Bears

Could Alex Bars solve the Bears' growing tackle problem?

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USA Today

Could Alex Bars solve the Bears' growing tackle problem?

INDIANAPOLIS — Three years ago, Harry Hiestand needed Alex Bars to play tackle. The then-Notre Dame offensive line coach had a hole to fill after Ronnie Stanley left for the NFL, and with Mike McGlinchey locked in to one starting gig, Hiestand hoped his former four-star recruit could succeed as a right tackle. 

“I think for what we need for our team, he definitely needs to play tackle,” Hiestand said at the time. “We need another guy that can play tackle so he’s being pushed in that role right now. … But he’s a very good guard, too. He’s a very flexible guy.”

The point of bringing up this quote from an old media availability at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex in South Bend is this: Hiestand, now the Bears' offensive line coach, needed Bars to play tackle Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts

With four-year NFL veteran T.J. Clemmings carted to the locker room with a right leg injury late in the second quarter of Saturday’s game at Lucas Oil Stadium, and with second-year tackle Rashaad Coward already out with an elbow injury, the Bears suddenly had a red-line need at tackle. Cornelius Lucas, a five-year veteran, was badly beat numerous times in the first half, which didn’t feel like an anomaly based on his prior preseason performance. Bradley Sowell, the team’s backup swing tackle for the last two seasons, was moved to tight end this spring, and shed plenty of weight to make that transition.  

So the Bears called on Bars, who last played tackle in 2016 with Notre Dame, to play left tackle for two quarters. The result was notably positive. 

“I thought he did a great job,” Nagy said. “I was happy for him. You never know what you’re going to get, but he does have experience playing at Notre Dame there at that position. You could see that come out, which was good.”

Bars had already made a strong push to make the Bears’ roster over the last month as a guard, the position he played at Notre Dame following that 2016 season before a torn ACL and MCL ended his 2018 season prematurely — and knocked him from being a mid-round draft prospect to undrafted free agent. Showing the Bears he can play tackle should only help his case to survive the cut.

Still, two quarters of playing tackle against mostly third-stringers won't necessarily lead the Bears to trust Bars in a similar spot when the games matter in the regular season. 

The good news for the Bears is starting left tackle Charles Leno Jr. has proven to be one of the team’s most durable players over the last few years — he played every offensive snap in 2016 and 2017, and only didn’t in 2018 because Nagy removed most of his team’s starters during a relatively meaningless Week 17 game against the Minnesota Vikings. Right tackle Bobby Massie played all 16 games for the Bears in 2018, though he did miss a single game in both 2016 and 2017. 

But the Bears’ depth behind Leno and Massie feels like a problem. Bars, at the least, offered a glimmer of hope Saturday night that he could be the solution to it. 

“When you got some of your linemen on the sideline coming up to you that aren’t playing telling you man, he’s really doing well,” Nagy said, “you know he stands out.”

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Here's what the 2020 NFL draft TV broadcast could look like

Here's what the 2020 NFL draft TV broadcast could look like

The 2020 NFL draft will take place as scheduled on April 23-25 despite the nationwide social distancing campaign enacted to combat the outbreak of COVID-19. 

The NFL canceled the three-day party in Las Vegas and the league won't hold any public events to celebrate the players or the teams, but the show will go on in a much different way.

NBC Sports' Peter King outlined how this year's draft will likely be broadcast, which will be a familiar sight for anyone who's working from home or paying attention to how television has adapted to these challenging times:

If you’ve done Zoom video conferencing, or you’ve watched recent nightly newscasts, maybe you’ve seen eight or 10 people on the laptop screen or the TV all ready to be called on by a host. Imagine the same thing on draft night. The NFL will send out about 50 portable camera kits with microphones to top prospects and college coaches, with better-than-FaceTime quality, so NFL draft coverage will be able to bring in, say, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow from the family home outside Athens, Ohio, when/if he’s the first pick of the Bengals. Then Burrow will be able to do his media availability with the Cincinnati press, and whatever other one-on-ones he chooses to do.

It'll be a stark contrast to how the NFL draft is traditionally conducted. From the days of Radio City Music Hall in New York City to the traveling roadshow it's become in recent years, the league has done a remarkable job turning its biggest offseason event into arguably the biggest event in the sport aside from the Super Bowl.

Diehard fans of the draft will enjoy the broadcast regardless of whatever form it takes. Whether it's a red-carpet event or a zoom-style meeting, the teams will still pick their players and fans will celebrate (or loathe) the selections. The casual observer may not be as impressed, however. The emotions of draft day, especially when players realize their life-long dream by walking across the stage and bearhugging Goodell, will be lost. At least, there will be less of it.

Sure, watching prospects celebrate with their families in the comfort of their own home will be fun, but the cloud of what really matters -- the coronavirus and the devastation its causing across the globe -- will be unavoidable. The setting of this year's draft will be a constant reminder of it, too.

But the show must go on (apparently). And if the NFL has proven anything over the years, it's that the league knows how to take advantage of every opportunity it has to captivate an audience. 

Maybe, just maybe, the best thing the draft has to offer fans this year is a much-needed distraction from the stress and anxiety of the real world. Don't bet against the NFL accomplishing that goal. 

Bears hold pre-draft meeting with SIU safety Jeremy Chinn

Bears hold pre-draft meeting with SIU safety Jeremy Chinn

The Bears have a need at safety alongside Eddie Jackson, and while Deon Bush was re-signed to a one-year deal to presumably replace Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the starting lineup, GM Ryan Pace may decide the 2020 NFL draft offers a better option.

One safety who fits the profile as a physical in-the-box defender is Southern Illinois' Jeremy Chinn. The 6-foot-3, 221-pounder wowed at the NFL Combine when he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and lept 41 inches in the vertical jump, testing scores that confirmed the elite athleticism he displays on tape.

The Bears took notice and their interest in the small-school standout is real. Chicago held a pre-draft meeting with Chinn, albeit via Facetime, in an effort to learn more about the local prospect, a source told NBC Sports Chicago.

Chinn finished 2019 with 71 tackles, 2.5 for loss,  four interceptions and three pass breakups. He was a do-it-all defender who's been comp'd as a discount version of Clemson's Isaiah Simmons.

Unlike Simmons, there's a chance Chinn will be available when the Bears are on the clock at No. 43 overall. If he is, expect Pace, who has an affinity for small-school players, to pull the trigger.