CHICAGO – For the better part of a week, Kyle Long remained relegated to the sidelines, anxiously pacing back and forth, restricted from doing much else.
He clutched blocking pads for his teammates to make contact with. He offered them encouragement when they did something well and a bit of friendly advice when warranted.
Kept off the field by a viral infection until late last week, the second-year Pro Bowl right guard said it “killed him” not to participate in training camp drills with his teammates. His fellow linemen sensed his angst, telling reporters that Long just needed to get onto the field and hit somebody.
So when Long was introduced to 27,000 Family Fest fans Saturday night at Soldier Field as he ran through a tunnel of drummers and pyrotechnics, his excitement level was unmistakable. He pumped his fist jogging onto field – offering evidence Long was ready to get back to work.
How quickly Long will return to full speed, however, remains unknown.
“We’ll see what (Bears head trainer) Chris (Hanks) says and what the guys say [Sunday], but things are looking up,” coach Marc Trestman said Saturday night. “The plan is still in place.”
Although Long was cleared physically to return to practice this past Wednesday, Trestman said Long wouldn’t move into full pads until Saturday night.
The Bears limited Long to individual drills, keeping him out of full team drills to allow him to ease back into a normal practice routine.
Michael Ola filled in at right guard on Saturday night in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
Long said after Saturday’s practice that he wanted to participate in team drills and thought about doing so, but a Bears staff member took his helmet before he could get onto the field.
Trestman characterized Long’s Saturday night activity as a “good sign”, but said he would have to wait until Monday to determine exactly where Long stood physically and how much he would be able to do. After an off-day on Sunday, the Bears return to practice at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais at 3 p.m. Monday.
Even with Long limited in what he was able to do, his teammates appreciated what Long was able to do.
“It’s definitely good to see him out there,” center Roberto Garza said. “We miss him. He’s a big part of the (offensive) line. Hopefully, we get him back soon.”
For Long, who started all 16 games during his rookie season, getting back in the routine can’t come soon enough. Saturday night’s limited activity was a good first step.
“It was really nice to be out there with the guys who have worked so hard all training camp,” Long said. “I missed out on a lot of it and so it’s been good to get back (on Saturday) and we’ll keep the ball rolling on Monday.”
Asked exactly what his full-pads Bourbonnais debut will look like, Long said he’s still not sure, saying that he will make “more progress” on Monday. He acknowledged it hasn’t been easy to be sidelined, but knows the Bears training staff has a job to do in allowing Long to gradually return back to health.
“It’s tough,” Long said. “But obviously, they do a great job of keeping guys fresh and getting them healthy. I’ll just listen to what they have to say.”