Longshots: Bears lineman Alex Bars continues roster push in first game since torn ACL, MCL at Notre Dame

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Longshots: Bears lineman Alex Bars continues roster push in first game since torn ACL, MCL at Notre Dame

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.” 

Should the Bears trade for this Ryan Pace player?

Should the Bears trade for this Ryan Pace player?

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks wants out of L.A. It's no secret the Rams are trying to trade him, and he expressed his desire to be traded on Twitter on Friday.

The Bears have a need in their offense for a speed wide receiver, and Cooks has been one of the most explosive weapons at the position throughout his career.

Prior to last season's offensive meltdown in Los Angeles, Cooks recorded four-straight 1,000-yard seasons and averaged more than 15 yards per catch in three of those years. He's still only 26 years old and has plenty of juice left in his legs to offer his next team a similar level of production; he would be a dynamic complement to Allen Robinson and would round out Chicago's wide receiver corps.

And here's the thing: we know Ryan Pace loves his former Saints. He just rewarded Jimmy Graham with a two-year, $16 million contract despite a market that likely wouldn't have valued his services anywhere near that amount.

But Graham was one of Pace's guys from his days in New Orleans, and so is Cooks.

The Saints traded a first- and third-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft to move up for Cooks (they moved from No. 27 to No. 20 to select him). Pace was New Orleans' Director of Player Personnel at the time; his voice was a powerful one in the decision to acquire Cooks.

The biggest impediment to making a move for Cooks is his contract. He signed a five-year, $81 million deal with the Rams in 2018 and has a $16.8 million cap hit in 2020. With Robinson looking to break the bank on a contract extension in the coming weeks, it's highly unlikely the Bears will commit that much money to the wide receiver position. Any trade will have to include some kind of restructured contract or an agreement that the Rams carry a significant portion of Cooks' cap hit.

There's also the issue of compensation that the Bears could send to Los Angeles for a player as dynamic as Cooks. A trade would require at least one of Chicago's second-round picks. Maybe that's all it will take, but the Rams would be justified asking for more.

The dollars have to make sense and the compensation has to be appealing enough to get a deal done. But there's no doubt Pace is at least researching his options.

Cooks, unlike Graham, would be one of Pace's guys who Bears fans would welcome with open arms.

Bears land two potential starters in latest mock draft

Bears land two potential starters in latest mock draft

The 2020 NFL draft is less than four weeks away and now that the first wave of free agency is over, team needs have begun to crystallize.

For the Chicago Bears, that means youth at tight end and a starting-quality safety will be high on their draft wish list. According to Chad Reuter's latest 2020 mock draft, the Bears check both boxes with potential starters in the second round.

At pick No. 43, Chicago adds LSU safety Grant Delpit, who prior to the 2019 college football season was considered by most draft analysts to be the most gifted defensive player not named Chase Young.

Delpit's final season with the Tigers wasn't the best for his draft stock. He lacked the splash plays that made him a household name last season, but he still displayed the kind of aggressive and fearless style that would make him a strong complement next to Eddie Jackson, who the Bears want to get back to playing centerfield. Delpit will slide to the second round because he's an inconsistent finisher, but he'd offer great value for a Bears defense that needs an aggressive run defender on its third level.

At No. 50, the Bears snag a potential starter at tight end in Purdue's Brycen Hopkins

Hopkins is a wide receiver in a tight end's body; he's everything Chicago's offense has been missing. Regardless of who wins the team's quarterback competition this summer, a player like Hopkins has the kind of playmaking ability to instantly become one of the early reads in the offense's passing game. 

With veterans Jimmy Graham and Trey Burton already on the roster, a player like Hopkins could be eased into the lineup with the expectation that he'd eventually become the primary receiving option at the position by the end of his rookie season.

Not a bad second-round haul. It's critically important that Ryan Pace hits on his second-rounders, too. The Bears' next pick doesn't occur until the fifth round, which is usually when special teams players and practice squad candidates are added.