The Bears placed OG Kyle Long and DE Mitch Unrein on injured reserve Tuesday, the eighth and ninth starters lost to season-ending injuries in 2017.
For Long, it marks the latest disappointing injury setback for one of Chicago’s best players. The 29-year-old started 47 of 48 consecutive games and made three consecutive Pro Bowls to begin his career. But he’s been limited to 18 games the past two seasons, both ending on injured reserve.
Long began the 2016 campaign with a torn shoulder labrum after signing a four-year, $40 million contract extension including $18 million guaranteed on the eve of the regular season. But he suffered a gruesome ankle injury in Week 10 that ended his season and required surgery.
Long was initially expected to have his shoulder and ankle repaired last offseason but a bad reaction to prescription drugs lengthened his recovery from ankle surgery and he opted to forge into a second consecutive campaign without fixing the shoulder.
Long, who was set for another position switch, from right guard to left guard, missed virtually all of training camp and the first two games of 2017 while recovering from the ankle. He then started nine of 10 games — all on the right side — while battling the ankle in addition to finger and shoulder injuries prior to sitting out the second half Sunday vs. the 49ers after aggravating the shoulder.
The impact of having a healthy Long on the field this season has been profound for the Bears offense and run game in particular. When long was active in Week 10 but played just one special teams snap, Chicago managed just 55 rushing yards on 17 carries (3.2 YPC). Upon his return to the lineup the following week vs. the Lions, the Bears had their third 200-rushing yard day — all with Long — including a season-high 7.4-yard average.
Chicago’s offensive line depth took a hit in training camp when valuable interior swing backup Eric Kush suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. Kush and now-Dolphins OG Ted Larsen filled in ably in Long’s absence last season.
But Long missing time or playing at less than 100 percent this season has created a ripple effect up front, where Hroniss Grasu and Bradley Sowell have struggled in their replacement roles, and 2016 All-Pro C Cody Whitehair has regressed while being forced to move back and forth between center and guard to compensate for Long’s absences and Grasu’s deficiencies.
Unrein, who appeared in the first 12 games (eight starts) and recorded a career-high 2.5 sacks and 32 tackles, suffered a knee injury Sunday and did not return. The 30-year-old has appeared in 39 games (21 starts) over the past three seasons. In Unrein’s absence, 2016 third-rounder Jonathan Bullard will see extended action over the final four games.
In corresponding moves, the Bears elevated OLB Harold Jones and OL Cameron Lee from the practice squad to the active roster and signed OL Will Pericak and TE Colin Thompson to the practice squad.
The Bears, mired in a five-game losing streak and headed toward a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the division, visit the 5-7 Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.