Hold The Lines, Football Isn’t Always On Time

Woof. I know. Let’s just move on.

As the Bears return from their off-week (Eric Zorn correctly pointed out that calling it a “bye” isn’t correct, and we have only the highest of standards here as you well know) they certainly aren’t without some news. And none of it is particularly good or up-lifting.

This morning head coach Matt Nagy made it clear that Akiem Hicks is going to be out a while, and quite possibly the rest of the season. When you’re saying you’re hopeful he can return before the end of the season, we can safely assume that nothing before Thanksgiving is a possibility and quite possibly a couple weeks after that. Whether Hicks can even be effective after so much time out and not really being able to use his arm the whole time is another question, though one we’d like to find out more than just seeing him not return at all.

We saw what the defensive line looked like without him last week, which was not life-affirming. Bilal Nichols‘s return helps a little, but he is not the Hot Gates that Hicks has been the past couple seasons. And while the win against the Vikings proved the Bears do have some depth, you don’t want to be pressing into that too much more before you don’t have that depth.

On the plus side, at least for one week, the Saints offensive line isn’t the mass of humanity that the Raiders’ one is, depending on more of the zone-blocking and nimbleness that the Bears cut through against Minnesota. On the downside, that Raiders game is now on film and whatever team can in any way emulate that is going to. And Sean Payton, despite being a world-class asshole, is also one of the brighter offensive minds around. Didn’t stop him from getting stonewalled by the Jaguars, so there’s that. Bite down on something and get through it is going to be the order of the day with the defensive line for the foreseeable future.

The less surprising, but in some ways more sad, was the report yesterday that Kyle Long will be IR’d. Long has looked awful all season, with the word “finished” becoming more and more often used to describe him. He has graded out as one of the worst linemen in the league each week, and it would appear that all the injuries he has dealt with in the past few years have completely caught up to him. He couldn’t get to the second-level, as his mobility that was once a feature is completely gone. He couldn’t even avoid getting blown off the line at the first level, run or pass, which has complicated what the Bears want to do and prevented them from either running the ball or getting it down the field in the air. Long wasn’t the only problem on the line, but he was not an insignificant one either.

The options behind him are either unappetizing or unknown but, and I take no pleasure in saying this, they almost certainly can’t be worse. Ted Larsen has his own injury issues, which would leave either Rashaad Coward or a promotion from the practice squad for Alex Bars. The latter holds some real promise, even if it comes in a very un-shapened mass of clay right now. He has the biggest upside, though to go from the practice squad to effective in games is a huge leap.

It’s hard not to feel that the biggest bummer of Long’s season ending is that it almost certainly ends his Bears career, if not his career altogether. Long will join the list of many, many Bears of recent vintage who were great players on only bad to mediocre teams. He got to play in one playoff game, which was last year. Most at the time greeted his drafting as a missed opportunity (or worse if you’re Hub Arkush), and then he went on to immediately be just about the only bright spot on the offensive line for years. He quickly became a team staple and leader, and it just sucks that he mostly won’t get to participate in what we still hope is the top part of the cycle for the Bears. The dude is like half bionic now, and yet he kept getting out there and until this year was mostly very good at his job.

He deserved better than this, but football has a tendency to not really care about that sort of thing. Time catches up to you hard in the NFL, and it appears it snagged another captive in Long.

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