An offseason devoted to building an offense around quarterback Jay Cutler continued Thursday night when the Bears selected Oregon guard Kyle Long with the 20th pick of the 2013 draft’s first round.
Long, 6-6, 313 pounds, started 10 games in 2011 and five last season. Long is the son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long and the brother of St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long.
This marks the third time in six years that the Bears have used a first-round pick on the offensive line: tackle Chris Williams in 2008, tackle Gabe Carimi in 2011 and Long.
As with Shea McClellin at No. 19 last season, Emery went not just for an immediate starter – Long is expected to move in as the starting left guard sooner rather than later – but also versatility. Long has been evaluated as a potential tackle besides his abilities at guard. He was the eighth offensive lineman selected in this draft, immediately after the New York Giants picked Syracuse tackle Justin Pugh.
“We’re excited about his versatility,” said Emery, who mentioned Long as a possible left tackle, right tackle and guard.
He will be slotted at guard and as far as starting, subject to beating out James Brown and Gabe Carimi, “We see him there right away.”
The immediate question is his experience. Long played two years at Saddleback Community College and one of those at defensive end, before going to Oregon.
“I didn’t expect to go this high in the draft,” Long said.
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Long called his lack of top-level experience as both positive and negative, the positive being that “I have a lot of room to grow, it’s been clear with [coach Marc Trestman] that I’m a very raw player. I feel like my best football is ahead of me.”
The Bears had Long in for a pre-draft visit and left with “a great feeling about Chicago,” he said.
Long worked this offseason with former Bears offensive line coach Tony Wise at Travelle Gaines’ gym in West Hollywood. Long is considered a zone-blocking guard, which Wise coached in Dallas and Chicago, and which new line coach and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer is expected to implement with the Bears this season.
Cutler, others “on the clock”
General manager Phil Emery has now brought in guards Long and Matt Slauson in addition to left tackle Jermon Bushrod to protect Cutler, and tight end Martellus Bennett to catch his passes. And the new coaching staff includes head coach Trestman, quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and Kromer, whose lines took very good care of Drew Brees with the New Orleans Saints.
The overall is to surround Cutler with enough offensive support that if the offense falters again, the problem will no longer be excused as a lack of support talent.
Long is the first guard drafted by the Bears in the first round since they chose Roger Davis No. 7 overall, so “that was a little bit of a change in that regard,” Emery said.
That they went for an offensive lineman instead of a potential starting cornerback or linebacker was something of a surprise, if only because the line already had received a massive overhaul with Bushrod, Slauson and moving J’Marcus Webb to right tackle.
But in addition to the high grade the Bears had on Long, one conclusion is that they simply did not get much of an offer for the No. 20 spot, since seven offensive linemen were already chosen and few teams after the Bears were expected to draft linemen.
It also says that the tape review and early evaluations of Brown and Carimi did nothing to satisfy the new staff that either was going to be satisfactory at left guard.
The Bears also signed former Jacksonville guard Eben Britton, setting up serious pressure on Brown and Carimi to hold onto roster spots at this point.
Getting to the NFL
Long’s path the NFL has been anything but direct and he is regarded as a work in progress. He was drafted out of high school by the White Sox but went to Florida State on a baseball scholarship, a pitcher with a 96-mile-per-hour fastball. But he flunked out and left FSU and eventually to Saddleback Junior College in Mission Viejo, Cal.
There he switched to football and was recruited to Oregon by Chip Kelly, now head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles. He played both guard and left tackle last season.
He had a DUI arrest in January 2009 and spent a night in jail.
“I feel like I’m a stand-up guy,” Long said, acknowledging that he and the Bears discussed those kinds of issues in his past.