Long Looks to Make Mark

Posted May 23, 2012

In 2008, the Rams held the second pick in the NFL Draft, a pick that ultimately became emerging star defensive end Chris Long. Had Long gone to Miami with the first pick, the Rams almost certainly would have used their selection on a different Long, offensive tackle Jake whom the Dolphins eventually selected.

Fast forward to 2012 and it’s safe to say both the Rams and Dolphins are thrilled with how things worked out in that draft. But in some ways, the Rams are now getting an opportunity to land an offensive lineman named J. Long from the state of Michigan with an outstanding college pedigree.

In fact, the Rams even got to dip their toes into the Jake Long family bloodlines when they moved quickly after the draft to sign his little brother, Joe Long to an undrafted free agent contract.

While it’s a far cry from his brother’s lofty draft status, Joe Long is here in St. Louis hoping to catch the attention of the Rams coaching staff and create his own path to the NFL.

“Definitely,” Joe Long said. “I’m not him. I’m a completely different person and I have to do it the hard way. That’s fine. I’m a hard worker just like he is. It definitely was a different path and I have got to get out here and grind and earn my spot on the team. I’m going to do whatever I can to do that.”

Coming out of LaPeer East High about an hour north of Detroit in Michigan, Joe didn’t have quite the credentials nor the frame of his big brother. While Jake had his pick of schools and ultimately played for the home-state Wolverines, Joe had little more than a few preferred walk on options at any Division I school.

Instead, Long opted to go the route less traveled. He passed on the walk on opportunities and accepted the opportunity to play at Division II Wayne State knowing he’d get some financial help for school as well as an opportunity to play early in his career.

“It was the best decision I could have made,” Long said. “We made it to the national championship this year in DII so it was good for me.”

Good might actually be a bit of an understatement as Long developed his skills right off the bat. He was a starter from the day he set foot on campus and became a cornerstone for the Wayne State program right away.

By the time his four years at the tiny school in Detroit were up, Long had started 49 consecutive games. In his final season in 2011, Long was so thoroughly dominant that he earned the Gene Upshaw Award, given to the nation’s best Division II lineman on either side of the ball and helped lead the Warriors to a second-place finish in Division II.
Despite that performance combined with a private workout with the Lions and a visit with the Jets, Long didn’t have high expectations going into the draft and had hoped that he would simply get an opportunity to make a roster. That hope became reality when the Rams called soon after the draft.
“I didn’t have expectations,” Long said. “I knew coming from a Division II school it’s kind of hard to get drafted. That’s fine. I just wanted to have a shot somewhere. When the Rams called me up, I was really excited and I really wanted to be a part of this organization. Just to be out here with the team working out and practicing, that’s all I wanted so I’m happy with it.”

In coming to St. Louis, Long arrives as a long shot by his own admission. The Rams have a pair of young tackles in Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith as well as some veteran depth in Quinn Ojinnaka and Barry Richardson.

Long has been thrown into the mix at left tackle right away but already moved around a bit, including some time on the right side in Wednesday’s Organized Team Activity. He joins a crowded group at tackle that also includes returning youngsters such as Kevin Hughes, Jose Valdez, Ryan McKee and fellow rookie Michael Hay.

It can be easy for a rookie’s head to spin in his first few days with a NFL team but Long did his best to protect against that by picking the brain of his famous older brother.

“He is the best resource because he’s gone through it all,” Long said. “He’s kind of gotten me mentally ready for what was going to come and it’s great to kind of know what is going to happen and he’s helped me.”

The biggest thing big brother taught Long was to make sure you spend as much time as possible in the playbook. Any NFL playbook comes with far more pages and concepts than any college playbook but especially one at a smaller school such as Wayne State.

Long has made it a priority to spend any free time he has in his playbook so that he is as prepared as possible when the team hits the field. Even if he isn’t dominating physically, Long knows the importance of at least doing the right thing on every snap.

“You have just got to relax, just think and you will know what to do in your mind,” Long said. “You have got to get in your playbook and things will get easier as the days go on.”

Long keeps in touch with Jake and his other older brother, John, nearly every day via the phone. John doesn’t play football but is a teacher and coaches the offensive line for his high school’s team.

As for how the 6’5, 304-pound Long is hoping to make his mark, well, let’s just say that anyone who has watched his brother probably has a good idea of what he’s looking to do on every play.

“I love run blocking, anytime I can get off the line and put someone on the ground and keep shoving them down, that’s what I like to do,” Long said. “Double team, anything where I can just pummel somebody.”