After a shaky start in the Bears' opener, Kyle Long has played up to expectations and maybe beyond.
The first-round pick has especially been a dominant run blocker, where Pro Football Focus ranks him in the top five -- not just among rookies, but among all guards.
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Not a bad beginning for a guy who started just five games at the FBS level in his only season at Oregon.
"You watch him play, and you wouldn't think that he's played the (limited) amount of football as he has," Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. "You would think that he played a couple years in college just like everyone else, the way he's matured as quickly as he has on the field."
"It's been fun to watch."
Today against the Lions, Long faces one of the toughest tests he'll take all season, dealing with NFL bad boy Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairly, Detroit's other first-round tackle. The Lions flip-flop their tackles, so Long will see both players from his right guard spot.
Bears coach Marc Trestman credits an ideal environment, including a strong veteran presence, with speeding Long's rapid development.
"He's very, very fortunate he's come into a situation where he's got the opportunity to work with (offensive coordinator/offensive line coach) Aaron (Kromer) and (assistant offensive line coach) Pat (Meyer)," coach Marc Trestman said. "And having (center Roberto) Garza in the room is huge. Having (left guard Matt) Slauson and (left tackle Jermon) Bushrod in the room is huge."
Long has the 13-year veteran Garza on his left and fellow rookie Jordan Mills on his right, at tackle. The low-key Mills is an effective counterbalance to the excitable Long.
"Jordan has had a settling effect on Kyle, who's got a very high motor, and is highly intense," Trestman said. "He's had a calming effect on him at times."
Long was a raw talent when he arrived at training camp two months ago, but his freakish athleticism and natural strength, combined with the nurturing atmosphere have combined to create a player whose improvement has been impressive.
"He hasn't made small spurts of getting better; he's ascended quicker than you'd normally anticipate," Trestman said. "A lot of that's the environment that he's been fortunate enough to walk into, and his desire to do well. And his football intelligence is very high."
Long plays with such a high level of emotion that any matchup with the volatile Suh has great potential for explosiveness. But that's a scenario Kromer downplays.
"We don't go by reputation." the coach said, "We go by tape. So Kyle's watched the tape; we've watched it together.
"We're working on technique, and that's all you can do going into a game. You can't think about who it is or what you've heard about him. You've just got to watch what you do and how your technique is, and what you think he'll do against you, and try to counteract that."
Cutler believes the hyper Long has an excellent teacher in Kromer and is a perfect fit on a low-key Bears offensive line that has strong veteran stability.
"We've got the right guy in the room with him with 'Krome,' and the veteran guys on the left side," Cutler said. "We've got a good group that can kind of handle that and help him channel that aggressiveness and hyperactivity that he has in the right direction.
"It's also a good thing because we have four pretty laid-back guys on that offensive line. To have one guy that's your go-getter and is always talking and always energetic is a good mix."
Considering Cutler has a history with Suh, who was fined $15,000 as a rookie in 2010 for shoving the quarterback from behind, it might be a good idea to have a guy like Long around.
"Yeah, you want a guy like that," Cutler said. "I'm not saying those other four (linemen) wouldn't come to bat, but they'd have to beat Kyle, because he's going to try to be the first one in line."
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