Bears

Bears-Packers Part II: RB Matchup favors Bears

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Bears-Packers Part II: RB Matchup favors Bears

Monday, Jan. 17, 2011
Posted: 4:54 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

In the second installment of a special three-part series, CSNChicago.com is the No. 1 factor favoring the Bears.

General manager Jerry Angelo always has identified quarterback, running back and a pass-rushing defensive lineman as the true franchise positions in football. The quarterback position, even with Jay Cutler playing as well as he has over the second half of this season and through Sundays win over Seattle, rates as the No. 1 advantage area favoring the Packers.

READ: Why do Packers hold QB advantage?

But what about the second franchise position in Angelos trilogy?

Running back: Forte over Starks

The philosophical course correction undergone mid-season by the Chicago offense proved to be a case of NFL addition by subtraction. The Bears not only made sure they saw less of Cutler passing; they made sure they saw more of Matt Forte.

After just two 100-yard rushing games as a team in the first seven, the Bears had eight games of 100 or more yards over the final nine. Not coincidentally, seven of those nine were wins.

The prime beneficiary, besides an offensive line that was struggling in pass protection and turned more toward run blocking, was Forte. The tailback had exactly two games with 100 or more yards of total offense in the first seven; he had five in the final nine plus the Minnesota game with 98.

Forte finished the season with eight games in which he accumulated 100 yards of offense. The Bears were 7-1 in those games.

WATCH: How to beat Green Bay

Fortes rushing average ticked up to a career-best 4.5 per carry and his 51 receptions accounted for an additional 547 yards to go with his 1,069 on the ground.

In five games this season Forte led or tied for team-high in pass receptions.

He just does such a great job with the football, making cuts, making catches, making people miss, said right guard Roberto Garza. Matt is a great back, maybe the best all-around back in the league. He works hard and you want to work hard for a guy like Matt.

Life after Grant?

The Packers lost Ryan Grant to an ankle injury the first week and he hasnt played all season. Of course, that didnt mean he couldnt weigh in with a Tweet on Monday that Packers fans could comfortably start making their reservations for Dallas on that first weekend in February.

Grant will be along for the ride but the Packers will be expecting a bit more from James Starks, the 2010 sixth-round draft choice who broke out for 123 rushing yards against Philadelphia.

Starks, who opened the season on the PUP list and didnt play in the first 11 games of the season, had a pedestrian 20 rushing yards against the Bears in Green Bays season-ending win to reach the playoffs. He managed all of 66 yards in 25 carries against the Atlanta Falcons.

Starks has really given them a boost with their running game, coach Lovie Smith said, without elaboration.

The Packers had just one 100-yard rushing performance by a back during the regular season, when Brandon Jackson gained 115 yards in a mid-season loss to the Washington Redskins.

Even with Starks performance, Green Bay is averaging 3.7 yards per carry through two playoff games. The Packers have as many rushing fumbles (2) as touchdowns.
Conclusion:

Forte and Starks are about the same size: 6-2, 218 pounds. That is where the similarities end. Forte has emerged as one of the top all-around backs in the NFC as both a runner and receiver, with the capability of forcing defenses to devote resources to stopping him instead of assaulting Cutler.

Advantage: Chicago

Next: CSNChicago.com breaks down the defenses of Green Bay and Chicago, two of the NFLs best, and whether the Packers or Bears hold an edge in this crucial game-decider...

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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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