EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the first four full-squad practices of the St. Louis Rams training camp, it's been normal to see left tackle Jake Long hover near the huddle as the first-team offense takes its repetitions.
Instead of breaking the huddle and dutifully lining up at his perch on the left side, Long would trudge back to stand with his teammates and watch the next play.
It's been Long's way of staying involved and keeping up with the offense as he recovers from offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. But Thursday night, Long took the next step and then the next step after that and the one after that until he was crouched in his usual position taking reps with the top offense.
It was the first reps he's taken in a team drill of any sort since suffering the injury against Tampa Bay back on Dec. 22 of last year.
"I'm feeling great," Long said. "Every day I am progressing and feeling better. I finally got some live reps today and it felt great. I'm really happy with how the first day of live stuff went."
According to Long and coach Jeff Fisher, Long's return is one of the rare comebacks that is right on schedule rather than the usual ahead of schedule bluster that comes with injuries such as these.
After Long had the surgery in January, the Rams put an actual schedule down on paper with certain dates targeted to reach benchmarks along the way. The Rams have remained hopeful that part of that schedule would include a return to full work about halfway through the preseason and Long's participation in a couple of preseason games. It didn't seem too realistic at the time but that looks to be changing.
"We had this schedule planned out since the surgery and we've been following it," Long said. "As long as we don't have any setbacks, we're going to keep progressing and getting better. Today was the first step with live reps and it went well."
Thursday's practice didn't appear to offer any setbacks as Long did some work in individual drills, something he's been doing consistently in camp, and then took a handful of reps during 11-on-11. By no means is Long all the way back and there's still plenty of work to do, but if nothing else, Fisher was pleased to see his left tackle back in action, especially with center Scott Wells also taking a few reps.
"It's good to have Jake's presence back in the offensive huddle again," Fisher said. "That's encouraging."
Long said it's still realistic that he could play in the preseason and that remains part of the plan. Barring any additional soreness cropping up overnight, the plan is to get him more reps Friday and continue to gradually build until he's ready for a full workload.
In the meantime, Long has plenty of details he wants to iron out as he works his way back.
"Just getting timing back, getting the pass set and getting that fast twitch off the ball for those speed rushers and just really working your explosion and getting low and bending your knees and that's been coming back good," Long said. "As the days go on, the rust will knock off and I'll get better."
What once seemed like an overly optimistic estimation for Long's return appears to be getting closer to an accurate one with each passing day.