LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears selected Oregon guard Kyle Long with the 20th pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, looking to revamp an offensive line that has ranked among the worst in recent years.
There were a number of ways the Bears could have gone given their needs for depth and youth on both sides of the ball. They were also interested in moving down and acquiring more picks since they had just five.
Some mock drafts had the Bears going with linebackers Alec Ogletree of Georgia and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, along with Fighting Irish tight end Tyler Eifert. All three were on the board, but Chicago decided to draft a guard in the first round for the first time since 1960 in Long.
"Very clear statement that we wanted this player," general manager Phil Emery said. "The draft's not over, so we'll have other opportunities at those other positions. This is the player we wanted."
With Long in the mix along with newcomers Jermon Bushrod at left tackle and guard Matt Slauson, the offensive line will have a different look after allowing 44 sacks and 87 quarterback hits.
The son of former Raiders star Howie Long and the brother of St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long, Kyle Long becomes the latest member of his family to reach the NFL even though his college football experience was limited.
A rifle-armed pitcher with a fastball in the mid-90s at St. Anne's-Belfield high school in Ivy, Va., he was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 23rd round in 2008 but wound up going to Florida State on a baseball scholarship. Academic issues forced him to leave FSU, and he also wound up spending a night in jail because of a DUI in January 2009.
Long returned home, straightened himself out and enrolled at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, Calif., in 2010 and wound up making the switch from pitcher to defensive end. He made the switch to the offensive line the following year with the Gauchos and emerged as a key piece in Chip Kelley's breakneck offense in his lone season with Oregon in 2012 even though he made only five starts and 11 appearances.
In the five games he started at left guard, the 6-foot-6, 313-pound Long recorded six touchdown-resulting blocks and 36 knockdowns. And the Ducks led the Pac-12 in total offense and scoring.
"I feel like I can get a lot better with coaching, with the right guys around me," Long said. "I feel like have that opportunity in Chicago."
As for his past?
"I was a young kid and I was dealing with some stuff off the field that I had to work through," he said. "I'm past it now. I'm four years, 4½ years removed from those issues. I really feel like my best ball is ahead of me."
He joins a team that won 10 games but made some big changes after missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. They fired coach Lovie Smith and replaced him with the offensive-minded Marc Trestman, and that wasn't the only big change.
Brian Urlacher, the heart and soul of the defense, is gone after his contract expired and they couldn't come to an agreement. Besides parting with the eight-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker, the Bears addressed some of their most immediate needs before the draft by signing Bushrod and Martellus Bennett. That gave them the top-tier left tackle and play-making tight end they craved, and it gave general manager Phil Emery some flexibility in the draft with two big concerns addressed.
They lured Bushrod from New Orleans with a five-year deal, adding a Pro Bowl left tackle to a beleaguered offensive line and finally giving Jay Cutler the protection he needs on his blind side. They added a playmaker at tight end in Bennett and signed Slauson, the former New York Jets guard.
They'll have two new starting linebackers alongside perennial Pro Bowl pick Lance Briggs with D.J. Williams replacing Urlacher in the middle and James Anderson taking over for the departed Nick Roach on the strong side.
All that comes after they collapsed for the second straight year following a promising start. But for all their moves, there were still some major question marks hovering over the team as the draft approached.
The list started with the offensive line. Age on defense remains an issue even if that group ranked among the league's best a year ago, with Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman in their 30s.
Most of their major new additions are on one-year deals, and then there's the matter of Cutler and his future. He's entering the final year of his contract, meaning the Bears could have a tough decision to make, particularly if he has a run-of-the-mill season. Complicating matters is the Bears have no heir apparent in place.
They might also want to bring in a receiver who can stretch the field and take some of the pressure off Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.