LAKE FOREST – It was both the best and worst experience of center Doug Kramer’s football journey.
On the one hand, he ran onto the field at Soldier Field wearing a Bears uniform. On the other hand, his foot got rolled up on and he suffered an injury that set him out for the rest of the 2022 season.
A year ago, Kramer made his preseason NFL debut for the Bears, just a few months after being selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft by general manager Ryan Poles. A Hinsdale native, Kramer took the field in front of friends and family for the Aug. 13 preseason opener against Kansas City. Wearing the orange and blue of the Chicago Bears was a dream come true.
“I had been dreaming of that moment for a really long time and for it to happen on that day, it was obviously really tough,” Kramer told Shaw Local now, nearly a year later.
Kramer suffered a season-ending foot injury. His rookie season hit the brakes before it ever really got started.
Kramer, now 25, came to the Bears last year following six seasons at Illinois, where he started 48 games at center while taking advantage of the COVID-19 bonus year. He was previously a three-year varsity player at Hinsdale Central.
Last year, the Bears were proclaiming all five starting positions along the offensive line as up for grabs. The Bears had signed Lucas Patrick to be their starting center. But when Patrick suffered a thumb injury that required surgery just days into training camp, the center position was especially wide open.
Despite being a rookie, Kramer was in the mix. He saw some reps with the first-team offense, along with Sam Mustipher. That made the injury all the more unfortunate. Mustipher wound up winning the job.
Instead of repping on the football field, Kramer found himself learning in the classroom. Though he missed the entire season, he was still present for position meetings, taking notes and learning from Patrick and Mustipher and the rest of the O-line.
Mustipher, who is now with the Ravens, started 16 games at center last year, even after the Bears tried to replace him with Patrick. Kramer learned a lot from watching Mustipher’s resiliency and his approach to the game.
“You’ve got to be ready for when your chance comes,” Kramer said. “Anything can happen. You really just have to take it day by day and the moment that’s in front of you, that’s what you need to attack.”
That’s a good attitude to have for a center who now finds himself likely third on the depth chart. The Bears shifted veteran Cody Whitehair from guard back to center, where he played earlier in his career. Kramer, who is fully healthy now, is having to battle with Whitehair and Patrick.
“I need to improve in a lot of ways,” Kramer said. “Obviously, first and foremost, just play hard, which is something that I’ve kind of hung my hat on my entire career – leaving it all out there on the field. Offensive line, being technically sound is massive. So just improving in all the techniques and really just locking in and competing.”
Even if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster out of training camp, Kramer seems like the type of player the Bears would try to keep around on the practice squad. They drafted him for a reason.
And, like Kramer said, anything can happen.