Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict seemingly tried to take a late hit on quarterback Jay Cutler as he was sliding. Without hesitation, rookie Kyle Long got into Burfict’s face and let him know that wasn’t acceptable.
Even as a rookie, that was an act of leadership by Long and something the Bears have lacked for a few years.
When the Bears parted ways with linebacker Brian Urlacher, the defense wasn’t the only thing that took a hit. Urlacher’s departure left the team with virtually no leadership. Sure there was Lance Briggs, who was under Urlacher’s wing for several years in Chicago, but the leadership role really didn’t transfer over when the Bears needed it the most.
Last year was a disaster from the very start for the Bears, with Briggs taking time off to open new restaurant just days before the season opener. After that moment, it was all downhill for Marc Trestman as he lost his locker room in just his second season as head coach.
Trestman had no control over the locker room, with players speaking their minds whenever they wanted and even an altercation after a home loss to the Miami Dolphins.
In addition there was the Aaron Kromer incident, where he threw quarterback Jay Cutler under the bus toward the end of the season. To say the Bears locker room was a disaster is an understatement.
With Trestman out the door and John Fox taking over, the Bears likely won’t be as big of a disaster off the field. Leadership starts from the top and Fox has proven over the years that he can maintain discipline. Doing so can have an effect on the veterans of this team, as well as the leaders that emerge. It may not sound like much but it’s a big part of how teams can be successful in the NFL.
The leadership role still needs to be on the field and through the players in the locker room. Aside from Jeremiah Ratliff, the Bears really don’t have many veterans on the roster that have a track record of leadership, aside from Jared Allen and Tim Jennings, although the addition of Antrel Rolle will help, as he has 10 years of NFL experience to bring to the table.
Rolle and Ratliff are the likely candidates to help restore some leadership in a defense that is going through rebuilding mode. We should see right away at training camp what the two bring to the table, not only on the field but off the field as well. The leadership could come from other players over time, but these two seem to be the likeliest candidates right away.
Teaching that role to the younger players can benefit the Bears for years to come, especially with the team looking to get younger.
Then there’s the offensive side of the ball, where the leadership usually comes from the quarterback position. However, many don’t consider Jay Cutler a leader and the 32-year-old is likely on his way out sooner than later. So whom do the Bears look to on offense for leadership?
That’s where we come back to Long, who enters the third season of his NFL career as a staple of the offensive line. The two-time Pro Bowl guard has seen his popularity shoot through the roof as he’s become one of the faces of the franchise.
Long is vocal, practices hard and isn’t afraid of showing emotion on the field. Those things can go a long way in developing that leadership trait. Long also has football in his blood, with his father Howie and brother Chris both successful players in the NFL.
Kyle’s leadership is a valuable trait passed down from both Howie and Chris. While Long will look to continue to improve this season, he can also build his leadership and vocal presence, and take on a bigger role.
“I think the higher your football IQ, the slower the game is,” Long said during OTAs, giving one of his typical team-first quotes. “From a reaction standpoint, you see things before they happen. You can communicate certain things to teammates pre-snap. And I think it helps everybody. If there’s five guys up there with a high football IQ, there tends to be less chaos in the backfield.”
A bright future is ahead for Long but this season may just be the one where he shows he can be the leader of the franchise for years to come.
Zack Pearson graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a journalism degree and has years of experience covering the Chicago Bears. He has written for BleacherReport, FanSided and founded ChiCitySports.