As the first round of one of the most difficult-to-predict drafts unfolded, Bears fans had to be excited and inching toward the edge of their seats as some big-named prospects remained on the board for them.
When it got to pick No. 20 and the Bears were on the clock, there was an embarrassment of riches available to them. Still on the board were cornerbacks like Desmond Trufant and Xavier Rhodes, defensive linemen like Sharrif Floyd and Datone Jones, and middle linebackers Alec Ogletree and Manti Te’o.
Heck, even Te’o’s Notre Dame teammate Tyler Eifert was available to the Bears. Many thought the Bears could select the tight end and really give Jay Cutler some extra options in the passing game.
So when Roger Goodell approached the lecturn to announce the much-anticipated pick, which one of the fascinating names would he announce?
Kyle Long, guard, Oregon.
The reaction to the Long pick inside Radio City Music Hall was symbolic of that of most Bears fans around the country: silence.
Criticism poured in from Bears fans — and obviously the Chicago sports media; that’s a given — about the selection of Long. Some felt they missed out on a chance to select a possible future Pro Bowl tight end in Eifert. Others felt they could have gotten younger on defense with the selection of a cornerback or defensive lineman. A web poll on ChicagoTribune.com asking if the Bears “reached” (selected too early) Long with the 20th pick in the draft had staggering results. As of the time of this post, 79% of the 2,559 respondents said yes, the Bears picked Long too early.
Heck, even I felt underwhelmed by the pick because I was hoping for a big splash.
Here’s the skinny: guard might be the least sexiest position on the entire football field, if not in all of sports. Rarely do guards get mentioned unless they’re being flagged for holding. Even kickers and punters receive more acclaim than guards.
But what I feel is being overlooked by the masses is that the Bears addressed a big need with the selection of Long. Interior offensive line was one of the needs I mentioned in my preview Thursday afternoon. The Bears lost a pair of guards in free agency — signed a veteran — but are too old and weak in that area.
Lest we forget that Cutler has been sacked an astonishing 148 times (an average of 37 times per season) as a member of the Bears. This coming a year after being sacked just 11 times in his Pro Bowl season with the Broncos.
The Bears see great potential in Long, the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother of St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long. On his draft profile on NFL.com, it says: “Both Howie and Chris Long have referred to Kyle as the best athlete of the family.” Long is versatile to the point where he could play either tackle or guard for the Bears. So, if J’Marcus Webb or Jonathan Scott or Gabe Carimi don’t work out at right tackle, Long could be an option at that position.
Said Bears general manager Phil Emery: “He’s going to start out at guard. We feel like he can be a starting right tackle. We feel like he can be a good left tackle in this league so that’s part of what attracted us to him.”
Ultimately, the concern over the selection of Long from Bears fans and analysts is that the Bears either took Long too soon or that they missed the opportunity to make a big splash at another position.
But nobody can deny the Bears addressed a need with their first pick. And nobody can tell what kind of football player the Bears got until Long sets foot on the field this year and competes.