Finally on a winner, Kyle Long working ‘like he’s about to put a helmet on’
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Bears right guard Kyle Long is still around — in the locker room at Halas Hall, rehabbing his injured right foot, participating in meetings, studying film, helping teammates. He’s doing just about everything but joining in on the celebrations.
‘‘His mind is not somewhere else,’’ right tackle Bobby Massie said. ‘‘He’s still in the game, like he’s about to go out and put a helmet on.’’
Long’s absence on the field is one of the few bummers of an invigorating season for the Bears. A starter and Pro Bowl player as a rookie in 2013, Long has been through the muck and dysfunction of the Bears’ recent plight — the near-miss playoff run in 2013 and the dismal 5-11, 6-10, 3-13 and 5-11 seasons that followed. He has seen two coaches and the general manager who drafted him 20th overall fired.
And now that things have turned around under first-year coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, he’s on the sidelines. He was put on injured reserve Nov. 3 after suffering a severe foot injury late in the Bears’ 24-10 victory against the Jets on Oct. 28 at Soldier Field.
‘‘It’s unfortunate, man, because Kyle’s a great friend of mine,’’ Massie said. ‘‘I’ve known him for a long time. He was a little down at first — and rightfully so. But he’s here every day, working his ass off. And he’s in the meeting rooms every day, helping guys out, talking, asking questions as if he’s playing this week.’’
Long still has a chance to return for the Bears’ regular-season finale Dec. 30 against the Vikings in Minneapolis — and for the playoffs if the Bears qualify.
Long isn’t available to the media because he’s injured. But teammates are encouraged by his response to the injury and his diligence in rehabbing and staying in virtually a game-active mode.
‘‘He’s happy for us,’’ said left tackle Charles Leno Jr., a seventh-round draft pick in 2014 who also has been through the difficult times. ‘‘Somebody sent me a picture of us after the Sunday night game against the Vikings. Me and him were just ecstatic, so happy for each other and all the stuff that’s going on.
‘‘We know he’s going to get back soon. We just want him to get back sooner than later. He’s fine. He loves his teammates. He loves all of us. We just want to continue playing well.’’
The Bears are 4-0 without Long, but it’s not as though his absence hasn’t been felt. They have averaged 76 rushing yards and three yards per carry in four games since Long was injured. They averaged 154 rushing yards and 5.1 yards per carry in the four games before his injury.
Nagy, however, dismissed that disparity.
‘‘Our run game — you take the quarterback runs out of it — it hasn’t been a strength of ours,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘Whether there’s a coincidence or not, I can’t quite answer that. But I feel like it’s definitely not because of one person.’’
The question now is whether Long will return this season. It seemed unlikely at the time of the injury, but the possibility at least adds intrigue to that scenario.
‘‘We’ll approach that when it gets here,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘What matters with him right now is everywhere I look, nothing has changed with him in meetings. Everything that he can do without playing, he’s doing it. Nothing has changed at all. I think he’s in a really good place right now. The only thing he’s trying to do is get better every day with his rehab.’’