Yes, Jake Long was frustrated that it took until today, the Tuesday of the sixth week of the NFL season, before a team — the Vikings — took a chance on him and his laundry list of injuries that include a bad back and torn triceps, biceps and ACLs.
“Injuries happen, and, unfortunately, I’ve had my fair share,” the 6-7 offensive tackle said earlier today after his first practice with the Vikings. “Through all of them, I’ve put my head down, I’ve rehabbed, worked hard and haven’t given up. I know what I can do. I know the type of player I can be when I’m healthy. So I just put my head down and got through the frustration to get back. And now I got this opportunity and I have to thrive in it.”
The 31-year-old Long was the first overall pick by Miami in 2008. In his first four seasons, he made four Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro in 2010. But since then, his body has abandoned him, breaking down consistently. He signed with the Rams in 2013, but the injuries followed him to St. Louis. He was with the Falcons last year, but played only 10 snaps. He was going to sign with the Ravens this past offseason, but he balked when Baltimore wanted him to sign an injury waiver.
“It was very frustrating,” Long said of having to wait to sign with a team. “I knew I was healthy. I know the type of player that I am. And I still got a lot of football left.”
The Vikings are 5-0, but found themselves in need of help at offensive tackle when both of their starters — left tackle Matt Kalil and right tackle Andre Smith — ended up on injured reserve before this week’s bye arrived. Long said he worked mostly at left tackle this morning “to knock some of the rust off,” but also got a few reps at right tackle.
The Vikings have T.J. Clemmings at left tackle. He’s a more natural right tackle and struggled Sunday with two sacks allowed and a facemasking penalty in his third career start at left tackle. Jeremiah Sirles, a versatile backup who can play all five positions up front, started Sunday at right tackle for the first time as a Viking and the second time in the NFL.
“I played right [tackle] in college for two years,” Long said. “I haven’t done it in a long time, but I’ve been practicing at it the last year or so. I can play whatever side they want.”
It helps that Long’s line coach is Tony Sparano, who was Dolphins head coach when Miami drafted Long. Long said he already knows a lot of the plays and is familiar with Sparano’s techniques and fundamentals.
The Vikings have options. The most logical move would be to put Long at left tackle, move Clemmings back to the right side and use Sirles as a backup to several positions. Sirles could even end up starting at right guard, where Brandon Fusco is coming back from a concussion suffered on Sunday.
The biggest question, of course, is how long Long’s body will hold up.
“My body feels great right now, honestly,” he said. “This is the best I’ve felt in a long time. I’m about two years out from my ACL [tear]. I’ve really had time to heal. My whole body has had time to heal. I feel great.
“I’ve been working out five, six days a week. I haven’t taken a day off since January. I knew a call would come at some point and I wanted to show that team that I’m in shape and working hard.”