Alex Bars is where he wants to be.
The rookie guard was elevated to the 53-man roster this week and finds himself competing for playing time after veteran Kyle Long was placed on injured reserve. The sequence of events has nearly become a morality play for the virtues of patience, hard work and loyalty.
A little more than a year ago Bars suffered ACL and MCL tears, costing him the latter half of his senior season at Notre Dame and the chance to be the captain of a college football playoff team. The injury tanked his draft stock, meaning the former star recruit would have to find his way as an undrafted free agent.
"I mean, coming off an injury, for sure, that was a little different," said Bars, "but transitioning to this level, as well, coming off an injury was an adjustment I had to make."
Fortunately for Bars, he had a good contact in the NFL.
Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who was Bars' position coach during his first four years at Notre Dame, left for Chicago before Bars' senior year. Last spring, the Bears signed Bars as an undrafted free agent. Hiestand praised the guard's effort in rehabbing the injury.
"He's really improved from training camp to now," said Hiestand. "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."
Hiestand's history with Bars goes back six years, when Hiestand scouted Bars at his high school in Nashville.
"I remember going to watch practice," Hiestand said. "He was playing O-line and D-line. You could see that he was a factor on both sides, hard to block. We liked the way he played: great attitude, smart guy, worked hard."
Hiestand pointed out that plenty of high schools send in edited highlights that can hide things like a player taking plays off. Seeing Bars in-person convinced Hiestand that Bars needed to be a top priority. He successfully recruited Bars to South Bend, where Bars's father, Joe, played in the 1980s.
Hiestand said that Bars has become stouter and stronger in the past few months. He has played both guard and tackle in practice, but Hiestand sees the former as his more natural position.
Bars confirmed to reporters Thursday that he was offered a roster spot by the New England Patriots earlier in the season. As Bars was on the practice squad at the time, he was essentially a recruitable athlete. Bars elected to stay in Chicago.
"I felt like the opportunity here in this franchise was greater," said Bars.
The chance to keep working with Hiestand was obviously a huge factor as well.
"He treats me like a son," said Bars. "I see him like a dad: that kind of relationship. He gets on me, no doubt, but he wants me to be my best. He cares so much about me."
While Hiestand speaks fondly of Bars, he feels like the guard's decision was based much more on logic than emotion.
"The commitment by the Bears organization to him, he recognizes," Hiestand said, "[The Patriots] went around and tried to cherry pick him. Who knows? A week later, he might be out the door, where there's an investment here [that has] been made. I know he felt that."
It remains to be seen if Bars will see much action in the coming weeks, but it does seem possible that he'll be a name to know in the future.