CHICAGO (CBS) – Dripping in sweat from a hot summer Saturday, Kyle Long walked toward a group of fans gathered at Soldier Field, media surrounding his every step.
Long, the Bears’ second-year starting guard, a Pro Bowler in year one with the organization, has become a focal point for attention. His return to action in Saturday’s practice — that following a week sidelined while recovering from a viral infection — was the story of the night.
The attention is nothing new for Long, the son of Hall of Famer and noted public personality Howie Long. It’s something he grew up with as a kid. He embraces the spotlight.
“It was really nice to be out there with the guys that worked so hard all training camp,” Long said, grinning ear to ear all practice long. “I missed out on a lot, so it’s been good to get back today. We’ll keep the ball rolling on Monday.”
Off to the side of the scrum around Long, away from the reporters and fans flocking him, stood Matt Slauson, all alone. The Bears’ other guard closely resembles Long — a large, intimidating frame, burly beard and shaved head. But where each is similar in appearance, they’re that much different in personality.
While Long is the engaging personality, a constant mouthpiece, Slauson is quiet and unassuming. It stems from his childhood, one filled with constant competition. One brother became a rocket scientist, another an Air Force jet pilot.
A Nebraska native, Slauson stayed home for college football to play for the Cornhuskers and is now excelling in Chicago. It’s a team he enjoys immensely, but for grounded reasons.
“This team works really hard, and I appreciate that,” Slauson said. “They come to work every day, and they’re true pros.”
Last year, Long entered as a heralded first-round draft pick, one whose every story had been told. Coupled with strong play, his personality became a marvel with Bears fans. A Pro Bowl appearance capped off a wildly successful campaign for Long.
Slauson had similar success in his first year with Chicago, though with different notoriety compared to his counterpart at right guard. Slauson’s signing was but a footnote in the 2013 offseason. However, he too started all 16 games, putting together a stellar season. It was quiet by comparison to Long, part of a continued trend.
The Bears wouldn’t have it any other way with their two starting guards. Chicago is home of one of the best offenses in the NFL, a dramatic difference from the franchise’s past. Improved offensive line play is a key reason for such achievements. The bar is set even higher for the front line.
“All we’re focusing on right now is being better as a unit and as a team,” Slauson said. “We have a lot of lofty goals as an offense. We’re just here to work and improve.”
With the Bears’ offense working as one cohesive unit in year two of the Trestman regime, its success could be even greater. It’s a motivator for all, something that continues to drive Long and Slauson.
First, Long must play catch-up after a week on the sidelines. Team personnel had to take his helmet before team scrimmaging to prevent the temptation of rushing a return (he participated in individual drills). That’s the kind of passion he brings to the game.
“It’s tough,” Long said to summarize his patience — or lack thereof — in waiting to get back to football.
Added Slauson: “That guy was built to hit.”
So is Slauson, the Bears’ other burly, bruising guard. He and Long may have different personalities, but none of that matters when that ball is snapped.
Then, they’re one and the same.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.