After starting at right tackle last season, Chicago Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long is now back at right guard, where he's earned two trips to the Pro Bowl.
Long lined up at RG with the first team during OTA practice today and he said the shift back inside isn't as natural as he expected.
"It's different. It's a different position but I've played it before so we should be good," Long said. "We've got a couple weeks to shake off the rust here and get ready for camp and get ready for the season."
Long said having a chance to practice against DL Akiem Hicks, one of the club's big free-agent acquisitions this off-season, has been a boost to his development.
"Being given the opportunity to go against Akiem Hicks every day, a guy that I played against in the past, it's gonna be a battle every day and one I'm looking forward to. I know I'll benefit from playing against him," said Long. "He's a great player. Gosh, he's improved leaps and bounds. He's just so creative now — he's got a lot of moves. He'll get us all better and they got a lot of guys out there that are making us all better."
The Bears offensive line features new starters at every single position in comparison to Week 1 last year, so there is clearly a learning curve the front five is trying to overcome.
“It’s become clear the last few days it’s a lot different when you’re lined up in the spring and there are trash cans across from you and then when you’ve got these big, fast D-linemen across from you. There’s going to be a bit of a learning curve. We’ve got to gel," said Long. "You talk to a lot of guys who have been on good teams before and they’ve said, ‘We didn’t really gel until the end of training camp,’ or ‘it took us until training camp.’ So there’s going to be some time to get some of the rust off from a technical standpoint, from a live football standpoint, but I think we’ll be all right.”
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome will be the loss of Matt Slauson, who was released following the draft.
"The Slauson thing was really tough for me because he's a guy that took me under his wing and showed me everything about being a pro. He didn't just talk about it; I got to watch him everyday and see him do it the right way."
While losing Slauson will have an impact on game day, Long says there are enough veterans on the current roster to replace Slauson's leadership.
"There are large voids to be filled," said Long. "But this team has been built on horizontal leadership and we’ve done a great job bringing in the right people, defensively, offensively and the special teams unit. I love the coaches, I love the guys on this team, I don’t think that will be an issue, so I don’t really have to take on that much bigger of a role because of the guys that we have in our room. Everybody is kind of accountable themselves.”
The Bears drafted second-round OL Cody Whitehair ostensibly to replace Slauson long-term at left guard, a move that sits well with Long.
"The guy is tough, he's a country boy, doesn't say much. He's here to work, here to learn. He's respectful and he's got some big, old legs, man. Big, strong dude. Looks like he's been bailing haystacks for a while. He's a big dude."