Bears rookie Long getting an education
Kyle Long thought he knew what the NFL was about even before the Bears selected him in the first round last spring.
After all, he had a Hall of Fame father and an all-American brother playing defensive end in the NFL.
On top of that, he had arrived on the scene after playing for one of the top college programs in the country.
But he was in for a big surprise.
"Let's put it this way," Long laughed. "Every day's an education. Every day you realize how much you didn't know."
During the 2012 season, Long started 11 games for the 12-1 Oregon Ducks, who finished second in the AP Poll after a Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State. They averaged 49.6 points per game, and the Ducks' average margin of victory was 31 points.
"At Oregon, I was very spoiled in that we just had a great team," Long said. "We could go out every week and put up 50 points. It was a blessing, but also it took some getting used to here.
"Once you get into the NFL, the talent pool is so evenly distributed among all the teams that every game is up for grabs. You have to get out there every week and put in the effort. You have to keep pounding away no matter what the score or what the record."
Like the team as a whole, Long has gone through the ups and downs of the NFL season, which can be cruel on rookies. Still, Long has survived and is gaining ground fast.
"Being around our coaches and being with experienced guys like (Matt) Slauson, (Roberto) Garza and (Jermon) Bushrod, I think Kyle's grown in a lot of different ways," said head coach Marc Trestman. "How to practice, how to work and then fundamentally, technically and mechanically with (coach) Aaron Kromer, he's working all the time to get better.
"I said it during training camp. He wasn't making incremental growth. He was ascending very quickly, really exponentially."
With the difference between winning and losing a razor's edge, and the margin for error even thinner, Long said there is never a moment to relax.
"You have to be so detail-oriented every play, game in, game out," he said. "I've learned that no game can be taken for granted.
"I've learned that every assignment on every play can be the making or breaking point for the play. If I don't get to a linebacker on the second level, Matt (Forte) could get tackled for a 1-yard loss. If I get hands on that linebacker, he could go for 40 yards and a touchdown."
And while most of us outsiders laugh about the notion of "any given Sunday," Long says that when he's standing on the field, it is never more clear.
"Any game can be won by any team in any week. It's such a cliché, but it's true," he said. "That's what you hear, but you don't really believe it, I don't think, until you get into the league and you watch film before a game and you watch film after a game.
"And what you come to understand is that really every game is a tossup. The records don't matter. There's so much talent in this league, and if you're not prepared for every play you can lose a game on one play, and 0-10 can beat 10-0.
"The other side of that is you can be prepared for that play and do it right and win the game because of that one play. But you have to play every play like the game's on the line."
A major upgrade in the offensive line this season is one of the reasons the Bears are still alive in the playoff race, and though he figures to be a fixture for many years to come and has future all-pro written all over him, Long is still coming to grips with what's at stake.
"The biggest change for me is understanding that you're never out of a game and you're never out of a season," Long said. "You're never comfortably ahead and your record doesn't matter. We were 3-0 and then we were 6-6.
"You can't ever look at the standings or the scoreboard. You just have to grind through every play of every series, every practice of every day, because one play can change everything."
To Long's point, the Bears are a perfect example of what the NFL has become. Never mind week to week. The NFL is now -- and forever -- a minute-to-minute league.
•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.