Emma: Kyle Long Has Given Bears His Best

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Charles Leno Jr. couldn't put himself in the place of teammate Kyle Long.

The two have been together with the Bears since 2014, friends since Long let a then-rookie Leno sleep on his floor. They enjoyed Long's rise as a three-time Pro Bowl presence and Leno's own journey from seventh-round pick to Pro Bowler in his own right. There have been highs and lows, wins and losses, but not what Monday brought -- the sudden and likely end for Long.

The Bears on Monday officially placed Long on injured reserve due to a nagging hip issue. His season is officially over, coach Matt Nagy confirmed. With Long carrying a hefty $9.6 million cap hit next season but no guaranteed money owed, his time with the Bears is perhaps finished too.

A beating heart in the Bears' locker room since arriving as a first-round pick in 2013, Long has pushed his body through hell to suit up on Chicago's offensive line. The toll became too much, as Long is no longer the dominant blocker he once was. 

"My emotions are just stuck," Leno said. "You know, just kind of like, damn. Kind of down. His emotions, I couldn't tell you -- probably all over the place right now.

"It's a tale of the league for you. He's been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. That's just how the league goes. You just never know when your time is going to come. His happened just so fast, so abrupt. 

"It just sucks. That's how I look at it. It just sucks."

Long will turn 31 in December. His body has been badly beat up in his seven NFL seasons. He played through a torn labrum in his left shoulder in 2016 before suffering a gruesome right ankle injury in November of that season. After a grueling recovery, Long reaggravated the shoulder injury in November 2017 and underwent offseason surgeries for his shoulder, neck and elbow.

As the Bears rose from worst to first in the NFC North in 2018, Long injured his right foot during an October game but fought his way back for the playoffs. He went into this past offseason with a clean bill of health and was eager to test himself as a player. Amid struggles this season, Long made no injury excuses, instead holding himself accountable for inconsistent play. 

"There's a lot of things I can do better, a lot of blocks I'm not making, a lot of guys unaccounted for," Long said in September. "I'll be on guys at the beginning of the play and at the end of the play, they're around the pile. I need to make it my personal goal not to allow my matchup to make the play."

Long shaved his beard recently, explaining his hope was the look of his younger seasons would help bring that level of play. Through it all, he was a man frustrated by failing to meet the standards he set. It's unclear whether Long signed off on being placed on injured reserve, but it offers a potentially more graceful end -- whether that's only for 2019, his time with the Bears or his NFL career.

"(Long) poured his heart and soul into this organization and has worked really hard to be dominant in a lot of areas," Nagy said. "We appreciate that. I’ve only been with him for a year-and-a-half, but I appreciate the way that he’s gone about things."

The respect for Long runs deep at Halas Hall. He brought an edge to the field but was also a genuine individual who was revered by teammates. That was in part because Long arrived to the Bears humbled by his past.

In 2009, Long was a promising pitching prospect at Florida State who was booked for DWI. He was arrested, forced to leave the program and find a new path. Long moved to California and enrolled at Saddleback College, beginning a conversion to football with great support on his side. He transferred to Oregon a year later and established himself as a first-round pick, selected 20th overall by the Bears in the 2013 NFL Draft.

"For me, life is improving every day, making those around you better and improving the mindset and mind state of those around you," Long said in 2016 as he reflected on his past.

On Monday, teammates like Leno choose to remember a player "dominant" at his best and a person willing to lend advice or even an air mattress. Like Long himself, the Bears expected he would perform near a prime level. Instead, they're now left wondering whether his absence will help move their struggling running game

Long's career is a reminder of how tough the game of football can be, pushing its players' bodies to their limits season after season. It's not clear whether Long is done playing, but he's at apparent peace if that's the case.

"His words," Leno said of Long, "he said he’s a Bear for life."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.