By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) At this point, you really shouldn’t be surprised.
Sticking with his unorthodox, hidden gem philosophy that brought Shea McClellin and Marc Trestman to Chicago, Bears general manager Phil Emery took another chance by drafting Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long with the 20th overall selection Thursday night.
If you’re wondering what Long’s resume looks like, it reads something like this:
– 2008 23rd round pick of the Chicago White Sox as a pitcher
– Full-ride scholarship to Florida State as a pitcher
– Left Florida State in January 2009 after a DUI arrest and failing out
– Four months in rehab treating substance abuse
– Didn’t play anywhere in 2009
– Defensive lineman for Saddleback Community College in 2010
– Offensive lineman for Saddleback Community College in 2011
– Started four games as an offensive guard at Oregon in 2012
– Denied petition for a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA
Let’s be honest, those are credentials you might find for an undrafted free agent — not a first-round pick.
“I didn’t expect to go this high in the draft,” Long admitted.
And yet Emery stood at the Halas Hall podium Thursday night and sold the pick with conviction.
“Kyle was the player that we targeted,” the general manager said. “We targeted him for the last couple of weeks. He had to be gone for us to move back. We were not going to move off that spot if Kyle Long was still there.”
When it comes to the crapshoot that is the NFL Draft, all you can really ask your front office to do is to complete thorough evaluations, target “their guy” and do everything in their power to draft that guy.
It appears that’s exactly what the Bears did Thursday night.
Despite only starting four games at the FBS level in college, Long caught the eye of Emery at the Senior Bowl where the GM said he was “the best offensive lineman on the field.”
Then, through his results at the Combine and his workouts with the Bears, Long’s measurable were off the charts. On the Athletic Index Score, which the Bears use for all their players, Long posted record numbers.
“This guy’s is the highest — he’s the No. 1 offensive guard in the last 12 draft classes and that’s as far back as we go,” Emery said. “He rates as rare. That’s his rating. On our scale, 9.0 is rare. He rates as rare.”
It appears everything about Long is rare.
He’s the son of Hall-of-Famer Howie Long. The brother of St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long. He’s taken an unusual path to the first round of the NFL Draft. And, at least according to Emery, he apparently has the tools help a deficient offensive line immediately.
“We see a player who is going to contribute right away,” Emery said Thursday night.
But that might be where the “GM speak” screeches to a halt.
Long revealed in his teleconference with reporters that new Bears head coach Marc Trestman likely views the rookie as a project.
“It’s been clear from the beginning in conversations with (Trestman) that I’m a very raw player,” Long said. “And they’re on the same page as me in that I think my best ball is ahead of me.”
And let’s not forget that a year ago Emery said Shea McClellin could make a difference immediately and called him “a four-down player.” McClellin is far from a disappointment, but he was neither a difference maker nor a four-down player as a rookie.
So you can understand the skepticism from a fan base that is trying its hardest to trust its second-year general manager. They’ve now been asked to believe in a 3-4 linebacker from Boise State and a new head coach that was imported from Montreal. Now they’re supposed to have faith in a 24-year-old offensive lineman with a sketchy history and only four major college football starts on his resume?
And yet, it may all work out.
McClellin still has potential. Emery’s second pick last year, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, looks to be a future star. And Trestman at least has a sensible plan to fix a putrid offense.
How soon everyone forgets how bad the offensive line was the last two seasons. And it was just a year ago when Bears fans were in shock after Emery didn’t take a single offensive lineman in the draft.
Now they’re upset because he used his first pick on one Thursday?
There’s little doubt this selection will be scrutinized for years if it doesn’t work out. The Bears had plenty of needs and players like Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree and North Carolina defensive end Sylvester Williams were still available.
But it’s hard not to notice a gaping hole at one position on the Bears’ depth chart: Right guard. At last week’s voluntary mini-camp, James Brown was the No. 1 right guard. James Brown.
So while it might be hard, you might need to give Emery the benefit of the doubt yet again.
It appears Long’s troubles are well behind him. The offensive lineman considers himself to be “forthright” and “very blunt” and he took responsibility for his past discretions, pointing out that he was a young kid and is now “four and a half years removed from those spoken issues.” He deserves credit for getting help when he needed it and staying out of trouble since. He worked hard to give himself a chance to get drafted and obviously has the raw ability — otherwise an NFL team wouldn’t be taking a chance like this on someone who has so little experience.
It appears Long has surrounded himself with the right people and found the right path. Emery believes he’ll be a leader in the Bears’ locker room, which for the record, was a big reason why Oregon wanted him to petition for a sixth year of eligibility.
And, hey, if it doesn’t work out, the White Sox could always use him.
“I’m here to play football now,” Long said. “Who knows, down the road maybe.”
For Emery’s sake, Long’s pitching career better be over.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHoge and read more of his columns here.