With the start of the 2017 season just days away, the Chicago Bears are looking to avoid the amount of injuries they experienced in 2016 as they had 22 players finish on injured reserve by season’s end.
One of the costliest injuries happened to guard Kyle Long who was lost for the season in mid November after breaking his ankle.
In the Week 10 game on the road against the Buccaneers, Long injured his ankle when tight end Logan Paulson stumbled and fell onto Long’s ankle. The injury was so severe that long had to have his ankle immobilized and was carted off the field.
To make matters worse, Long had already begun the 2016 season fighting a tough labrum that required surgery to be fixed.
Now 10 months after the injury and Week 1 of the NFL season days away, many experts question just how healthy Long is going into this season.
The surgery he had to repair the ankle was tedious has he fell out of football shape losing over 40 pounds while he was recuperating. Long also declined to have the surgery to repair his labrum and will chose to fight through the injury again this season.
During training camp, he was rarely seen working with the ones during live reps and did not play in any of the pre-season games.
John Fox and the Bears are hoping to get Long on the field Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, but seemed pessimistic at chances that he is able to play.
When asked about Long’s chances to play Sunday, Fox offered this answer: “I can’t guarantee it.”
If he does play, it will mark the third-straight year that the Bears were to open the season where the starting week one offensive line did not take any pre-season game snaps together.
In 2015, Fox and the coaching staff decided to slide Long from the right guard position to the right tackle position the week leading up to their season opener against the Packers.
Last season, a slew of changes were made when center Hroniss Grasu tore his ACL at Family Fest, the team signed pro-bowl guard Josh Sitton after he was released by the Green Bay Packers and moved rookie guard Cody Whitehair from guard to center.
The changes occurred again the week leading up to the season opener, this time on the road against the Houston Texans.
The Bears would prefer to have even a semi-healthy Long play Sunday against the Falcons because it gives them the best continuity and stability on the offensive line. If he can’t go, the Bears would most likely have to slide Whitehair from the center to the guard position. That puts the team at a disadvantage because Whitehair performed close to a Pro Bowl level at the position last season in his year in the league.
It was also bring Grasu onto the offensive line, who has little experience with the line as a whole as the only player he will have played with before on the line will be left tackle Charles Leno.
The Bears offensive line will face one of the NFL’s best defenses in Atlanta as they ranked 5th last year in rushing defense with opponents averaging just 104.5 yards last year.
Chicago’s ability to run the ball on offense will be a key factor for the game as their rushing attack is better than their passing attack, but also as a way to keep the league’s best scoring offense that the Falcons feature off the field.
If Long is not able to go in Week 1, then the team and fans will be watching on a week-to-week basis, because they will need to rely on the offensive line to help play complimentary football through week four.
Three of the Bears first four opponents played in the NFC and AFC Championship last year, and all four teams are predicted to have high power offenses this season.
The stability of the offensive line will be paramount because if the Bears are able to run the ball and protect during passing plays, they can at least fight to make the games respectable, otherwise it might not be fun to watch the start of the season.
It is interesting to see what level Long will be able to perform at when he does return and to see how offensive line performs as a whole.
His injury is eerily familiar to defensive tackle Tommie Harris back in 2006. Harris was considered to be the best three technique defensive tackle in the entire league, but was never the same after violently tearing his hamstring back in December of 2006 against the Vikings.
With Long, for the last few years he has heralded as one of the best offensive linemen in the game and the best player on the Bears. With just four years in the league it would be shame if the organization and fans have already seen the best of Long.