The selection of Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long was a clear signal of several significant principles now in play for the Bears that are changed from just a couple of years ago.
One is that the Bears under general manager Phil Emery are drafting high picks more on “ceiling” – how good can a player be – vs. the “floor” approach of Jerry Angelo, an ostensibly safer approach based on the player being no worse than a passable NFL player.
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In the cases of offensive linemen Chris Williams (2008) and Gabe Carimi (2011), the floor approach didn’t work.
Instead, Emery took Shea McClellin at No. 19 in the 2012 draft, a productive player who was envisioned as the Chicago version of Clay Matthews, even if he wasn’t necessarily that at Boise State. Emery traded up in the second round last year to snatch Alshon Jeffery, not widely rated among the top wide receivers but one that Emery projected to be the best receiver in the draft.
Long was a No. 1 pick more because of his ceiling/upside, what he can become, rather than what he has been.
Long, at 6-foot-6, 313 pounds, will start his Bears career as a guard. But he is taller than the prototypical top NFL guard and Emery mentioned Long as a possible right tackle and left tackle, not just a guard.
McClellin played all over the Bears defense last season, as he did at Boise State. He is projected to do more of the same this year under coordinator Mel Tucker, who is intrigued by McClellin’s versatility.
Contrast that with Angelo No. 1’s – Gabe Carimi, Chris Williams, Greg Olsen, Cedric Benson, Tommie Harris, Michael Haynes, Rex Grossman, Marc Columbo – who played one clearly identified position. They played that position in college and they played just that in the NFL.
The next surprise with Long will be if he stays inside at guard.
Premium on coaching
A second, related element in the drafting psychology now is the premium placed on coaching to develop talent. McClellin was worked out by and put in the care of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, one of the most respected defensive line coaches in the NFL.
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Long is now the project of Aaron Kromer, the new Bears offensive coordinator and de facto offensive line coach. In the latter job with the New Orleans Saints, Kromer turned a fourth-round pick (Jermon Bushrod) into a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle; a fifth-round pick (Carl Nicks) into a two-time All-Pro left guard; and a fourth-round pick (Jahri Evans) into a four-time All-Pro right guard.
Now Kromer has a first-round pick, one selected with his endorsement.
If there are causes for concern, they are in two specific areas. One is that lack of experience at the position he will play. For the second year in a row, Emery has taken a player who is a something of a project at his designated position, which brings in a clear risk factor.
McClellin had played defensive end but he was seldom a pure hand-in-the-dirt pass rusher, and he struggled to master the intricacies of a relatively new role.
Long was a pitcher on the Florida State baseball team as a freshman, a defensive end at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Cal. He was a left tackle as a junior at Saddleback, then became a guard as a senior at Oregon, but only started the final five games.
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“I’m a very raw player,” Long said.
Based on production, Long was something of a reach, and he acknowledged as much. “I didn’t expect to go this high in the draft,” he admitted.
But he didn’t see that necessarily as a negative.
“I think it is a good thing and a bad thing," Long said. “My inexperience can be looked at in two ways. It can be looked at in the light of I feel like I can get a lot better with coaching and with the right guys around me and I feel like I have that opportunity in Chicago. I’m really excited to get to work with Coach Kromer and the rest of the staff.”
Angelo No. 1 picks were not Combine eye-poppers, whether for speed, bench press or whatever.
By contrast, McClellin was among the fastest defensive ends timed at the Combine. And Emery’s effusive praise for Long centered, not around his play, but his test-ables.
Asked what stood out about Long, Emery cited straightforwardness, honesty and focus in addition to how he rated on the “athletic index score” used by the Bears.
“This guy is the highest [score], this guy is 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. In our scale, 9 is rare. He rates as rare.”