For the first time since 2013, Kyle Long will not be the starting right guard for the Chicago Bears. While many are mixed on the subject, it's a significant change the offensive line group must address. Many expected Ryan Pace to aggressively track down his replacement this offseason by spending big on the free-agent market or using a high draft pick. That certainly wasn't the case, but Pace did keep some familiar names around as well as adding some new faces.
Who will start at right guard in 2020? Let's look at the possibilities.
Rashaad Coward started ten games last season after Kyle Long went down for the year. Originally signed as a defensive lineman in 2017, Coward eventually moved to the offensive side of the ball. His experience as a depth piece behind James Daniels, Kyle Long, and Cody Whitehair gives him familiarity within the system. Ryan Pace has raved about Coward's versatility and willingness to play different positions.
However, it's impossible to ignore the Bears' struggles running the ball in 2019. Chicago ranked 27th in rushing last season and some view Coward as a reason for that. As the returning starter and a player who received a new contract this offseason, Coward should get a fair opportunity to keep his starting job. At the very least, expect him to be a depth option.
"We really like where Coward's heading in his future, we're really optimistic about that, especially him being raw, converting from defensive line. But to be honest, I think you're mindful, too, of, hey, Ifedi's on a one-year deal. Rashaad is a work in progress and we feel good about that."
- Bears GM Ryan Pace
Despite many considering him a long shot, Alex Bars obviously has some friends in high places within the organization. Before a knee injury that ended his college career in 2018, Bars was selected as a preseason first-team All-American and captain at Notre Dame. Lining up beside players such as Quentin Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, Bars was expected to be the next great lineman to enter the NFL from South Bend.
Fast forward to now. Alex Bars signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent was promoted from the practice squad in October. Before that, he rejected an offer to sign with the New England Patriots. From the outside looking in, the Bears obviously seem to have a plan for the Notre Dame product and have made it a priority to keep him on the roster. While he won't be handed a starting job in the NFL, he might get a real shot to compete in training camp.
"He's really improved from training camp to now. His extra work in the weight room, getting that even and stability of the lower body, then having it be solid for him, has been huge. He's not only rehabbed now; he's gaining. That's the key."
- Former Bears, Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand
Far and away, the most experienced player in this competition has to be former first-round pick Germain Ifedi. The Texas A&M product has started 60 games since entering the league in 2016, splitting time at tackle and guard. More than anything, the biggest criticism Ifedi has received is his influx of penalties. According to PFR, Ifedi has been responsible for 46 penalties since 2016, including 12 holding calls. According to PFF, Ifedi also allowed seven sacks and 52 pressures.
Penalties and sacks don't tell the whole story, however. The Seahawks also ranked fourth in rushing in 2019 and Ifedi should be credited with that as well. While pass blocking and holding calls have been a concern, he's a former first-round pick for a reason. At age 26, he still has time to figure it out. His experience at the position and long-term upside make him a strong candidate to take the job. Bears' offensive line coach Juan Castillio already seems to be a fan.
"I am excited about him, he comes from a winning program. He knows how to work. But really there are some things he knew he needed to work on. We're going to work on teaching him to stay square. And the important thing is that Germain has taken it upon himself to work his [butt] off, to learn how to stay square in pass protection."
- Bears offensive line coach Juan Castillo
While the Bears signed Jason Spriggs as a backup to Charles Leno and Bobby Massie, the former second-round pick has experience at guard as well. Spriggs seemed to be the sixth man of sorts during his tenure in Green Bay, consistently jumping in where needed. Spending time at both tackle and guard, Spriggs started nine games in 36 appearances with the Packers. His ability to stay on the field is a big question mark, as he has finished two seasons on IR.
Spriggs' case gets interesting because of his history with Chicago Bears' GM Ryan Pace. Reports surfaced around the 2016 NFL Draft implying that Pace was very high on the Indiana tackle before Green Bay selected him. With how Jason Spriggs' tenure ended with the Packers, there are thoughts that they drafted him so the Bears couldn't, similar to the Shea McClellan debacle years earlier. If this is true, Ryan Pace might push to get Spriggs on the field in 2020. The only spot open for him right now is at right guard.
“The first thing you have to say about Jason is he can play left tackle in this league — and that’s huge. That’s a priority position in my view. That tells you the importance that he has to our offensive line. I think we’re very fortunate we have Jason”
- Jason Spriggs' former coach Mike McCarthy