Kyle Long: ‘Teams are going to have trouble' against the Bears


Kyle Long has been here before – “here” being a place of high hopes and expectations – and been bitterly disappointed.

This time it is different, however. For reasons that Long can both see and feel.

The Bears’ best offensive lineman was the team’s first-round draft choice in 2013, coming onto a team fresh off a 10-6 playoffs-near-miss season. Lovie Smith had been fired and the buzz surrounding supposed offense innovator Marc Trestman was akin to the feeling about what Matt Nagy was bringing when the latter arrived.

But the 2013 season dissolved from an 8-6 mark to a squandered playoff chance, followed by the freefall of 2014.

Enter John Fox, and Long believing that the Bears were on the brink of breakthrough. Before that season, Long thought that four specific tipping-point games lay on the schedule. The Bears lost all four of those and what he saw as 10-6 imploded to 6-10 as the Bears lost four of their last five, three of the losses to teams with losing records.

Fast forward to Matt Nagy and a pixie-dust 12-4 first year that exceeded expectations, in fact the opposite that Long had experienced twice before under Trestman and then Fox. Based on what had been his actual experiences, skeptical distrust might have been natural.

Long’s attitude is exactly the reverse. It’s not the influx of talent, which obviously is axiomatic for success. It’s what’s behind the talent that Long sees as the reason to believe.

“There’s always been talent; there’s no shortage of talent in the NFL,” said Long, voted to Pro Bowls his first three seasons and at two different positions. “But you get talent that’s also being selfless, hard workers and guys who want to put the team first, and win… .

“I think we just continue to get guys who are selfless and want to help the team win.”

He isn’t making any predictions for 2019, beyond “teams [on the Bears schedule] are going to have some trouble.”

Long has been in Bears huddles with talent: Martellus Bennett, Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, others. And he’s seen how selfish talent that ultimately makes the whole less than the sum of the parts.

He has not been one of those, even as he labored through dismal seasons made the worse for his series of significant injuries. The Bears averaged 376.4 yards of offense in the eight 2018 games in which Long played; they managed just 311 in the eight he didn’t, landing on IR with a foot injury.

His presence was a factor then and it’s a factor now.

“Just his presence out here, it automatically raises the tempo and energy that everyone brings out here,” said quarterback Mitchell Trubisky during this offseason “Everyone wants to go harder when Kyle’s on the field. Just the intensity he brings, the focus and how badly he wants this team to win and do good.

“It’s every single drill, every single snap, he’s bringing it and helping guys get locked in. It’s not really hard to get this group locked in, that’s kind of the culture we’ve built, guys just come here, they come ready to work and Kyle’s one of those guys that’s leading the charge and it’s every single snap, every single day with Kyle. And he keeps it fun as well. It’s awesome having him out here.”

Taking the Long view

In Long’s case, the attitude is more than the requisite upbeat’ness that necessarily runs through most players. What Long was bringing to the offseason sessions, in the weight room, meeting room and practice field, was there despite a pay cut at age 30.

Long, whose status was the subject of some speculation in the wake of last season, agreed to a restructured contract that dropped his cap hit from $8.5 million to $5.6 million, giving him some guaranteed money but running through 2020 instead of 2021. He didn’t like it -- “Anytime somebody’s ripping a check out of your book, it’s no fun” – but knew the realities for both the Bears’ side and his, and appreciated the professional manner in which the Bears handled the situation.

“It was in both our interests to secure my future here and secure some finances for things they needed to handle,” Long said. “It’s no secret, there’s a lot of money in the NFL. We all make a lot of money. I like to help where I can and I’m comfortable, so it wasn’t something where I needed to be greedy about.”

Whether Long was simply putting a positive spin on an inevitable take-it-or-leave-it situation really doesn’t matter because of his resulting attitude. Long felt through the offseason that he was seeing the Bears put the give-back money to good use, and every expectation was that an extension for fellow O-lineman Cody Whitehair was going to happen, with Long’s “help.”

“You see it. I see it every day with the new guys we’ve signed,” Long said. “It’s a good feeling I did the right thing and they did the right thing by me.”

Who IS that guy?

The collateral damage to Long because of the injury roll call of the past three seasons was not simply the missed games – he missed one of 48 his first three years, all or parts of 27 the past three. It was the lost time in offseasons, training camps and time elsewhere that necessarily caused his develop to plateau. Rare is the player who gets better with inactivity.

Going into last season Long was recovering from three different surgeries the previous offseason. The comp for his situation was that of wide receiver Allen Robinson, also a former Pro Bowl talent but who was still coming back from ACL surgery. After being out of most offseason and preseason work, Robinson’s progress was amply evident as last season wore on.

Likewise Long, who also did not get hands-on time with what for everyone was a new offense. The difference from this time a year ago to now borders on startling.

“He didn’t get to any of what we’re doing now,” said line coach Harry Hiestand. “He had three surgeries in that offseason – fortunately not major, but they were significant, serious. This is totally different.”

No argument from Long:

“Sometimes when I do stuff physically, guys look at me now and it’s like I’m back from the dead, like, ‘Where’s THIS guy been?’” Long said, laughing. “That’s nice. I’d like to do it for a long time and help my team as long as I can.”

“…as long as I can.”

Long fully grasps the implications of that last clause. At age 30 and working to get beyond a run of dismal health, Long saw his brother Chris retire from the game in mid-May and understands that he is now closer to the end of his own career than the beginning.

“He’s so much friggin’ smarter than me,” Kyle said, shaking his head. “I’m just worried about where the defense is going to be. He’s solving world peace and more power to him.

“I’m the last one left, the last of a ‘Long’ line. I was having a talk with my Dad [Hall of Fame defensive end Howie] the other day and he said, ‘Leave a lasting impression’ and that’s what I intend to do.”

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