Kyle Long is doing it all at Bears training camp. He’s at a unique stage of his NFL career — a two-time Pro Bowl guard with a lot to learn.
Maybe some day, Long will at least have the option to coast through training camp — physically if not mentally. But for now, the 26-year-old Long is a young man in a hurry. And when I say doing it all, I mean doing it all. When Long isn’t working or learning or studying, he’s teaching.
“When I got pulled out of the game [against the Dolphins last Thursday], he was teaching me a move on the sideline,” rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman said. “How to bull rush, basically.”
Did it help?
“Yeah,” Goldman said. “It was a good move.”
It remains to be seen how much Long has helped Goldman. But it is unmistakeable that Long — working with offensive line coach Dave Magazu — has helped himself in training camp. Probably not a good thing, as some have suggested, that a guard is the star of the show. But it’s also a credit to Long’s athleticism, ability and work ethic that he’s been one of the most noticeable players in training camp.
“People rarely beat him in pass rush,” Goldman said. “Even watching tape on him before we even practiced, I could tell he was the guy. He’s a great player.
“He’s definitely an energy guy. I don’t know where he gets it from, but he has a lot of energy.”
On rebuilding teams like the Bears, it’s always difficult to project regular-season production off preseason performance. Eddie Royal might be the MVP of camp so far. Martellus Bennett looks ready to build off his Pro Bowl season. You know Matt Forte will be there. Jay Cutler has cut down on his training-camp turnovers —even Cutler doesn’t know what to make of that.
Along with Bennett, Royal and Forte, Long looks like the Bears’ best bet to have a big year in 2015. He’s mobile and fluid and learns well. He almost forces you to watch the line and not the ball —a rare feat in football. But Long is that good, that athletic and that fun to watch.
And he’s getting better every day — he’s already ahead of the sluggish early pace from last year, when he came to camp with a viral infection.
“People always talk about getting your football conditioning up,” Long said. “You can run as much as you want in the offseason; you can lift as much as you want, but there’s nothing like being in football shape.
“So this training camp [has been] an opportunity to get into that football shape and be ready to go. Last year I came in Week 3 of the preseason at Seattle and that was my first game, so I was winded and overwhelmed a little bit by the speed of the game. Things have slowed down a little bit for me, and to get out of training camp healthy is really nice.”
Royal’s impressive preseason has become even more intriguing in light of Kevin White’s stress fracture. Royal has caught everything in sight and looks like he’s the big-play slot receiver the Bears have been looking for — as dependable as Earl Bennett, with a bigger upside.
Royal’s connection with Cutler can’t be overstated. On the practice field, it looks like they picked up where they left off in 2008 in Denver, when Royal caught 91 passes for 980 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie season.
Cutler takes time to develop a rapport with new receivers, but not when he’s got a prior relationship. Bennett didn’t catch a pass as a rookie in 2008, but blossomed with Cutler in 2009 — 54 receptions for 717 yards and two touchdowns. Brandon Marshall had his best year in the NFL as a first-year Bear with Cutler —118 receptions for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The eye test says that Royal is in for a career year. Sometimes it works out that way. Sometimes it doesn’t.
“I don’t know,” Royal said. “For the offense, we’ve worked hard together and we’ve had a lot of success during camp. So I’m hopeful that it does translate to the [regular] season.”