Bears

Bears: NFL may be a breeze for Fabuluje after life struggles

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Bears: NFL may be a breeze for Fabuluje after life struggles

Tayo Fabuluje got the call of a lifetime on Saturday when Bears coach John Fox informed the TCU tackle that the Bears had selected him with their sixth-round pick, the 183rd overall. Recounting the moment afterwards, the emotion was right there in his voice and the words came out in a torrent:

“It's a dream come true,” said Fabuluje, a 6-7, 353-pound lineman who’d attended TCU and BYU in addition to sitting out all of 2013 working three jobs to help his family. “I broke down into tears when I heard the news. It's a day at one point I didn't see coming. I didn't think it could happen for me, when bad things are going on in my life.

“Like I've told people before, you kind of lose sight of the good things in life when you're down and you're struggling and you're trying to dig yourself out of a hole. Being in a top-flight position today, being a Chicago Bear is just a dream come true. I don't think anybody could write this up. This is something that is God-given and it's just a blessing and amazing. I don't have words that can explain how I feel today. I'm just truly blessed and thankful for the Chicago Bears organization and all the good people that have been around me and helped me get here to where I am today.”

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That Fabuluje, born in Nigeria and brought to the United States as a youngster, was able to have this day perhaps speaks to a “character” level not many can reach.

Fabuluje was 5 when his father was deported back to Nigeria after being implicated in a truck-theft ring. The son rarely has contact with the father now.

The father had been the family provider and Fabuluje’s mother Debra had not worked before the deportation. She struggled to make ends meet but did it by engaging in petty theft, to the point where she was sent away to prison in 2012 and is still incarcerated.

“She never worked and my dad provided everything,” Fabuluje said. “When he was taken out of our lives she was like a deer in the headlights. She didn’t know what to do and she got around some bad people who steered her down the wrong path. Everything she’s ever done was to only help her family succeed. That’s why she’s doing time.”

Fabuluje, who redshirted at BYU in 2010, transferred to TCU in 2011 but had to sit out because of transfer rules. He started 12 games in 2012 but had to quit football in 2013 and worked three jobs to help his sister Tosin.

“I worked those three jobs because I knew I had to help out to support my sister, who was in a hard time with my mom going away to have to do some time and all that type of stuff,” Fabuluje said. “She had trouble finding work, so I had to do that to keep my family afloat.”

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After the year away from football, during which he moved back to Utah to live with friends, Fabuluje returned to TCU for the 2014 season, started 12 games and was an All-Big 12 second team selection.

Good enough for that call Saturday.

“They were telling me that one of the first things they're going to do when I get there is going to throw me on the scale, and we all got a good laugh out of that,” said Fabuluje, who changed his eating habits and has his weight down from 360 into the 330’s. “I'm not worried about it. I've got my weight in check. I'm just ecstatic and ready to get started."

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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