It was Kyle Long’s baptism-by-fire moment. In the fourth game of his rookie season, he was one-on-one against Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on third-and-4 at the Bears’ 26-yard line.
Suh’s surge of brute strength put Long, the Bears’ prized first-round pick, on his heels, driving him back into quarterback Jay Cutler as Suh came through with a violent, knee-contorting sack for a 10-yard loss.
‘‘That’s a grown man I played,’’ Long said afterward.
On Thanksgiving, Suh will meet a grown man, too. Long is no longer a wide-eyed rookie learning how to play a new position — he’s become one of the most reliable guards in the NFL. His techniques and fundamentals are starting to match his tenacity, strength and overall athleticism.
‘‘I’m excited about seeing the matchup with Kyle Long and Suh this week,’’ said Bears defensive end Willie Young, a teammate of Suh the previous four seasons in Detroit. ‘‘I’ll be standing up a lot.’’
How can Long stop a player whose motor doesn’t stop even after the whistle?
‘‘Sheesh, neither does Kyle Long,’’ Young said. ‘‘Have you seen this guy after touchdowns? I’m like, ‘This is a 300-pound man. And he’s like in the back of the end zone. That’s like a 60-yard sprint.’ Like, ‘Wow.’ And that’s in practice, [too]. It’s never-ending. He’s probably somewhere jumping on top of the building with his helmet on, with no shirt on, in the snow. That’s the kind of guy Kyle Long is, so it’s going to be a very exciting matchup, man. It’s going to be that kind of game.’’
Suh’s sack would be the first of two Long gave up in total in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus reviews. In 11 games this season, Long has allowed only one hit on Cutler and a mere 10 hurries.
Still, no interior player has been more disruptive this season than Suh. In PFF’s breakdown, he has 40 total pressures (four sacks, seven quarterback hits and 29 hurries). He still lines up primarily over right guards.
Coach Marc Trestman said ‘‘everything’’ will be required from Long to stop Suh.
‘‘His size, his strength, his athleticism, his physicality, his mental toughness,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘It all comes into play when you play a player at that level. We’ve talked about it; he’s excited. He wants to play against people that can bring out the best in him, and he’ll have that opportunity.’’
Long was drafted to be a Suh-stopper, but there’s always the possibility Suh moves around more on Thursday and Brian de la Puente or Michael Ola is left facing him more on the left side.
In Week 10 of last season, Suh was able to overpower left guard Matt Slauson, an old college teammate at Nebraska, for a sack, while Long fared better in their second meeting.
‘‘You have to try and get double teams on [Suh],’’ Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. ‘‘And then there’s times you’re one-on-one and you have to be as physical as he is.’’
Having moving pieces and a banged-up offensive line affects strategies for players such as Suh. The Lions’ defensive line also is one of the NFL’s best, and their wide looks hinder rollouts by quarterbacks. The Lions may be without tackle Nick Fairley, who has missed the last three games with a knee injury, but second-year defensive end Ziggy Ansah has developed into a threat to scheme against.
‘‘Against a team like this, you’ve got to get the ball out,’’ Cutler said.
But if it’s Long vs. Suh in a one-on-one matchup, the Bears are confident that Long will do more than hold his own. His experiences from last season, especially at Ford Field, undoubtedly help, Kromer said.
‘‘Kyle has grown a lot in the last year,’’ Kromer said, ‘‘and we expect him to do his job.’’