA in multidisciplinary studies (medical-sciences focus).

On the field, Ikard said the Bears’ zone-blocking schemes fit him. And Chicago might fit him, too.

“My brother [Sam] actually lives in Chicago,” Ikard said. “It would be awesome to be close to him as a member of the Bears organization.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.