First-round pick Kyle Long coming along quickly for Bears
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter August 18, 2013 6:19PM
San Diego Chargers v Chicago Bears
Updated: September 20, 2013 6:27AM
Bears rookie guard Kyle Long sat at his locker at Soldier Field in disbelief. He wouldn’t say it, but he just had turned in a dominating performance Thursday against the San Diego Chargers on national TV. He impressed with his strength, agility and nasty approach.
‘‘To think that 3½ [or] four years ago, I was selling T-Shirts at a Jack’s Surfboards in Newport Beach,’’ Long said. ‘‘And now I’m playing in Soldier Field. I have to pinch myself sometimes.’’
How far does he think he has come since the Bears drafted him 20th overall in April?
‘‘The game does slow down for you as the game goes,’’ Long said. ‘‘But I still have miles and miles to go.’’
Long, though, is proving to be a quicker study than he wants to give himself credit for. He has played at such a high level this preseason that his limited action at Oregon and being unable to take part in most of the Bears’ offseason training feel like distant concerns.
‘‘Normally, there is definitely a learning curve, either on the offensive line or the defensive line,’’ said former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, an analyst for NFL Network and NFL.com. ‘‘It’s a little steeper than what he’s shown. He’s just taken right to it. You just don’t want to say that everything comes down to the genes, but he’ll tell you . . . he’s got football in his blood and that this is what he was born to do. It definitely shows so far. The way that he’s playing with limited experience is pretty impressive.’’
Pro Football Focus, which the Bears and other teams have used, rates Long as the best guard of the preseason. In PFF’s ratings system, Long produced a 5.7 mark in 33 snaps against the Chargers. Last season, the best rating a Bears guard produced was Lance Louis’ 3.4 in Week 2.
‘‘On any given play, a lineman is going to get either a positive, a negative or a zero for kind of a wash,’’ said PFF analyst Sam Monson, who handled the Chargers-Bears game. ‘‘Essentially, when it comes to running plays, it’s where the point of attack was, what Long was doing in relation to that point of attack and if he blocked his guys successfully away from the point of attack or whether he got beaten toward the point of attack and caused some form of problem in that way. Long was just consistently turning his guy, getting him out of the way, moving him away from the point of attack, giving the runner more space to work in and just chipping away, getting positive after positive.
‘‘When it comes to pass protection, it’s just a case of whether he gave up pressure or not. . . . He had a dozen snaps pass-protecting and didn’t give up any pressure.’’
Jeremiah said Long reminded him of Marshal Yanda, a two-time Pro Bowl guard whom the Baltimore Ravens drafted when Jeremiah was on their staff, because of his versatility, strong hands and nastiness. Monson likened him to Evan Mathis, the veteran Philadelphia Eagles guard who consistently tops PFF’s rankings.
‘‘Just every single snap, play in, play out, [Mathis is] winning,’’ Monson said. ‘‘That’s pretty much what Long was doing. He was just winning every time he met a defender.’’
There will be tough moments ahead for Long, who credits offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer and his veteran teammates for his progress. Jeremiah said he can see Long struggling with more complex stunts during the regular season, ‘‘but that’s something you just have to go through in order to see it and learn it.’’
Guard, though, looks like an ideal position for Long and what the Bears are trying to accomplish offensively. Jeremiah said Long’s most impressive blocks against the Chargers weren’t ones on which he buried defenders but ones on which he mirrored players in space, adjusted and latched on.
‘‘First of all, he’s playing his natural position inside at guard,’’ Jeremiah said. ‘‘He’s taken to it really, really well. With interior offensive linemen, you’re fortunate if you can get a guy that’s either athletic at the second level or a people-mover at the line of the scrimmage. So far in those two games, he’s shown that he can do both. Those [players] are a little harder to find.’’