NFL Rookie Review: Kyle Long, OG, Chicago Bears

longvbengalsDuring the 2013 NFL Draft process, I was critical of Kyle Long and his chances for immediate success on the NFL level.  In fact, I gave Long a late-4th, early-5th round grade, so I was stunned when the Chicago Bears decided to use the 20th pick in the first round on the Oregon Duck offensive guard.

Long quickly became one of the star rookies of the preseason, as the game appeared to come naturally for the 6’6″, 311 pound son of Hall of Fame great, Howie Long.  I immediately acknowledged the potential error in judgment on Long, but as is the case with any incoming NFL rookie, a few seasons are needed to accurately evaluate your “evaluation.”

I decided to take a closer look at Kyle Long’s NFL debut versus the Cincinnati Bengals and their All-Everything defensive tackle, Geno Atkins.  It was a great first test for Long and the entire Chicago Bears offensive line, and the results were mixed, at best.

Overall, I graded Long’s performance versus the Bengals as a “C”, or, average.  He had a few good moments and a few bad moments, but overall, he played the game like a consistent, starting-quality player.  That said, he was far from a superstar.

Kyle Long is raw.  And as I projected in my pre-Draft analysis, he needs to improve his technique if he wants to become an elite player in the NFL.  On far too many occasions, Long absorbed contact rather than initiating at the point of attack.  Part of the reason for this was his tendency to come out of his stance high; he left himself far too exposed.  On the snaps where he faced Atkins, the All-Pro took advantage by getting his hands inside, controlling the action, and shedding the 311 pound rookie as if he was a man half the size.

longvbengals2Long is a strong man.  And he is surviving in the trenches because of it.  However, he relied too much on his strength versus the Bengals, as he failed to follow-up a strong initial jolt on contact with sustainable technique.  He is inconsistent with his hands, and the Bengals’ defensive lineman or linebacker was able to break away from Long and, in some instances, make a play in pursuit or become trash that impeded the ball carrier.

Long flashed his publicized athletic ability by getting to the second level in just a few steps, but he whiffed on more than one occasion due to taking a poor angle once his assignment was in reach.  It’s nice to be a good athlete, but if you aren’t completing your assignment, it’s worthless.

On the positive side, Kyle Long was able to anchor with his lower body strength and overall core dominance and, as a result, Jay Cutler enjoyed a deep pocket.  On the plays that Long was able to put himself in a power position with his hands, he was unmovable.  It’s exciting to see what he can become if and when he gets coached up.

It’s only one game into what should be a long and productive career for Kyle Long with the Chicago Bears.  That said, Long didn’t play like a top-20 prospect in his NFL debut.  In fact, it was hard to tell who the Bears’ first rounder was when watching Long lined up next to fellow rookie, Jordan Mills (Right Tackle, 5th-round selection.)  And that’s not because Jordan Mills was spectacular; the play on the field was simply similar.

One thing is for sure:  The Bears improved their offensive line by adding Long.  The fact that he was able to hang with Geno Atkins is a good sign for his future.

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