CSN goes 1-on-1 with Bears chairman George McCaskey: 'Keep the faith, go Bears and go Giants'

CSN goes 1-on-1 with Bears chairman George McCaskey: 'Keep the faith, go Bears and go Giants'

When I asked George McCaskey in wrapping up a sitdown interview Wednesday if he had one final message for Bears fans, the chairman responded: “Keep the faith. Go Bears. And go Giants.”

Well, naturally there’s nothing unusual about rooting for whomever is playing the Packers. But before removing his microphone, McCaskey drew a comparison about keeping patient, as he and management have decided to do with Ryan Pace and John Fox, despite winning half as many games in year two of this regime compared to its first season.

“When they were 4-6, someone in the media said they need to fire somebody just to fire somebody. And they didn’t,” McCaskey told us. “They believed in their people. They stayed the course. The quarterback talked about running the table, but they approached each game as a must-win situation and put themselves in a good situation. I tip my cap to them.”

[MORE: CSN goes 1-on-1 with Bears GM Ryan Pace]

Laying the groundwork in hopes of sustained success is why the Packers have controlled the division since the early 90s. They’re already there, a well-run machine, with the help of a second straight great starting quarterback. That’s what McCaskey is expecting from Pace and Fox, even if the Phil Emery-Marc Trestman duo won four more games over their two seasons together before being fired two years ago.

“I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by comparing regimes. We’re in the here-and-now. We’re assessing Ryan and John and their performance. We haven’t seen the results that anyone has wanted, and that’s disappointing, but we’re excited about the future.”

As his mother Virginia McCaskey turns 94-years-old on Thursday, George had to gather his composure for a moment in front of a group of reporters he’d earlier taken questions from. In a perfect world, he’d love nothing more than to have his mom accept the Lombardi Trophy one more time, if time and a successful rebuilding of the roster allows.

“People are surprised when I tell them mom goes to every game, home and away. And the players make way for her as she wheels herself up the stairs to the plane,” said McCaskey. “They want to win for her. But it can’t be just about one person. They want to win for each other, and they want to win for this great city and their great fans.”

As for the general manager he hired two years ago, he likes how Pace hasn’t let a disappointing, step-back season deter the vision with patience even the chairman would find hard to muster.

“He’s a steadying influence. I like the type of players he’s acquiring. Now we just need more “better” players.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

In his group Q-&-A with the media Wednesday, McCaskey shared the mostly positive face-to-face feedback he gets from the fans, but was challenged about what’s believed to be a growing tune-out factor, anger, even apathy. But in following up with him, McCaskey isn’t naive enough to think it doesn’t exist among some diehards after his team missed the playoffs for a ninth time in ten years since Super Bowl XLI.

“We understand that. It’s not to say that everybody is happy in the stands. That’s certainly not the case. We understand that people are disappointed in their Bears. The way I can best describe it is, Bears fans’ relationship with the team ... like when a loved one disappoints you, the disappointment is more profound because you expect so much. We understand that we’ve fallen short of their expectations. We’ve fallen short of our expectations. Bears fans deserve a winner.

“In some cases, we may have to win people back. But most of the people I’ve been talking to have been saying, `Hang in there. We know you’re on the right track. We know you have the right plan, and we know you’ve got the right people.’”

Bears roster lacks veteran cut candidate

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

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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