Pro Football Weekly GM Hub Arkush and senior Bears reporter Bob LeGere discuss the impact of Kyle Long’s injury on the O-line.
ARKUSH: You know, Bob, there is much that is right with the 2018 Chicago Bears, perhaps even more than many expected, and it seems we’ve spent the majority of the first eight weeks of the season focused on the good stuff and trying to understand it.
But there is one unit on this team that concerns me, particularly after the hit it took Sunday. The offensive line has been average at best and, I think, needs to take a big chunk of responsibility for the problems with the ground game. Now, the one guy who’s played at an extremely high level, Kyle Long, is gone indefinitely, and my fear is it could create outsized problems for the entire offense, even though it’s only losing nine percent of the starting lineup.
One could even argue Long has been the Bears’ best offensive player, and his absence could create a much bigger issue than just who is going to replace him.
LEGERE: You have to feel for a guy who’s already battled back from some serious surgeries, including the severe ankle injury that ended his 2016 season, but the Bears are actually positioned pretty well to absorb the loss of Long. Eric Kush and rookie James Daniels shared the LG job in Games 4-6, and Daniels played the entire game there Sunday while Kush rested a neck injury.
Coach Matt Nagy said Kush is expected back this week, so he and Daniels will be the starters with four-year veteran Bryan Witzmann as the backup at both spots. Witzmann stepped in after Long was hurt, just 10 days after he was signed as a street free agent, and he started 13 games last year for the Chiefs, which makes him well-versed in Nagy’s offense.
ARKUSH: Bob, I certainly agree the depth at guard is reasonable, and that the Bears didn’t have to rush into a trade before the Tuesday deadline and overpay for a journeyman was a plus. It made Ryan Pace and his group look almost prescient in claiming Witzmann.
The problem is, Long was really your only playmaker on the line, and there’s no way any of Daniels, Kush or Witzmann are going to play up to that level, and all of the guards have actually been a little more productive and consistent than OTs Charles Leno and Bobby Massie. One thing you’ll notice on tape is whenever the Bears have needed a yard or two, it has almost always been behind Long.
Is James Daniels ready for that? Are Kush and/or Witzmann capable of that? And with no Long to lead the way, how is this group going to coalesce into the kind of line the Bears can build a consistent running game around?
LEGERE: Hub, I think you’re giving Long more credit than he’s due.
While I would agree that he was, at one time, a difference-maker, I don’t believe he’s playing at that level now. The thing I’ve noticed on third-and-short is that it’s often QB Mitch Trubisky being asked to pick up the needed yardage, which I think speaks to a vote of no-confidence for the entire offensive line.
The Bears do not have an O-line that can line up, pound the rock and blow an opponent off the ball – with or without Long. But the future of the group is C Cody Whitehair, LT Charles Leno and Daniels, which could form a solid unit for several years.
I know you’re not a big fan of Leno’s, but I don’t believe G.M. Ryan Pace made a $37-million mistake in signing him to a four-year extension, which included $21-million-plus in guarantees.