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Durkin: Kyle Long's Move To Tackle Should Be Permanent

By Dan Durkin--

(CBS) One of the essential job functions of any NFL head coach is situational planning. Success is predicated on having a team prepared for every scenario, from both a strategic and injury standpoint.

Bears coach John Fox faced the latter of those two scenarios recently during mandatory mini-camp, when both of the team's 2014 opening day starters at offensive tackle -- left tackle Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Jordan Mills -- were unavailable due to injury.

"We're out here trying to get better as a team, learn a new system," Fox said. "We had a shortage of tackles right now. We have a couple of guys in the training room. So we took a look at him there."

The "him" Fox was referring to was 2014 second-team All-Pro guard Kyle Long, who got a look at both tackle positions.

Long's move to outside shouldn't be just for emergency planning purposes. He should remain as the starting right tackle when the Bears reconvene in Bourbonnais next month.

This isn't a controversial stance; it should've been the plan all along. Never mind the fact Long's never played a snap at offensive tackle in the NFL, he's the team's best and most athletic lineman and his skill set is best suited for mirroring pass rushers in one-on-one situations on the perimeter.

Eyebrows raised when Long's name was was announced as the 20th overall selection of the 2013 draft. Two seasons later, his five starts in college are an afterthought. He's more accomplished than any of the seven offensive linemen drafted ahead of him from the 2013 draft and is clearly ready for more.

The previous Bears personnel department connected on a first-round pick, and the coaching staff groomed Long well. Playing him inside made sense. It eased his transition into the NFL game by giving him protection on both sides as he honed his technique and grew his football IQ. It also fit former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer's philosophy of building the line from the inside-out to allow a quarterback to comfortably climb up in the pocket.

But this is a new regime with a fresh perspective. On a roster short on building blocks, Fox and his staff would be wise to use Long as a true cornerstone piece in the rebuilding process.

Long checks every box in a scout's notebook -- size, footwork, balance, power and flexibility while playing with a mean streak.

Offensive tackle is a premium position. Over the past three seasons, all but one first-team All-Pro offensive tackle (Jason Peters) was a first-round selection. In contrast, of the six guards selected over that span, only two were first-round picks. Five offensive tackles will have eight-figure cap charges in 2015. No guard in the league falls into that pay grade.

Simply put, it's less difficult to scout for a guard and cheaper to pay them compared to a tackle. The Bears have the good and rare fortune of moving a prospect from the inside to the outside.

Furthermore, the best pass rushers in the league operate on the perimeter. Over the past five seasons, there hasn't been more than two defensive tackles in the top 20 in total sacks in a season.

Narrowing the scope to the NFC North, with Ndamukong Suh now a Dolphin, all of the Bears' divisional foes' best pass rushers operate on the edge -- Green Bay's Clay Matthews, Minnesota's Everson Griffen and Detroit's Ezekiel Ansah.

Fox and offensive line coach Dave Magazu should start Long out on the right side to get him accustomed to working on an island without help and to learn the technique and footwork necessary to play tackle, with the goal of eventually moving him to the left side.

With Long being a first-round pick, the Bears are almost certain to exercise his fifth-year option, which would give them contract control through the 2017 season. Bushrod is also signed through 2017, so the team would have plenty of time to add more talent to the mix at tackle to pair opposite Long in the long term.

For the first time in a while, the Bears actually have an elite, homegrown talent in the building, and they must maximize Long's unique skills at the position he's best suited for.

Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.

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