After kicking off my 10 Most Important Chicago Bears list with one of the oldest players on the defense (Prince Amukamara at number 10), today it’s the oldest player on the offense that checks in at number nine. Starting right guard Kyle Long is about to enter his seventh professional season, but it’s the first time in the last three years he’s not doing so while rehabbing an injury. The 30-year old Long is healthy and in great shape as the Bears look to defend their NFC North title, and a healthy Long could take the Bears offensive line from a good one to one of the best in the NFL.
CBS Sports recently ranked the Bears as the 9th best offensive line in the NFL, with their one weakness attributed to Long being out of the lineup.
Where the Bears need to make an improvement is in run blocking. Per Football Outsiders, they ranked 28th in run blocking. If Long -- a good run blocker -- can stay healthy, the Bears should improve, but Long has played in only 26 of 48 possible games over the past three seasons.
According to long time WCG member Jonathan Wood, who does stellar work for Da Bears Blog, the Bears averaged 4.9 yards per carry with Kyle Long in the lineup and only 3.5 yards per carry when he was injured. Long is not only outstanding as a run blocker, but his athleticism makes him a good pass blocker too, and that makes the Bears passing game click at a higher level. Wood also figured out that the Bears yards per pass shot up with Long on the field.
The bottom line is, Kyle Long makes the Bears offense better when he’s on the field.
But he brings more to the franchise than just his football acumen and skills. Long is a team-first guy that has the respect of the entire locker room. His work ethic, his preparedness, and his ability to have fun, all makes him a team leader.
I’m excited to see how Long is able to start his season now that he’s healthy. The last few years have all seen him on a pitch count, with limited work in the offseason, but this year he’s been a full participant with his team and that’s something that has him fired up.
From the Chicago Tribune:
“It’s great,” Long said. “There’s a line — your mental toughness and physical toughness line — and you get to push it forward a little bit every day that you show up and do everything that you’re supposed to do. I haven’t been able to move that line very far the last few years because of physical limitations. And that really took a toll on me mentally. Not being able to be out there with the team, it really sucks. And now I’ve been here every day just doing what I love to do and being around the guys I love to be around. That’s been great.”
The Bears’ offense is in for a jump now that they’re in year two of the Matt Nagy system, but that jump could go to another level if Kyle Long stays healthy and returns to his Pro Bowl form.