Kyle Long is back in the fold … kinda.
ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson writes the Chicago Bears’ three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman rejoined the team for Thursday’s practice at Prospect High School in Mount Prospect, Ill., but did not participate in the team’s practice.
Long has been missing in action this week after being booted from Monday’s practice session for his role in two fights, and also missed Wednesday’s practice with a doctor’s appointment to check up on his injured ankle. Head coach John Fox said Long had a treatment, but feels better and is looking forward to getting him back in the mix.
Missing practice reps isn’t ideal for a recovering player who is integral to the offense’s success, but getting Long fully healthy for the regular season should be this team’s top priority. Long, who has been brought along slowly in camp and missed the preseason opener, could miss the entire preseason to ensure a full recovery. But it would probably be worth it to have what is believed to be the best interior offensive line in football healthy for the season opener.
Long’s absence leaves the Bears playing musical chairs with their offensive line in the preseason, with the possibility of some intriguing mixing-and-matching with the healthy personnel on the roster:
John Fox on Hroniss Grasu working w/#Bears starters on OL: "Truth be told, we've run him with the ones at camp when we were in Bourbonnais."
— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) August 18, 2017
Hroniss Grasu working with the first-team offense isn’t all that new, but that news is somewhat encouraging.
If you’ll recall, Grasu made eight starts at center as a rookie in 2015 and was projected start there again in 2016. Unfortunately, that scenario didn’t play out for Grasu, who spent the entire season on injured reserve. The silver lining, of course, was Cody Whitehair’s emergence at center that bolstered the offensive line’s interior. Whitehair was stellar in taking over at center, but could move back to guard if Long isn’t ready, and Grasu is healthy and productive enough to resume the responsibilities of being a starting center.
The Bears’ depth at offensive line was dealt a significant blow when it was announced versatile lineman Eric Kush would miss the season because of a hamstring injury, but the cupboard wasn’t left entirely bare. Tom Compton was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Bears player after the team’s first preseason game, as he spent time at left guard and right tackle in showing off his flexibility.
In a perfect world, the Bears start with a full complement of offensive linemen – with Long at left guard, Whitehair at center, and Josh Sitton at right guard. But since the NFL is a less-than-perfect world, it’s good the Bears have some contingency plans in case the best-case scenario doesn’t play out.