By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) – Outside of Halas Hall, few can understand what Bears guard Kyle Long endured in the last year-plus. This has been a difficult and emotional season, one cut short when the Bears officially shut him down Tuesday by placing him on injured reserve.
Long has spent the last year recovering from surgery to his mangled right ankle, dealing with treatment to that and the torn labrum in his left shoulder, fighting so he could be ready for the season. He spent each week getting additional treatment and hoping his body would hold up at a position that brings several hundred pound of force on each play.
He did it all to fight with a Bears team that had far greater aspirations this season than the 3-9 mark they now carry. Long has the respect of his teammates, because they know what he has gone through.
“Oh, s—,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said of Long’s ordeal. “Kyle’s a battler.”
Added offensive lineman Cody Whitehair: “He’s what the Bears are all about.”
Bears center Hroniss Grasu knows Long better than any teammate. The two played together at Oregon and have been close friends away from the facility. Grasu has seen the struggle of Long as he worked his way back to the field. He saw the extra efforts behind the scenes to stay healthy.
Grasu was there as well, dealing with a hand injury that forced him to play with one healthy hand and a club. Playing through the pain is part of the game.
“It really proves how you can face adversity,” Grasu said. “It really checks how strong you are mentally. He’s going to get through it.”
Hicks has been dealing with his own injury issues this season. During the preseason, he suffered an injury to his knee, which has lingered throughout the season. He has gone down during several games clutching the leg in pain, only to get back up and keep fighting in what has been a career year.
For Hicks and many other Bears, working through the injuries means staying at Halas Hall from 7 a.m. until “the wee hours of the night,” as he explained.
“You have to do everything you can to take advantage of your moments,” Hicks said.
Long’s left shoulder hasn’t been healthy since August 2016, when the injury first occurred during training camp. It was considered to be just a partial tear, which he rested for several weeks before returning in time for Week 1 of the season.
The shoulder never felt right, but Long played through the pain until his season ended with one play. On a shovel-pass play in Tampa in November 2016, then-fullback Paul Lasike landed on Long’s ankle, causing significant ligament damage.
Long had surgery to repair the ankle damage shortly after and was left with a lengthy recovery. The initial plan was for Long to have shoulder surgery once his ankle was right, but complications from that procedure forced him to let the labrum repair naturally.
Long managed his way back to work in training camp but suffered a setback after pushing himself too hard. He missed the first two games of the season, each a loss for the Bears, before returning for a Week 3 win against the Steelers.
The shoulder constantly nagged, and Long’s ankle again began acting up again. During the game in New Orleans in late October, he had a finger ripped backward, the latest ailment he incurred. Long worked his way back in time for the next game two weeks later with the Packers.
Long kept fighting through the pain until it became too much. During a loss to the 49ers on Sunday, he “jacked up” the shoulder, forcing him out of the game. The Bears had to protect a key asset.
“It was time,” coach John Fox said.
There has been no determination to whether Long will require surgery, according to Fox. A procedure could be required for his shoulder, ankle or finger. Playing through the pain took its toll.
The Bears signed Long to a four-year contract extension in September 2016. It was a deserved reward for a player that made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three NFL seasons. A first-round pick to the team in 2014, Long quickly became a staple to the offense and cornerstone to the locker room.
Long is known to his teammates for the passion he brings each day. Once in a while it can be misplaced, as seen when the Bears removed him from a practice in August for fighting with teammates – Grasu included.
But whether it’s on the field or in the training room, in good times and bad, Long’s will is unflappable. He fought through the last year for the Bears.
“He went out there, played really well, played hard, gave it everything he’s got,” Grasu said. “We really appreciate him for that.”