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."
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.
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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.
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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.”