INDIANAPOLIS -- St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Jake Long made the difficult decision to bypass the NFL draft and return to Michigan for his senior season in 2007. It proved a prescient choice as Long would go on to become the No. 1 overall pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2008.
Taylor Lewan found himself in a similar situation last year. Projected as a top 10 pick, Lewan was unsure what to do. So he called Long, his fellow Michigan man, for advice.
After a few conversations, Lewan decided to follow in the footsteps of Long by returning to school. While Lewan doesn't figure to go No. 1 overall in this year's draft, he's never shown any reluctance to follow the path set forth by Long.
“If I had to pick myself to be like somebody, I would pick Jake Long," Lewan said Thursday. "He’s an unbelievable player. He also wore No. 77. Awesome dude. I would love to be compared to him.”
Clearly, those are comparisons Lewan has never shied away from. Upon his arrival in Ann Arbor from Cave Creek, Ariz., Lewan was poised to step in and take over the left tackle position. He requested Long's No. 77, setting a lofty standard for himself before he even really got his career going. Soon after Lewan's career ended with a 31-14 loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, he was almost immediately in touch with Long.
“He texted me the moment my bowl game ended and said, ‘If you need any help at all at any time, let me know. I’m here to help,'" Lewan said.
Now, there exists a real possibility that Long and Lewan could become teammates. Although Rams coach Jeff Fisher doesn't have a history of using first-round picks on offensive linemen, that could certainly change this year.
Lewan is rated behind Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews and Auburn's Greg Robinson, but is still widely regarded as a top 10-12 pick. The Rams would be unlikely to select Lewan with their first pick, but if they went in a different direction with that first pick and Lewan lasted to No. 13, he could be an intriguing possibility.
It's something Lewan acknowledged would be enticing, but not something he's worried about.
“That would be unbelievable," Lewan said. "Honestly, any team that wants to take me, I’d be more than happy to be there.”
Of the top tackles, Robinson is considered to be the one with the most upside, Matthews the most polished, and Lewan with the meanest disposition. It's no stretch to imagine a grizzled veteran line coach like Paul Boudreau or head coach such as Jeff Fisher liking what Lewan has to offer.
But Lewan also has some questions to answer before anyone will be willing to draft him in May.
Lewan has been the subject of some off-field allegations since his senior season ended. He was involved in an incident near an Ann Arbor restaurant after the season during which a bystander accused him of throwing a punch.
Beyond that, it's also been alleged that Lewan threatened a Michigan woman who claimed that Wolverines kicker Brendan Gibbons raped her. Lewan and Gibbons were roommates, and reports at the time said Lewan attempted to intimidate her to keep her from pressing charges against Gibbons.
Lewan denied those reports Thursday.
“That’s definitely a situation between those two people," Lewan said. "I am not here to protect Brandon or the young lady. That’s not what I am here to do. I am here to talk about football. I can say I never said those things. I’ve said a lot of dumb things in my life, but those are not things that I said. That is a touchy subject. I would never disrespect a woman like that. I consider myself a guy who likes to hold doors, not threaten people.”
For Lewan to follow Long and become the next Michigan lineman to go high in the NFL draft, he'll have to convince teams that his mean streak is limited to the field.