When you draft a player with just five games of starting experience at the FCS level, it raises some eyebrows. Such was the case with the Chicago Bears' first-round selection of former Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long.
Long, who spent two years at junior college after flunking out of Florida State his freshman season, did not start for Oregon until November of last year. He finished out the regular season (four games) as the starter at left guard, while also starting in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. Beyond that, Long is as raw as sushi.
Yet GM Phil Emery isn't worried about the substantial lack of experience of his first rounder.
"I'd be concerned if he wasn't the person he was and he wasn't the dynamic athlete he is," Emery said following the selection. "Just to give you an idea, we do a lot of research on the athletic end of it. Jim Arthur, one of our assistant strength coaches does a tremendous job of correlating information and pulling all the history of that position together, where they were as athletes started with Rusty (Jones), Bill Polian, it's called our athletic index score, or A-Score. [Long] is the highest. This guy is the number one offensive guard in the last 12 draft classes and that's as far back as we go. He rates as rare. In our scale, 9 is rare. He rates as rare."
Of course Emery is going to tout his first pick, but that is some high praise for Howie Long's youngest son. But, as with every single word that comes out of the mouth of an NFL coach or executive, you have to wade through the B.S. to find the truth. In this case, game film of Long's short collegiate career will help us decipher just how much Emery was embellishing the athletic ability of Chicago's most-recent first-round selection.
Kyle Long (6-6, 316)
|40-Yard Dash||Bench Press||Broad Jump||Vertical Jump||20-Yard Shuttle||3-Cone Drill||Arms||Hands|
Long is easily the quickest offensive lineman in this class when it comes to getting out of his stance. His footwork during his first few steps, and in general, is outstanding. Within a split second of the snap, he's out of his stance and on the move. When pulling, he has the agility and balance to maneuver through the trash and get to the next level.
At the second level, he uses great speed and knowledge of angles to line up and lock on to linebackers and safeties. Long has great vision in space and his ability to change directions allows him to stay on his blocks longer than would a typical lineman. When asked to man up as a run blocker, he uses good leverage and positioning, while often flashing nastiness and aggression, particularly when finishing a block.
In pass protection, Long uses a wide base and has a strong initial punch. His balance is great when he sinks his hips, making it almost impossible to beat him with double moves. He worked at guard in a quick-pass attack, but he shows the skill set to potentially play tackle, even on the left edge, at the pro level.
Long is not a mauler. He will not be running over defenders anytime soon. Against powerful nose tackles, he will struggle to get push, particularly in short-yardage situations. Instead of exploding into defensive linemen, he too often catches them, which leaves him susceptible to strong bull rushes. His technique falls apart at times and he often lunges and bends at the waist, which can lead to some bad missed blocks.
In pass protection, he misses too many assignments and can struggle picking up the blitz, likely due to his lack of experience. Long also doesn't always play through the whistle, and is caught standing and watching on too many plays.
Emery was right, this kid is exceptionally athletic. Outside of North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper, who was selected seventh overall by the Arizona Cardinals, Long was easily the quickest, most-fluid offensive lineman in this class. His ability to move out of his stance and on the run is phenomenal. Watching him pull down the line, dodging his offensive linemen in the process, then turning up-field, finding a defender and getting a block on him, it can be a thing of beauty. I have seen few offensive linemen with such agility and balance while on the move.
For that reason, I believe he'll fit perfectly in the zone-blocking scheme of Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, a system that relies on quick, athletic linemen. He should excel working on his track and picking off defenders.
Long doesn't get a lot of push up front but if he can be taught to stay low out of his stance, while also bulking up in the weight room, he can improve that area of his game.
My biggest concern is his struggles working in tandem with the other offensive linemen, particularly in blitz pickup. Having played just five games at the FCS level, he does not have the requisite experience to recognize and adjust to complicated blitz packages. If he starts right away for the Bears, that will likely be the area he struggles the most.
Also, in a zone scheme, it is absolutely necessary for all five offensive linemen to be on the same page at all times. Zone schemes require coordination by each blocker, as assignments can change by the second. That type of chemistry is hard for veteran offensive linemen to develop, nonetheless a rookie who has roughly as much experience as I do.
So while Long may be nearly as athletic as Emery claims him to be, his lack of understanding on the field is obvious on film. If he is asked to start right away, he will have some serious growing pains. We will watch him cut his teeth and make mistakes in every game. It may take him more than a year or two before he becomes dependable. But if and when that time comes, he'll turn into a quality offensive lineman, whether that be at tackle or guard, as he has the skill set to play both.
Still, he's a player that may not reach his potential until 2015, which again brings up his value as a first-round selection. He may turn into a Pro Bowler down the line, but Emery passed on a number of players at 20th overall who are much more likely to be Pro Bowlers this season.
The film shows Long to be the player the Bears have touted him to be but it also highlights his egregious lack of experience, which could be a headache to Bears fans for a year or two.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.