After watching offseason workouts from the sideline, Bears guard Kyle Long was thrilled to trade his bucket hat for a helmet on the first day of training camp.
Having recovered from three separate injuries, the three-time Pro Bowler practiced without restrictions Friday in the Bears' first official workout in Bourbonnais.
"It's Day 1 and I was out there at practice and I got to hit other guys, and that was fun," Long said. "I don't look much into psychological hurdles. But a physical hurdle? Yes, it was. I had a lot going on this offseason. I'm just really happy to be out here."
After playing in 47 of 48 games his first three seasons with the Bears, Long has missed 14 of 32 contests the past two years due to injuries. He spent this past offseason recovering from injuries to his neck, shoulder and elbow.
"I spent a lot of time with our training staff," Long said. "I got to know Andre Tucker really well, our new trainer. He has done a tremendous job."
Bears coach Matt Nagy was excited to have Long back on the practice field Friday.
"It's important to have him healthy," Nagy said. "That's something that we focused on in OTAs, to have that part of the plan so that he can come here and get the reps. It's important to get those physical reps. He got a lot of mental reps in the OTAs, but he's a big part of this offensive line and I think everyone is well aware of that."
Nagy has been impressed with the 6-6, 316-pounder's skill set and intangibles.
"No. 1, he's a large individual," Nagy said. "He's huge, and he's very athletic. The other part that I like about Kyle is from Day 1 he's been very vocal and he's been a leader on that offensive line. He doesn't miss many details. He knows what he's doing, and again it's just good to get him out there."
Nagy especially appreciates Long's leadership because the Bears offense features four key skill-position players under the age of 25: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (23), running backs Jordan Howard (23) and Tarik Cohen (22) and receiver Allen Robinson II (24).
"We're a young football team and we have a young quarterback," Nagy said. "When you have guys who have experience and have the mentality that Kyle does … he's an Alpha dog. He likes to take control on that offensive line, and it's a good fit with the rest of the guys."
Long enjoys mentoring his young teammates, even though he doesn't always understand what they're talking about.
"I don't know half of the references they make to pop culture," Long said. "I used to understand all the rap songs, and I don't understand half of them now, unless I listen to 'Future.' They're just young guys, young dudes.
"I used to know guys from watching college football, and now there's guys I didn't even know that came through. You watch them play and you're like 'Wow.' We're really lucky to have these young players. [General manager] Ryan [Pace] has done a great job bringing in a lot of talent."