ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — Rams left tackle Jake Long took a significant step forward in his return from the knee injury that ended his 2013 season when he took some reps during the team’s evening practice on Thursday.
“I’m feeling great,” Long said. “Every day I’m progressing and feeling better and I finally got some live reps today. It felt great. I’m really happy witNath how the first day of live stuff went.”
Long, 29, is one of the keys to the St. Louis offensive line this season.
A four-time Pro Bowler and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, Long signed a four-year, $34 million with the Rams before the 2013 season but had his first season in St. Louis cut short with ACL and MCL injuries in his right knee on Dec. 22 against Tampa Bay.
Long has been mostly watching his offensive linemates work early in training camp, but he’ll be able to continue progressing with his recovery and is still on schedule to be ready for the season opener.
“All along we had this schedule planned out since the surgery and we’ve been following it,” he said. “As long as we don’t have any setbacks we’re going to keep progressing and getting better and today was the first step of live reps and it went well.”
Thursday’s practice marked the first time that the anticipated starting offensive line — with Long at left tackle, rookie Greg Robinson at left guard, Scott Wells at center, Rodger Saffold at right guard and Joe Barksdale at right tackle — was able to get some work together.
Wells, like Long, also had his 2013 campaign cut short by an injury and he has been slowly working his way back onto the practice field during training camp. With those two taking reps on Thursday, the Rams got a glimpse of that likely starting unit for the first time.
“It felt good, just to be out there (together),” Long said. “Because we’ve been doing it in walk-throughs and been together, but going out there and doing live reps against our defense, it felt good to all be together.”
The Rams have benefitted from Long and Wells being out of practice with other linemen getting more reps during training camp.
Robinson, who played left tackle at Auburn, has seen some practice reps at left tackle, where he may wind up in the future. Saffold, who has played both tackle spots in addition to right guard in the past, has gotten work at both left tackle and left guard (when Robinson was at left tackle).
Youngsters Tim Barnes and Barrett Jones have both taken first-team reps at center with Wells out and Davin Joseph, a two-time Pro Bowler who was signed this offseason after being cut by Tampa Bay, has gotten work with the first-team offense at right guard when Saffold has moved to the left side.
Those other guys getting extra work will help in the future and should make the offensive line stronger, collectively, this season.
“I think we’re coming together real well and especially practicing against this defensive line, it makes us better every single day,” Long said. “Getting Davin, a veteran who’s been to the Pro Bowl and is a great player, he’s doing a great job out there. Greg is just learning every single day and getting better and you can see it on the film and in practice. And all the guys we’ve got, we’ve been working hard and just pushing each other and it’s coming along good.”
The offensive line will be one of the big keys to the Rams’ success in 2014 and could be the deciding factor in whether they make the playoffs with providing a push up front for the running game and giving quarterback Sam Bradford time to operate and find his receivers.
“We’re capable of a lot,” Long said. “We’ve got Sam healthy and the biggest thing that I’ve said all along is if we keep Sam clean and upright in the pocket he’s going to sling it around. Having our receivers out here, this is the best I’ve seen them run around. They are energetic, they’re catching the ball and it’s really fun to watch. We’re going to get our run game going. We’re going to come together and get better. We can be an exciting offense.”
Nate Latsch has been covering sports in St. Louis for more than a decade, working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, FOX Sports Midwest, FOX Sports, STLhighschoolsports.com, Scout.com and other newspapers and websites. You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more of his Rams coverage at GridironGateway.com.