The hiring of enthusiastic, energetic Matt Nagy as the Bears’ head coach has brought an electric atmosphere to Halas Hall, and there might not be a player more pumped up about the fresh start than rejuvenated guard Kyle Long.
Long missed just one start in his first three seasons, each of which ended with a Pro Bowl berth, but a laundry list of injuries caused him to miss 14 games and under take multiple surgeries over the past two seasons.
When he was presented as the Bears’ recipient of the Ed Block Courage award on Tuesday, though, a healthy-looking Long appeared ready to take the field. The award is voted on by teammates and is given each year to the player who best displays professionalism, great strength and dedication and is also a community role model.
“I remember sitting in meetings when that award was given out at Halas Hall and thinking to myself, ‘I’m not tough enough, smart enough or a good enough guy to ever win this award,’ ” Long joked. “But I guess I fooled my teammates enough to vote me in here, and it’s a tremendous honor.”
On a serious note, Long said surgeries for shoulder, elbow and neck injuries in the past few months have made him whole again.
“I’m feeling really great,” he said. “It’s obviously been a long few years, a long couple of months. But I’m really looking forward to putting the helmet on again.”
Because of the multiple operations, there isn’t a definitive timeline for Long’s return, but he says the future looks bright.
“We’re going to take all the time we need, but there will be no limitations once the season rolls around,” he said. “I’ll be flying around. If it were up to me, I’d be full-go right now; I feel as if I am. But there are certain things that we have to follow a timeline with, the neck being one of them. It’s not something you want to take lightly.”
The neck issue was the most serious and the most sensitive, but the improvement post-surgery was instantaneous.
“I couldn’t tell you the medical jargon,” Long said. “But I can tell you my neck wasn’t structurally the way it was supposed to be. I had some nerve issues that contributed a lot to the shoulder that I had been complaining about for a while.
“Immediately when I woke up, I put arms my over my head and my dad (Hall of Fame DL Howie Long) looked at me like, ‘You haven’t done that in a very long time.’ Credit to the doctors and the surgeons who have done a great job.”
Before Long arrived at the luncheon honoring him, he attended the official start of the Bears’ offseason program and passed along his first impressions of Nagy.
“Straight shooter; confident,” Long said. “He’s an offensive genius, and if he can make (quarterback) Mitch (Trubisky’s) job easier, I’m all for it.”
Before he landed on injured reserve last year, Long only got to play eight games with Trubisky. But he said he’s seen enough to believe the Bears’ offense is in good hands.
“I can’t put words to it,” Long said. “What Mitch Trubisky was born with is something that not a lot of people were born with. I can’t explain it. When you’re around him, you feel it, and it’s real. Quiet confidence and a sense of calm and ‘comfortability’ with the situation — any situation he’s put in.”
Long got an early scouting report on Nagy when he ran into Chiefs Pro Bowl TE Travis Kelce at the NFC title game, where each had a brother playing for the Eagles. Kelce caught 168 passes for 2,163 and 12 touchdowns in the previous two years in Kansas City, where Nagy was the offensive coordinator.
“He was like ‘Oh, you guys have Nagy now; you’re gonna be awesome,’ ” Long said. “You know what? If the best pass-catching tight end in the league says that, I’m happy.”
• Bob LeGere is a senior writer at Pro Football Weekly. Follow Bob’s Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere or @PFWeekly.