Bears

Behind 2012 Matt Forte? Look for Bell, not Barber

618142.png

Behind 2012 Matt Forte? Look for Bell, not Barber

A mild surprise of sorts unfolded in Green Bay when Kahlil Bell ran for 121 yards and vaulted himself squarely into the No. 2 running back spot going into next offseason.

A second, bigger surprise will play out next Sunday if Marion Barber is active in Minnesota.

A third, major jaw-dropper will come in January or possibly February if Barber is still a Bear.

Barber was inactive Sunday because of a calf injury, the same type of problem that caused him to miss the fourth preseason and first three regular-season games. And Barber missed three games in 2010 with a calf injury.

Quoting James Bond, Once is chance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action.

Its a concern always when a player has missed time, and not just one year, said coach Lovie Smith. Hes been a player thats been injured quite a bit. We always look at the history. So that is a factor in determining players on your roster, what position he has and all of that.

Barber is due to make 1.9 million in 2012, the second year of his two-year contract, and he is expected to go the way of Chester Taylor, Barbers highly paid predecessor.

Bell, who just turned 25 this month, is the reason Barber, who turns 29 in June, is expendable. Bell is a restricted free agent after this season and is playing his way into an upper-level tender offer that would ensure the Bears the right to match an offer to him or receive compensation. The money may not be significantly less than Barbers deal but the production, versatility and dependability are better.

He does have to hold onto the ball, but he made excellent cuts in the open field, ran with power, caught the ball out of the backfield, Smith said. Everything you want a good running back in the NFL to do, he did, on a national stage. You have to feel good about what he did in his first time as the bell cow

Based on what hes done his entire time here you would feel comfortable with him as the No. 2 running back.

Bell isnt. Which is exactly the attitude coaches want.

Im not interested in that, Bell said. I never woke in the morning and said Im going out there to be the No. 2 running back on any team that Ive ever been on. My goal is to be a starter in this league, and thats what Im shooting for. Im not settling for anything less.

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

8-8jonbullard.jpg
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

6-12alexbars.jpg
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.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears