It’s been a tough couple of years for Kyle Long. His first few years in the league it looked like the Bears found a young building block for the offensive line. But position switches and injuries threatened to derail the once-promising right guard’s career.
It all started in 2015 when he made the switch from guard to right tackle only a couple of days before Week 1. He started all sixteen games there and while he showed some flashes, he did not show the same promise and potential that he did at guard. The position switch also might have contributed to some of his injury problems.
Here is what NFL offensive linemen Justin Pugh said about switching positions along the offensive line and how it contributed to his injuries during an interview on Arizona Sports 98.7:
“We were struggling up front and they moved me to a position I hadn’t played in two years,” Pugh said. “I’m out there playing right tackle and then they were like, ‘we need you to play left guard’ and then next week it’s back to right tackle. That’s not good for your body. You can’t get used to it that fast and there was some anxiety because I hadn’t played the position in two years, going to right tackle. … I just put one on the back for the team, no pun intended, and it ended up not helping me too much. It would have been a totally different story this past year if I wasn’t in that situation.”
He switched positions again in 2016 moving back to guard before his season was cut short after a right ankle injury suffered in Week 8. He fought hard to get back on the field; however, his 2017 season was also cut short due to a variety of injuries. All in all, he has only played 878 snaps the past two seasons due to injury.
After three surgeries on Long’s neck, shoulder and elbow just this past off-season, there were some questions surrounding how impactful he could still be in 2018.
But so far he looks better than ever.
Despite the struggles of the offense as a whole, Long has played exceedingly well and his continued improvement should only help the offense get to where it needs to be.
In the first three games of the season, Long has given up four total pressures in 132 pass blocking snaps: two hurries, one hit and one sack. If he keeps up this rate, he will finish with his best pressure rate allowed since his sophomore season in the NFL in 2014.
But if you watch him play, he’s been even better than those numbers suggest. For example, the one sack on his stat line was the Mitch Trubisky fumble against Arizona where the defensive lineman barely got a piece of Trubisky’s arm. If Trubisky doesn’t drop the ball, Long would not have been saddled with the sack
Pro Football Focus currently has Long with a pass blocking grade of 85.1 (the fourth-ranked guard in the NFL with a minimum of 80% of snaps played), which would be a career high for the former pro-bowler. And his tape backs up that number. While he got by in the beginning of his career on his superior physical attributes, he has become a much more polished pass protector as he’s matured.
Here he recognizes the defensive line stunt, passes the defensive tackle to Bobbie Massie and readjusts to anchor against the looping defensive end. Stunts are designed to confuse offensive linemen, but Long was not fazed.
Long’s footwork and hand placement are consistently excellent. He had a near-perfect game against the Packers in Week 1. Lining up against a talented defensive line consisting of Muhammad Wilkerson, Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels, and he rarely got beat. In the play below, he was working against the former Pro Bowler Wilkerson and what stands out here is his strong punch and hand placement to neutralize any potential counter moves.
In the run game, Long has proven to be a perfect fit in Matt Nagy’s zone scheme where his athleticism shines. You wouldn’t expect a 6-foot-6, 320-pound man to move the way Long can, but his ability to operate in space and get his hands on defenders half his size is truly impressive. Against the Cardinals, he showed it time and time again. In the video below he was able to get to Pro Bowler Budda Baker in space. The second-year safety was a top performer at the combine in his draft class in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, and 20-yard shuttle, but he still wasn’t able to avoid Long.
And one more for good measure (and because pancake blocks are fun). Here he welcomes undrafted rookie Austin Calitro to the NFL on another pin and pull that gets him in space and to the second level of the defense.
Long is at his best when he can pull and operate in space but obviously has the size and strength to create holes in a power man scheme as well.
PFF is not as impressed with Long as a run blocker giving him only a grade of 60.5 (16th amongst guards). This is where I am going to disagree with their ranking. While he has been better as a pass blocker, his run blocking has been better than that grade would suggest. PFF is a valuable tool, but it is important to use their grades as a supplement to watching the games.
Another sign Long is fully healthy is he has only been penalized one time in 210 offensive snaps (on a rather questionable holding call too). In 2015, Long’s last full season, he was penalized 9 times in 1,076 snaps or .8% of his snaps. Last year he was penalized on 1.1% of his snaps. This year that number is at only .4% of his snaps.
Frequent penalties is usually a sign that a player is getting beat often. Every offensive lineman will get beat occasionally. It is the nature of the position. But so far Long has been able to limit the damage and avoid costly penalties.
Overall, Long seems to be on his way back to his pre-injured self.
Most players would have given up after multiple injuries and surgeries. It is truly a testament to Long’s desire and work ethic for him to not only get back on the field but to compete at a high level.
Long’s return to form has been a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing offense. He has missed a lot of snaps over the last few seasons and has yet to reach his ceiling as a blocker. But I expect by the end of the year, if he stays healthy, he will be mentioned not only as a Pro Bowler but as an All-Pro at his position.