First step: Bears G Kyle Long practices, but not yet ready to play

Guard Kyle Long returned to practice for the first time in more than three weeks Thursday. But as cautious as the Bears and Long are being in his recovery from a broken right ankle, it was just one small step rather than the giant leap he’d love to make.

“I will say I’m a lot closer than I have been,” Long said when asked if he was closer to returning to the starting lineup.

As for the opener Sunday against the Falcons at Soldier Field . . .

“I’m not going out there unless I feel like myself,” said Long, a three-time Pro Bowl selection at guard and tackle. “I don’t want to go out there and let my team down and not be able to do the things I want to do physically and from a football standpoint.”

Bears guard Kyle Long.(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The arduous recovery from the injury he suffered in Week 10 last year at Tampa Bay has tested the patience of an athlete who can’t wait to re-establish himself as an elite player in the NFL but knows he can’t go too fast too soon.

After a difficult 2016 season in which he played through a labrum injury and missed two games with an arm injury plus the broken ankle, Long not only is enduring a tedious recovery but moving to left guard on the fly. Long, who turns 29 on Dec. 5, has several reasons to be in a hurry. But he knows he has to be patient. He’s used to playing hurt. But whenever Long returns, he has to be able to last.

“It’s frustrating,’’ Long said. ‘‘It teaches you a lot about being patient. We see all these new guys coming in and see the talent we’ve accumulated here and the job [general manager Ryan] Pace has done getting these guys in here — all you want to do is be out there, be with your band of brothers and be able to help your guys.

“Right now, for me, that’s doing everything I can to get ready to play. It’s frustrating not being on the practice film during review. But I know that I’m doing my part right now.”

The frustration seemed to show when Long was kicked out of practice Aug. 14 in Bourbonnais after altercations with teammates on offense and defense.

“I did some unacceptable things and then I got kicked out,” Long said when asked about that incident.

Long obviously doesn’t want to look back but also can’t afford to look too far ahead, either. Can he get back to what he was? No time for the big picture. He has to get back on the field first. It’s one step at a time, almost one moment at a time.

“There’s a million things I could be thinking about right now, and all I’m thinking about is what I’m gonna spend the next 20 minutes doing,” Long said. “I just got done lifting, and I ran today and did some individual [work]. I’m going to do my virtual reality in about five minutes, and I’ll be with my assistant O-line coach for a bit and then back to meetings.

“All I can control is winning the day and trying to stack the days.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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