Tackle is Long on discipline
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Friday, Feb. 22 2008

INDIANAPOLIS They say bad news comes in threes. But Jake Long was so good at offensive tackle that he went one better.

During a college career that included 40 starts at Michigan, Long said, he was penalized only two times. And allowed only two sacks.

"I actually got one (penalty) this season," Long said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine, where the Rams will take a long look at him as their possible No. 2 overall pick. "I had a false start against Northwestern. ... My redshirt freshman year, I had a holding penalty."

Cynical Rams fans would note that Alex Barron has had rougher series in terms of flags. So how does Long do it?

"Discipline," he said. "I always try to play focused and disciplined, tight and sound."

And when he has to hold, Long has become an expert at disguise.

"I'll get my hands inside and hide it that I'm holding," he said. "I try to hide it so that the refs can't see it. I think it is a skill if you can get away with it and not get caught."

Long has other skills, such as pass blocking. He gave up one of those two college sacks in 2007 to Ohio State's Vernon Gholston, who broke Mike Vrabel's school record with 14 sacks. The other sack?

"I think it was against Michigan State my redshirt freshman year," Long said.

There are those who feel that the footwork of Boise State's Ryan Clady might make him a better pass blocker in the NFL. But Long, 6-foot-7, 313 pounds, almost certainly will be the first offensive tackle taken in the NFL draft on April 26.

Highly decorated at Michigan, Long finished second in both the Outland and Lombardi award voting this past season. He was a two-time team captain and became only the fourth player in Big Ten history to win the league's offensive lineman of the year award twice.

The others: current Ram Orlando Pace (1995 and '96) at Ohio State; the late Korey Stringer ('93-94) at Ohio State; and Tony Mandarich ('87-88) at Michigan State. Pace is a potential Hall of Famer; Mandarich was one of the biggest busts in draft history.

With Pace missing most of the past two seasons with injuries and Barron approaching the end of his contract (he's a free agent after the 2009 campaign), it's not a surprise that many mock drafts have the Rams selecting Long with the No. 2 overall pick.

The fact that another Big Ten tackle, Wisconsin's Joe Thomas, flourished as a rookie in 2007 with the Cleveland Browns can't hurt Long's draft prospects. The NFL is a copycat league that takes notice of such things. Thomas was taken No. 3 overall; Long is expected to go in the top five.

"(Thomas) is a great player and represented his school and the Big Ten very well," Long said. "He had a great rookie season. I'm going to have to follow in his footsteps and 'represent' for the Big Ten. He showed me and all the other rookies that you can come in and make a huge impact, have a great season. That's encouraging to me, and to other players, I'm sure."

The dilemma for the Rams in considering Long is what to do with Pace and Barron. Can they assume that Pace can last a full 16 games after injury-shortened campaigns in 2006 and 2007? Pace is said to have 80 percent of his strength back in his shoulder, following surgery last fall.

But you don't take a player No. 2 overall and have him sit on the bench as a rookie. The Rams' new head of player personnel, Billy Devaney, already has conceded as much. So if Long comes to St. Louis, either Pace or Barron both former first-round picks would be pushed out of the lineup. Which doesn't make much sense. None of the three players appears suited to switching to guard. The only other way out would be trading Pace or Barron.

Long isn't considered as physical a blocker as Thomas. But he's ready to play in the NFL and has nothing to hide at the Combine. He plans to do all of the workouts here this weekend.