When you’re screaming in agony so loudly the sideline microphones pick it up, it’s generally not a good thing. When teammates are praying for you as medical personnel tend to you, that’s a scary sign.
And when you have Kyle Long’s recent injury history, the immediate concern as Long was carted into the locker room late in a game against the Jets on Oct. 28 was whether he’d ever play for the Bears again in any season, let alone this one.
But there was Long at practice Wednesday, looking healthy, unre-stricted and like a starter as the Bears prepared to face the Vikings on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. There’s no assurance Long will play against the Vikings. But he’s on pace to possibly get a test-run and, if all goes well, play full-time in the Bears’ playoff opener the weekend of Jan. 5-6.
“In the moment, when you’re dealing with an injury, you never know if the light at the end of the tunnel is actually the end of the tunnel or another train coming to hit you,” said Long, who has missed seven games since injuring a tendon in his right foot in that victory against the Jets. “So I’m glad I was just able to make my way out and see some sunshine.”
Long’s potential (perhaps likely) return also has given his teammates on offense a lift, both professionally and personally. Long has been with the Bears since 2013, longer than any player besides cornerback Sherrick McManis.
“It’s great to have him back. He’s been missed, man,” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “He’s working his ass off to get back. It’s just good. It’ll be good to see him beside me.”
Added quarterback Mitch Trubisky: “Very excited. I know Kyle’s very excited, as well. When you plug a guy like that into the offense, it makes everyone else around them better immediately — the guys up front — and it’s going to give me more time, open up bigger holes in the run game. When you put a player of his caliber in there, it makes the offense better.”
The offense could use the boost. At the time Long was injured, the Bears ranked 10th in the NFL in total yards (382.7 per game), 14th in yards per play (5.8), third in rushing yards per game (137.6), 10th in rushing average (4.7) and 11th in offensive points scored (25.7). In the five games without Long that Trubisky has started, the Bears are averaging 308.5 yards per game, 5.2 yards per play, 108.3 rushing yards per game, 3.7 yards per carry and 21.5 offensive points per game. Including two games with Chase Daniel at quarterback, the Bears have dropped to 21st in total yards, 28th in yards per carry and 13th in offensive points scored.
Long returned to practice Friday before the 49ers game and was pleased with the results. It was the first time he had been on the practice field past Dec. 3 since the 2015 season, when he played all 16 games.
“It felt good to get out there with the guys and be part of the team,” he said. “In this business, if you can’t be on the field, nobody wants to see you — nobody wants to be around you. I look forward to proving my worth to my teammates and my coaches and my fans.”
Just to get to this point is a huge step for Long, all things considered.
“I knew he’d be back,” Massie said. “It was a big injury, so when [stuff] happens, it was unfortunate. But to see him battle back to where he is, it [says everything] about who he is. It’s great to see and shows what kind of character he has.”