I already knew the loss of left guard James Daniels would be tough to swallow.
But reading this was like a punch to the gut:
Bears OL Germain Ifedi on James Daniels' injury: "It's a tough loss for us, but we're going to continue to get better, and we know we haven't played our best ball all the time."
— Mark Grote (@markgrotesports) October 12, 2020
The Bears will miss Daniels, who was coming into his own as he returned to the left guard position he thrived in as a rookie in 2018. Sure, his pass-protection is still a work-in-progress. But there is no denying his excellence clearing holes in the run game and the upside that was still untapped as he entered his third year.
But as right guard Germain Ifedi points out, the goal moving forward is to keep improving. Next man up mentality is needed to succeed in the NFL. That means Ifedi and his line-mates need to get better. And even if they do, that’s just the beginning. Chicago could use some reinforcements along the offensive line. So let’s look at how the team can go about moving on without its starting left guard.
Alex Bars took over for Daniels and played 31 snaps in Week 5. It was an inauspicious debut for Bars, who allowed a sack on his first pass-protection rep of the year. But he settled in after that, which puts him in a spot to be the next-man-up in place of Daniels.
I thought Bars would get a shot last year when Kyle Long went down with a season-ending injury, but that never formulated. But Bars has a unique prospect pedigree and was a highly thought of prospect before suffering a season-ending knee injury in his final year at Notre Dame. Perhaps a former Harry Hiestand protégé can thrive under Juan Castillo? I guess I can’t rule it out.
Rashaad Coward has tumbled down the depth chart. One year after taking the lion’s share of snaps in Long’s place at right guard, Coward has since lost a camp battle to Germain Ifedi at right guard and fallen behind Alex Bars as the first guard off the bench. The Bears like Coward enough to roster him as a reserve lineman. But their actions speak volumes about where his place is on the depth chart. Through this lens, perhaps Chicago should explore free agent options for depth purposes.
Dieter Eiselen, Sam Mustipher, and Lachavious Simmons are the only offensive linemen on the Bears’ practice squad. Eiselen and Simmons are rookies who are so raw, while Mustipher is a second-year player with no professional experience. It would be unfair to elevate any of the players named in this section into an important role before they were ready. Hence, Chicago would be wise to explore outside alternatives.
Josh Kline is a free agent with ample starting experience at guard. Kline, who turns 31 in December, has played 92 games (77 starts) with the Patriots, Titans, and Vikings. Minnesota released Kline in March after he completed just one season of a three-year contract he signed the previous year. There’s nothing spectacular about Kline’s game, but there is a steadiness that could be useful.
Justin Britt is another free agent with loads of starting experience. Britt, 29, started 86 of 87 games he appeared in for the Seahawks between 2014 and 2019. But more importantly, Britt has starting experience at three different positions. Britt’s experience at center, left guard, and right tackle could be something that intrigues the Bears if they decide to dive into there free agent market in search of help. Let’s not forget that James Daniels was also Chicago’s top backup center if something were to happen to Cody Whitehair.
Earl Watford, T.J. Clemmings, Eric Kush, and Ted Larsen are free agents who have varying levels of prior connections with the Bears. Watford spent some time on the Bears’ practice squad in 2018. Clemmings was on the team’s preseason roster in 2019 until he suffered a season-ending quadriceps injury during the preseason. Kush and Larsen were reserves in 2018 and 2019, respectively. There’s nothing wrong with familiarity coming in to bolster depth at the position.
Kyle Long isn’t coming back. Not only is he retired, he seems to be really enjoying himself based on his television appearances and social media presence. Sorry if I burst the bubble of those of you hoping Long would jump into a phone booth and come out to save the day wearing a navy-and-orange Superman outfit.