The 2015 season was preceded by a bit of uncertainty at one of the key positions on the Bears’ offensive line – tackle – and involving one of the core/foundation players within the organization – Kyle Long, who made right tackle the only O-line position, stretching over all of this season and last, to have the same player start 16 straight games.
This season is ending with a degree of certainty in both areas: Barring a windfall in the form of some team forgetting to sign one of their tackles, Long will be one of the Bears’ in 2016 and beyond. The Bears will go into this offseason with Long ensconced at right tackle despite spots of late-season difficulty, which coaches look at as a good player having a bad play rather than a bad player who had occasional good stretches.
“I wouldn't call his season a failure by any stretch,” coach John Fox said on Friday. “Like any athlete at the pinnacle of his profession, you're going to have some days that are better than others, but I think he's performed at a really good level, to be honest with you.
“I thought last week [at Tampa Bay] was pretty good. He'll get a good test Sunday [against Detroit edge-rushers Ziggy Ansah, 13.5 sacks, and Jason Jones, 4.5), but most of his stuff is technical, kind of a comfort level with being a tackle, but I think he's done remarkably well, to be honest with you.”
While obviously owing to more than just Long, the Bears have been able to remain committed to running the football with the possible exceptions of the Washington and Minnesota II games, both losses and both part of the 0-4 record the Bears have in games with fewer than 26 rushing attempts.
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Long, who initially wanted to remain at guard and push his string of consecutive Pro Bowls to three, has been beaten for sacks but ultimately not beaten mentally in the longer term.
“I’m getting there,” Long said. “Every week I see something new. Every week I, with new opponents you learn to overcome different challenges. But I’m enjoying it. I think I’m growing not only as a football player, but also as a person through this process, because I’ve been challenged. The guys are rallying around me. They expect greatness. I expect greatness and that’s where we’re at with that.”