Different types of pass rushers attacked from different angles. Tight ends were closer, and the center was farther. The techniques and assignments had changed.
“I was a little like a fish out of water, but that’s to be expected,” guard Kyle Long said.
This week of organized team activities turned into a challenge for Long. With other linemen sitting out the voluntary workouts because of injuries, Long was moved to right tackle, where he went head-to-head with outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho.
It’s a move down the Bears’ offensive line that coach John Fox and Long said was made out of necessity, but it’s also a long time coming. Long is a versatile, freakish athlete some penned as an NFL-caliber tackle coming out of Oregon two years ago.
“I’m so nearsighted I can’t really think past today or this week,” Long said. “I’ve always felt I could do it, but who knows?
“We have guys that play right tackle, so we’re going to figure out where we’re going to go. Right now, they needed somebody in practice, so I jumped at the opportunity.”
The Bears drafted Long with 20th overall pick in 2013 with former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in mind.
Former offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer wanted to build his protection from the inside out. The integrity of the pocket had to be maintained to allow quarterback Jay Cutler to step up and throw.
New offensive coordinator Adam Gase surely would like the same for Cutler, but right tackle still was marked as a position in need of improvement.
Jordan Mills has started the past two years at right tackle, but he’s also allowed too much pressure in his 29 starts. Pro Football Focus rated Mills as its 66th tackle out of 84 players in the 2014 season. Mills and left tackle Jermon Bushrod didn’t participate in OTAs on Wednesday.
“We move guys around all the time,” Fox said. “In this league, especially on game day, you typically go into a game with seven linemen, you’ve got to be ready for some multiple position changes.
“So we’ve got a couple guys on the shelf right now. So [putting Long at tackle] was something we want to take a look at.”
Of course, the Bears could benefit from the look. Long has proven to be a quick study, transforming from an intriguing NFL prospect with little college experience to a second-team All-Pro guard in two seasons.
Until the Bears are in pads, any evaluations will be limited, Fox said. But Vladimir Ducasse, Michael Ola and even Mills could be options at guard if Long excels at tackle.
“I don’t get into what-ifs,” Fox said. “[Long is] obviously a very, very capable athlete. He’s got great strength, great athleticism. So I think he’s capable of playing anywhere across the line.
“Right now, he’s a starting guard, and we’re out here trying to get better as a football team, learn a new system.”
It’s a system that could need a player of Long’s stature at tackle.
Long said some of Kromer’s techniques and philosophies have carried over under new line coach Dave Magazu. But there are adjustments to make, especially if he’s at tackle, even though he did seem to hold his own at times against McPhee and Acho.
“Obviously, when you’re inside, you’ve got a guy on either side of you to help with protections and assignment stuff,” Long said. “When you’re outside on the edge, there’s a lot more space you have to deal with. The type of athlete you’re playing against changes. There’s a lot of variables that play into it. I’m just trying to get better at as many things as I can, as a football player to help the team.”
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