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Van Horne knows Long's situation

Tall offensive lineman had to mature quickly after Bears picked him in 1st-round in 1981

Fred Mitchell

April 27, 2013

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Keith Van Horne has traveled the path Kyle Long must take as a lanky Bears offensive lineman drafted in the first round.

The Bears selected Van Horne with the 11th overall pick in 1981 out of USC. Long was taken 20th Thursday night out of Oregon.

"It was quite a transition for me," Van Horne said Friday. "I didn't light the world on fire (at first) at all. I was 265, which was way underweight."

Van Horne would bulk up to about 285 on his 6-foot-7 frame and wound up on the right side as Jim Covert joined the team as a first-rounder in 1983 and starred at left tackle for the Super Bowl XX champs.

Long is slated to play guard but has the size and, the Bears say, the athleticism to play either tackle position eventually.

Van Horne can attest that making the transition to the NFL involves more than physical talent. Mike Ditka could be a harsh critic in the film room.

"He and I were not the closest of co-workers, let's say," Van Horne said. "He was pretty tough on me.

"You catch some heat if you are No. 1. It was a rough (first) couple of years. Quite frankly, I was pretty naive to the whole thing. Back then, I was in my apartment on draft day by myself, just waiting for the phone to ring. The phone rings and they say you're going to the Bears. I said, 'Oh, great.'

"When I walked off the plane and had all those cameras in my face. … I wasn't prepared for that."

Bears general manager Phil Emery said Thursday he expects Long to be a leader quickly for the offensive line — an ambitious goal for a rookie.

"I knew who the tackles were," Van Horne said. "Dennis Lick and Ted Albrecht were both No. 1 picks. My whole thought process was that I was going to learn from these guys, bulk myself up and play in a few years. But it didn't turn out that way because Dennis blew out his knee and Ted hurt his back at some point. So I had to play.

"Ted and Dennis are nice guys, but it wasn't like they took me aside (to offer a lot of advice). I was more a threat to their jobs. There is a little different situation (with the Bears now) because they really don't have a set line. … If he is ready to step in, this is a great opportunity for him."

Long figures to receive solid advice from his Hall of Fame father, Howie, and brother, Chris, of the Rams — both defensive ends.

"I hope it works out for him because I know Jay Cutler hopes it works out for him," Van Horne said.

Van Horne remembers playing against Howie Long in the '80s.

"Howie was a real strong guy and he was quick and he had a motor," he said. "And he was a good guy, too. They were the Raiders and they talked a lot of trash, but Howie was a nice player."

Van Horne figures Kyle Long might have to make some adjustments because of his 6-6 height.

"He may have some problems with (defensive) guys getting under him if he doesn't focus," Van Horne said. "That was a problem I had. Being 6-7, especially at tackle when you are out on the outside … at guard, at least you have someone on either side of you and you are not open as much. I had a tendency to bend at the waist. You need to set your butt and bend at your knees"

If Long progresses as the Bears expect, he could become a tackle.

"He certainly has the size (313 pounds) to play tackle," Van Horne said. "They need help all up and down that line except … they have the left tackle (Jermon Bushrod) now and I think they are pretty happy with Roberto (Garza at center). So you have two guards and a tackle position that they have got to figure out."

fmitchell@tribune.com

Twitter @kicker34