Bears

Kyle Long: 'Bears fans will like' the way Jeremy Langford runs the football

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Kyle Long: 'Bears fans will like' the way Jeremy Langford runs the football

Kyle Long spends most of his game days paying very close attention to defensive linemen and linebackers, whether he is protecting Jay Cutler or blocking for Matt Forte. But Long, who has been part of Forte’s escort service in two different positions, has had time to notice something about Jeremy Langford.

The rookie running back, who will take over for Forte after the latter’s knee injury in the Minnesota game, is different from Forte. And Langford is different in ways that Long thinks Bears fans will take to.

Forte has his own, distinctive style of running, a mix of slashing and tackle-avoidance that has improved with age. Langford, the Bears’ fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft out of Michigan State, has shown his blockers something different.

"Langford's a guy who can pick and choose from different guys' repertoires,” Long said on Tuesday. “He's a guy who can run very hard downhill with surprising burst that you see on film. Once he gets through the line, he can just shoot out there.

“So I think from a linear standpoint, you'll see a guy who's running downhill, and I think Bears fans will like it. I know I like the guy a lot. He runs hard, and he's a tough kid."

[MORE: Bears' John Fox tough on his coaching tree; Chargers’ McCoy next]

The mix of toughness and speed (he posted a '40' time of 4.42 sec.) was apparent at Michigan State, where he was understudy to Le’Veon Bell, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Langford finished his Spartan time with eight straight 100-yard games as a junior and 10 straight as a senior.

Langford broke a 46-yard run in the Bears’ preseason game at Indianapolis, then followed a possession later with a two-yard smash into the end zone running over a Colts safety.

But Langford, who started the season playing on multiple special-teams unit but now has seen those duties dramatically reduced, has a different idea of his first mission from what college stars typically think their job is.

“My job is to protect the quarterback,” Langford said. “And really it was that way in college – you didn’t want to see your quarterback hit, and you want him to trust me to make my block.”

Langford had spots of protection difficulty last Sunday in the Minnesota loss. But Cutler was sacked just once, and not on Langford’s watch.

[RELATED: Forte, Royal avoid needing surgery]

And the offense did not go into a rushing shell with Langford and not Forte. The Bears gained 103 yards in the first half, 202 in the second. Langford carried 12 times for 46 yards, all in the second half, as the Bears stayed with a balanced game plan that had 16 running plays and 20 passes with Langford.

“I like his football character,” said coach John Fox. “It’s not too big for him. He’s very willing. So his mindset is to learn. I think Stan Drayton, his position coach, has done a tremendous job with him. And a lot of it is he’s very receptive. I call it football character. He picks things up very well for a young player."

The last – and only previous – time Forte went down with a knee injury of any significance – 2011 – the Bears immediately found out what they did not have at running back beyond their franchise tailback.

The week after Forte was hurt in Soldier Field against the Kansas City Chiefs, Marion Barber stepped out of bounds to give the Denver Broncos, in their first year under Fox, clock time for a tying field goal. Then he fumbled in overtime to set the Broncos up for a winning field goal.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The expectation now, even with a rookie versus a veteran like Barber, is considerably different.

“In the NFL the game’s different than college football, particularly in the passing game,” Fox said. “They’re not just handing off to him. The protection element, routes, sometimes some of the things you see are a little bit more exotic. So he’s adapted to that very well as a rookie coming in from college to the NFL.”

Charles Leno says 'it's just gonna suck' without Kyle Long around

Charles Leno says 'it's just gonna suck' without Kyle Long around

Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. has a fond place in his heart for right guard Kyle Long. He's probably not alone in the Bears locker room with his feelings for the seven-year pro and three-time Pro Bowler.

Since being selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, Long has ascended into a leadership role with the Bears both on and off the field. And while his play in recent seasons has been negatively impacted by a variety of injuries (Long's been limited to just 29 games over the last four years), he still offered an experienced voice in the huddle and an enforcer's mentality after the snap.

But we may have seen the last of Long in a Bears uniform after the team officially placed him on season-ending injured reserve Monday (hip). It was news that Leno struggled to embrace.

“It’s the tale of the league for you,” Leno said from Halas Hall. “He’s been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and that’s just how the league goes. You never know when that time is going to come. His happened so fast. So abrupt. It’s like, ‘Damn. He’s not going to be here.’ So it just sucks. That’s how I look at it — it’s just gonna suck.”

Long hasn't been great this season. His play was progressively getting worse, too. He has the lowest Pro Football Focus grade of any player on Chicago's offense (38.0) and played his worst two games of the year in Weeks 3 and 5 (he missed Week 4 with the hip injury).

It was time to shut him down. Maybe for good.

“This is his words — he said he’s a Bear for life,” Leno said of his conversation with Long. “[Those are] the words I remember him saying. That’s how he wanted to end things.”

That certainly doesn't sound like a player who expects to ever wear a Bears jersey again. It's a shame, but it's also the reality of professional football for an offensive lineman. No position absorbs as much wear and tear as the big uglies up front, and Long is a perfect example. He was once considered the most promising young interior offensive lineman in the NFL just a few years ago. Now, it's anyone's guess if he'll ever play another snap.

“When he was healthy and he was on, he was a dominant football player," Leno said. "I told him plenty of times, ‘Get back to that [2013, 2014, 2015] self.’ It just sucks because so many times he would try to get back to it and had to take a step back. When injuries compile, it’s just really [unfortunate].”

The Bears will look to fill Long's starting role with either Rashaad Coward, Ted Larsen or rookie Alex Bars. And while one (or all) of them will provide an upgrade on the field, none will be able to replace Long's larger-than-life presence everywhere else.

The Bears are getting key contributors Bilal Nichols and Taylor Gabriel back sooner than later

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USA Today

The Bears are getting key contributors Bilal Nichols and Taylor Gabriel back sooner than later

The Bears returned to Halas Hall with a flurry of injury updates, most notably involving Kyle Long and Mitch Trubisky

And while the starting quarterback for Sunday's game against New Orleans is still TBD, wide reciever Taylor Gabriel will be back out there. Gabriel technically announced his return via Instagram on Sunday night, but confirmed to reporters on Monday that he's been cleared to play. 

"It’s just good to be back, to be around the guys," he said. "To be on the sideline just watching what’s been going on, I’ve been hungry to get back on the field... I probably practiced the hardest I’ve ever practiced in my life. I just had fun, and am glad I’m back." 

Gabriel suffered a concussion in the second half of the Bears' win in D.C., and dealt with the lingering effects of it up until last week. 

"I just woke up and I felt like myself," he said. "It was just a blessing. You always hear about concussions and all the crazy things. The athletic trainer, they did a great job with the whole process. I’m glad that I’m back."

Gabriel was coming off the best game of his Bears tenure: a six-catch, 75 yard performance that included three first-half touchdowns. The third touchdown – a 36-yarder featuring a highlight-reel catch – showcased the type of wrinkle that the Trubisky-Gabriel connection can bring to the offense. 

"The one thing that Taylor brings is he has that one element of downfield speed that helps out," Matt Nagy said. "So you’re able to take the top off of some defenses with him. And then he’s one of those wide receivers for us, like Allen Robinson, he’s got experience. So there’s a calming in the huddle that you understand that he knows what to do versus certain coverages. He’s coming off a pretty good game in Washington, and unfortunately got hurt, but there’s a calming element to him and then being able to take the top off.”

The Bears also had good news regarding second-year defensive tackle Bilal Nichols. Nichols returned to practice for the first time since breaking his hand during the Week 2 win in Denver. It's especially good news considering the team expects to be without Akiem Hicks sidelined for the foreseeable future. 

"[I] felt good today," Nichols said. "Just trying to continue to keep moving in the right direction and we'll see where it goes." 

Nichols wouldn't commit to playing on Sunday, and plans to see how he feels after a full week of practice. Nagy indicated that, at this point in his recovery, it's more about getting back into playing shape. 

"He’s been out a couple weeks, so now it’s just the ability for him to show probably more conditioning than anything," he said. "He has that cast on him, but he has the fingers that he’s able to use. Again, if you’re able to be out there and you’re able to suit up and go out there, then to me, let’s go.”

If Nichols is able to play against New Orleans, he'll do so wearing a club for extra protection. This was the first hand injury he's ever suffered, and Nichols admitted that playing with the cast takes some getting used to. Leonard Floyd wore the same type of club during the first half of last season, and has talked with Nichols about how to deal with it. 

"He's giving me a lot of insight and what to expect," Nichols said. "And things that he did that helped him out a lot. You know, we'll see. I'm going to try some things out."