By Chris Emma—
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) – Off the snap, a bull-rushing defensive lineman came charging at Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long, who dropped back in steps and protected Mike Glennon at the goal line. His footwork looked normal, and the power in his punch was there.
When the Bears scrimmaged again later in Tuesday’s full-speed practice, Long was off on the sidelines while Cody Whitehair filled in at left guard and Hroniss Grasu snapped to Glennon at center. It was all a part of the plan for easing Long back into action after a difficult offseason recovery from ankle surgery, coach John Fox said.
Long took 10 reps in live action Tuesday, part of his increased workload. But after losing key reserve interior lineman Eric Kush to season-ending hamstring surgery, the Bears surprised by moving Whitehair into reps at left guard a year after he moved from there to center.
It’s worth wondering whether there’s concern for Long’s availability for the regular-season opener on Sept. 10.
“There’s concern for everything,” Fox said. “But he’s on target (for Week 1). We feel good about his progress.”
The Bears opted not to start Long on the physically-unable-to-perform list in training camp, allowing him the opportunity for practice reps like those Tuesday. Long has remained active on the practice field during training camp, even if not participating.
For Long, it’s a constant struggle balancing his health with the hopes of being ready to play.
“It sucks not being out there, that’s for sure,” Long said. “I get the itch sometimes to say, ‘Hey, I’m good for team, I’m going to run in there and go’ — because I’m out there in full pads and stuff. It’s not too often you’re actually told to really stick with the program, stick with the process, ‘We have a plan.’ Now’s not when we’re going to push it.
“So I’m just listening to the trainers and doing what the coaches want me to do. They’ve been really great and understanding and been able to get a lot of treatment while here, but also being off the PUP list, I can really focus on being at walk-throughs and being at individual periods, which is really important this time of year.”
This will mark the third consecutive preseason in which the Bears’ offensive line has seen uncertainty in roles. Long was moved to right tackle in 2015 just ahead of Week 1 after preseason experimentation. Long struggled with that role, in part because of the lack of reps at right tackle.
Last year, the Bears signed veteran Josh Sitton a week before the opener after he was suddenly released by the Packers. That addition allowed the Bears to replace Grasu, who had suffered a torn ACL in early August, by sliding Whitehair in at center and starting Long and Sitton at the two guard positions. That transition also occurred in Week 1.
It seems the Bears could be preparing for the potential absence of Long. Fortunately, time is still on their side with more than a month until the opener.