Bears

Bears thankful to be playing Falcons at home

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Bears thankful to be playing Falcons at home

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011Posted: 10:05 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
During the tenure of Lovie Smith, the Bears are 5-2 in home openers. And Chicago has not been kind to the Atlanta Falcons, although Sunday marks the first trip to the lakefront for Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan.

Since 2004, Smiths first year, only Green Bay (21) has scored more than 14 points against Bears in a Game One and no team scored more than the two TDs the Packers put across in the 2009 season-starter, and that was with Brian Urlacher missing the second half with a season-ending wrist injury.

I'm glad we've got them at home, because they're really good at home down in Atlanta, Urlacher said. We've got them at home, but it's a huge challenge for us.

The last time the Falcons played in Soldier Field (where they havent won since 1983) was in 2005, the conditions were minus-3 wind chill, night game and Michael Vick so clearly didnt want to be out there that he angrily fired the ball at Urlacher after the linebacker had dropped him for a first-quarter loss in the Atlanta backfield.

In Atlanta, the Falcons have won their last two meetings with the Bears, behind Ryan, scoring 22 and 21 points in the games that both were decided in fourth quarters. The 2009 game saw the Falcons score a go-ahead TD with three minutes to play, then stop the Bears at the Atlanta 5-yard line in the final seconds to save a 21-14 victory.

Were really focused on just trying to play well this week, Ryan said. It seems like every time weve played them, its been a great game.

Playing well is something the Falcons have done well in their three seasons under coach Mike Smith. Although Atlanta has flopped in the post-season (0-2), no NFC team won more than the Falcons 13 last season.

But they also have lost their first road game in all three seasons under Smith.
Preseason indicators

The question in Chicago, however, is not about the Falcons. Its about the Bears and what kind of team is coming off an 11-5 year and NFC Championship appearance, and which has changed more than one-third of its roster.

You can go through the preseason, teams arent doing what theyre going to do during the regular season, said coach Lovie Smith. You never really know, so I think as a football team, most coaches and teams they just cant wait to get to that first game to see exactly where they are, you set the bar then and start working form there.

The warmup games mean exactly what coaches and players say they do in terms of the season: zero. The results and the numbers dont count. After all, the 2008 Detroit Lions under Rod Marinelli went 4-0 in preseason, 0-16 when it counted.

The Falcons lost all four of their preseason games this year.

But the meaningless sometimes can foreshadow.

The Bears lost all four games in the 2010 preseason and proceeded to win 12 games on the way to the NFC Championship game. But they also scored just 17 points in one game and 10 or fewer in the other three.

They were the NFLs 30th-ranked offense, 21st in scoring, and they would have ranked even worse but for a complete mid-season course correction.

Through the 2011 preseason, the Bears scored 60 total points but also allowed more than 14 in just one. For a team anchored by its defense, this is perhaps the most positive indicator in the preseason.

Our whole objective, obviously, offensively, is to score points, coordinator Mike Martz said. And we need to do that. We need to score more points than we did last year. We got going pretty good at the end of the year, but consistency is important.

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.

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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John Fox says Bears had worst offseason in the NFL

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ESPN

John Fox says Bears had worst offseason in the NFL

John Fox is now more than a year removed from his tenure with the Chicago Bears, but he still has some strong opinions about the team.

Fox, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, fired a shot at the Bears during a segment of NFL Live on Monday. Fox was among a panel asked which team had the worst offseason in the NFL. Fox chose his former employer.

"I think when you're going to play defense, you're going to lean on your takeaways to help a young offense and you don't have a kicker, a reliable kicker that you're going to need those points from after some of those turnovers," Fox said. "I think the kicking question is really big right now in Chicago and I think that might be a problem going into the season."

That is sure to earn some eyerolls from skeptical Bears fans who weren't happy with Fox's 14-34 record with the Bears.

Fox wasn't the only one to pick the Bears. Damien Woody, who won two Super Bowls with the Patriots as part of his 12-year career, actually picked the Bears before Fox.

"I think losing Vic Fangio... is huge," Woody said. "That Chicago Bears defense, it literally fueled their offense. It's the identity of the Bears and when you lose a talented defensive coordinator like that, I think there's going to be some slippage there."

 

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