NFL Nation: Jake Long

W2W4: Miami Dolphins

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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The Miami Dolphins (2-1) will host the St. Louis Rams (1-2) on Thursday night (7 ET) at Sun Life Stadium.

1. Bubble watch: This will be an important game for several key Dolphins who are on the roster bubble. Running back Daniel Thomas, receiver/kick returner Marcus Thigpen and defensive back Don Jones are among the bigger names who should be nervous entering Thursday’s game. Miami still needs to cut 22 players before Saturday and these three must prove themselves against St. Louis to avoid the chopping block.

2. Special teams: After last week’s poor performance, the Dolphins have a lot of questions on special teams. For starters, Miami kicker Caleb Sturgis is expected to return from a groin injury. Sturgis must prove he’s ready for Week 1. The Dolphins' coverage teams also gave up big returns and Brandon Fields had a punt blocked that was called back due to a penalty. Miami's third phase, as a whole, needs a much better showing in the final preseason game.

3. Quiet homecoming: Partially because it's preseason, there has been virtually no fanfare for Jake Long's first return to Miami since leaving in 2013 as a free agent. Long was a former No. 1 overall pick for the Dolphins in 2008 and had six productive years in Miami. But Long suffered through various injuries the past few years, and the Dolphins no longer believed he was worth the price tag. Thursday will mark Long’s first game in Miami since departing as a free agent.

Jake Long rusty in return

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
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CLEVELAND -- St. Louis Rams left tackle Jake Long played in his first game on Saturday since having January knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL. Eager to knock off the rust, Long played more than he was originally scheduled to after a little bit of lobbying.

Long
 Judging by how Long's time in the game went, he's going to need some more work in the preseason finale against Miami on Thursday to be closer to regular-season ready.

"We’ve got starters [who] need to play a little bit more," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "Jake played more plays than we expected because he wanted to play more plays than expected."

Before Saturday night, Long hadn't played since the third offensive play of the team's penultimate game on Dec. 22, 2013 against Tampa Bay. Long tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee early in that game and had the necessary surgeries in January.

All along, the Rams maintained that Long could be back in time to play in the regular-season opener Sept. 7 against Minnesota and return to exhibition games about halfway through the preseason. That seemed a bit optimistic at the time, but Long has been practicing on a full-time basis for the better part of the past two-plus weeks.

The Rams held Long out of the second preseason game, but he got the start against the Cleveland Browns. As you'd might expect, Long's return was noticeably shaky, especially on the opening series.

"The game speed picks up so there’s definitely some rust and some bad plays I had," Long said. "It was good that I can get that out in the preseason and get some plays in before the start of the season."

On the team's first drive, Long picked up penalties for illegal hands to the face and a false start, costing the Rams 15 yards. Beyond that, Long was in the midst of what appeared to be a miscommunication that led to linebacker Barkevious Mingo blowing past him and creating the pressure that eventually resulted in linebacker Paul Kruger hitting quarterback Sam Bradford on his left knee.

Bradford bounced back up after that hit, but he didn't five plays and two penalties later when Cleveland end Armonty Bryant again beat Long to get to Bradford. Bryant landed awkwardly on Bradford's own surgically repaired knee and exited the game with an injury that is to be determined by further tests today.

"It’s horrible whenever guys go down, especially Sam, he’s been working so hard, but we’re hoping for the best and we’ll see what happens," Long said.

Long played 27 snaps on the evening, which amounted to two full series as the Rams controlled the ball and clock for most of the first half. He said he felt better as the game went along.

"I was going to play as long as they kept me in there," Long said. "I was feeling good, and I was moving around well and was really happy with it so I wanted to get out there, get the game speed and knock the rust off."

Observation Deck: St. Louis Rams

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
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CLEVELAND -- If possible, the score of the St. Louis Rams' preseason meeting with the Cleveland Browns has even less meaning than an average exhibition contest.

The Rams (1-2 in preseason) dominated in a 33-14 win, but the victory is about as hollow as possible considering what occurred in the first half. The first 30 minutes turned the team's starters into something resembling a MASH unit.

Quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a left knee injury with a little more than eight minutes to go in the first quarter and did not return. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that initial tests did not reveal any further damage to Bradford's surgically repaired ACL, but Bradford will have more tests in the next 24 hours. Rams coach Jeff Fisher indicated after the game that it could be a hyperextended knee.

Had it stopped there, it would have been bad enough, but four other starters left the game with injuries and did not return. Defensive tackle Kendall Langford (ankle), cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee), defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (ankle) also departed early. Early indications on those injuries are that Saffold and Langford were taken out more as a precaution. Johnson's looked to be the worst after he took a helmet to the left knee and a cart took him to the locker room.

Some more thoughts and observations from Saturday's game:
  • It was a rough go for left tackle Jake Long in his first game back. He picked up a penalty for hands to the face and struggled on two plays that led to Bradford getting hit. Obviously, he's got some rust to knock off but it was a potentially damaging sequence.
  • Wideout Brian Quick has put together the best training camp of his young career and has now carried that momentum into two consecutive preseason games. He finished with four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown and was clearly Bradford's favorite target. Time will tell if he can do it when the games count, but the Rams have to be encouraged by his consistency in camp and preseason.
  • Hard to fathom why, after the injuries to Bradford, Saffold and Langford, the Rams still had the starting defense on the field when Johnson and Brockers were hurt.
  • Receiver Chris Givens has been awfully quiet in this preseason to the point that he's not playing at all with the starters. But Givens offered a reminder of why he's a piece worth keeping around with an impressive 75-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He added a nice catch on a crossing route for a gain of 19 earlier on the drive.
  • Defensive end Michael Sam came up with his second sack in as many games, dropping Johnny Manziel with a little more than 10 minutes to go. Best I can tell, Twitter is still functional. Barely.
  • Rookie offensive lineman Greg Robinson did not start against the Browns after doing so in each of the first two games. Moving back and forth between left guard and left tackle has left him struggling to settle in. Rodger Saffold started at left guard with Davin Joseph at right guard, but that doesn't mean that's how it will be when the season starts. With the rest of the line healthy and in place, expect the Rams to try to get Robinson settled in at left guard moving forward.
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) did some work in practice this week but the Rams clearly didn't want to push him and he sat this one out. Fellow linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar also didn't play.

St. Louis Rams practice report

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With the "official" end of training camp coming and going Wednesday, the Rams practiced without any eyes other than media watching Thursday afternoon. Along with that, the rules change a bit in terms of what can and can't be discussed. But Rams coach Jeff Fisher did offer some updates on some things that were noticeable on the field.
  • First, Fisher said Thursday's practice was used largely to get his team familiar with Cleveland. It's the first time in the preseason the Rams have done anything resembling some game planning. Some of that even included having a couple of players put on the red jersey to emulate different Browns players.
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) did a little more than on Wednesday, including a bit of work in team drills. Fisher said the decision on whether Laurinaitis will play against the Browns has not yet been made but it's clear Laurinaitis could probably play if he had to. Clearly, he doesn't have to but the option is realistic.
  • Fisher did indicate that left tackle Jake Long (knee), defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) would all be available and are expected to play. That would allow the Rams to have their projected offensive and defensive lines together for the first time in the preseason.
  • Speaking of groups working together in a game for the first time this preseason, Fisher said he's looking forward to seeing the secondary get some work together. That means Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson at cornerback and Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald at safety. Fisher even went so far as to acknowledge that rookie Lamarcus Joyner would work with the top offense as the nickelback.
  • As for playing time for the starters, Fisher indicated that group will play the bulk of the first half. He also again mentioned the gradual build he prefers means that group could play even more in Miami in the preseason finale. That's how they've done it in his first two seasons in St. Louis and it doesn't sound like it's going to change.
  • Amongst projected starters, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar is the only one not to practice at all this week. So even if the Rams get Laurinaitis back, they likely won't be at full strength defensively.
  • The Rams again hosted the Ferguson-area high school teams at their facility Thursday as McCluer, McCluer North and McCluer South-Berkeley held practice on the team's indoor field.
  • Running back Isaiah Pead officially cleared waivers and now reverts to the team's injured reserve list. Pead does not count against the team's 90-man roster.
  • The Rams will wrap up their preparation week with a walk-through Friday before traveling to Cleveland for Saturday night's game against the Browns.

Rams Camp Report: Day 15

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams continued to turn up the dial on the physical approach to practice Thursday as coach Jeff Fisher indicated they would earlier this week. Fisher said his team needs work on the run game and they certainly got that work in this practice. That's been a familiar sight in the past two weeks as the Rams try to turn it up before the regular season arrives.
  • Some quick injury news. ... Fisher said left tackle Jake Long will not play this week against Green Bay but they are targeting next week against Cleveland to get him some game action. That falls in line with the plan for him from the beginning. ... Cornerback Janoris Jenkins got back to work Thursday and though he might not play this week, he went through team drills and is close to ready. ... Rookie center Demetrius Rhaney had the scariest moment of the day when he stayed down after his knee buckled on a field goal drill. Rhaney had to be taken off on a golf cart. Fisher said the initial indication was that Rhaney's injury wasn't as serious as first feared but he would still need an MRI. ... Fisher also said right guard Rodger Saffold is "close" to returning from a stinger injury.
  • On the field, there were some big plays and plenty of heavy collisions. Tight end Justice Cunningham continues to find himself in some of the bigger collisions in running drills. Lining up at fullback, Cunningham and end Eugene Sims had a train wreck during one drill in which the pads could be heard from about 100 yards away. Cunningham is certainly making his presence felt as a blocker. Quarterback Sam Bradford had a couple of nice hookups on deep balls, one down the sideline to receiver Brian Quick and another, better throw to tight end Lance Kendricks down the seam. Tight end Brad Smelley, who just joined the team earlier this week went up for a tough over the shoulder catch for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
  • Former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake, father of Rams receiver Emory Blake, attended Thursday's practice. He had to be a proud papa when he saw the younger Blake rise up for the catch of the day, snatching a touchdown out of a Cody Davis and Marcus Roberson double team. Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong was quick to voice his displeasure with the defense's inability to stop Blake.
  • Funny moment of the day: Quick tipped a ball to himself on a pass to the corner but came down out of bounds as the defense closed in around him. Tight end Jared Cook was nearby and quickly chastised Quick for not tipping the ball back to him. He was joking, of course but the delivery was perfect deadpan. Maybe you had to be there.
  • The Rams have no practice Friday as they finished preparations for Saturday's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.

Camp Confidential: St. Louis Rams

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
11:00
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As one of the few training camps in the league at which music doesn't regularly blare through temporary speaker setups, the soundtrack to the St. Louis Rams 2014 camp is limited to the sounds of pads cracking and the ensuing trash talk.

It's a drastic departure from last year's camp, when the Rams attempted to turn their offense into a spread-based passing attack flinging the ball all over the field.

That experiment failed miserably but also cleared the path for the Rams to forge their current identity, which is regularly on display on the Rams Park practice fields.

At an early August practice, the sight of running back Zac Stacy and tight end Cory Harkey consistently dropping their pads and creating collisions with defenders set a physical tone that manifested into a fight between cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and receiver Austin Pettis.

As residents of the NFL's toughest and most physical division, the NFC West, the Rams permanently adopted the approach they used in the season's final 12 games. Which is to say, they want an offense based on a power-rushing attack and an aggressive defense.

If that plan sounds similar to what Seattle and San Francisco do, it's because it is. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

"Obviously, that's the way we're built," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "We've always been built that way. That's what we're going to be based on -- play great defense, run the football. Our play-action game comes off of that."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Defensively, the Rams have the pieces in place to be one of the league's elite groups in 2014. Coordinator Gregg Williams gives Fisher's Rams the chance to move from a middling group to a top-10 or even top-five unit in the NFL. Even without Williams' aggressive guidance, the Rams have combined for more sacks than any team in the league over the past two seasons. With the additions of defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Alex Carrington, the defensive line is the deepest and best in the league. Defensive end Robert Quinn is already one of the best pass-rushers in the league and should get better. That group should be good enough to wreck game plans on a weekly basis.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoSam Bradford is on track to be fully recovered from injury when the regular season begins, and he has an offensive line with the potential to be among the league's best.
2. The aforementioned shift to a run-centric offense should be buoyed by the offseason addition of No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason, as well as the retention of guard Rodger Saffold. With a line built to run the ball and an offense that now knows what it should be, the run game should be better and more consistent.

3. The advancements in modern medicine should benefit the Rams, as quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Jake Long are on track to be ready when the season begins. Both are coming off major knee surgery, but you'd hardly know it from watching them move around on the practice field. Bradford is facing a huge season and knows this is the time to finally prove he's the long-term answer at quarterback. Long played at a Pro Bowl level for most of the past season, especially in the run game, and is critical to ensuring that Bradford stays healthy. Having both back this early would have been a big surprise in the past but is a welcome sight in St. Louis.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. For the second straight season, the Rams' offensive line has the potential to be among the best in the league. But the dark injury cloud hovering over that projection remains. Long, center Scott Wells and Saffold are each either coming off an injury, have a lengthy injury history or both. Although line coach Paul Boudreau has a gift for making it work with whoever is playing, he has a group of question marks behind the starters. Guard Davin Joseph is the only backup on the line with substantial experience.

2. Among the many positions in which the Rams are young, perhaps none are of greater concern than the secondary. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins is headed into his third season and third as a starter, which makes him the elder statesmen of the group. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson and safeties Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald have experience, but they've also been spotty in terms of performance. The Rams are banking on the pass rush to help the secondary, but it's unrealistic to think the defensive backs won't have to stand on their own in key moments.

3. Attempting to project what any team will do in a season based on the previous year's result is a fool's errand, but it's hard to ignore the on-paper strength of the Rams' schedule, particularly in the NFC West. Like last year, it's possible the Rams will be better than the past season but left with nothing to show for it in terms of record or postseason appearances.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeSam
    Michael B. Thomas/Getty ImagesThe media circus expected to engulf Rams rookie Michael Sam at training camp has not materialized.

  • All that talk about defensive end Michael Sam being a distraction for this team has been just that: talk. Sam has earned nothing but positive reviews from his teammates and coaches for his work ethic and desire to improve. He still faces a battle to make the roster, but aside from a couple days of increased media attention, the circus many expected has never materialized.
  • Once again, the Rams are almost wholly unproven at wide receiver, but they believe they are ready to change that this year. Kenny Britt has been a pleasant surprise, both in performance and leadership, and has had a particularly positive effect on Brian Quick. Breakout is a relative term with this group, given that the Rams won't be airing it out like other teams, but big plays will be needed to complement the run game.
  • The Rams will miss young receiver Stedman Bailey as he serves a four-game suspension to start the season. He's been the most consistent wideout in camp and looks poised for a much bigger role upon his return.
  • Donald might not start, but he is going to play a lot. He has wowed coaches and teammates with his advanced technical skills and maturity. Some in the organization believe he could become Defensive Rookie of the Year.
  • Looking for an undrafted rookie or two who could win roster spots? Look no further than tight end Alex Bayer and defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks. Both flashed potential in the spring, and it has carried over into training camp and the preseason.
  • Although Stacy and Mason garner most of the attention at running back, Benny Cunningham should not be overlooked. The Rams like him a lot, and he returned to St. Louis bigger, stronger and faster. He's another year removed from a serious knee injury and could play a more integral role in his second season.

Rams Camp Report: Day 12

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
9:05
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams got back to work Monday afternoon in what was a mostly uneventful practice. As promised by coach Jeff Fisher, the team did get some players back to practice in some capacity. But key veterans such as linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle), defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) did not return to work. Among those getting back in the mix were defensive tackle Kendall Langford and cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Brandon McGee. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins did a little work on the side before practice and individual but not much else. Cornerback Darren Woodard was a new addition to the not practicing list. And tight end Justice Cunningham, who appears to be in a heated contest for a potential fourth tight end spot, limped off and rode to the locker room on the back of a golf cart.
  • Unhappy with his team's 14 penalties against the Saints, Fisher made his team run a sprint for every player who committed a penalty. That essentially meant the whole team had to run, though some more than others.
  • As for the practice, it was one of the team's more sluggish workouts of this camp, which is probably to be expected after a two-day layoff and a preseason game. Backup quarterback Shaun Hill got his share of work and had some good moments, including some nice throws down the seam in early team and 7-on-7s to tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks. The first offense appeared out of sync a bit as it had multiple near misses on deep connections and an occasional drop.
  • Cornerback Marcus Roberson hasn't had many shining moments in camp but showed some deep cover skills against Chris Givens on a deep ball during team. Roberson hasn't distinguished himself like other corners battling for roster spots and needs to pick it up to insert himself into the race. ... Rookie quarterback Garrett Gilbert had some ups and quite a few downs in his preseason debut against the Saints but had some good throws in Monday's practice. On one, he dropped a perfect pass into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown to receiver Jordan Harris.
  • The Rams don't quite have their projected starting offensive line in place yet with Saffold out but they're getting closer. Offensive tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells were back with the first team and in far more than just a cameo Monday. Both appear to be trending toward playing preseason games as they come off knee surgery (Long) and illness (Wells). They took the bulk of the work with the first team and appear to be moving well.
  • Quick roster note: the Rams signed tight end Brad Smelley to take the spot vacated by injured tight end Mason Brodine. Brodine suffered a fractured ankle against New Orleans and is out for the season.
  • The Rams are back at it Tuesday with a 5:30 p.m. CT practice. That workout is free and open to the public at Rams Park.

Rams Camp Report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
9:45
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The pads didn't pop as often or as loud Tuesday evening but the Rams continue to ratchet up the physicality as they prepare for the season opener. Once again, the run game took precedence and got plenty of work. Coach Jeff Fisher indicated after practice that he wants each of his running backs to get about six carries in the preseason opener and deployed them in a similar fashion Tuesday night. Even rookie Tre Mason got some reps with the first-team offense and had a couple of impressive runs, including one where he burst through the hole, bounced off a would be tackler, and darted left into the end zone for a would-be touchdown. It was one of his better practices. Running back Zac Stacy departed practice early. The injury didn't appear serious, but we'll see more when Friday night arrives. Receiver Austin Franklin also limped off during the workout.
  • Receiver Brian Quick returned to the practice field after sitting the past couple of practices. He made his presence felt early with a nice diving catch along the sideline from quarterback Sam Bradford. The rest of the injury list remains the same as Monday with key players such as linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and guard Rodger Saffold among those sitting it out.
  • Speaking of sitting it out, Fisher said after practice that Bradford, left tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells will be held out of Friday's game. He used the term highly unlikely when describing Bradford but that lines up with what he's intimated since the beginning of camp, so it's probably safe to assume Bradford won't play. For what it's worth, word out of Saints camp is that quarterback Drew Brees also won't participate.
  • Elsewhere on the practice field, receiver Kenny Britt landed awkwardly in individual drills but didn't miss much and came back to haul in another deep ball from Bradford for a big gain later in practice. ... Defensive lineman Alex Carrington provided a scary moment when he pulled up just as he got close to Bradford in a team drill. The two made contact, but no damage was done. ... It was one of receiver Tavon Austin's best practices as he came up with some big plays, highlighted by an over-the-shoulder gem on a perfect throw from Bradford in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown. He later beat cornerback E.J. Gaines and safety T.J. McDonald on a deep ball down the right sideline. ... It's been two practices in a row in which receiver T.J. Moe came up with a big play or two. He'll need a big preseason performance to stake a claim to a spot, but he's picking a good time to make some noise.
  • The Rams are back at it with a special teams practice set for Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. ET at Rams Park. That practice is closed to the public.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- If the St. Louis Rams projected starting offensive line can stay healthy, it has the talent and experience to be among the league's best.

The only problem is that the size of that "if" isn't done much justice in this font size. This is the next verse, same as the first when it comes to the Rams' offensive line. From left to right, the line has established Pro Bowlers and potential future Pro Bowlers. It also has an injury history that makes betting big on that group to stay together for 16 games a risky proposition.

[+] EnlargeJake Long
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonJake Long is on track in his recovery from offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL to start the season.
About a week and a half into this training camp, the Rams are starting to get the projected pieces in place. Left tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells returned to team drills last week as they recover from offseason knee surgery and an illness, respectively. Long and Wells form the experienced heartbeat of the line, the two most experience players upfront and two of the team's most veteran leaders in general.

Long is still slowly working his way into getting more reps but appears on track to play in some preseason games and be ready to start the season. Wells' return has been more accelerated as he's getting plenty of work in team drills.

Having Long and Wells back is a welcome sight for quarterback Sam Bradford and an added help to rookie left guard Greg Robinson.

"When Jake and Scotty are in the huddle, they just provide a ton of that veteran leadership on that line, especially with Greg in there," Bradford said. "I think having those two guys around him just helps him as far as communication goes so it’s really important for those guys to start jelling too. So the more we can get them on the field together, I think the better we're going to be."

Of course, no sooner did the Rams get Long and Wells back in the mix than right guard Rodger Saffold suffered an apparent stinger that has kept him out the past couple of practices. Such is the way things seem to go for this group.

The good news is that Saffold's latest issue doesn't seem serious and he should be back soon enough. The bad news is that Saffold having injury issues is nothing new. The same can be said of Wells and Long. That trio has combined to miss a total of 37 games over the past three seasons because of various ailments.

The Rams committed serious draft capital and dollars to the line in the offseason. They spent the No. 2 overall pick on Robinson, signed Saffold to a lucrative long-term deal and added veteran guard Davin Joseph on a one-year deal. Robinson and Saffold provide strong insurance in case anything happens to Long or right tackle Joe Barksdale.

Before Long returned and even now as he's working his way back into the mix, the Rams have taken the opportunity to get Robinson and Saffold some work at left tackle with Joseph filling in at guard.

“Well, that’s the big thing," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "We’re going to move guys around. Again, we’re trying to create competition, putting Greg in different spots, Rodger in different spots .... They’ve been working hard. The communication now is so much easier for them. We make adjustments, they make adjustments, make calls. That just comes from playing together."

Which brings us back to the original question of just how much that group will play together. Aside from Joseph, only backup center Tim Barnes has any sort of meaningful game experience and even that is limited to four starts last season. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau is adept at getting a lot from a little but if the Rams' line breaks out in another rash of injuries, it could easily derail their hopes of a breakthrough season.

"I think we’re coming together real well," Long said. "Especially in practice against this defensive line it makes us better every single day. Getting Davin, a veteran who has been to the Pro Bowl and is a great player, he’s doing a great job out there. We have been working hard and just pushing each other and it’s coming along good."

For this group, coming together isn't the issue. Staying together is.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the first four full-squad practices of the St. Louis Rams training camp, it's been normal to see left tackle Jake Long hover near the huddle as the first-team offense takes its repetitions.

Instead of breaking the huddle and dutifully lining up at his perch on the left side, Long would trudge back to stand with his teammates and watch the next play.

Long
It's been Long's way of staying involved and keeping up with the offense as he recovers from offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. But Thursday night, Long took the next step and then the next step after that and the one after that until he was crouched in his usual position taking reps with the top offense.

It was the first reps he's taken in a team drill of any sort since suffering the injury against Tampa Bay back on Dec. 22 of last year.

"I'm feeling great," Long said. "Every day I am progressing and feeling better. I finally got some live reps today and it felt great. I'm really happy with how the first day of live stuff went."

According to Long and coach Jeff Fisher, Long's return is one of the rare comebacks that is right on schedule rather than the usual ahead of schedule bluster that comes with injuries such as these.

After Long had the surgery in January, the Rams put an actual schedule down on paper with certain dates targeted to reach benchmarks along the way. The Rams have remained hopeful that part of that schedule would include a return to full work about halfway through the preseason and Long's participation in a couple of preseason games. It didn't seem too realistic at the time but that looks to be changing.

"We had this schedule planned out since the surgery and we've been following it," Long said. "As long as we don't have any setbacks, we're going to keep progressing and getting better. Today was the first step with live reps and it went well."

Thursday's practice didn't appear to offer any setbacks as Long did some work in individual drills, something he's been doing consistently in camp, and then took a handful of reps during 11-on-11. By no means is Long all the way back and there's still plenty of work to do, but if nothing else, Fisher was pleased to see his left tackle back in action, especially with center Scott Wells also taking a few reps.

"It's good to have Jake's presence back in the offensive huddle again," Fisher said. "That's encouraging."

Long said it's still realistic that he could play in the preseason and that remains part of the plan. Barring any additional soreness cropping up overnight, the plan is to get him more reps Friday and continue to gradually build until he's ready for a full workload.

In the meantime, Long has plenty of details he wants to iron out as he works his way back.

"Just getting timing back, getting the pass set and getting that fast twitch off the ball for those speed rushers and just really working your explosion and getting low and bending your knees and that's been coming back good," Long said. "As the days go on, the rust will knock off and I'll get better."

What once seemed like an overly optimistic estimation for Long's return appears to be getting closer to an accurate one with each passing day.

Rams Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
9:30
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • Thursday night's practice might as well have been the NFL equivalent of homecoming as the Rams had a bunch of familiar faces return to the field, including some coming back from injury who will be key to their success this season. Offensive tackle Jake Long, center Scott Wells and end William Hayes all got at least a few repetitions in team drills after being limited to some individual work to this point in camp. They didn't get a ton of work, but there were at least a few reps in which the Rams had their projected starting offensive line of (from left to right) Long, Greg Robinson, Wells, Rodger Saffold and Joe Barksdale together for the first time in this camp. Long and Wells did not participate in one-on-one pass-rush drills but Hayes did take some reps. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson also got back to work after sitting a few days with a tight hamstring. Offensive lineman Brandon Washington was also back to work. Defensive end Ethan Westbrooks did some work in the pass-rush drills as well after starting camp on the non-football injury list.
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis limped off the field late in the practice and did not return. Coach Jeff Fisher said Laurinaitis got stepped on during the practice. It didn't appear to be serious. Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner did not practice and had his right leg wrapped as he watched on the sidelines. Others not participating: offensive lineman Barrett Jones, running back Isaiah Pead (hand), safety Christian Bryant, cornerback Jarrid Bryant and defensive end Sammy Brown.
  • On the field, the action picked up where it left off Tuesday with the offense again starting to catch up to the defense now that shoulder pads are on. Quarterback Sam Bradford continued to take some shots down the field and find his connection. Early in team drills, he hit Stedman Bailey in stride about 40 yards downfield for what likely would have been a touchdown. He also continued to connect with Kenny Britt and Brian Quick on some deep balls and hit Tavon Austin on a deep ball while backed up at his 1-yard line. Austin's finest moment actually came on a deep comeback route in which Bradford threw high but Austin elevated and caught the pass out of frame. That's something we haven't seen much of from Austin since his arrival in St. Louis.
  • With shoulder pads on, the one-on-one pass-rush drills got rolling Thursday with some interesting matchups. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald continues to dominate and did what he wanted against center Tim Barnes on a couple of reps. If you felt the Earth shake tonight, don't worry it was just Robinson and tackle Michael Brockers colliding. Robinson did a nice job in a couple of matchups.
  • Also visiting St. Louis this week: an officiating crew which handled Thursday's practice and will spend time on points of emphasis with the team in the next couple of days through Saturday's scrimmage. And Blake Williams, former linebackers coach and son of defensive coordinator Gregg, who stopped in to see his dad and former team at work. He made a similar visit in the spring.
  • The Rams return to the Rams Park practice field Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET, which doubles as the next workout open to the public.

Rams Camp Report: Day 5

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams put the shoulder pads on for the first time in this training camp Tuesday afternoon and it resulted in a little bit more of an even playing field. After the top defense dominated the first-team offense for much of the opening days of camp, the addition of pads got the offense some traction. Quarterback Sam Bradford had what looked like his best practice of camp as he frequently connected on passes down the field. The primary recipient? Receiver Brian Quick. Quick is off to a good start in this camp and only built on that start with Tuesday's work. Bradford and Quick hooked up a couple of times on deep balls in early team drills and then Quick brought even more cheers when he caught another deep ball from rookie quarterback Garrett Gilbert later on. Bradford also hit receiver Kenny Britt for about a 40-yard touchdown deep down the right sideline as Britt got behind cornerback Brandon McGee. That play elicited the biggest cheers of the day.
  • One thing that needs to be cleaned up early on is pre-snap penalties. So far, both sides of the ball have been guilty of jumping early. In many places, you'd allow for the benefit of the doubt since it's so early in camp, but the Rams have been persistent penalty magnets in the two years under coach Jeff Fisher and many of the infractions can be attributed to veteran players who should be past such mistakes. There isn't necessarily one player in particular jumping early, which might make it more frustrating for Fisher and his staff since it can be harder to rein in a team-wide issue.
  • Progress is coming for defensive end William Hayes, offensive tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells. All three have been participating in some individual work early in practice and Hayes and Wells, in particular, look to be close to a return. Hayes said after practice he had a couple of offseason procedures, though the nature of his injuries are unknown. Wells' injuries are also unknown at this point but none of that will matter much if they get back on the field soon. For what it's worth, Hayes says this is as good as he's felt since his second year in the league. That was 2009.
  • A few developments of note at running back. Zac Stacy continues to get most of the work with the first team, but Tre Mason got a few reps Tuesday afternoon and Benny Cunningham is finding his way onto the field some as well. Isaiah Pead sat out the practice and was wearing what appeared to be a cast on his right hand.
  • Some special guests were in the house Tuesday, including the bulk of the University of Missouri football coaches. Defensive end Michael Sam, cornerback E.J. Gaines, receiver T.J. Moe and center Tim Barnes spent some time with the staff after practice and Sam said it was good to see the group. Former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage also took in the workout.

Camp preview: St. Louis Rams

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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NFL Nation's Nick Wagoner examines the three biggest issues facing the St. Louis Rams heading into training camp.

Sam Bradford's status: It's a familiar refrain that will be repeated ad nauseam for much of the offseason and camp, but it's the most basic and simple truth about the Rams in 2014 and the future: They'll go as far as quarterback Sam Bradford can take them. On the bright side, Bradford appears to be on schedule for a return to health from his season-ending knee injury, and the Rams expect him to be close to or at full speed for the start of camp.

That means Bradford will get a third season in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense and the opportunity to get the Rams into the mix in the NFC West division. It's safe to assume the Rams won't ask Bradford to carry the freight for what will likely be a run-heavy offense, but they also will need more from Bradford than what was required of backup Kellen Clemens. The Rams have clearly abandoned the spread approach they were installing this time last year, but they will almost certainly be more balanced than they were after Bradford's injury in 2013.

The Gregg Williams effect: Much was expected of the Rams' defense in 2013 after it performed well enough to keep the team in games, especially divisional games, in 2012. But the group not only didn't take a step forward but regressed slightly under coordinator Tim Walton. So when the Rams had the opportunity to land Gregg Williams this offseason, they took it.

Now, the expectations are even higher after bringing Williams aboard and spending a first-round pick on defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Williams is expected to bring an array of exotic blitz packages and an aggressive approach to a defense that should be able to create consistent pressure. How that manifests itself in this training camp will go a long way toward determining the team's 2014 success.

Stability on the offensive line: The Rams made some major moves along the offensive line in the offseason in an effort to compete with the big, physical defensive lines around the NFC West. They used the No. 2 pick on Auburn's Greg Robinson and signed guard Rodger Saffold to a lucrative contract extension. On paper, an offensive line of (from left to right) Jake Long, Robinson, Scott Wells, Saffold and Joe Barksdale could be one of the better units in the league with a good mix of experience and potential.

But for the second straight year, that group faces the pressing question of whether it can retain some semblance of stability in the face of injury. The presumptive 2013 starting five played just 295 of the offense's 968 snaps, checking in just above 30 percent. Only three lines around the league spent less time together. Wells and Long are recovering from season-ending injuries, and although the Rams expect both players to be ready for the start of the season, it's fair to wonder how many games and what type of production they'll get. Saffold also has a lengthy injury history even though he has yet to suffer any serious ailments since moving to guard.

There are some intriguing young players behind the starting five, including Barrett Jones, Tim Barnes and Brandon Washington, but if the Rams are to be the powerful, run-heavy offense they aspire to be, they'll need the starting five in place as often as possible.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- This week, we covered the St. Louis Rams' confidence in the pending return of left tackle Jake Long. The team has believed Long capable of being ready for the regular-season opener for most of the offseason.

That confidence has been largely based on what the team has seen from Long in the offseason. Rams coach Jeff Fisher even went so far as to say Long could return to practice in the middle of training camp. And the team has backed that belief in Long by keeping potential temporary replacements Greg Robinson and Rodger Saffold at their projected guard spots.

On Tuesday afternoon, Long offered his take on where his recovery from a torn MCL and ACL is in his first comments to reporters since his January surgery.

[+] EnlargeJake Long
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Rams are hopeful left tackle Jake Long will be in the lineup for Week 1 of the regular season.
"I'm pretty happy," Long said. "Every single week we try to introduce something more and more, and I just get more strength, I get smoother at my pass sets and coming off the ball. I'm really excited and happy with how I'm progressing."

On Tuesday, Long worked on the side with athletic trainer James Lomax, going through a variety of lateral movement drills and appeared to have more bounce in his step than one would expect from a player who had his surgery about five months ago. Long is also participating in team walk-through drills, ensuring he's a part of installation sessions and working on communication with the rookie Robinson, who is expected to line up next to him on the left side.

Fisher indicated Tuesday that Long has been doing a lot more work behind the scenes, but Long also put some of his progress on display in front of the assembled media during Tuesday's organized team activity. As for Fisher's mid-training camp estimate and the return for the season opener, Long sees both as realistic.

"That's the goal," Long said. "As long as I keep progressing and don't have any setbacks.

"That's what we've talked about ever since we had the surgery. We sat down and looked at the schedule and talked through the rehab session and said if it's going well and we're doing good then that could be our goal. I think we're on pace for that, so that's what we're shooting for."

For Long, who has been bit by the injury bug on a regular basis in recent seasons, an extensive rehabilitation plan is nothing new. He suffered a torn biceps in 2011 and torn triceps in 2012, with those ailments costing him six games.

But Long openly acknowledges that this one is the most difficult.

"It's definitely one of the toughest," Long said. "An ACL is not a joke, and one of the longest to come back from. I've just put my head down and put my nose to the grindstone and really wanted to work hard and get back."

It remains to be seen when Long will be back at full strength and cleared to resume practice, but so far the Rams' initial projection looks to be more realistic than it once appeared.
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.

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