Rookie right guard Kyle Long played just one season of major college football and started just five games at Oregon under coach Chip Kelly.
After that, Long went to the Bears as a first-round draft choice and Kelly was hired as the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach. Kelly says Long had a huge impact on him in a short amount of time.
"Kyle's awesome. I love that kid," Kelly said. "We were only together for a short time, but he instantly fit in with everybody on our team (and) our coaching staff. There's something about Kyle when you see him. There's just a presence to him.
"He's always got a smile on his face. He's always excited about the new challenge and the new opportunity for him. I know he made me a better person in the short time I was around him."
Sunday night's start in Philadelphia against his former coach will make it 15 of 15 for Long, who has helped the nearly total makeover of the Bears' offensive line become a success story. But Kelly says Long brings more to the table than proficiency on the field.
"(It's) his outlook on life," Kelly said. "There's just such a consistency to him. I don't think he takes anything for granted. I know he's been through a lot and has come out the other side with shining colors. I think he's just a testament to (believing) in yourself.
"Deep down inside, the one thing I know about Kyle is he's just a really, really, really good person. To be around people like that on a consistent basis can brighten anybody's life."
The 6-foot-6, 313-pound Long also brings a smile to quarterback Jay Cutler's face, but maybe not for the same reasons. Long brings an almost childlike animation and enthusiasm to the locker room that amuses teammates and visitors alike.
"I look at Kyle and laugh a lot," said the Bears' QB. "He's a special dude. He's played more baseball in his life than he's played football up to this point, which is amazing. He's only going to get better and better, which is scary."
Long already has showed tremendous improvement since training camp, when he came in with almost unlimited potential but very little knowledge of the nuances of playing offensive line at the highest level in the world.
At Oregon, Long got by on size, strength and athleticism. It was only his second year of playing O-line, so technique and fundamentals weren't his strengths. He was better versed in changing speeds off a 90-plus-mph fastball than blocking angles or pad level.
"There's no comparison to what he was doing in college, because he just didn't know at that point," said Aaron Kromer, Bears offensive coordinator/offensive line coach. "He only (started) five games total. He had to beg his way into the starting lineup when a guy got hurt. They laughed at him at first because he was so raw. (But) then he did it on the scout team, and then they gave him a shot.
"He had no technique of O-line and really he didn't have an opportunity to learn it. He's grown a ton through the year and he's still getting better, he's still learning. But it's coming together for him."
Long's smarts have enabled him to vault the learning curve faster than most players, even though he had a lot more to learn than other rookies who had the benefit of starting three or four years in college.
And, despite his fun-loving demeanor, Long knows when it's time to hit the books, a concept foreign to him when he was flunking out of Florida State as a baseball player.
"He's smart, and he works at it extremely hard," Kromer said. "He's here every day at 6:30. We start meetings at 7:30. He's here in the meeting room studying, trying to understand what's going on, and he's been doing it all year.
"His work ethic, his intelligence, his toughness and his athleticism have all come together, and he's been growing throughout the year."
Some critics thought Bears general manager Phil Emery overreached for Long at No. 19 overall, arguing that Long was too much of a project. But he went from project to producer almost overnight.
"Just because he's a first-round pick didn't guarantee him anything," Kromer said. "It gave him an opportunity to have an opportunity to play. We love the fact that he works at it as hard as he does. That's why he's gaining."
Long has come so far, so fast, that his college coach might have a difficult time recognizing him Sunday night.
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