In the days before the 2015 game one against the Green Bay Packers, the Bears decided two-time Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long would suddenly become a tackle. Later in the season coach John Fox was clear: Kyle Long is a tackle.
The NFL apparently agrees, naming Long to his third straight Pro Bowl, this time as a tackle and replacing Philadelphia’s Jason Peters, who is out because of injury.
Long, who becomes the Bears’ sole representative in the Pro Bowl at this point, was surprised when his cell phone rang on Thursday and it was Fox calling, leaving a message to call him and it was “urgent.”
Long returned Fox's call and was treated to the news that, for all of his struggles at times in his “rookie” year at tackle, he was a Pro Bowl’er again.
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“It just makes me realize how great a fan base we have and appreciative of the voters week to week, the guys around me on the team,” Long said. “I can’t say enough about the guys on the team and the coaching.”
Long had said privately before the season that his personal goal was to be the first guard to be named to Pro Bowls in his first 10 seasons. The 2013 Bears No. 1 pick, 20th overall, is still on track for his 10-goal, but this one comes at a position he admits he wasn’t all that keen on before the change came.
After strong play early against the likes of Khalil Mack from Oakland and Justin Houston of Kansas City, Long had his difficult moments as well in the closing weeks. But the overall is what the Bears, and ultimately he, wanted in the way of performance.
“I think I made a big sacrifice in my career and I think this was, in a roundabout way, a reward for it,” Long said. “Unfortunately I dealt with a lot of growing pains and I’ve owned it. It’s been part of the learning process and I’ve tried to be positive every day.
“It’s been a fun process this year and there’ve been tough times, but Hawaii’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Long is the first Bears offensive lineman ever to receive Pro Bowl honors in his first three seasons. He also is the first since Brian Urlacher (2000-2002) to be named to Pro Bowls in his first three seasons, regardless of position, and the seventh Bear of all time to achieve that honor.
Three of the last four are in the Hall of Fame, and Urlacher will be eligible in 2018, part of a class that will include Ray Lewis.
Long started all 16 games for the Bears this season at right tackle and was a part of a Bears offense that ranked third in franchise single-season history in completion percentage (63.9) and interception percentage (2.3), fourth in gross passing yards (3,843) and third-down percentage (42.5), fifth in net passing yards (3,660) and sixth in passer rating (89.7) and total net yards (5,514). Long helped protect QB Jay Cutler who had a career-high 92.3 passer rating while blocking for Matt Fortè, who finished ninth in the NFL this season averaging 99 yards from scrimmage per game.
“I’m just really appreciative of this and it’s a blessing to be able to represent the Bears in the Pro Bowl again,” Long said. As far as assessing his season, “when you have some separation from the season and time off, you get a chance to dissect the things you want to improve on for next year.
“That’s been the biggest thing for me since the break.”
Bears named to Pro Bowls in each of their first three NFL seasons:
G/T Kyle Long, 2013-15
LB Brian Urlacher, 2000-02
RB Gale Salers, 1965-67
LB Dick Butkus, 1965-67
TE Mike Ditka, 1961-63
RB Rick Casares, 1955-57
WR Harlon Hill, 1954-56