Rams remain confident in Long's return

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
11:30
AM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When it comes to the health of left tackle Jake Long, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher & Co. have consistently played the hits throughout the offseason.

They've repeatedly insisted that Long's rehabilitation from offseason surgery on his right anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament is coming along just fine and reiterated their faith that Long will be ready to go in time for the regular-season opener Sept. 7.

Long
At last week's organized training activities, Fisher offered an even more optimistic outlook for Long's expected return.

“Jake is coming along. He’s doing the individual stuff. Jake’s injury was a little bit later than Sam’s," Fisher said, referring to quarterback Sam Bradford. "We expect him back somewhere middle part of training camp.”

If Long is indeed able to return to practice on that sort of timetable, there's reason to believe he can be ready to take his usual spot at left tackle against Minnesota in the opener. That would allow him a few weeks to round into shape and test his mobility, perhaps even play a series or two in one of the final two preseason games.

In many cases, when it comes to injuries like Long's, it's common for teams to offer the standard lines about being ahead of schedule or, at least, on pace for a timely return. For what it's worth, Long had his surgery in late January, and although he isn't participating in OTAs, he is doing some work on the side.

But in this case, the Rams so far are doing more than offering optimistic lip service when it comes to Long. The team is following through on its belief in his rehab with how it's handling his vacant spot during OTAs.

With obvious left tackle fill-in options such as rookie Greg Robinson and Rodger Saffold available to take the reps in Long's place during practice, Fisher and the Rams have made it clear they prefer not to disrupt the stability of the line at the four other positions. Robinson and Saffold are projected to start at left and right guard, respectively, and neither has extensive experience at those positions.

So instead of moving Robinson and/or Saffold around, Fisher prefers to keep them in their current spots to prepare them for the spots they're expected to start the season.

“We want to go through OTAs and most of camp with players playing the position they’ll play in the opener," Fisher said. "You assume Jake comes back, so we’ll just plug someone else in out there.”

So far, "someone else" has meant a rotation between younger, developmental tackles Mike Person and Sean Hooey. The Rams claimed Person from Seattle last season and thought enough of him to keep him on the roster throughout the season. Hooey was an undrafted free agent in 2013, but the Rams stashed him on the practice squad for the season. Like Person, Hooey is another player the team thinks has some future potential.

If worse comes to worst by the time the season begins, the Rams could simply slide Saffold over to left tackle, with someone like Davin Joseph or Barrett Jones ready to step in at guard. For now, their faith in Long's return persists.

Nick Wagoner

ESPN St. Louis Rams reporter

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