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Kyle Long Feels The Potential For His Bears

By Chris Emma--

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) -- Practice becomes anything but ordinary for Bears guard Kyle Long when he lines up against defensive lineman Akiem Hicks.

Long has been tasked with facing Hicks before, but not like this -- not each day in practice against an improved player who doesn't take plays off. Now, work will be more of a challenge for Long and the Bears offensive line.

"If I get beat by Akiem Hicks four times in a practice," Long said, "I can look at those reps and say, 'There aren't many guys who can do what he does, physically. How am I going to work on that tomorrow, and how am I going to get better?'"

Added Hicks: "Iron sharpens iron."

Entering his fourth season, Long is optimistic and looking forward to taking the practice field with this Bears defense -- and certainly suiting up for Sundays in a stadium with the unit. The Bears went out this offseason looking to infuse the roster with younger, better players, and the talent is revealing itself. Players like Hicks and linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman have brought the Bears upgrades and, they believe, a new identity.

A first-round pick in 2013, Long came to training camp of his rookie season as a backup and started 16 games en route to a Pro Bowl berth. Since then, he's kept up the high-level play, becoming the first Bear since Brian Urlacher to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. Despite struggles at right tackle in 2015, Long still earned a Pro Bowl nod. Now, he's back at his more comfortable home of right guard.

"Kyle, I think he's let everybody know in Chicago that he's happy to be back at guard," Bears quarterback Jay Cutler joked.

An offensive line is a singular unit -- any lineman will tell you that -- but leadership is needed. There has to be somebody at the head of the table. With Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson gone from Halas Hall, this is Long's line to lead.

Long is the guy whom fellow linemen turn to on the field, and he's the one hosting the group at his house. Long has always been as a respected teammate, but now the young Bears offensive line is counting on him. He's a key centerpiece for a 2016 team that has potential.

"We got a lot to look forward to," Long said. "Chicago has a lot to look forward do with, I'd say, every position in here."

Long has many new teammates since he arrived at Halas Hall four years ago, plus a new head coach, staff and general manager. He's a mainstay for this Bears organization.

Looking ahead, Long is quite optimistic for his future with the Bears.

"There's a lot of talent on that field, and there's a lot of potential," Long said. "I know potential is sometimes a bad word, but it's potential that's growing. There's a lot of energy in the building. It has potential to be something big."

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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