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Talking Jake Long

I've done this for some of the other potential #1 picks (Chris Long, Vernon Gholston, and Matt Ryan), so considering that the Dolphins are exclusively negotiating with Jake Long's agent right now, it's a good time to take a look at Jake.  There's a lot of info here so it's relatively longer than most posts.  And you will have to make the jump and click "Read More" to see the entire post.

So where to begin?  I guess we'll start with the most eye-opening statistics for an offensive lineman before getting into the scouting reports on him.  Those stats?  In his 4 year career at Michigan, Long has allowed just 2 sacks and committed just 2 penalties.  The best part?  Jake can actually identify when these things happened.  He allowed a sack in 2007 against Vernon Gholston and the other was against Michigan State during his freshman season.  As for his 2 penalties, one was a false start in 2007 against Northwestern and the other was a holding back during his freshman year.  So that means he went 2 full seasons, his sophomore and junior seasons, without committing a penalty or allowing a sack.  And what's really impressive is that includes his final season at right tackle (2005) and his first season as a left tackle (2006).

For a good general scouting report, I'll defer to NFL Draft Countdown, who has Long listed as the second best prospect in the entire 2008 draft:

Excellent size with long arms...Has a large frame with growth potential...Is strong, powerful and tough...Plays with a nasty demeanor and is a great finisher...Can be a dominant run blocker...Mobile and will get to the second level...Smart with great awareness...Played in a couple of different blocking schemes..Stout at the point of attack...Versatile and has played left and right tackle..Hard worker...Leader and a team captain...Nice program pedigree..Lots of experience against top competition.

Not a great natural athlete...Does not have outstanding quickness...Feet are just average...Can still improve as a pass blocker...Might not be able to play left tackle at the next level...Can be too aggressive at times...Susceptible to secondary pass rush techniques.

As we've talked a lot about here, there are indeed some concerns that Jake might not make a great left tackle in the NFL.  But, again, if the Dolphins feel comfortable in taking him first overall, then they must be pretty confident that he can play left tackle (maybe not as a rookie, but eventually) and have great success at the position.  And that's good enough for me.  After all, Tony Sparano is an offensive line coach at heart.

One of the strengths pointed out above is how dominant of a run blocker he is.  For more on that, and more on Jake Long in general, you should probably check out this article over at Maize N Brew, the finest Michigan blog anywhere on the internet.  Below, though, I have included some quotes from the article.  And we'll start out with Jake's run-blocking prowess:

Michigan ran almost exclusively behind Long this past season. Student Body Left seemed to be Michigan's only play at times, but for good reason. If you went left, you gained yards. It was that simple. It's even more impressive when you realize that Long's 18 touchdown producing blocks were 2 short of being ALL of Michigan's rushing touchdown blocks. Long consistently manhandled his opposite, getting leverage and sometimes simply lifting them off their feet and pile driving them backwards into the turf.

How important was Jake to that Michigan program?  Maize N Brew Dave explains:

After playing as a redshirt freshman in 2004, Long quickly became the most valuable player on Michigan's offensive line. For the past two years he's been the heart and soul of the Michigan offense. Usually you reserve such praise for a running back or quarterback, but Long was the bulldozer that let Hart and Henne operate and generated enough time for Manningham to get open down field. Without him, the magic of 2006 doesn't happen and 2007 goes down as the worst year in Michigan football since the Depression. He was that important to the team and offense.

How about Jake's pass-blocking ability?  After all, that's the key to being a great left tackle as opposed to a great right tackle.  Again, Dave explains:

Long is as good a pass rush defender as you'll find in college football. He possesses excellent technique off the snap and never seems off balance. Once Long makes first contact with an opposing defender, its usually over. Hands are always up, or buried inside his opposition's chest protector. On every down this season and last, Long was on an island by himself against the Big Ten's best pass rushers so mental toughness is not something you have to worry about.

And lastly, what does Dave think about Jake's future?

NFL All-Pro. Simple as that. Long excelled at Michigan and was the next great lineman in a seemingly endless string of dominant college players who (should) excel that the next level. He has every physical tool you want in a lineman, but he brings so much more to the table than his physical capabilities. Long was one of the players that shamed/threatened the rest of the team to stay on campus the summer after [The Season That Shall Remain Nameless] for additional workouts and strength training. Long bulked himself up despite Michigan's antiquated fitness regimen. Long never questioned his commitment to come back to school, even when everything was going wrong and Michigan was the laughing stock of college football. He was always there as a model of consistency and excellence, even when everything around him looked like it was crumbling.

So you all may hear the critics question Jake's ability to play left tackle and be a star in the NFL.  But I'll trust a guy like Dave from Maize N Brew, who has literally watched every snap Jake Long has ever played, over guys who just watch tape of (most likely) a few games from his senior season.

So how about we hear a little bit now from the man himself?  Below are excerpts from Jake Long's Combine press conference:

Q: How much do you think you helped yourself by staying senior year?

A: It has helped me a lot. Last year I didn't feel I was good enough to come out, I wanted to improve on things and those things I improved on. I feel I'm a smarter and better player than I was last year. I'm smarter in identifying the defenses. I worked on the little things in my game and I've gotten a lot better.

Q: Penalty-free football, what does that speak to?

A: Discipline. I always try to play focused and disciplined, tight and sound.

Q: Can you talk about playing left tackle and what that means to you?

A: I love the left side. I started off my first two years at right tackle and moved over to left the last two years. I'm left handed and I feel very comfortable on that side. I think I proved myself as a left tackle.

Q: How much did you grow this year going through the ups and downs at Michigan?

A: You have to go through adversity in this game and this season our whole team, definitely in the seniors and all the coaches, went through adversity. We pulled together and showed our leadership, grew up fast and turned the season around.

Q: Can you tell us a little about what you wanted to do this season?

A: I just really wanted to improve my pass sets. Two years ago was my first time on the left side. I wasn't really use to the past sets on that side. I got a lot more fluid this year with my pass sets. Just working on my hands, certain rush moves.

Q: Do you feel like you will play left tackle as a rookie?

A: Absolutely, I think I can play that position.

Q: How much pride do you take in being a team captain?

A: That's the greatest honor that I could ever receive coming out of Michigan. To just get captain once and then get it twice was a great honor. To know you have that respect from your teammates. I try to live up to it every day and live by example.

Q: What were the responsibilities for captain?

A: Being a leader on and off the field. Lead by example. Come to practice and be one of the best players out there. Lead your team to victories.

Q: What would a team get that drafts you?

A: They would get a hard-working, passionate player. Someone that comes to work and gives 100 percent every single day and has a true passion and love for the game.

And lastly, with those rumors flying now that Jake doesn't want to be a Dolphin, here's a quote straight from Jake's mouth from the Combine press conference about playing for the Dolphins:

Q: Have you talked to the Dolphins? How would you feel about playing for them?

A: It would be an honor. I haven't talked to them yet. I've had some informal meetings, nothing formal. It would be a great honor.

And for more proof that Jake isn't against coming to Miami, we turn to everybody's favorite "draft guru" - favorite to mock, that is - Mel Kiper.  In his latest chat, which is "Insider protected," Kiper is asked about rumors involving Jake not wanting to be a Dolphin:

Dale (Ocala , Fl): Hi Mel, I read an article that states that Jake Long doesn't want to play for Miami. Have you heard anything about this?

Mel Kiper: I talked to Jake Long and he sounded like he was excited about playing for Parcells. Parcells sees some Jumbo Elliot in Long. I think he would be very excited to be a Dolphin.

So here's my 2 cents.  Get a deal done now and make Jake Long the pick.  I've been on the fence for a while about him, but I'm convinced he could play left tackle.  I'm not saying he's the only player I want at #1 now because I'd still be in favor of taking Chris Long or Vernon Gholston.  But to solidify this line would be HUGE for this offense.