Even at 6-foot-8, 320 pounds, rookie offensive tackle John Kling doesn’t stand out at Bears offseason practices. He’s an undrafted free agent from a low-profile program (Buffalo) that went 5-7 last season. But he’s got the best nickname on the team: Kling Kong.
“It’s great,” Kling said. “My dad was a JV [high school] coach when I was really young, and his players gave me that nickname because I was always building forts out of [practice] bags. To me, being 7 or 8 or whatever I was, they were like big legos. I would always build it and break it. They called me ‘Kling Kong’ and it stuck through the years. But that’s fine.”
Kling — no relation to Johnny Kling, the catcher on the Cubs’ 1907-08 World Series winners —likely is battling for a practice-squad spot on the Bears’ roster, but can’t be discounted to make the team. He’s more than just a big guy, but an athlete with a seven-foot wingspan who played both right and left tackle at Buffalo. He was a wrestler and shot putter in high school and played 10 years of youth hockey — including goalie —before that.
“As you go up in levels, you can rely less and less on your size, and I kind of knew that,” Kling said. “My dad played football in high school. My cousin [Adam Rosner] played at Syracuse. He was always working with me. They knew you’re not going to be able to rely on size forever. So it’s something that I’ve always tried to develop my strength, my feet, balance — all that stuff.”
At this point, Kling’s work ethic might be his most valuable trait. “I work on pass sets — 40-50 pass sets before and after practice if I can,” Kling said. “Because it’s something that coming in I knew I needed to work on, and to stick [in the NFL], it’s something I need to excel at.
“People are faster [at this level]. Everything’s a lot faster. But even these past couple of weeks, I feel I’m getting more used to the tempo and the speed.”
Kling —a Buffalo native who roots for the hometown Sabres and fellow Buffalonian Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks — had hoped to get drafted, but got over the disappointment and now uses it as motivation.
“I’ve never really been that highly touted guy,” he said, “so I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder. And it’s the same coming in here. I want to prove myself and that’s what I’m looking to do every day — get a little better and show coaches that, ‘Hey, this guy can play.’”