PHOENIX — Kyle Long and Martellus Bennett are on opposite sides at the Pro Bowl this week. But for the record, they are still great Bears teammates and good friends. The so-called Twitter “feud” between them was over before it started.
“I never was not Kyle’s friend. I don’t know why everybody’s saying [that],” Bennett said. “I didn’t say anything mean.”
Their light-hearted social-media exchange took an unusual turn after one unfollowed the other — “You have my [phone] number. Stop the [BS]” Bennett responded at one point. And in this day and age, that’s all it takes to make national web sites and become bigger than it was.
“Yeah, everybody took it out of context,” Bennett said. “But I was just telling him that I enjoy our conversations in person more than on Twitter. I think when people read this stuff, everybody wants me to be [a jerk] and sometimes I am [a jerk]. But overall, I’m not a mean-spirited guy.
“I talked to him that day on the phone. He was like, ‘What the [heck] happened?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know.’”
As a matter of fact, Long and Bennett not only are good friends, but two of the most affable and well-spoken players in the Bears locker room — making them both candidates to step up and fill a leadership void that played a part in the team’s demise last season. Their Pro Bowl status — this is Long’s second selection and Bennett’s first — only gives them greater credibility to take on a leadership role the team could use.
“We are actually friends. I don’t think people understand our dynamic,” Long said on Friday after his Pro Bowl team practiced at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College. “Marty and I are having fun. He knows what he’s doing. He’s smart. We’re actually having dinner tonight.”
Long and Bennett are making the most of their Pro Bowl week. Long compared it to one of those business seminars where a series of speakers tell their tales of success.
“It’s been a learning experience,” Long said. “I get to pick the brains of some of my favorite players. I’ve been in [Ravens guard] Marshal Yanda’s ear the whole week … Joe Thomas … all these tremendous players.”
“It’s pretty cool,” Bennett said. “Really, just asking a lot of questions and learning from a lot of pros and guys I admire the way they play. Some guys I’ve already studied before I got here. I’m just asking different questions — the things they do throughout the year; some moves they use, different things like that.”
The Pro Bowl is a chance to get to know other players on a personal level. “I sat down with a group of Packers the other night,” Bennett said. “Jordy [Nelson], Sam [Shields], Clay [Matthews] and [Randall]. It’s been pretty fun, hanging out and telling jokes.
“I had never really gotten to talk to Antonio Brown [the Steelers’ wide receiver]. He’s one of my guys I love to watch play. I feel like I’m pretty good with the ball in my hands. But he’s even better. So just talking to him, he’s like, ‘Man you’re really good with the ball.’ And I’m like, ‘No, you’re really good with the ball in your hands.’ So just picking his brain on different things that he does to move a little better and things like that.”
Long’s personality also is a good fit for the social atmosphere of the Pro Bowl.
“I spoke to Clay Matthews for the first time yesterday. I had never heard him speak,” Long said. “I have such a tremendous amount of respect for him and the Packers organization. Being able to sit on the bus with him and talk football, it’s been cool.”
But both players have used the network of the Pro Bowl to find out about their new bosses — from general manager Ryan Pace to head coach John Fox to offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
“I really don’t know about the direction we’re going, but a lot of Broncos are here, so I’m just hearing about Adam and coach Fox,” Bennett said. “Drew Brees talked very highly about Pace — he said he’s brilliant, one of the great guys and he just loved him. And I talked to Pace on the phone briefly. I could feel his energy through the phone. So it was great.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of energy, a different flow of energy throughout the building. I’m excited. I’m excited to play again. I’ve got to learn a whole new offense all over again. I’ve got to get back in the books. But I’m excited about going there. I’m excited about how the changes are going to be.”
Long has heard only good things about his new coaches.
“I’ve been asking everybody and they all love John Fox. They’re all really happy for us,” Long said. “He’s a player’s coach. And he’s somebody that’s going to be very honest with you and up front, which I think is paramount in the NFL _ that honesty, that open relationship between the coaches and the players.
“Everybody’s excited about it. We have such an abundance of talent in Chicago, we want to be able to utilize that. The city deserves better.”
Asked about the impact the coaching change will have on Jay Cutler, Long sounded what certainly will be a major theme as the Bears adjust to a new staff — re-establishing a running attack that will allow Cutler to pick his spots instead of making all the big plays.
“It’s a unique opportunity for Jay to reinvent himself and hopefully as an offense we’ll be able to run the ball and take the load off him,” Long said. “You have to complement the running game with the passing game. Unfortunately, Jay’s had to drop back 50, 60 times a game and he’s taken a beating physically. It’s got to be hard.
“As offensive linemen, we like to have that weight on our shoulders and say, ‘All right, give Matt the rock. Let’s run the ball and then we can throw the ball to our monsters.”