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.”