Kyle Long was officially placed on injured reserve Monday, the fourth consecutive season cut short for the former three-time Pro Bowler and Bears’ longest-tenured homegrown player. The Bears elevated DL Abdullah Anderson from the practice squad to take Long's spot on the 53 and re-signed undrafted rookie TE Dax Raymond to the practice squad.
The Long news, while not unexpected with his lengthy injury history and struggles this season, is sobering on one of the franchise’s most respected and accomplished current players.
Long, the 20th overall selection in the 2013 draft, who went to three consecutive Pro Bowls to begin his career, agreed to a restructured contract in the spring to ensure his return for a seventh season, giving the team an option on its right guard in 2020.
But Long missed the Week 4 game vs. the Minnesota Vikings after showing up on the report midweek with a hip injury. He returned in London but clearly wasn’t himself, as he’d rarely appeared early in a season that could now be over abruptly.
Long, who returned in time from an ankle injury in Week 17 last season to make his NFL playoff debut in January, had entered the offseason with great optimism after avoiding any surgeries for the first time in several years.
The 30-year-old said in the spring, his first in several years not spent recovering from surgery, that he felt as good as he had since at least his second year in the league. He underwent three separate procedures on his neck, shoulder and elbow in 2018 but returned to being a daily offseason and camp practice participant this year.
“Critical to our development as a unit to get better,” OL coach Harry Hiestand said this spring of Long’s presence. “We’re here to get better and Kyle has been consistent and steady in his approach in the offseason. He’s there every day. He’s helping James [Daniels] a bunch and getting him and Bobbie together and doing all the things we’re doing instead of being able to do it one day and one day not do it. The whole group is benefits from him being in there.”
Sadly, the opposite might have been the case early on this season, when it was clear Long was battling an injury and/or the growing list of them in recent seasons had taken their toll. He was extremely upbeat in London about returning to the lineup but also credited the work of Ted Larsen and Rashaad Coward in his absence a week earlier.
“We get a win. Guys who usually don’t get an opportunity to play — and they did well — and now we know that if that situation arises again, we’ll be OK,” he said. “We knew that coming in because of the coaching we have and the guys we have in our room, but yeah it sucks to see Ted come in and get rolled up.”
Larsen didn’t make the trip to London after inuring his knee and being replaced by Rashaad Coward, the second-year converted Old Dominion defensive lineman, who’s suddenly thrust into the starting spotlight at right guard. The Bears are very high on Coward, who held up well in a tough spot vs. the Vikings and whose unique strength and athleticism could be upgrades over a limited Long.
But no Bears blocker over the past decade has been tougher or more gifted than Long, the Dancing Bear and 2017 Ed Block Courage Award winner. Unfortunately, his latest injury casts more doubt on whether his agile, energetic and dominating style will again be a part of the Bears line.