The ascendance of both rookie guard Kyle Long and tackle Jordan Mills have been notable if only because the Bears have had such miserable fortunes with drafting offensive linemen in general. Ironically, Mills’ move into the starting lineup replaced J’Marcus Webb, who was a “find” in 2010 when he started 12 games as an emergency fill at right tackle.
But the Bears are far from the exception in 2013, particularly where Long is concerned.
Every offensive lineman taken in the first round of this year’s draft is currently starting, the latest coming when the Giants moved Syracuse rookie Justin Pugh in to replace injured vet David Diehl at right tackle.
The class of the class:
|1||Eric Fisher||Kansas City||RT|
|11||D.J. Fluker||San Diego||RT|
|19||Justin Pugh||New York Giants||RT|
|20||Kyle Long||CHICAGO BEARS||RG|
By comparison, four offensive linemen were drafted 2011’s first round. Matt Kalil (4th, Minnesota) and Kevin Zeitler (17th, Cincinnati) were immediate starters. David DeCastro (24th, Pittsburgh) was injured and started late in the season. But Rilly Reiff (23rd, Detroit) had to wait for aging Jeff Backus to retire before becoming a starter this year for a bad Lions team.
The Bears made an aggressive move to select Long at No. 20. Despite the strident criticism of the choice by some at the time, circumstances have more than vetted the decision.
First has been the play of Long, whose play through 86 snaps has been among the highest-rated in the NFL, not just Chicago.
The second has been the falloff after Long, which the Bears expressly folded into their call on Long. Guard was a high priority and after Long, the draft thinned out dramatically, both at guard and tackle. If they wanted a blue-chip tackle or guard, Long was it at No. 20.
The first lineman taken after the first round was Florida State tackle Menelik Watson by the Oakland Raiders. Watson is still second-string on a very bad Oakland team.
No lineman was then selected until the Detroit Lions picked guard Larry Warford in the third round. Warford began this week on third string.
The Raiders and Lions were both 4-12 teams in 2012.
Long has made a prophet out of Emery. Among Emery’s draft-day remarks back in April:
On what Long brings to the O-line:
“I think he’s going to help bring it up in terms of our overall group collective effort in terms of toughness, physical-ness, smart play, guys that want to dominate at the line of scrimmage.”
On how soon the Bears envisioned Long making an impact:
“We see right away. Obviously, he’s got to earn his way just like all the players do, but we see a player that’s going to contribute right away.”