The NFL recently adopted a rule that states an incoming rookie cannot participate with his new team in anything other than rookie minicamp until his school has completed final exams. Due to the quarterly class schedule at Oregon, Chicago Bears first-round draft pick Kyle Long will be one of those forced to sit. Oregon's semester ends June 14 and the Bears hold their final veteran minicamp from June 11-13.
Chicago will conduct rookie minicamp this weekend, which Long will attend, but after that, he'll be on his own until Bears training camp. In total, he is expected to miss 13 practices – 10 OTA and three minicamp sessions. During that time, Long will work with Tony Wise, a private offensive line coach who was an assistant for the Bears from 1993-1998. Wise worked with Long for a week before this year's Senior Bowl.
This new rule affects a handful of rookies each year. Last season, first overall draft pick Andrew Luck was forced to miss most of Indianapolis' offseason program. Yet missing 13 practices could be more damaging to Long than it would to a typical draft pick.
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Two things are working against him. The first is Long's ridiculous lack of experience in college. He started just five games at the FCS level and is by far the most inexperienced first-round draft pick, not only this class, but in recent history. Every single second he can spend on the practice field working with his new teammates and coaches is absolutely crucial. Right now, Long is as raw as a piece of uncooked sushi. Letting seafood sit in the sun for too long isn't going to be good for anyone.
Second, the Bears are installing a brand new offense, which will include a zone-blocking run system. So not only will Long fall behind the rest of his linemates in knowledge of the new playbook, but he'll also miss out on the chemistry-building sessions the offseason provides. In zone schemes, the front five all have to work in tandem to make multiple reads as a play develops. If one guy makes the wrong read, the play will fail. That type of chemistry only comes from numerous reps on the practice field. Installing a new offense only exacerbates that difficulty in developing rhythm, timing and trust with teammates.
So here's what this means for a player the Bears are hoping can provide a substantial boost to the offensive line this year. While the rest of the offensive linemen get hundreds of reps working side-by-side the next five weeks, Long will be on his own. When training camp starts, every single blocker on the roster will be two, three, four or five steps ahead of a rookie who has as much football experience as I do. Obviously, this is not ideal, and it will very likely stunt Long's development in Marc Trestman's offense.
Because of the front-five struggles the past few seasons, most assume Long will be able to easily earn a starting spot this year, either at guard or right tackle. In order for that to happen, he'd better have a phenomenal training camp. He better be able to learn at a highly accelerated rate, mastering his technique (which needs a lot of work) at multiple positions, and learning all the line calls, and all the blitz pickups, and all of his reads on zone runs, and all the terminology, all in a truncated period of time.
It could happen but I can't be the only one who sees this being a potentially serious problem for a player with five games of collegiate experience. A scenario that makes more sense is that the 13 missed practices will bury Long on the depth chart. When his inexperience rears its ugly head in training camp, he'll struggle to ascend the depth chart and won't fully get up to speed until later in the season.
So unless you think Long is a super-beast athlete who is smarter and more athletic and more coachable and a faster learner than everyone else, expecting him to be a Day 1 contributor this year seems like a long shot at this point. Bears fans can thank the University of Oregon for this less-than-ideal situation.
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.