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Emma: Even When Kyle Long Returns, Bears Offensive Line Faces Great Challenges

By Chris Emma--

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) -- Speaking like so many offensive linemen before him, veteran Bears tackle Bobby Massie takes pride in the fight of five.

Linemen are judged for their work as a unit. They embrace that challenge.

"That's one thing as an offensive line," Massie said Tuesday. "It's not like other positions where one player can go out and be a star."

Consider that the mindset of most linemen, who take pride in working together. Of course, that's not entirely true.

The Bears believe they have the potential to form a solid offensive line, with Charles Leno working well at left tackle, Cody Whitehair offering promise at left guard, Ted Larsen bringing experience at center and Massie bringing a swagger to right tackle. But this unit isn't much without its star, right guard Kyle Long.

A Pro Bowl player in each of his first three seasons, Long is the most important piece for the offensive line -- and arguably the most valuable player on this Bears roster. He's currently working back from a shoulder injury, with coach John Fox offering optimism that Long could be ready for Week 1 in Houston on Sept. 11.

"We're anticipating him at least being back out there to get ready for Houston," Fox said, offering a rare glance to an injury timetable.

During practice, the 27-year-old Long has been active to the side, doing light work to keep his body ready. When the Bears begin to scrimmage, he's there with his fellow linemen offering advice and words of encouragement.

If Long is frustrated, he hides it well.

"Kyle's very positive," Whitehair said. "He never really seemed down. It's hard to tell."

There's optimism within Halas Hall that Long will be starting at right guard against the Texans.

What's now in question is whether the Bears can develop their line with limited time. Last year, the team was indecisive to whether Long would play guard or tackle. After settling on right tackle just days before the opener against the Packers, the entire line struggled. Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers lived in the backfield in the 2015 opener.

Different circumstances are now in place as the Bears look for continuity on the offensive line, but they're once again approaching Week 1 -- this time against J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork, Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans' defense -- with Long's status again not settled.

"We'll be fine," Massie said. "He just needs to get healthy."

Even with Long situated, the Bears still have concerns on the offensive line. They're counting on Leno to play well at the blind-side tackle position and for Whitehair to perform as a rookie. And while Larsen and Massie are considered steady veterans, it's a group that doesn't have previous continuity.

"I want to be the best I can be and get better every day," Whitehair said, adding that he's growing in confidence.

The veteran Massie understands the difficulties ahead for a rookie offensive lineman learning the ropes.

"It's not like college," he said. "You're going to have to go through those growing pains where you learn as a player and grow."

Finding that continuity as a line will be a challenge for a second straight season. Long will have to settle back into his role at right guard and continue working alongside a new center in Larsen and his workout partner in Massie, who he's never played a regular-season down with. And that's the issue on the Bears' best side of the line. Youth offers questions on the left side.

At the least, the Bears have a sense of optimism that Long will ready for the opener. Once he returns, this group can begin working for that cohesiveness.

Massie and any linemen will be quick to say that success comes as a unit. The Bears are chasing the NFL's best.

"The Cowboys are that pinnacle to reach for offensive lines right now," Massie said. "We're just chasing that."

Extra points: Receiver Eddie Royal and tight end Zach Miller were again full participants after returning Monday from concussions. Larsen (illness) and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (personal) returned to practice, while linebacker Danny Trevathan (hamstring) didn't practice.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago's sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.


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