Training camp and preseason games can be a feeing-out process of sorts for players on the roster bubble, with coaches setting standards and figuring out those guys can meet them.
It’s a little different for Bears undrafted free agent offensive linemen Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher. Both were recruited by and played for Harry Hiestand at Notre Dame, and are now re-united with their college offensive line coach with the Bears. So there’s no feeling-out process for these guys.
“I know what to expect from them, so if they come short of that then I know why right away,” Hiestand said. “The standards I have for them I’ve already built. I’m learning what everybody else can do, the young guys. I know what they can do. The standard for them is set and they need to match it every day.”
Both Bars and Mustipher played all but three offensive snaps during Thursday’s preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, giving each an extended opportunity to meet that standard. For Bars, the night had a little extra meaning, given it was his first game since tearing his ACL and MCL on Sept. 30, 2018 against Stanford.
Bars was cleared to practice back in June for veteran minicamp, and hasn’t missed a day since — even after he was carted off with a knee contusion during a training camp practice.
“You don’t have much time at this level to think about your knee, especially as the course of a play is going on, let alone a preseason game,” Bars said. “So I wasn’t thinking about it at all.”
Still, Hiestand threw a little cold water on Bars’ readiness in the wake of his knee injury, which dropped him from being as high as a mid-round draft pick to being an undrafted free agent.
“He’s not in good enough shape — he’s not in good football shape yet,” Hiestand said. “It’s just the progression of doing this stuff over and over when your body starts to fatigue and getting the balance back, he spent all that time trying to get that leg back to equal with everything. Everything’s not firing the same way. It’s still adapting. He’s gotta keep pushing that.”
Bars, though, has an opportunity to make the Bears’ 53-man roster. The team guaranteed just $90,000 to veteran reserve Ted Larsen, meaning he’s not guaranteed a place — though Larsen, notably, started in place of Kyle Long at right guard on Thursday. Bars is part of a group of interior offensive linemen battling to make the roster, but his upside is intriguing — especially once he’s back in football shape, which he said he will be by the end of the preseason.
If Bars is what plenty of talent evaluators thought he would be prior to that injury last September, the Bears might have a tough time sneaking him on to their practice squad. Bars knows his film is his resume, and while he wants to make the Bears’ roster, he knows there are 31 other teams that could pick him up if he doesn’t.
For now, though, Bars was happy to be able to play in a game again, with three more on the horizon before cut-down day.
“So much fun being out there, playing again,” Bars said. “I really enjoyed myself and very glad I was able to keep playing.”