Injuries behind him, Bears' Long feels rejuvenated, older
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By ANDREW SELIGMAN
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long showed up to training camp feeling rejuvenated - and a bit old.
The three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman is healthy after two injury-riddled seasons and has his sights set on helping lift a struggling franchise. But while he is "feeling great," Long also sounded more like a grizzled veteran than a wide-eyed rookie.
Pin that on some of his teammates.
"I don't know half of the references they make to pop culture," Long said. "I used to understand all the rap songs, and I don't understand half of them now, unless I listen to Future. They're just young guys, just young dudes. I used to know guys from watching college football, and now there's guys I didn't even know that came through. You watch them play and you're like, `Wow.' We're really lucky to have these young players. (General manager Ryan Pace) has done a great job bringing in a lot of talent."
The moves Pace made in the offseason have the Bears thinking bigger things are in store after four straight last-place finishes in the NFC North and five consecutive seasons without a winning record.
They're banking on quarterback Mitchell Trubisky after trading up a spot to draft him with the No. 2 overall pick last year. Pace set out to surround him with the pieces he needs to develop this offseason, hiring coach Matt Nagy to replace the fired John Fox and giving him an overhauled set of targets.
The most notable addition was former Jacksonville Jaguars Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in last year's opener and missed the remainder of the season.
Chicago also brought in former Philadelphia tight end Trey Burton, who threw a memorable touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles in the Eagles' Super Bowl victory over New England, and Atlanta receiver Taylor Gabriel.
With Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen at running back, the Bears believe they have a deep and potentially explosive offense. And a healthy Long at right guard sure would help open holes for them, not to mention protect Trubisky.
"That means a lot because when he's out there he can just throw people around," said Howard, who has run for more than 1,100 yards in each of his first two seasons. "Just having him out there feels great."
At 29, he has been limited to 18 games over the past two seasons after appearing in 47 of a possible 48 while making the Pro Bowl his first three years. The 6-foot-6, 316-pound Long has undergone shoulder, elbow and neck surgeries since he last played on Dec. 3. A major ankle injury added to the misery in recent years.
Long's painful run actually started with a torn labrum during the 2016 preseason. He was planning to repair it after that year. But the ankle injury he suffered late in that season required surgery and forced him to put off tending to the shoulder.
Long went into last season far from 100 percent, and the shoulder injury led to the neck problem. After being held back during offseason workouts, he cleared a hurdle when he participated without restrictions in the first training camp practice on Friday. He had a scheduled day off Saturday, with Nagy saying it's "just part of the process" and that it won't be his last one.
Nagy said he wasn't sure exactly how many off days Long will get. But he said the Bears plan to space them out "based off his body and where he's at."
A healthy Long gives them strength and quickness and brings leadership to an offense with young players in key spots. Trubisky (23), Robinson (24), Howard (23) and Cohen (22) are all under 25. Rookie James Daniels could play an important role at left guard or center, and center Cody Whitehair is only entering his third year.
"(Long is) an imposing figure, a big guy who can move," Nagy said. "He's athletic. The other thing I like about Kyle is that he's a leader. He takes control of that offensive line. So he's just going to continue to keep doing that and when we get out here with the pads, you'll be able to see some of that strength."
Notes: The impasse with rookie LB Roquan Smith continued. Chicago's first-round draft pick at No. 8 overall, he remained unsigned and missed his second practice. ... LB Aaron Lynch sat out after suffering a hamstring injury in Friday's practice.
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Updated July 21, 2018