Alex Bars

Who's the Bears' best option to replace Kyle Long at right guard?

10-18rashaadcoward.jpg
USA Today

Who's the Bears' best option to replace Kyle Long at right guard?

The Bears have three options on their roster to start on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, the first game of — in all likelihood — the post-Kyle Long era in Chicago. Is a guy who’s only played 30 snaps as a guard in his pro or college career really the right choice?

Rashaad Coward may be new to the position, but the Bears like his athleticism, physical edge and work ethic he brings to the offense. Also in the conversation: 10-year veteran Ted Larsen and undrafted rookie Alex Bars. 

Coward has more immediate upside, but Larsen (who's officially questionable with a knee injury, though he practiced in full Friday) is more a you-know-what-you're-getting guy. Coward's upside, though, lies in the athleticism and physicality he showed in limited time against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4.

“He’s a tough guy, he plays very, very hard,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. “It’s super important to him, he’s very prideful, he’s very determined to keep his guy from making a play and that’s a big part of this.”

That Hiestand has actual game film on which to evaluate and teach Coward is important. And the Bears saw him do some good things in letting his raw talent take over against the Vikings. 

“Going into the game, I was like F it,” Coward said. “It is what it is. It’s either you do it or you don’t.”

Coward said on Monday he practiced with the No. 1 offense, and given Larsen was limited in Wednesday's and Thursday's practices, there's a decent chance Coward will start on Sunday. 

Larsen, though, is the kind of guy who could get the nod on Sunday without getting many reps during mid-week practices. 

Larsen suffered the injury in Week 4, which led to Coward entering the game, and he didn’t travel to London with the Bears in Week 5. But his veteran experience — he’s started 87 games in his career — and flexibility to play guard or center make him a trusted backup.

“I played a lot of football,” Larsen said. “I’m ready whenever they want to use me.”

There is a possibility the Bears rotate Larsen and Coward on a series-to-series basis, as the team did with a veteran (Eric Kush) and a greenhorn (James Daniels) at left guard last year. 

"It’s something that could definitely happen," Nagy said. "I’m not opposed to that. And then you can also balance and see, whether it’s Ted or Rashaad, how are they playing and we can get a feel for that during a game and we feel comfortable with both."

Bars is unlikely to factor this week but does have long-term upside. He turned down an opportunity to join the New England Patriots’ 53-man roster earlier this month because he saw a better opportunity in Chicago. That his college offensive line coach is now his pro offensive line coach certainly played into that decision, too.

Many thought Bars would be a mid-round draft pick prior to his final season at Notre Dame, but a torn ACL and MCL suffered last September knocked him down to being an undrafted free agent. The opportunity to link back up with Hiestand helped bring him to Chicago, where he played well during the preseason — but not well enough to make the Bears’ initial 53-man roster.

“The transition to this level coming off the injury was an adjustment I had to make, still making it every day,” Bars said. “I’m trying to improve and work against really, really good guys.” 

The Bears’ starting right guard for the rest of 2019 will hardly be settled by who starts against the Saints in Week 7. Coward may get the first crack, but if his inexperience overshadows his talent, the Bears may need to call on a safer option in Larsen. And that could open the door for Bars to start, too, if he proves to Hiestand behind the scenes he’s back on the track he was on prior to his collegiate injury.

Whoever plays, though, needs to be better than Long was over his four games prior to going on injured reserve. The Bears made that difficult decision in part to improve at right guard. It’s now on Coward — or Larsen, or Bars — to make good on that promise.

"Between the three of them I think it will be fun for us to kind of work through what decision, where we want to go with that," Nagy said. "And then whoever it is, let's go. There's no looking back."

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Alex Bars confirms Patriots tried to sign him, says he's lucky to be a Bear

Alex Bars confirms Patriots tried to sign him, says he's lucky to be a Bear

Bears rookie guard Alex Bars was one of the biggest prizes of the team's 2019 undrafted rookie class and now finds himself on the shortlist of candidates to replace right guard Kyle Long (injured reserve) in the starting lineup.

It's quite the ascent for a player who's spent all of 2019 on the practice squad until his promotion to the active roster this week.

The first crack at the gig is expected to go to Rashaad Coward, but don't dismiss Bars as a legitimate competitor. He was, after all, targeted by the New England Patriots, who tried to sign the former Golden Domer from Chicago's practice squad recently.

Bars confirmed to NBC Sports Chicago's JJ Stankevitz that he declined New England's offer to join their active roster.

"Just I felt like the opportunity here in this franchise was greater," Bars said. 

Comfort and familiarity played a part, too. Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand was Bars' collegiate position coach as well.

"(Hiestand) sees me like a son, I see him like a dad kind of relationship," said Bars. "He gets on me, no doubt, but he wants me to be my best and he cares so much about me, so we have a great relationship, yeah."

Having success in the NFL isn't just about a player's talent. Oftentimes, it comes down to his situation, his opportunity. For Bars, he made a calculated decision to remain in Chicago. It's one that will ultimately determine the direction and longevity of his career.

For now, he feels fortunate to be in the Windy City.

"I’m just thrilled to be here to be honest with you, really really lucky."

Alex Bars rejected Patriots to remain with Bears

Alex Bars rejected Patriots to remain with Bears

The New England Patriots are the class of the NFL. They have been for what feels like forever. From Bill Belichick to Tom Brady and their six Super Bowl wins, the 'Patriot Way' has become synonymous with success.

But for Bears offensive lineman Alex Bars, Chicago's practice squad is more appealing.

Bars turned down a spot on the Patriots' active roster to remain with the Bears — on the practice squad — according to the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs.

“I am getting better every week,” Bars told Biggs. “I am getting stronger and going against the best defense in the league helps. Being able to do that and getting all of that work in the weight room has helped. I’m just working to get as strong as possible. You see these guys here and you’re trying to emulate their strength and their ability to play. So, just trying to do that.”

Bars received a pay raise to stick around (he'll receive the rookie minimum salary of $495,000 instead of the practice-squad pay), but it's still pretty surprising that he passed on a 53-man roster spot for the possibility he'll develop into an active-roster guy with the Bears.

Maybe Bars received some assurances from offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, especially with how poorly Chicago's interior has played this season. Right guard Kyle Long has been one of the least effective players on the Bears this season and there's a chance (even if it's a slim one) that he could be replaced in the starting lineup. It's unlikely Bars will be the first man called up for the job, but he'll be one step closer if that happens. 

Bars is a smart guy and he certainly didn't make this decision without giving it a lot of thought. And if he believes there's a better chance to make a name for himself in Chicago, especially under the tutelage of Hiestand who coached him at Notre Dame, then it's pretty obvious the in-house discussions about the offensive line are anything but positive.

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