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Bears Fri Sep 18 2015
The worst kept secret in Chicago was revealed when the Bears lined up in pregame warmups against the Packers last Sunday. Instead of being sandwiched between Will Montgomery and Charles Leno, All-Pro right guard Kyle Long slid out to play right tackle in an effort to solidify a spot that has plagued the Bears' offensive line the last two seasons.
With Jordan Mills cut and Leno struggling mightily, John Fox was mum on Long's role the entire week leading into the Bears opener. Though the coach probably thought keeping the lineup card a secret would afford his team some minimal advantage, he was grossly mistaken. Taking the best player on your team and moving him to a position he's never played in live action before is more damaging than tricking the opponent.
But the Bears aren't moving Long to the outside to make today's team better. The most talented player on the roster is moving to a position that's far more valuable. Right tackles protect the quarterback from freakish athletes lining up at defensive end, and also can be road graders on stretches and sweeps to the right side. Leno wasn't the long-term answer, so why not try someone who might be? If it doesn't work out, Long can always slide back inside.
The move goes deeper than that though. Despite a solid grade against the Packers, left tackle Jermon Bushrod isn't anywhere near 100 percent. A bad back has been plaguing him, and at his height and weight, it's something that's unlikely to get better as long as playing in the NFL is his profession. He's also 31, and the Bears could save $4.3 million in cap space if they cut him during the offseason (though they're currently looking at a mindboggling $50 million in cap space next spring).
After ranking as the league's fifth-worst tackle in week one according to Pro Football Focus, Long has a ways to go to become a quality anchor on the outside. He was raw when he came into the NFL, but quickly turned himself into a Pro Bowl guard. The ascension may never happen at tackle, or it may not be quick, but if he can hone his immense talent, Bears GM Ryan Pace might have found Jay Cutler's blindside protector right on his own team.
This Sunday's matchup should provide a slightly easier transition game for Long as he'll face guys like Frostee Rucker and an over-the-hill Lamar Woodley instead of the amazingly agile and powerful Julius Peppers on most downs. Don't expect a dominating performance. Just hope that you see improvement over the next eight weeks, and the Bears find a more valuable spot for their MVP.