Bears options at guard after Kyle Long's injury


by - Correspondent -
Isaiah Downing - USA Today Sports
Isaiah Downing - USA Today Sports

It was announced Monday that former Pro-Bowl right guard Kyle Long would be placed on season-ending injured reserve. The news stings a little more than usual as the team has been hit with the injury bug early amid continuing offensive struggles. With that in mind, the team faces an important decision as to who will take over Long’s spot on the offensive line.

For the Chicago Bears, their most likely route for finding a replacement will come from within the organization. Limited turnaround for their Sunday night game and little trade capital would restrict a free agent signing or trade from occurring. There are also limited options through those venues as far as anyone knows. The Bears tried out seven players Oct. 14, all of them being defensive linemen except for two centers.

As for the in-house options, Bears head coach Matt Nagy confirmed that Ted Larsen, Rashaan Coward, and Alex Bars compete to be the starting right guard. According to ChicagoBears.com, Nagy has also said, “And then whoever it is, let's go. There's no looking back,” confirming that the job would be as permanent as possible.

Ted Larsen is the veteran of the three-person race at 32 years-old. The former Buccaneer and Cardinal offensive lineman returned to Chicago after two years with the Miami Dolphins. Larsen has a reputation as a reliable veteran and has already filled in at times for the Bears this year. He’s been most reliable in pass blocking, where, according to Pro Football Focus, he’s only given up 16 sacks across 5683 regular-season offensive snaps.

Larsen was the replacement for Long in 2016, which would be a great piece of history to fall back on in this competition if it weren’t for Larsen’s injury. Larsen was injured in the recent Minnesota Vikings game and is returning after missing the team’s trip to London. The player really turning heads is the person who replaced Larsen in that Vikings game.

Rashaad Coward may end up starting for the Bears against the New Orleans Saints, despite being signed as a defensive lineman in 2017. Coward was converted to offensive tackle this year and seen by many as a player who would need time to learn the position. The 6-5, 326-pound Coward has impressed in limited snaps. Nagy was sharing his praise to ChicagoBears.com, saying that Coward, “had a nice little physical edge that I liked in the run game and the passing game. And he's learning. But he works hard and gives us everything that he has."

In the clip above, you can see why Nagy is encouraged by what Coward has shown so far. Being able to pick up the blitz and move the linebacker off the play with that much power is impressive. There is no doubt that Coward can physically hold up at the position. The real question for him is if he can limit mistakes at a new position. All signs point to Coward getting significant snaps against the Saints as he practiced as the starting right guard at the Bears Monday practice.

Coward offers a lot of potential with less experience, while Larsen offers less potential but significant experience. The happy medium between the two is Alex Bars. The undrafted rookie from Notre Dame impressed in the preseason after missing most of his final college season due to a knee injury. Bars started all 13 games in 2017 at right guard, giving up only one sack and being ranked as the 32nd highest-rated guard in the nation by Pro Football Focus. Despite limited snaps, his five-game performance in 2018 would have ranked him as the 21st best guard in the nation.

The ability to finish plays is evident in the clip above as Bars is the pulling guard that blocks two or three defenders to set up a touchdown. Bars' solid play and ability to play both guard positions as well as right tackle have kept him on the Bears practice squad. That could change soon as he could be given a chance to fight for the right guard job. Bars is familiar with offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who was the offensive line coach at Notre Dame for the first four seasons of Bars’ career.

In limited time, the former Fighting Irish lineman has already impressed Pro-Bowl left tackle Charles Leno Jr. Leno Jr. praised his technique according to ChicagoBears.com, saying, “He's the type of player that kind of reminds me of me: really a thinker. He's not going to be really physically dominant or dominate you, but he's going to beat you mentally, and he's going to beat you with technique”.

Whoever the starting right guard is on Sunday, the Bears have reason to feel confident enough in their in-house options to have a midseason competition. Kyle Long’s presence will be missed, but his backups seem to have the organization excited for the short-term future of the position.

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