Bears

View from the Moon: Are Bears ready for playoffs?

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View from the Moon: Are Bears ready for playoffs?

Monday, Jan 3, 2011
9:18 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Cleaning out the notebook the morning after...

The one thought persisting through the attempts to assess what Sundays 10-3 loss at Green Bay means is that it may be exactly what the Bears needed: a swift shot to the chops. Or at least one side of the ball does.

The Bears continue to demonstrate that they are one of those teams that has more trouble coming off a good win than a bad loss. And this, for the offense in particular, was a bad loss. Dont excuse this as simply a game that didnt matter and players just going through the motions accordingly.

Lovie Smith playing the starters throughout was the correct call for a number of reasons, including one perhaps unintended. The performance of his offense should dispel any notion that Mike Martz, Jay Cutler, the offensive line and anyone this side of Matt Forte is really ready for playoff football.

On the very positive side, the defense held the ninth-ranked scoring offense (25.2 ppg.) to 10 points and eighth-ranked yardage generator (363 ypg.) to 284.

But as he did in too often 2009, Cutler stops being a quarterback and reverts to being a passer and a not very good one at that. Never confuse arm strength with judgment and throwing an interceptable pass from the opposing 24-yard line with your team leading 3-0 and your defense working on a string of five straight possessions not allowing a very good offense to cross midfield.

Perhaps more concerning should be the direction that the hand on the tiller steered the vessel.

First, it is somewhat misleading characterize Martz as a balanced offensive thinker because the Bears had more runs (238) than pass plays (231) over the previous eight games. That run total included 33 runs by Cutler; does anyone really suppose that Cutler was hearing Keeper in his helmet headset all those play-calls?

More to the point, the protection (and Cutler himself) allowed the quarterback to be sacked four times in the span of 11 plays in the third-fourth quarters. Against a blitzing defense, Martz was writing checks that his blockers couldnt cash.

Yet as he did in the New York Giants debacle that cost him Cutler for a game and a half, Martz kept throwing in spite of Forte and Chester Taylor combining for 65 rushing yards and 7.2 yards per pop in the first half.

A family member just leaned in and asked, Who do we want to root for next weekend in the wild-card games?

My answer is that it doesnt matter. As the Bears themselves have said, it really is all about what they do. Or as was the case Sunday, what they dont do.

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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