Kyle Long made most of his chances

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- New Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long readily admits his meteoric rise up the draft charts to the 20th overall pick Thursday wouldn’t have been possible without an invitation to the Senior Bowl.

But now that he’s here, the plan is to make the organization and fan base thankful for making the decision, despite limited experience (five games) as a starter at Oregon.

“If it weren’t for the invite to the Senior Bowl that I got the opportunity to play against the elite competition that was there, I’d probably still be waiting around,” Long said.

He’s probably correct. Still, there’s no denying the buzz Long created in the scouting community with a few dominant workouts at the Senior Bowl, despite missing practice time due to a bout with the flu. Long’s performance made already-interested teams want to look deeper.

Of all the teams poking and prodding at Long during the pre-draft process, the Bears, he said, had done the most homework.

Perhaps the work wouldn’t have even been done by the Bears if not for a little persistence last season on Long’s part.

Rotating at offensive tackle with Tyler Johnstone in 2012, Long didn’t make his first start until Nov. 13 at USC. At first, Long was fine with the rotation because Oregon’s uptempo offensive attack produced so many snaps that it allowed him to play 45 to 50 snaps per game. Long felt that was sufficient enough for him to build game film for a shot at the NFL.

Then, the Ducks lost starting left guard Mana Greig to a season-ending injury, and Long quickly seized the opportunity by barging into the office of Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood to lay claim to the job.

“I didn’t ask them if I could start,” Long explained. “I told them I was going to start at left guard. I was hungry to play. I knew I had to get in where I fit in. It so happened to be at left guard.”

At the time, however, Long didn’t necessarily expect to develop into an elite prospect.

“I was trying to solidify myself as a key contributor on the offensive line at Oregon. It’s well-documented that I didn’t have a lot of starts or experience at Oregon, but I wanted to be able to help and make a positive impact,” he said. “My first start was against USC and I think that’s really where it started. I started to make a lot of improvements as a football player in regards to the physical nature of the game and the mental aspect as well.”

Long admits he couldn’t explain the difference between an over and under defensive front until midway through last season. But strong performances during his time in Oregon’s starting lineup showcased growth and improvement athletically and mentally, while also paving the way to an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where he ratcheted up the interest in him among scouts even more.

Long’s first meeting with the Bears wouldn’t come until February during the NFL Combine; one of more than a dozen sitdowns with teams. Just a few weeks ago, Long participated in his “first real sitdown” with the Bears. During that meeting, Long and Bears general manager Phil Emery discussed football, but what impressed the offensive lineman most was the GM’s desire to get to know the man off the field.

As the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, and younger brother of St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long, Kyle admits to running away from the inevitable comparisons to his family members, which is why he initially chose baseball. It was Long’s way of shedding the family legacy to become his own man.

So for Long, baseball was his first love. After the Chicago White Sox selected him in the 23rd round of the Major League Baseball Draft, he decided to go to Florida State to continue playing baseball. Coming from a close-knit family in which structure was key, Long had never gone out socially. He wasn’t quite equipped to handle the freedom that college would afford.

In fact, Long says he took full advantage of the new surroundings. But a DUI in 2009, however, changed everything.

“Like with anybody in this room, you live and you learn through experiences. That’s kind of the beauty of this thing we call life,” Long said. “I feel like I’ve matured immensely over the last few years, and I feel like that’s why I’m here today.”

Long hasn’t been deaf to the criticism levied at the Bears for taking him at No. 20 despite the draft board being filled with so many other talented prospects. Although initially surprised the Bears selected him so early, Long -- who knows he’s still raw as a prospect -- plans to approach the new job with more than just a chip on his shoulder.

“I feel like I have a lumberyard on my shoulder. Growing up in the house I did with my older brother and dad being who they are in the football community, I had great expectations from an athletic standpoint,” Long said, “but also from a maturity standpoint and all of the above. That’s really pushed me to come in with a drive and intensity and focus. I try to improve every day because if you’re making a profit every day, you can’t go broke.”