While it may have been a surprise pick to most, Kyle Long was always in the plans. After scouting the Senior Bowl in January, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery targeted the former Oregon offensive lineman for the Bears No. 20 overall pick in the first round.
Not only does he look the part of a NFL offensive lineman standing 6’6” tall and weighing 313 pounds, Longs athleticism gives him the ability to be an immediate contributor. “We see [him contributing] right away,” Emery said at a press conference Thursday. “Obviously he has got to earn his way just like all the players do, but we see a player that’s going to contribute right away.”
Long has the strength and thick arms to slide in at left guard right away, however, his athleticism and footwork projects him as a possible future left tackle. “That’s a part of the reason why we are extremely excited to have him here, is his versatility,” Emery said. “We feel like he can be a starting right tackle. We feel like he can be a good left tackle in this league.”
Longs’ versatility will help patch a Bears offensive line that has a desperate need for depth. Having allowed quarterback Jay Cutler to be sacked 113 times over the last three seasons, the highest rate in the NFL, the Bears have clearly made the offensive line a priority. Signing free agent tackle Jermon Bushrod, guard Matt Slauson, and tight end Martellus Bennett, the Bears offseason has seen a push to strengthen the front.
There are however, a few concerns with the Bears first-round selection. A rocky history including substance abuse issues led many to believe Long would end up being taken on day-two of the draft. After choosing to play baseball at Florida State University, he failed out of school after his freshman year. Long also was cited with a DUI in Charlottesville, Virginia in January of 2009.
These issues led Long to sit out a season before enrolling in Saddleback Junior College to play football. Having only played one year of major college football at Oregon in 2012, many scouts saw his lack of experience as a weakness. Emery believes his troubles are a thing of the past, “All of us have fallen down in life at one point or another and the important thing is – do we get up and try to move forward and make ourselves better and not only make ourselves better but those around us better? And that’s what this young man has done.”
Another positive is that Long has NFL football in his blood. His father, Howie, is an NFL hall of famer, and his brother, Chris, is a standout defensive end for the St. Louis Rams.
The Bears will most likely have three new starters on the offensive line in 2013. Longs’ versatility and athleticism will allow him to slide in wherever the Bears need. It appears Long will start along side tackle Bushrod at left guard.
Not many people predicted the Bears taking Long, however, don’t immediately write the pick off. “How we see him fitting for us and do we have the type of dynamic athlete and leader that we need that can help us win championships and that’s this guy,” Emery said.