By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Even after being distinguished by his peers and earning his second-consecutive Pro Bowl, the reality of how quickly Bears right guard Kyle Long has found success still hasn’t hit him.READ MORE: Gov. JB Pritzker Announces Vaccine Or Weekly Testing Mandate For Illinois Daycare Workers
Long showed humility at the podium when reflecting on an improbable journey that’s seen him get drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft — despite only starting a handful of games in college — and now onto rapid NFL success.
“To be honest it still hasn’t really hit me,” Long said. “I remember when I got drafted last year I was in the same boat with a lot of people thinking, ‘Why the heck did they pick me?’ I mean, I was excited, but I really didn’t understand and I knew there was a lot of expectations that come along with being a high pick, so I was just trying to be the best teammate I could be and trying to be a sponge and learn.”
Running back Matt Forte — who was snubbed in the Pro Bowl process — sat next to Long at the podium and shared doubts he once had about the overgrown man-child.
“Last year, it was like he didn’t know where to go at first or anything like that,” Forte said. “Like (training) camp I was like, ‘I don’t know about this guy.’ But now I’ve got a lot of trust in him on the back side of plays and stuff that, you know he’s going to get a guy cut off or block a guy down field because you know he’s always hustling too.”
Long has ascended by utilizing his physical gifts — nimble feet and a powerful punch — to mirror in pass protection sets and maul in the run game. Given his raw athletic gifts, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who is one of the most highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the league, said Long has the ability to play offensive tackle as well, but it would take another learning period similar to the one Long just went through to get ready to play in the NFL.
Long is clearly established as one of the cornerstones on a team that desperately lacks young talent, so how he’s utilized in the future will be an interesting storyline to follow.READ MORE: K-9, Riggs, Expected To Recover After Being Shot By Chicago Homicide Suspect During Confrontation With Kenosha County Sheriff's Deputy
Forte closing in on reception record
The NFL record for receptions by a running backs in a season is 101. Heading into the season finale, Forte has 94, needing seven to tie and eight to break the record. Forte has always been the ultimate team guy and said, while it would be nice to break the record, it’s not his primary focus.
“It’s important,” Forte said, “but not the most important thing to me. Out of the level of things that are of importance in this game, it’s probably one of the least important to me. I’m not gonna go out looking to get eight catches. I’m really just going out there to run the ball, catch the ball, block and do what I’ve got to do for us to be successful on offense and help us win the game.”
Long said he wanted to butt in as Forte spoke about the record not being the most important thing to him, as his teammates — especially the lineman — have more than a rooting interest in seeing the record broken.
“We’re in the National Football League,” Long said, “and I’m sitting next to a guy who has an opportunity to catch the single most passes in NFL history for a running back in a season. I know I’m gonna be yelling at our quarterback to throw him the ball. Are you kidding me? What a tremendous honor to get to play with a guy like Matt and have an opportunity to be a part of something like that that will stand for a really long time.”
Breaking the record would be a bright spot in what’s been a dark season overall, and would also add to Forte’s already strong case for Hall-of-Fame consideration.MORE NEWS: No Arrests In Death Of Zion Mother Melanie Yates, Hit By A Stray Bullet
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.