There are a lot of names right now hanging around in the right guard basket, but unless the Chicago Bears sign someone like Larry Warford it will be one of the more interesting camp battles to monitor.
The Chicago Bears return Rashaad Coward for the 2020 season, and have added veteran Germain Ifedi along with two seventh-round draft picks in Lachavious Simmons and Arlington Hambright to compete along the offensive line – with right guard the only spot really open for competition. While it might be wishful thinking to believe someone should emerge from that group, no one from that list is particularly appealing.
Insert 2019 undrafted free agent Alex Bars from Notre Dame. Many Bears fans probably remember him as the priority free agent that landed with the Bears due in large part because of former offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s connection to the now second-year pro, but Bars is much more intriguing than that.
During his career in South Bend, Bars appeared in 36 games with 32 starts combined between offensive tackle and offensive guard. In 2016, he spent all of his games at right tackle but moved inside to right guard in 2017. He was a preseason All-American ahead of his 2018 graduate season before a knee injury sidelined him 5 games in.
During his first full year at guard in 2017, he only allowed one sack and nine quarterback hurries while receiving the 32nd highest run-blocking grade in college football according to Pro Football Focus (8.3).
That 2017 Notre Dame offensive line also won the Joe Moore Award as the most outstanding offensive line unit in college football. During his final season, he was on pace to improve substantially on his individual numbers before going down while also a captain and leader of the offense.
Before the knee injury, Bars was likely headed for an early-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, as he was specifically making great strides with his technique and footwork. He was finally moving out of the Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey shadows. He was pegged as the next high-level draft pick out of a program that continually churns out quality offensive lineman.
Heading into the 2019 draft, it was unknown how the knee injury would affect his draft stock, but most pegged him as a day three pick or priority UDFA – and when he went undrafted the Bears were a perfect match. Bars would end up appearing in five games last season for the Bears toward the latter part of the season with his first appearance coming against the Lions on November 28th.
The Bears coaching staff knows what they have in Coward and Ifedi is a known commodity at this point. As for the 2020 draft picks, they will likely need a year or two to develop and one or both of them could find themselves on the practice squad during their rookie campaigns. Even with Hiestand gone, Alex Bars offers the Bears the highest starting upside on the roster and has yet to disprove himself as a quality NFL starter like some of the other candidates.
Some have mentioned him as a backup to Bobby Massie at right tackle, and while he offers the versatility to play both spots, his upside is highest at guard where he showed tremendous athleticism, power and football IQ prior to his knee injury during his senior campaign. The Chicago Bears brass should give him every chance to win the job during training camp and the preseason.