BOURBONNAIS — On one level, Bears guard Kyle Long can see time passing him by as he approaches a milestone that rarely is kind to an NFL player: He turns 30 on Dec. 5.
“I don’t know half the references [teammates] make to pop culture,” Long said Friday after the opening practice of training camp when asked if he can “feel the youth” of the rebuilt Bears. “I used to understand all the rap songs, and I don’t understand half of them now, unless I listen to Future.
“They’re just young dudes. I used to know guys from watching college football, and now there’s guys I didn’t even know that came through. You watch them play, and you’re like, ‘Wow.’ We’re really lucky to have these young players. Ryan [Pace, the Bears’ general manager] has done a great job of bringing in a lot of talent.”
Long still has time to turn back the clock and return to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro level he was at in his first two years in the NFL in 2013 and 2014, before a position change to tackle and injuries derailed his career.
Finally healthy after an arduous rehabilitation following shoulder, ankle, neck and hand injuries that limited him to 17 starts combined in 2016 and 2017, Long was back on the practice field and almost a full participant at right guard.
“I’m feeling great,” said Long, who had played in 55 of 56 games in his first three-plus seasons with the Bears before suffering a severely broken ankle against the Buccaneers in 2016. “It’s really fun to get back out here with my teammates and start camp without any limitations and be able to contribute from Day 1.”
Long’s return is the first step toward re-establishing some lost continuity on the offensive line. You can’t forget that before the injury, Long was considered pound-for-pound the Bears’ best player when he was a second-team All-Pro selection in 2016.
“We’re just happy to have him back,” right tackle Bobby Massie said, “because he’s a tremendous player and he’s a good dude, on and off the field.”
Often an engaging personality, Long looks like he’s taking a more business-like approach publicly to getting his career back on track. He even agreed to quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s appeal to avoid social media.
“You don’t want to do anything to detract from the team,” Long said. “You want to focus all your energy creatively, emotionally, physically and mentally on the football team and how you can help this team win.
“In years past, I’ve had fun on Twitter during the season, and that’s well-documented. But I’ll follow the lead of our captain and do what he wants to do.”
There’s no time to waste. Just five years into his NFL career, Long is the fifth-oldest player on the team, behind Chase Daniel (31), Sherrick McManis (30), Patrick Scales (30) and Sam Acho (29). Long, though, is hoping to use all that youth around him to his advantage.
“There’s young guys I can learn from, you know?” Long said. “There’s guys I can look to that are in our rookie class and say, ‘Wow, he does that really well. I wish I did that better, and maybe I can work on that tomorrow.’ ”
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