Chicago Bears: Kyle Long

Long arrives at ONU

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long's absence lasted just one day.

Long
The 2013 first-round pick arrived on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University around lunchtime Thursday, one day after the rest of the team reported to training camp, and told reporters he is recovering from a viral infection that is expected to sideline Long through the weekend.

"I was pretty sick and run down this past weekend, but I'm feeling better," Long said before entering the ONU dining hall.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said Wednesday that Long will be re-evaluated at the beginning of next week.

Long was officially placed on the non-football injury list on Thursday.

No official timetable has been set for Long to start practicing, but right tackle Jordan Mills believes the Pro Bowl right guard will return in short order.

"He's going to be fine. He's tough," Mills said. "He hates that he wasn't here to see everybody yesterday."

The Bears ran their annual conditioning test Thursday morning, which consisted of three, 300-yard shuttles.

Safety Craig Steltz (groin surgery) passed his conditioning test, but will begin camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, along with fellow safety Chris Conte.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman spent nearly an hour Wednesday addressing the media for the start of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University, and touched on a variety of topics.

Here are three things we think after listening to them as well as quarterback Jay Cutler, who met with the media shortly after reporting to camp:

Wilson
Michael C. Wright

If healthy, Adrian Wilson is a starter. Yes, he’s 34 and coming off an injury which forced him to miss the entire 2013 season. But some within the organization are downright giddy about what Wilson could potentially bring to the table in terms of adding a level of physicality at the safety position. In laying out a case for him, one member of the organization pointed out that many of today’s best defenses feature an intimidating presence on the back end; teams such as Seattle and San Francisco. The truth is the Bears don’t know whether Wilson has anything left in the tank. But if Wilson remains fully healthy throughout camp, I think he leaves Bourbonnais with a starting job.

“He sets a tone,” general manager Phil Emery said. “Talk about a guy that [will] come down in the box and whack you, and whack you in space. That’s what he’s done.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Offense isn’t quite as good as everyone thinks. Not yet. That’s not to take away from the group’s accomplishments last season, because it definitely improved. But there seems to be an assumption the Bears will automatically light up opponents this season based on what they did in 2013. Chicago’s offense hasn’t arrived by any means. There’s still plenty of room for growth. That’s part of why Bears coach Marc Trestman constantly laments yardage and points they “left on the field” in 2013, and why a major part of the coach’s message to the team at camp is to “ignore the noise”; the noise being the optimism surrounding the team from outsiders.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJay Cutler and the Bears offense still has a lot of work to do if they want to become elite.
Cutler even cautioned against overconfidence.

“You’ve got to be careful with that. Everyone in the NFL is confident right now,” Cutler said. “Everyone likes what they have on paper. Everyone likes their roster. That includes us. But that doesn’t guarantee us anything. We’ve still got to go out there and perform.”

The Bears certainly won’t be sneaking up on opponents this season given what the offense did in 2013. Opposing defenses will be ready. The Bears need to be, too.

Jimmy Clausen will overtake Jordan Palmer for the No. 2 job. Emery raved about Clausen’s workouts, and it seems Cutler has taken to the former Notre Dame standout too. Emery said that upon Clausen’s arrival, he “got Jay on the phone right away. Jay reached him, and they reached out to each other,” and the quarterbacks “spent the whole weekend together learning the playbook so that [Clausen] had the best opportunity to stick with the team post the veteran minicamp. That determination, the literal picture is he squared his jaw and got to work. That is what I like about him. He’s got a certain mental toughness and intelligence, and he showed accuracy.”

To me, it seems the Bears want Clausen to win the job, and Palmer certainly didn’t help his cause by missing practice time during the offseason due to an injury only to return with a couple of shaky workouts.

The team likes how Clausen handled his lack of success and the drafting of Cam Newton in Carolina, and believes the quarterback has displayed plenty of mental toughness in recent years. It also helps that he’s got plenty of NFL experience, which will be a huge advantage in the competition with Palmer.

Jeff Dickerson

Competition not just lip service with Trestman. Genuine training camp competitions under Lovie Smith were few and far between. Most everything was predetermined on the depth chart under Smith, but legitimate battles are expected to take place this preseason at safety, linebacker, No. 3 wide receiver (although Marquess Wilson is the favorite), No. 2 quarterback, No. 2 running back, and for the reserve spots on the offensive and defensive lines. Too often NFL players fall into the trap of feeling comfortable and secure once they’ve established themselves. Emery has removed that security blanket. Read between the lines on Wednesday: notable veteran players are in jeopardy of being cut at the end of the summer if they fail to perform at an acceptable level at camp and in the preseason games. Emery also said on Wednesday the Bears will continue to monitor the waiver wire and free agent market to improve the club, if necessary. Unless a player has a lucrative contract, he is not safe from a roster standpoint.

Clausen
Clausen will overtake Palmer for the No. 2 job. Jordan Palmer might open practice on Friday as the No. 2 quarterback, but Jimmy Clausen has closed the gap in the QB race considerably. The Bears have done nothing but praise Clausen since he joined the club on June 5, lauding everything from Clausen’s arm, intelligence, commitment and desire to prove people wrong following a disappointing stint in Carolina. Emery called Clausen’s free agent workout “the best quarterback workout” he’s seen since arriving in Chicago in the winter of 2012. Clausen has also apparently clicked with Cutler over the last six weeks. Emery has final say over the roster, but Cutler’s opinion does matter when it comes to selecting his backup. Clausen has the most experience of the bunch (10 starts) and the most natural talent. We all see where this is headed.

Kyle Long's expected absence concerning. Training camp is where offensive linemen hone their technique. While Kyle Long made the Pro Bowl in 2013 as a rookie, he is still considered somewhat raw. The news that Long will be sidelined indefinitely due to a viral infection is concerning. A bad viral infection can keep a player out for an extended period of time. We don’t know the severity of Long’s illness, other than he’s scheduled to be re-evaluated next week. Hopefully, Long returns to the field in short order. He needs the reps. And the last thing the Bears need is to once again be forced to move bodies around on the offensive line. We all know how that usually ends up. Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot) and left guard Matt Slauson (shoulder) receiving full medical clearance to practice on Friday is encouraging news, but forgive me for holding my breath until Long gets over the illness and is back on the field.

Bears' Chris Conte lands on PUP

July, 23, 2014
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Three-year starting Chicago Bears free safety Chris Conte will open training camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and is expected to miss the team's first preseason game versus the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 8, general manager Phil Emery announced Wednesday.

Conte is still recovering from shoulder surgery he elected to undergo on March 26 to fix a lingering problem that plagued the safety for more than a year.

Conrath
Conte
There is no concrete timeline for Conte to return to the practice field.

"I can't predict healing," Emery said. "I wish I could. I'd make even more money than I'm making now. But Chris is where he's at. He made the decision that he wanted surgery and he pressed forward and he's in that recovery phase. We anticipate that somewhere here in camp, not before the first preseason game, but after that, that he'll start practice. Depending on how well he practices and how well he responds to contact will determine how many preseason games he plays after that first one. But it won't be the first preseason game."

Despite setting career-highs in tackles (90), interceptions (3) and forced fumbles (1), Conte experienced a bumpy 2013 season that culminated with a fourth-quarter busted coverage in the Week 17 finale against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

Conte's struggles, however, were magnified by the Bears' porous front-seven on defense and their inability to tackle ball carriers before they reached the second level, which forced all of the team's defensive backs to repeatedly make difficult open field tackles. The Bears surrendered a league-worst 161.4 rushing yards per game last season.

Regardless, Conte faces intense competition to earn a roster spot in 2014 after the Bears beefed up the safety position by adding Ryan Mundy, Adrian Wilson, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Brock Vereen (fourth-round draft choice).

Fellow safety Craig Steltz is likely to practice on Friday after he underwent offseason groin surgery, but a final determination won't be made until later in the week, per Emery.
Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot) and left guard Matt Slauson (shoulder) have received full medical clearance to begin camp. Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long will be sidelined indefinitely due to a viral infection.
Overview: Keeping the interior of the pocket clean allows the quarterback to step up and follow through on throws, and in 2013 the trio of starters Roberto Garza, Kyle Long and Matt Slauson certainly allowed the Chicago Bears' signal callers to do that with relative ease.

"We want the protection system to start from the inside out," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said.

It's probably safe to say the interior of Chicago's offensive line is its strength, and should only improve with the team bringing back all the starters while ramping up the competition at some of the backup spots.

"It's exciting," Slauson said. "This is the first time in my career where all five guys have stayed the same. Hopefully we can build off all the progress we made last year."

Battle to watch: This isn't expected to materialize into a full-blown battle, but surely all eyes will be on the play of Garza and Brian De La Puente at the center position. Garza has started every game the last three seasons at center, and in 2013 put together arguably his best campaign since taking over for Olin Kreutz at the position. Although Garza hasn't shown any signs of a drop off, his age (35), and the fact the Bears brought on De La Puente -- who also has familiarity with Kromer -- as the potential heir apparent at the position will lead to speculation the team might be looking to replace the team captain. The potential speculation should lead to intense competition at training camp between Garza and De La Puente, who has also spent time during the offseason at guard. Garza's spot likely isn't in jeopardy, and the truth is some of the battles for the backup roles might wind up being more compelling.

Dark horse: The Bears put together such strong depth at the interior positions there probably won't be a dark horse to make the team at center or guard, and certainly no player on the roster will push either Slauson or Long for their starting jobs.

Who makes the cut: The Bears entered the 2013 regular-season finale with 10 total offensive linemen on the active roster and six of those players including Taylor Boggs, Eben Britton, James Brown, Garza, Long and Slauson can play interior positions. Well, every one of those players is back for 2014, in addition to De La Puente. De La Puente will make the team, which means one of the other players won't make the cut. There's a good chance that player winds up being Brown.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Third-round draft choice Will Sutton practiced on Thursday after being excused the previous two days for what he called "a family emergency".

Sutton never went into specific details about the matter but said "everything is good now" when asked if the situation had been resolved.

"I talked it over with the coaches and they let me go," Sutton said. "They said to take as time as I need but I'm here today."

Sutton felt he performed fine on Thursday despite missing the first two days of the club's mandatory minicamp, but the Arizona State product revealed that he plans to return home in the weeks leading up to training camp to ensure that he keeps himself in top physical shape. Sutton gained weight his final year with the Sun Devils that caused his production and draft stock to dip.

He is currently listed at 6-foot, 303 pounds on the Bears' official offseason roster.

"I'm just going to go back to Arizona and train," Sutton said. "It's going to be hot. It's going to be hot.

"My weight isn't a problem. I put on the weight [last year] because I was told to. It's not a problem. It's not that I'm lazy and don't work out."

Speaking of working out, the Bears don't necessarily view the five week gap between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp as a vacation. Bears head coach Marc Trestman delivered that message to his team at their final meeting before the players left the building Thursday afternoon. Apparently, Trestman's speech resonated within the locker room.

"There's no real time to rest," Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "You might take your weekends off, but for five days a week you need to get ready for training camp. It's not time to take off."

Kicker Robbie Gould added: "The time to take vacations is in January."

The Bears are set to report to training camp on July 24 on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

• Teams can learn a lot about themselves over the course of an eight-week NFL offseason program.

But can you actually tell if a team will be good in the regular season based on OTAs and minicamp?

"No, you really can't tell," Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings said. "All you can tell is where your team is at. You don't know where you are going to rank, but you know what you have at this moment."

• The Bears clearly like that they have seen from rookie safety Brock Vereen. He took all the first-team reps alongside Ryan Mundy throughout the entire minicamp, but the organization is not ready to anoint Vereen a starter.

• Trestman described undrafted rookie free agent Jordan Lynch as being in the mix for a reserve role in the Bears' offensive backfield.

"We have a logjam from two through five [on the running back depth chart]. Jordan is in that logjam. A lot of that will be balanced out with special teams. I'm looking forward to seeing him in pads with the rest of the younger guys.

"Jordan is doing well."

• Safety Chris Conte was excused for a third straight day due to an illness that the Bears were concerned could be contagious, according to Trestman. However, the bulk of the roster was present on the final day of minicamp, although right tackle Jordan Mills, right guard Kyle Long, cornerback Sherrick McManis and Matt Slauson did not participate.

• Safety Craig Steltz went through individual drills for the third straight day while wide receiver Alshon Jeffery had full participation after he rested on Wednesday.
Marc TrestmanAP Photo/Matt RourkeUpon becoming coach of the Bears, Marc Trestman worked toward ending hazing in the locker room.
Marc Trestman's ability to think organically no doubt raised him above some of the other candidates during general manager Phil Emery's search prior to last season for a new coach to lead the Chicago Bears.

Trestman now seems to be taking things a step further, based on this article written by Peter King of The Monday Morning Quarterback, and might be on track to show that a proper culture in the locker room could translate into victories on the football field.

According to King, Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler hopped a flight to New York to meet with Dov Seidman, an author who writes and speaks about values-based leadership, to toss around ideas about how to foster a more ethical culture in the locker room. What's interesting is Trestman made the eradication of hazing one of his first directives after taking the job as head coach of the Bears, and some of the players believed that move last season fostered a better work environment.

Obviously, locker room culture became a hot issue around the league last season when the Miami Dolphins suspended Richie Incognito, stemming from allegations of harassment from offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who left the team and checked himself into a hospital to treat emotional distress. According to King, Seidman addressed team officials at the NFL's annual meeting in March, and is currently in the midst of conducting one-hour meetings with all 32 teams this month to talk about culture change in locker rooms.

“I've been in places where there's been hazing, and I've been in places where there has not been hazing,” Trestman said last November. “I told the team the first night: ‘When you haze somebody, you take their ability to help you win. Everybody's here to help you win.' We're not talking about taking a helmet and walking off the field with a helmet. We're talking about other things. The words you use, the way you act, the things you say affect people from all different backgrounds and places. We've got to understand that the beauty of this game is it draws people from everywhere, from different realities and different perceptions. But that can all be neutralized through respect and using the proper language and proper words in the right place and the right time, in this building, on the field, and when we're out in the community because we represent the entire city.”

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
David Banks/Getty Images"You have to earn your stripes ... but as far as crossing that line -- disrespecting guys, demeaning guys -- that just doesn't happen here," Brandon Marshall said.
It's clear Trestman wants to further improve upon some of the cultural changes he made upon becoming the team's head coach, and bringing along Cutler, who has never been perceived from the outside as a leader in the locker room, could go a long way toward that.

Trestman told King: “I got a tremendous start in the way a locker room was run when I coached for five years in Canada. In our locker room, everyone should feel safe. For some of the guys in Chicago, it was kind of new to them. There'd be no hazing. Lovie Smith had a great group of players, a great group, and he did a great job with them. There were some subtle things I wanted to add. I wanted to keep growing.”

Trestman declined to get into specifics about his conversation, telling King he simply “wanted to find out what else we could do to keep growing.”

Receiver Brandon Marshall and guard Kyle Long, who was a rookie in 2013, have both said they've appreciated Trestman's approach.

“Here, it's different. We look at rookies differently,” Marshall said. “You have to earn your stripes, earn your place on the team, earn your place in the NFL. But as far as crossing that line -- disrespecting guys, demeaning guys -- that just doesn't happen here. Actually, Coach Trestman did a great job of really going out of his way to make everyone feel comfortable from day one. There were some things where we were like, ‘Man, this stuff goes on in every locker room. We would love to continue to do it.' But Coach just said, ‘Hey, we're going to nip that in the bud. I want guys to focus on football, and everyone just focus on their jobs and not Rookie Night or what guys might do to me the next day [in terms of hazing].'”

Long said that Trestman made it “very clear from the beginning” that there would be no hazing in the locker room.

“I feel that's very conducive to a healthy workplace,” Long said. “We really appreciate that about Coach, where nobody is put ahead of anybody else. But at the same time, for you to think that we don't understand that we are rookies, you'd be mistaken.”

Through a coaching career spanning nearly three decades -- ranging from stints at colleges, a head-coaching job in the Canadian Football League and several other stints around the NFL -- Trestman said he's “seen the incidents” of hazing, and in Chicago he wanted to “build on the concept of respect and the growth of respect.”

“We're not going to spend time having players worry about things that can't help us win and are going to be disrespectful,” Trestman said last November. “I can't speak for anyone in the National Football League on that. I'm not going to stand up here after seven weeks on the job and start speaking for the league. Our whole foundation's built on respect for everyone in the organization, respect for the players, respect for the game, honoring the game. We've talked about it a lot.”

Apparently, Trestman's way isn't the norm around the NFL, which is part of the reason the league enlisted Seidman as a consultant. Seidman is the CEO of the LRN Corporation, which works with businesses to stress principled performance. Seidman believes culture change in NFL locker rooms won't take place overnight.

Trestman seems to be way ahead of the curve in that area.

McCown, Mills win Piccolo Award

May, 6, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Bears honored quarterback Josh McCown and right tackle Jordan Mills as the 2013 Brian Piccolo Award winners at a news conference at Halas Hall on Tuesday.

The Piccolo Award is voted on by Bears players, who select a teammate they feel best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, dedication and sense of humor of late Bears running back Brian Piccolo, who died in 1970 at the age of 26 from embryonal cell carcinoma.

A Bears rookie has won the award every season since its inception in 1970. In 1992, the award was expanded to include a veteran player, as well.

McCown, who signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, was not present at the awards ceremony. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler accepted the honor on McCown’s behalf.

“It’s impossible to replace a person like Josh McCown,” Cutler said. “I couldn’t be happier for him in his next journey down in Tampa. There isn’t a more deserving player in the league this past year than Josh McCown. [He played] 13 seasons on seven or eight different teams with just as many offensive coordinators and new playbooks each and every year, so to get this opportunity near the end of his career is very deserving for him.

“My only regret is that I would have met him earlier in life.”

McCown had a breakout year for the Bears in 2013 when he completed 149 of 224 pass attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception. His 109.0 passer rating was the third-highest in the NFL.

Beyond the numbers, Cutler lauded McCown for the veteran’s ability to connect with teammates from all backgrounds and age groups.

“It’s rare to find a teammate that makes you not only a better player, but also a better person,” Cutler said.

Mills started all 16 games for the Bears at right tackle after the club selected him in the fifth round out of Louisiana Tech. Mills actually broke his foot during pregame warm-ups before the Bears' critical Week 17 matchup versus the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field, but tried to play through the pain before leaving the game following the opening series.

“That’s the kind of courage Jordan exemplifies,” Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “That’s why the team chose him. He’s a great teammate. He plays next to another rookie, Kyle Long, and those two rookies working together, with his calmness and Kyle’s craziness, had a lot of success. It just shows the humor that can keep that thing together when you are a rookie.

“Jordan showed a lot of dedication to come from small-town Louisiana, to go through Louisiana Tech, to become a fifth-round pick, and then be a starter as a rookie.”

Reviewing the Bears' drafts: 2013

April, 18, 2014
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Here is Part 5 of our series reviewing the past five drafts of the Chicago Bears.

With one full-season under his belt, general manager Phil Emery took on the task of rebuilding the offensive line, while inserting youth into an aging defense that would be playing under a new head coach for the first time since 2004.

First-round pick: Kyle Long, OG, Oregon

Number of picks: 6

How they did: Above average. Four of the six members of the 2013 draft class cracked the starting lineup last season, with Long and fifth-round choice Jordan Mills starting all 16 regular-season games. Bostic was thrown into the fire after veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams suffered a season-ending injury, and Greene had the unenviable task of attempting to replace perennial Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs, who missed seven games because of a shoulder issue. Seventh-rounder Marquess Wilson played sparingly as a rookie, but is expected to have a much larger role in the offense as the No. 3 wide receiver in 2014. Cornelius Washington, a sixth-round defensive end out of Georgia, spent the bulk of the season on the inactive list.

[+] EnlargeKyle Long
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesKyle Long showed leadership qualities as a rookie.
Pivotal pick: Long. The Bears switched out four of their five starting offensive linemen from 2012 to 2013. Though the club signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson (a pair of excellent free-agent pickups) before the draft, it was critical for the organization to hit on a first-round offensive lineman after missing on Chris Williams (2008) and Gabe Carimi (2011). Another failure on the offensive line in the first round would have forced the Bears to spend more money in free agency or re-draft the position again entirely. That will not have to happen unless Long suffers some kind of injury. He should be a fixture on the Bears’ offensive line for 10 years, at least. Plus, his athleticism and intelligence could allow him to change positions in the future if the Bears deem it necessary.

Best pick: Long. When respected team captain and veteran center Roberto Garza calls it quits, Long will take over the leadership of the offensive line and be one of the key voices in the locker room. Although Long prefers not to talk about himself, he has a commanding presence that cannot be ignored. But what makes this such a great pick is that Long was a relative unknown coming out of Oregon, where he started just a handful of games. It takes guts to select a player at No. 20 overall who played only one year of major college football. Yet, the Bears did their homework, stood by their convictions, and were rewarded with likely the club’s best first-round pick since Tommie Harris in 2004.

Worst pick: Washington. But to be fair, he’s only been in the NFL for one season. There is a chance he improves his technique in the offseason and learns how to use his 6-foot-4 frame to his advantage. Washington never really had a permanent position at Georgia, so he is considered raw. Obviously, the Bears did not feel comfortable enough to use Washington last season as a rookie even though the club badly needed help up front on the defensive line. With the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Israel Idonije, it will be tough for Washington to make an impact, or even to make the team in 2014. But it’s never wise to give up on a young player after just one season. Let’s see how it plays out for Washington when the team officially begins its offseason program on April 22.

Long happy to have Allen as teammate

March, 27, 2014
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Kyle Long's cellphone alerted him of his team's latest major offseason addition early Wednesday morning, with texts piling up reacting to the news that his Chicago Bears had signed free-agent defensive end Jared Allen.

Long
Among them was a long text from his famous father, Howie Long, the television analyst and Hall of Fame defensive end who was quick to praise the signing of Allen.

"You know when a guy like that who is so well-versed in the NFL and who understands the defensive line position -- he was really fired up -- you know it's a great move," the younger Long said Thursday on the "Carmen & Jurko" show on ESPN Chicago 1000.

The Bears agreed to a four-year deal with Allen, who spent the past six seasons with the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings. He has 128.5 career sacks.

Long, a rookie Pro Bowler at right guard last season, said he didn't like having to prepare to face Allen twice last year and now looks forward to learning from him as a teammate.

"What I can take away from Jared as an offensive lineman is his wealth of knowledge at the position and what he knows," Long said. "In conversations with Jared, I'm sure I'll learn a ton, and seeing him go against [left tackle] Jermon Bushrod and against [right tackle] Jordan Mills I'll learn a ton. I'll have my hands full with [defensive tackle] Nate Collins and whoever else they throw in front of me. But Jared Allen being in that locker room, being at the practice field, being in those meetings, you can take so much knowledge from him, and hopefully it all translates to the field."

Allen is the latest addition to a defense that has undergone a massive facelift following a disastrous 2013 season in which it ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and 30th in total defense. Of particular focus in the rebuild conducted by general manager Phil Emery has been the defensive line, which has added Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Israel Idonije, and could be bolstered further if the Bears select a defensive tackle with the 14th pick in the first round of the draft.

"When we lost to Green Bay at the end of the year, we looked around the locker room and said this team is going to look different. Regardless, win or lose, if you win the Super Bowl or you go winless, you're going to look around and say not everybody is going to be here," Long said. "I don't think any of us understood the changes that were going to take place in the following months. It's really the light at the end of the tunnel.

"We've got all these guys coming in and we've got a revamped defense. We're very close offensively, and I think the same can be said defensively. ... Just let Phil do what he does. We all have the utmost faith in him."

Rookie review: RT Jordan Mills

February, 6, 2014
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Stats: Selected by the Bears in the fifth-round of the 2013 NFL draft out of Louisiana Tech, Mills started all 16 games at right tackle before leaving the regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter with a foot injury that required offseason surgery. Mills was part of a revamped Bears offensive line that surrendered 30 sacks (the Bears surrendered 44 sacks in 2012) and helped pave the way for Matt Forte to run for a career-high 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns.

2013 role: Mills stood out on draft weekend when he enthusiastically declared that he expected to contribute as a rookie. He began training camp behind veteran J’Marcus Webb at right tackle, but in a short period of time he moved past Webb on the depth chart. Mills never looked back while the Bears eventually cut Webb at the end of the preseason. Mills fractured the fifth metatarsal in his left foot in Week 17 and underwent surgery in January. If his rehab goes as expected, Mills should return to the field during OTAs sometime in May.

The good: Mills is friendly, outgoing and professional off the field, but he plays with a nasty streak. Mills got into it with Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen after the whistle in a game the Bears eventually lost in overtime in the Metrodome. Why does that matter? Because in three full seasons, Webb never went at anybody like that, not even Allen, who certainly had it coming after he ended ex-Bears guard Lance Louis’ season in 2012 with a cheap shot to the knees on a blindside block following an interception. Mills cares. He takes it personal. That's the type of attitude the Bears want from their offensive linemen. Mills never played himself out of the starting lineup. That’s important to note when evaluating his rookie season. It’s not as if the Bears struggled on offense. They ranked sixth in points scored per game (24.8) and eighth in total offense (381.8). If Mills had been a liability at right tackle, he would have been replaced.

The bad: Mills certainly wasn’t flawless. He made his share of mistakes. Several websites rated him as the Bears' worst offensive lineman in 2013. Some of those struggles can be attributed to the fact that Mills started all 16 games as a rookie. He also experienced a large jump in competition, going from a WAC school (Louisiana Tech) to the NFL. Mills definitely needs to work on his body and hit the weight room. Unfortunately, that kind of offseason work will have to wait until Mills recovers from the foot surgery. That is disappointing.

Looking ahead: Mills would really benefit from being able to participate in some of the offseason program before the team breaks until the beginning of training camp. If Mills can be physically ready to go when the club reports to Bourbonnais, Ill., in late July, there is no reason he cannot start the entire upcoming season at right tackle. Mills also gives the Bears the flexibility to move him to guard in the future, if the organization ultimately decides that Kyle Long’s immense talents are better suited at tackle. But at this point, Mills appears to have been a solid selection by the Bears in the fifth round, easily the club’s best fifth-round choice since Johnny Knox in 2009.

Rookie Review: Kyle Long

February, 3, 2014
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With the Super Bowl out of the way, we wanted to take stock of how Chicago’s 2013 rookie class performed last season.

In general manager Phil Emery’s third year with the Chicago Bears, all six players from his latest class of selections made the 2013 roster. Three became starters, four started games, and one more received playing time.

How did they do? We’ll try to assess right here:

Stats: None individually, but as a rookie starter on what had previously been a shaky offensive line, Kyle Long contributed to improved protection in 2013 for an offense that set multiple single-season franchise records. With Long in the starting lineup, the offense racked up a franchise-record 6,109 yards on the way to finishing second in team history in scoring (445 points).

[+] EnlargeKyle Long
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesGuard Kyle Long, a first-round pick, was was named to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement.
2013 Role: The team’s first-round pick, Long missed valuable time in the offseason program because he was ineligible to participate in organized team activities and a minicamp because of Oregon’s quarter system, which pushed the school’s final exams back to the middle of June. All along the team planned to make Long a Day 1 starter. So it worked diligently to get Long up to speed in making his NFL transition, and the rookie came along quickly.

Long started all 16 games and was named to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for San Francisco guard Mike Iupati, who broke an ankle in the NFC Championship Game.

The good: Long became the club’s first offensive lineman to earn Pro Bowl recognition since 2006 (Olin Kreutz and Ruben Brown), and played a key role on the right side of the line, especially in the running game. With four new starters on the offensive line, the Bears finished 2013 as one of three teams in the NFL to start the same five offensive linemen for all 16 games, and the group allowed 30 sacks last season, which tied for fourth fewest in the NFL. The club’s 30 sacks ranked as its fewest since 2008, when the Bears surrendered 29 sacks.

Long played a total of 1,079 snaps as a rookie, giving up just two sacks, according to Pro Football Focus as the Bears finished with a 4.9 sacks percentage on a total of 609 drop backs (sixth-lowest for the Bears since sacks became an official statistic in 1982).

Interestingly, Chicago experienced most of its success running behind Long (6.27 yards per attempt to his side), who was penalized just three times all season.

The bad: It’s a bad idea to ever ask a player to take it down a notch, but at times Long’s pedal-to-the-floor style of play led to him being overaggressive, which in turn adversely affected technique. So while the Bears won’t ask Long to dial it down totally, they’ll need him to learn to consistently lean on technique regardless of the situation and atmosphere, even when things get tense. Really, there’s not much bad you can say about what initially seemed like a head-scratcher of a pick in the first round. He earned his way into the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Perhaps the most memorable “bad” moment for Long was his fight near the sidelines on Nov. 24 at St. Louis, involving Rams defensive end William Hayes. But the scuffle appeared to be a case of Long protecting a teammate. That’s a good thing.

Looking ahead: His physical tools, attitude, and thirst to continually improve indicate Long can develop into a key cog on Chicago’s offensive line, and remain there for the next 10 years or so. Once Long can consistently combine the small fundamental elements such as hand placement and weight disbursement when engaged with his tremendous strength, aggression and mobility, the Bears could have something special at the right guard position. What’s scary is Long appears to possess the skill set to kick outside to tackle, should the Bears choose to try him there in the coming years. Based on offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer’s reputation for developing offensive linemen and Long’s willingness to learn, the Bears will coax the most from the rising second-year player. There should be several more Pro Bowls awaiting Long in the future.
2014 free agents: Roberto Garza, Eben Britton, Jonathan Scott, Taylor Boggs.

The good: With four new faces on the offensive line, the Bears used the same five starters up front for all 16 games last season and were one of just three teams in the NFL (Washington and Philadelphia were the others) to start the same five for the entire season. Garza was the only starter in 2013 returning from the 2012 team, and the right side of the line consisted of two rookie starters in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, who were the first rookie starters on Chicago’s offensive line on opening day since 1983. The offensive line paved the way for the team to set multiple franchise records on offense, and allowed 30 sacks, which tied for the fourth fewest in the NFL. The 30 sacks were the fewest allowed by the Bears since 2008.

The bad: Despite the improved sack numbers, the argument could be made they were a result of the quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quicker than they had in the past. At Philadelphia, the offensive line gave up five sacks, and on occasion, the group struggled to provide sufficient push in short-yardage situations. After all the punishment Jay Cutler has taken over the years, it’s hard to find much “bad” about the 2013 offensive line. Perhaps the most concerning issue the group will having moving forward is whether the front office will bring back Garza, the quarterback of the offensive line, who is set to become a free agent.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Jermon Bushrod ($7.3 million), Matt Slauson ($2,747,500), Long ($1,886,580), Mills ($536,200), James Brown ($570,000), Gaines Rogers ($420,000), Joe Long ($420,000).

Draft priority: Moderate. Even if the Bears bring back Garza, they’ve got to start thinking about the future of the position, and they can possibly address that with a mid-to-late-round pick. Boggs served as Garza’s primary backup in 2013 as well as the top reserve at left guard. But Boggs is about to hit free agency. So the Bears need to decide whether to bring him back, along with pending free agents Britton and Scott, who have proved to be quality backups capable of starting. Reserve right guard James Brown is entering the final year of his contract as well. So while the starting offensive line for the most part appears set for the next couple of years (starting left guard Matt Slauson recently signed a new deal), the Bears might need to start developing younger players at the backup positions that can eventually become starters.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall jokingly took offense to his 16th-round draft position Wednesday on Day 2 of the first-ever NFL Pro Bowl Draft.

Selected by Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice in the 16th round, Marshall was passed over by alumni team captain Deion Sanders, a Hall of Fame cornerback. Marshall walked slowly toward Sanders shortly after he was drafted while giving his reaction to being selected.

“You couldn’t guard me,” Marshall jokingly said. “Them DBs you picked, they’re not gonna be able to guard me.”

Perhaps he’s correct. Under the old AFC versus NFC format in 2012, Marshall -- then a member of the Miami Dolphins -- caught six passes for 174 yards and a record four touchdowns en route to earning Most Valuable Player honors at the Pro Bowl. On Tuesday, Rice and Sanders selected 14 players apiece, with rookie guard Kyle Long landing on the latter’s squad as an assigned player.

Some of the defensive backs Marshall will face off against on Sanders' team include Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Eric Berry, Brent Grimes, T.J. Ward, Eric Weddle, and his own teammate Tim Jennings.

Marshall joins fellow receiver Alshon Jeffery (sixth round) and Matt Forte (19th round) as selections made by Rice whose team will be quarterbacked by Saints quarterback Drew Brees and coached by former Chicago Bear and current Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

Jennings was assigned to Sanders' team, which will be coached by Indianapolis' Chuck Pagano, in the 20th round.

So it'll be interesting to see the five Chicago Bears Pro Bowlers square off on Sunday night.

This week’s Pro Bowl draft represents part of a format change implemented last July in an attempt to bring life back into the league’s annual all-star game. With Rice and Sanders serving as alumni team captains, both have a say in which players end up on the teams, but player captains are also given input in picking the teams. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles serve as the captains on Sanders’ team, while Brees and St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn are the captains for Rice’s team.

Rookie Kyle Long earns Pro Bowl nod

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
8:45
PM ET
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears 2013 first-round pick right guard Kyle Long has been added to the 2014 NFC Pro Bowl roster after San Francisco 49ers left guard Mike Iupati fractured his left fibula during the NFC Championship Game.

 

Long is the Bears’ first Pro Bowl offensive lineman since center Olin Kreutz and guard Ruben Brown were awarded the honor in the 2006 regular season.

Selected with the No. 20 overall pick out of Oregon, Long started all 16 games at right guard for the Bears despite playing just one year of Division I college football for the Ducks. Long began his collegiate career at Florida State playing baseball before eventually switching to football and enrolling at Saddleback Community College for two years. In his lone season at Oregon, Long played in 11 games and started the final five at left guard.

The son of Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother of St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long, the 6-foot-6, 313 pound rookie was a fixture on a rebuilt Bears’ offensive line that surrendered only 30 sacks in 579 passing attempts and helped pave the way for tailback Matt Forte to rush for 1,339 yards.

Long is now the fifth Bears player to be named to the 2014 Pro Bowl joining wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, running back Matt Forte and cornerback Tim Jennings, who replaced Seattle’s Richard Sherman on Monday.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 15
Preseason power ranking: 13

Biggest surprise: The Chicago Bears' offensive line didn't exactly set the world on fire, but for the first time in recent memory the group wasn't the weak link of the team. The Bears revamped the offensive line by adding four new starters: Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson. The group's efforts, combined with a more quick-hitting passing game, resulted in just 19 sacks for QB Jay Cutler, his lowest total since 11 with Denver in 2008. The offensive line in 2013 displayed more consistency than any at other time in Cutler's time in Chicago, but the group struggled at inopportune times and often was aided by Cutler and Josh McCown getting rid of the ball quickly. Still, this year's group laid a foundation it can build on.

Biggest disappointment: New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will unfairly take criticism for the defense's failures in 2013. Coming off a 2012 campaign in which the defense ranked No. 5 overall and in the top 10 against the run and the pass, the unit in 2013 surrendered the most rushing yards (2,583) and points (478) in franchise history. Injuries played a major role. They cost the team a combined 72 missed games, 43 among starters alone. In recent history, the defense was the one facet that Chicago could always count on. But that wasn't the case in 2013. What's most surprising is how quickly the defense's decline came after being the team's backbone for so many years.

Biggest need: The defense is badly in need of a total makeover, and the bulk of that work should be done on the defensive line. It's safe to say now that former first-round defensive end Shea McClellin hasn't lived up to expectations and franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton is overrated. The Bears also have to decide whether to move forward with Julius Peppers, who is expensive and starting to show his age (will be 33 on Jan. 18), while finding a way to bring back Corey Wootton. The back end needs help, too. The deals for cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are up, as is the contract for safety Major Wright. The Bears also need to bring in competition to push underperforming safety Chris Conte.

Team MVP: Running back Matt Forte quietly put together his best season as a pro, accounting for nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage (1,933) and career highs in rushing (1,339 yards) and receiving (74 catches, 594 yards). Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery may have made flashier plays, but make no mistake: Forte is what makes the offense go. Cutler called Forte the best all-around back in the league, and he definitely made a strong case for it in 2013. A true three-down back, Forte threatened defenses as a runner and a receiver. On passing downs, Forte was also key in the team's protection schemes.


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