LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears selected Oregon guard Kyle Long with the 20th pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, hoping to shore up an offensive line that has ranked among the worst in recent years.
There were a number of ways the Bears could have gone given their needs for depth and youth on both sides of the ball. They were also interested in moving down and acquiring more picks since they had just five.
Some mock drafts had the Bears going with linebackers Alec Ogletree of Georgia and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, along with Irish tight end Tyler Eifert. All three were on the board.
Instead, they decided to add Long, the son of former Raiders star Howie Long and the brother of St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long.
The 6-foot-6, 313-pound Long was a key part of Oregon’s breakneck offense, recording six touchdown-resulting blocks and 36 knockdowns as the Ducks led the Pac-12 in total offense and scoring.
He joins a team that won 10 games but made some big changes after missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. They fired coach Lovie Smith and replaced him with the offensive-minded Marc Trestman, and that wasn’t the only big change.
Brian Urlacher, the heart and soul of the defense, is gone after his contract expired and they couldn’t come to an agreement. Besides parting with the eight-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker, the Bears addressed some of their most immediate needs before the draft by signing Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett. That gave them the top-tier left tackle and play-making tight end they craved, and it gave general manager Phil Emery some flexibility in the draft with two big concerns addressed.
They lured Bushrod from New Orleans with a five-year deal, adding a Pro Bowl left tackle to a beleaguered offensive line and finally giving Jay Cutler the protection he needs on his blind side. They added a playmaker at tight end in Bennett and signed former New York Jets guard Matt Slauson.
They’ll have two new starting linebackers alongside perennial Pro Bowl pick Lance Briggs with D.J. Williams replacing Urlacher in the middle and James Anderson taking over for the departed Nick Roach on the strong side.
All that comes after they collapsed for the second straight year after a promising start.
Age on defense remains an issue even if that group ranked among the league’s best a year ago, with Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman in their 30s.
Cutler’s entering the final year of his contract, meaning the Bears could have a tough decision to make, particularly if he has a run-of-the-mill season. Complicating matters is the Bears have no heir apparent in place.