BOURBONNAIS — Kyle Long was feeling the heat Wednesday.
“Warm out there in pads today,” he said. “It was hot.”
For Long, it was a minor inconvenience. The Bears’ three-time Pro Bowl lineman and starting right guard was relieved to be back at practice — even if on a limited basis — for the first time since suffering a left calf strain in the Bears’ first practice of training camp last Thursday.
A year after Alshon Jeffery missed the entire preseason with a calf strain, Long’s injury was a moment of minor panic for some Bears fans. And though he quickly eased those fears on twitter — calling it a “minor speed bump” — the episode was even a little unsettling for Long, who has missed just one game in three seasons with the Bears (with a hip injury in Week 16 in 2014).
“Yeah,” Long said. “I’ve never pulled anything, strained anything. So I didn’t really know what the heck was going on. I knew something didn’t feel right initially. But we’re all good.”
The fan reaction might have been a little dramatic, but you could hardly blame them. Long is the Bears’ best offensive lineman, maybe pound-for-pound their best player. On an offensive line that yet again is a work-in-progress, losing a building block such as Long would be a major set-back if not a devastating loss. There’s a lot of work to be done, and the preseason opener is next Thursday against the Broncos at Soldier Field.
Ever the perfectionist, Long kind of scolded himself for getting hurt on the first day of practice. He suffered the injury “trying to chase Danny Trevathan — for like the thousandth time at a practice,” he said. “Just a combination of first-day stuff; everybody’s fired up. Your body’s fired up and you know you’re out there working hard. I have to be more careful warming up and getting myself ready. I have to be ready as a professional.”
Long admitted feeling “kind of guilty” while sitting out while his teammates practiced. But “you have to be careful getting back into it, and do what the trainers want me to do,” he said. The Bears aren’t rushing Long back. He did not participate in 7-on-7 or team drills Wednesday and indicated he’ll be eased back into full-time practice.
Bears coach John Fox said he’s not that concerned about getting Long ready for the preseason opener. “It’s important to get him ready for the first game of the regular season in Houston,” Fox said, “so we’ll monitor that and be as cautious as possible. But he had a good first day back.”
Long’s return figures to only heighten an already competitive camp — which included yet another melee between the offense and defense Wednesday. Long is looking forward to it.
“You look across the ball from us — Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Willie Young, the linebackers, the secondary — those guys are flying around and making it tough on the offense,” Long said. “I’m excited to get out there and compete with these guys. I think we’ve responded well, but … that defense is playing their butt off.”
Long made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but could take his game to another level at right guard after playing right tackle last year.
“It’s like a big cave man came in and just pointed him in a direction and he went and ran,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “Now he knows football. He knows where the ball’s going and who to block. We’re happy to get him back out there. You get a big 3-technique and he kind of neutralizes guys.”
Long still hasn’t participated in practice in team drills, but said the year at tackle was beneficial and indicated it should make him even more effective at guard.
“Without a doubt it expanded my knowledge of the game,” Long said. “Any time you can see the picture from a different angle, you can see different things.
“As a tackle, I’d know who the tight end works with; sometimes I’d know who the slot working to. When I was at guard initially, I didn’t know what the heck was going on outside my little bubble. So I can work with the tackle, the guard, the center. You paint the [entire] picture, you have a better understanding. It taught me a lot about the game [and] a lot about mental toughness and what it takes to be a pro.”