First-and-10: ‘Tough guy’ Rashaad Coward worth a Long look at right guard

“He’ll get a ton of work this week,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said of the second-year reserve lineman.

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Rashaad Coward is in line to start for the Bears at right guard against the Saints on Sunday, in place of Kyle Long, who was put on injured reserve with a hip injury Monday. Coward has played in one game on offense in his three-year career — 30 snaps at right guard against the Vikings.

Brian O’Mahoney/For the Sun-Times

The Bears have three candidates to replace Kyle Long at right guard, but Rashaad Coward looks like the next man up.

Coward worked with the first team in practice Monday and is expected to stay there until he proves he can’t handle it. The Bears play the Saints on Sunday at Soldier Field.

“He’ll get a ton of work this week to make sure he’s got a good opportunity,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said.

Veteran Ted Larsen and rookie Alex Bars are the other candidates. Larsen returned to practice Monday after missing a week with a knee injury he suffered as the replacement for Long against the Vikings on Sept. 29. The 6-6, 320-pound Coward played 30 snaps in Larsen’s place and apparently did well enough to earn the shot.

It’s an intriguing gambit — Coward was a defensive lineman as a rookie in 2017, but switched to offensive line last season. He did not appear in a game. But the Bears like his moxie — and his potential to grow into the position quickly.

“He’s a tough guy,” Hiestand said. “He plays very, very hard. It’s super important to him and he’s very prideful. He’s very determined to keep his guy from making a play and that’s a big part of this.”

Coward, signed as an undrafted free agent from Old Dominion in 2017, is inexperienced, but bring’s a defensive mindset to the position, which can’t be discounted. Guard Mark Bortz and tackle James “Big Cat” Williams previously had stellar careers on the offensive line after playing defense in college. Bortz was an eighth-round draft pick from Iowa in 1983. Big Cat was an undrafted free agent from Cheyney (Pa.) State in 1991.

And Coward grew up in Brooklyn — that can’t be discounted as a factor, either. Those guys don’t flinch.

“I just want to play with a dog mentality,” Coward said. “It’s the NFL. Guys come out here and try to kill you every week. So you can’t go out there playing soft —you’re going to get pushed around. And I don’t like that.”

2. In the preseason, left tackle Charles Leno called this year’s offensive line the best he had ever played on in his five seasons as a starter. “We want to be the best o-line in the league — period,” he said.

The line has not come close to that lofty goal — arguably the biggest disappointment of the season. “We’re kind of taking turns making the mistake that hurt the production of the play,” Hiestand said. “The lack of consistency’s really hurt us and that’s something we’re zeroed in on and going to make sure we eliminate those mistakes that shut us down … keep working our technique, keep working our execution and we’ll work our way through this.”

Hiestand is confident the line can snap back.

“[With] the group of guys that we have, I’m very optimistic,” Hiestand said. “They’re working hard. They do the right things.”

3. Linebacker Roquan Smith’s nine-tackle performance against the Raiders following a mysterious one-week absence for personal reasons was panned by some critics. But inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone was impressed.

“I actually thought he played pretty good [against the Raiders],” DeLeone said. “I think he’s getting better every week. I think he’s about to blow up. I’m excited for him. I think he’s in a great place. He’s just starting to play —really turn it up and play really good.”

4. Now it can be told: Linebacker Khalil Mack, stymied most of the game against the Raiders, was hampered by an unknown physical issue throughout the game. Mack was on the sideline for four plays in the Raiders’ game-winning touchdown drive. Mack played 61 of 72 defensive snaps.

“Early in the game he had a little issue out there,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “It was a maintenance issue throughout the game —we had to make sure that he was fresh and clean and healthy enough to go. So we tried to take a few reps off him early in some series. But on those really important downs, No. 52 was in the game.”

Monachino said Mack’s malady has been cleared up. “The bye week was spent the right way,” he said.“Great pro.”

5. After six weeks, the NFC North has the best record in the NFL against non-division opponents —10-3-1. The rest of the NFL: NFC West (12-4-1); AFC East (7-6); NFC South (9-9); AFC South (8-9); AFC West (8-9); NFC East (5-11); AFC North (4-12).

6. With Long out for the season and Akiem Hicks out at least until Week 15, the Bears will have at least 26 missed games among their starting players —already more than the 23 missed games by starters all of last season (including nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan’s four).

With the rejuvenation of the Packers (5-1) and Vikings (4-2), the Bears’ upcoming home games against the Saints and Chargers could be crucial to their playoff hopes. Three other current wild-card contenders are on pace for 10 or more wins — the Seahawks (5-1), Vikings (4-2) and Panthers (4-2).

7. This Fun Fact seems a little daunting: Only one of the 24 teams that has lost in London has made the playoffs. And that was a bit of a fluke: the 2008 Chargers finished 8-8 and won the AFC West when they beat Jay Cutler and the Broncos 52-21 in Week 17.

7a. For what it’s worth, teams coming off the bye week following the London game are 27-16-1. Good teams — teams that ended the season with a winning record —are 14-3-0.

8. The controversial calls that benefited the Packers in their 23-22 victory over the Lions on Monday night at Lambeau Field reminded me of the time the Bears played the Packers at Lambeau and an official exchanged hand-slaps with Aaron Rodgers in the tunnel as the Packers prepared to enter the field prior to the game. And it wasn’t a “play a good game” handshake, but more of an enthusiastic hand slap that seemed inappropriate between an official and a player.

That’s not necessarily an indictment of the officials. I don’t think they consciously aid Rodgers or the Packers. But there is little doubt that officials — just like opponents and opposing coaches fans, coaches and media — have a Jordan-like respect for Rodgers, which he has earned. Human nature seems to do the rest.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Redskins linebacker Jon Bostic had eight tackles, including one tackle-for-loss in a 17-16 victory over the Dolphins.

Bostic was the Bears’ second-round pick in 2013 (50th overall) after Kyle Long was taken with the 20th pick in the first round. With Long and Cardinals tackle Jordan Mills on IR, Bostic is the only player from that draft class still active in the NFL. That class also included linebacker Khaseem Greene (fourth round), defensive end Cornelius Washington (sixth) and wide receiver Marquess Wilson (seventh).

10. Bear-ometer: 8-8 — vs. Saints (W); vs. Chargers (W); at Eagles (L); vs. Lions (W); at Rams (L); vs. Giants (W); at Lions (L); vs. Cowboys (W); at Packers (L); vs. Chiefs (L); at Vikings (L).

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