Bears

Bears GM search begins

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Bears GM search begins

When Ted Phillips was looking 11 years ago for Mark Hatleys replacement to head up Bears personnel, the team president employed a search firm experienced in pro sports executive recruitment.

The firm conducted preliminary interviews with prospects and narrowed the field to 10 candidates. Those were interviewed by Phillips and a list of three finalists developed. One of those was Angelo.

To find Angelos replacement, however, Phillips is running the search himself, with help from coach Lovie Smith.

My feeling is that over the last 10-11 years, my experience, my contacts in the league with other teams, talking to some folks internally, I think we'll be able to handle that search and come up with the right candidate ourselves, Phillips said Tuesday in the aftermath of Angelos exit.

This will be Phillips first solo foray into hiring for this area of NFL operations. He did not hire Hatley, a holdover from Michael McCaskeys time as Bears chairman.

But he was explicit in the first area for considering candidates to take over football operations for an NFL charter franchise.

I think it will be someone with an emphasis on talent evaluation, said Phillips, targeting the No. 1 stated reason for Angelos dismissal. I think well probably lean toward someone who has a talent evaluation background to at least some extent.

Lovie Smith rapport

It will be a hire with a condition: keeping Smith as head coach. The Bears have 11 million committed to Smith over the next two years and they have declared that they believe him to be the right one to stay the course of pursuing and overtaking the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.

Talent evaluation is going to be key, Phillips underscored, in addition to, chemistry with Lovie; understanding of the coaches; solid character and work ethic and a clear strategy to get us to win a championship.

That will mean getting past Green Bay and Detroit, two teams in the postseason with their best players acquired through the draft.

It's not just the Packers, said Bears Chairman George McCaskey. The Lions finished ahead of us this year, so we need to target them. The Vikings have a good coach; they played us pretty tough just a couple of days ago.

I think we're the only division in the NFL that has had every team in the playoffs sometime in the last three years. So we're one of the toughest divisions in the NFL and we need to close the talent gap in order to compete in the division.

Playoff chase

The Bears are expected in particular to pursue candidates from currently successful programs, meaning ones already in the 2011 playoffs and especially ones with the best draft histories.

The blizzard of names will swirl until the Bears begin to settle on finalist. But sources told CSNChicago.com that Green Bay director of player personnel Reggie McKenzie and Baltimore director of player personnel Eric DeCosta were high on Phillips preliminary list, both with teams in the playoffs on the strength of their organizations draft performance.

The Bears are expected to make a strong play in free agency and with free agency beginning in mid-March it's going to depend on whether there are any candidates on playoff teams as to how long it'll drag out, Phillips said.

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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