Bears

Bears boss George McCaskey promised 'patience' with GM Ryan Pace, coach John Fox – but for how long?

Bears boss George McCaskey promised 'patience' with GM Ryan Pace, coach John Fox – but for how long?

After two dismal seasons under coach John Fox following two dismal seasons under coach Marc Trestman, Bears fans – and their team’s chairman – might be forgiven for a blunt question about when their football team would return to watchability:

“So how long is all this going to take?”

Best guess after Fox, GM Ryan Pace and Chairman George McCaskey all discussed their team and its situation: It had better not take too much longer.

McCaskey, who fired GM Jerry Angelo in 2011 after an 8-8 season and four playoff misses in the five seasons since the Super Bowl, who fired Trestman and GM Phil Emery in 2015 after just two catastrophic seasons, who acknowledged that his 90-plus mother Virginia was “pissed off” after the Emery-Trestman fiasco, said that he had assured Pace there would be patience with a Bears makeover.

“[Pace] talked from the beginning about how this was going to take time, about how we needed to be patient,.” McCaskey said during a media session at Halas Hall. “I told him I’m not a patient person but I promised him that I would be patient.

“With all the adversity that we’ve had, I like the steady hand that he and John have had on the team. These guys fought for each other all season. They never pointed fingers. And I think that’s a credit to the type of player that we have. And I think it’s also a credit to John and his coaching staff for keeping them together.

Like I said, I’m not a patient person. But I promised Ryan that I would be patient.”

Whether another losing season would exhaust McCaskey’s patience is something that neither Pace nor Fox are in any mood to find out. Both Pace and Fox privately said before the season that their expectations were far, far higher than both the results and the opinions of outsiders.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

And Pace, who came to the Bears from a successful New Orleans organization, was blunt in ways that were evident not only in what he said, but how he said it.

“I’m honestly extremely disappointed in this season,” Pace said. “But I’m honestly excited going forward. My message to Bears fans is simple: We’re going to get better. We WILL improve. I hear you. But I also understand this is just talk and we’ve got to show actions. We’ve got to show results. I fully get that… .

“My promise to Bears fans, and I really mean this: There’s not a moment that goes by that we’re both not consumed with getting this right. This is unacceptable. It’s painful to deal with. I get it. We’re going to get better. There’s a lot of young players that are going to improve. There’s a lot of players coming back that are going to help us. There’s a lot of things we can do this offseason to make us better.

“I knew this wasn’t an overnight fix. And I think you’ve got to be careful with that sometimes. Sometimes, hey, there’s a little bit of a panic, and oh, you start reaching for bad character guys or big contracts on wrong players. I think we’ve got to be calculated and measured why we’re going through this. And we will be. Patience is hard, and I get that, but we have to prove it on the field.”

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

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USA Today

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

The Bears battle for the 53-man roster doesn’t have many contentious positions entering training camp.

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy brought back largely the same roster from their breakout 2018 season, finding replacements for the few players gone in free agency.

Outside of kicker, the entire starting lineup is pretty much set for Week 1, and the main competitions to stick with the team are at the bottom of the depth chart.

It leaves the roster with no notable veterans that stand out as candidates to be cut. ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson was asked to name one for an article, and he couldn’t come up with any.

He mentioned Taquan Mizzell, who made the move from running back to wide receiver this offseason, but as Dickerson pointed out “Mizzell is hardly a well-known commodity around the league.”

Former third-round pick Jonathan Bullard hasn’t lived up to his draft status, but the Bears have seemed comfortable keeping him around in a backup role.

The Bears roster has very little fat to trim. The only other player who could potentially qualify is cornerback Sherrick McManis, since the team has so many young players at his position, but he’s been working at safety to increase his value, and he’s one of the team’s best special teams contributors.

The trim down from the 90-man roster shouldn’t have too many significant surprises, which is why so much of the attention this offseason continues to go to the kicker position.

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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