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Rams Select Chris Long -
The St. Louis Rams wanted us to believe they were having difficulty choosing between Virginia defensive end Chris Long and LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. They acted like the difference between the two players was so microscopic it would have taken a CSI techie to find it under a microscope. There even were rumors that the team's scouts and coaches were divided -- strongly divided -- on the two players.
But in the end, the Rams said it was a slam-dunk. A no-brainer. No difference of opinion at all. And so they selected Long with the No 2. overall pick in the NFL draft.
It was a smart choice. And it was the right choice.
Dorsey is a solid tackle who could become a force in the middle for the Chiefs, who took him with the fifth pick. But Long satisfied a bigger, more immediate need for the Rams: an outside pass rusher who can also stop the run.
At the end of the day, Chris was really what the doctor ordered, said coach Scott Linehan.
And boy does St. Louis need an RX for its anemic pass rush. Of their 31 sacks in 2007, ends accounted for only five, including a total of three and a half from starters James Hall (two and a half) and Leonard Little (one).
Little, who played only seven games last season before a toe injury forced him onto the injured reserve list, will be 34 in October. Hall is 31. So age, as well as production, has been an issue at defensive end.
The Rams envision the 6-4, 266-pound Long as an every-down player on defense. They believe he has good hands -- good enough to shed blocks -- and is big and strong enough to stop the run, which is what he did plenty of as an end in Virginia's 3-4 defense. Linehan pointed out that when Virginia faced Pittsburgh during the 2007 season, it had Long line up nose-to-nose with Jeff Otah, Pitt's best run-blocking tackle, who was selected by the Carolina Panthers with the 19th pick.
They also expect Long, who will start at right end opposite Little, to provide plenty of pass-rushing pressure off the edge. He had 14 sacks last season while playing more of an inside position in Virginia's defense.
We really like his ability to rush the passer, said Billy Devaney, the Rams' executive vice president of player personnel. I think the way we plan to utilize him, out in space more, he'll be able to show just what kind of an athlete he is coming off the ball and what a good pass rusher he is.
Premier pass rushers are difficult to find. Next to great quarterbacks, a great pass rusher is probably the most coveted player on an NFL team.
The Rams aren't exactly overpopulated at defensive tackle, and while some believed they should have taken Dorsey, they have more personnel at that position than at end. Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan played well inside as rookies last year. La'Roi Glover is nearing the twilight of his career - he'll be 34 in July -- but he could still be a key contributor in a rotation. And although Claude Wroten has been a big disappointment thus far, the team still is holding out hopes the 2006 third-round choice will eventually blossom.
If the Rams had drafted Dorsey, they still would have had to find a pass rusher. There was some speculation that Carriker, their No. 1 pick in 2007 who played as a 3-4 end at Nebraska, might move outside. But that wouldn't have made a lot of sense.
Carriker is a natural tackle. Although he played a lot of nose tackle last season, Linehan thinks he'll be a great 3-technique tackle, who can play on the outside shoulder of the guard and be both a run stuffer and a pass rusher.
In addition to his playing skills, the Rams are excited about Long's work ethic, non-stop motor and leadership abilities. He also has a good football pedigree. His dad is Hall of Fame defensive linemen Howie Long, and the importance of the advice and instruction Chris has received from Howie over the years cannot be overstated.
The only thing that probably would have changed the Rams' thinking was if Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long was available. They probably would have snapped him up because of their needs on the O-line. But that became a moot point when the Dolphins, who had the No. 1 pick, reached a contract agreement with Jake Long earlier in the week.
The Rams also listened to trade offers. Devaney said some teams talked to the Rams about the possibility of moving up into the No. 2 slot. But we kept saying all along, said Devaney, it's going to take something extraordinary to get us off Chris Long. That never happened.
And so the Rams made the sensible choice.
I can't wait for this next season, Linehan told reporters at the Rams training facility Saturday afternoon. I'm a little geeked up right now.
Rams fans should feel the same way.