Bears

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

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USA Today

Alex Bars is ready to take his shot with Harry Hiestand and the Bears

Alex Bars was cleared to practice last week, allowing him his first chance to put on a helmet since tearing his ACL and MCL Sept. 29 while playing for Notre Dame. The undrafted guard was able to participate in veteran minicamp, allowing him to shake off some rust before his real push for a roster spot begins in training camp next month. 

Many speculated Bars would’ve been as high as a mid-round draft pick if not for that devastating knee injury. It didn’t take the 6-foot-6, 312 pound Bars long, though, to decide where he wanted to go after not being picked in April’s draft. Call it the Harry Hiestand effect. 

Bars played under Hiestand’s tutelage at Notre Dame from 2014-2017, and said he always wanted to wind up with the Bears to work with his former coach — just as 2018 top-10 picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey hoped to as well. 

“I remember talking about that, because they both wanted to play for him,” Bars said. “They understand where he can take you and how phenomenal a coach he is, so they both wanted that. And I’m just the same way.”

While Nelson transformed the Indianapolis Colts’ playoff-bound offensive line and McGlinchey showed plenty of promise with the San Francisco 49ers, the reunion of Bars and Hiestand carries some intriguing possibilities for the Bears. Bars has always had upside — he was a four-star recruit out of Nashville in 2014 — and getting to work with Hiestand may be the best way to tap into that potential. 

“He knows me very well, I understand his technique very well,” Bars said. “So having that connection, that player-coach connection all four years through college is huge.”

Hiestand called Bars after his injury last fall and offered some words of encouragement, which only furthered Bars' wish to play for his former college coach in the NFL. 

"That meant everything," Bars said. "He cares so much off the field as well as on the field. That’s who he is."  

Bars wasn’t able to participate in OTAs or rookie minicamp, but Hiestand doesn’t see that as putting him in a tough spot to make the Bears' 53-man roster. And there will very much be an opportunity for Bars to make a push during training camp, given 10-year veteran Ted Larsen only has $90,000 in guaranteed money on his one-year contract. 

It may not be the more eye-catching roster battle during training camp, but the Bears hope they can find interior offensive line depth through competition in Bourbonnais. And Bars, now cleared to practice, will get his shot. 

“He’ll have the chance because he’s smart, he understands the technique, he knows what to do,” Hiestand said during OTAs, when Bars hadn’t practiced yet. “He’s learning the offense even though he’s not doing it. But when we put the pads on that’s when you make or don’t make the team.” 

It’s often unfair — yet far too easy — to place high expectations on undrafted free agents. For every Cameron Meredith or Bryce Callahan who gets unearthed, there are dozens of anonymous players who struggle to stick on an NFL practice squad. 

But Bars is among the more important undrafted free agents on the Bears given his connection with Hiestand and the position he plays. While Kyle Long is healthy, he hasn’t played a full season since 2015, underscoring the Bears’ need for depth on the interior of their offensive line in the immediate future. 

And the Bears would save a little over $8 million against their 2020 cap if they were to make the difficult decision to cut Long in a year. If Bars develops into the kind of player plenty in the NFL thought he could be before his knee injury, that would make releasing Long a little easier to swallow at Halas Hall. 

For now, though, Bars is just hoping to make the Bears. Anything else is a long ways away.

“I’m excited to be here, thrilled for this opportunity and it’s all about productivity,” Bars said. “Just need to be productive and prove you belong on this team.”

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'You said you were good. You lied to us'—Understanding the harsh reaction to Bears, Mitch Trubisky struggles​​​​​​​

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USA TODAY

'You said you were good. You lied to us'—Understanding the harsh reaction to Bears, Mitch Trubisky struggles​​​​​​​

John Fox was right as far as looking ahead to how things can or might unfold for an NFL team (or quarterback): “Understate, overproduce,” was Fox’s operating mantra.

Why that matters or comes to mind at all is a step-back sense of what’s going on around the Bears and quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Their struggles through two games have loosed waves of bad feelings about at least the offensive portion of local professional football.

Much of that was not anything that he or his coach probably anticipated. But perhaps they should have, given various utterances, all offseason led much of BearsNation were led to believe by what coach Matt Nagy was putting forward.

Plus some long and painful pieces of Chicago sports history, Bears and otherwise.

Consider: Nagy this offseason frequently referred to where his quarterback and offense were as “2.0,” meaning the next step up from what was a respectable first year for players in Nagy’s offense, and for Nagy as a first-time, first-year Bears head coach. That said, “good things coming.”

So when “2.0” turned out to be alarmingly close to the yards-per-pass-play through two games, the negative response shouldn’t have been surprising, nor its intensity level. Call it the “You told us you were good! You lied!” reaction. More on the history of this psychological scarring shortly.

Fair to Trubisky? No, but….

None of it is necessarily fair whatsoever to a young man playing the most difficult single position in all of sports, who is clearly a leader and a worker and is an obvious favorite of his teammates and gives the degree of effort that traditionally endears athletes to Chicago, regardless of sport.

And Trubisky has acquitted himself very well at the most crucial points in two of his last three games, a huge positive looking ahead and the kind of in-the-clutch thing that is at the core of real success.

“The thing we’ve got to keep in mind here,” Nagy said on Thursday, “Mitchell ended up, at the end of the season against Philadelphia, when everything was on the line, that kid took us right down the field and gave us a chance to win. Okay? I think we all agree with that.

“He was put in a position this last game to take us down the field with 31 seconds to go and [he] put us in position to win.

“Depending on what went on in the game before that, did he have that opportunity to do it? He did. So let’s figure out – I need to – where are we at.

“He has it in him at the end of the game."

Understanding the scarred “You lied to us!” psyche

Part of all this swirling negativity lies in Nagy’s default-setting positivity: His daily updates never include trashing a player, and he appears at times to be making excuses or covering for Trubisky.

Part of this also traces back to Ryan Pace trading significant draft capital to be sure of getting Trubisky in the 2017 draft. Pace’s statement that Trubisky portended greatness, more so than either Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson. Regardless of the outcome, Pace did make the overall right move, leaving nothing to chance to get his guy. (Whether this was THE guys was the concern. And still is, although not really the point here.)

In any case, there’s a deeper psyche issue that neither Nagy nor Trubisky could reasonably be expected to understand. Call it a form of betrayed trust. Call it: “You said you were good and we believed you! You lied to us!”

It didn’t start with the ’69 Cubs, but that may have been an accelerant. Even the ’85 Bears brushed up against it.

Recall that in 1983 the “Winning Ugly” White Sox won the AL West by 20 games. 20. 2-zero.(“You said you were good…”) They then proceeded to lose in the ALCS to Baltimore in four games, scoring 0, 1 and 0 runs in the three losses. (“You lied!”)

Come forward to 1984. Cubs blast out to a 2-0 NLCS lead, outscoring San Diego 17-2 in the two games (“You said you were good…”), then fade to black with three straight losses, the last two despite leading in each. (“You lied!”)

A year later Mike Ditka made liberal use of the “nobody believes in us but us” mantra even as his Bears were running away and hiding with a 12-0 start.

Even after that, Chicago paranoia reigned. Actor and Chicago native Joe Mantegna told this writer that even during the Super Bowl he just KNEW something would go wrong. So when Walter Payton fumbled on the second play and the Patriots recovered and kicked a field goal to lead 3-0, Mantegna said he proceeded to go around the corner into another room because he just couldn’t watch but still wanted to listen to the game. (He did come back in the TV room after halftime).

What the Cubs are going through right now is another booster shot of “You said you were good! You lied” juice. They win that World Series in 2016, Joe Maddon was deified (“You said you were good…”), then have proceeded to slide, to the point now where they are closer to falling all the way out of the postseason, which would represent a capstone “You lied!”

Belief betrayed

BearsNation was all in on Nagy from the beginning, with his foundation in offense, coaching tree (Andy Reid) and just the fact that he wasn’t John Fox. That was taken to new levels by 12 wins and an upbeat persona, creative offbeat plays, Club Dub, all the rest. The buy-in was there.

Now Nagy may be finding out what Fox and Dowell Loggains saw in first-year Trubisky, that he just wasn’t overly accurate down the field, and conservative game plans may be required until Trubisky grows to another level, if that happens.

Underlying the Trubisky brouhaha right now is the sentiment that faded for some last year, that the Bears had taken leave of their personnel senses when they traded up to be sure they got Trubisky in the 2017 draft. How strong was that feeling? Trubisky went to a Bulls game not long after the draft and was booed.

Trubisky had an obvious major hand in the Bears winning 12 games last year (“You said you were good…”), although the defense had an exponentially bigger hand in that and in Nagy, an offense-based coach, winning coach of the year honors with an offense ranked in the 20s.

Then Trubisky turns up on the cover of Chicago Magazine with a headline “The Bears Are Back” (“You said you were good…”) and on the story inside, the headline “Mitch Trubisky Grows Up” (“You said you were really good…”).

So when Trubisky bumbles to a combined passer rating of 65.0 through two games and looks to be turning out to be well short of “really good,” the reaction almost predictably has been tinged with that distant whiff of betrayed trust: “…You lied! You’re NOT good!).

Fair or not, Chicago has been through this sort of thing before.

 

Bears Week 3 injury report: Eddie Jackson, Trey Burton limited in practice

Bears Week 3 injury report: Eddie Jackson, Trey Burton limited in practice

The Chicago Bears have a favorable matchup Monday night against the Redskins in a game that could be just what the offense needs to get back on track. Washington will be the worst defense Mitch Trubisky has faced (by far) this season and should present opportunities for big plays in both the passing and running games.

But as is the case every week in the NFL, injuries could play a part in the outcome. And the Bears have a few notable names on their injury report.

The most notable is DL Bilal Nichols, who's expected to miss the game with a broken hand. Trey Burton was limited in practice once again with a groin injury, but he should be good to go Monday night. He returned to action in Week 2 and played 26 of 60 snaps on offense.

Kyle Long (hip), Eddie Jackson (shoulder) and Eddie Goldman (oblique) were also limited Thursday, but none appear at risk of missing the game.

The long week should help the Bears climb closer to full health with the exception of Nichols.