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Jake Long's return set for next week

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When asked in the spring about a timetable for a return for St. Louis Rams left tackle Jake Long, coach Jeff Fisher said the hope was to get him back on the field about halfway through the preseason.

Long has actually been back on the field for most of the past two weeks, working in his first full practices since tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee in December. In fact, Long has been practicing so much that there was even a possibility that he could play in the second preseason game Saturday against the Green Bay Packers.

Fisher snuffed out those ideas Thursday when he made it clear the Rams intend to stick to the plan they've had for Long all along. That means a return against the Cleveland Browns in preseason Game 3 next week.

"I'm going to wait another week for Jake," Fisher said. "Jake's doing a great job out here, but we're going to wait another week for Jake and that'll be the case with a couple other guys."

Getting Long back on this schedule seemed optimistic from the outset but the Rams have been steadfast in their plan and it appears to be coming closer to fruition. Of course, simply having Long back on the field and having him back at 100 percent are two different things and only time will tell how healthy and effective he is.

Nonetheless, it's a good sign that Long will at least be able to play in the preseason and knock some of the rust off before the regular season begins.

"He's worked very hard and he's doing well out here," Fisher said. "Had no setbacks in his reps. He's participated in the padded practices and all that. Yeah, he's like we say, he's right on schedule. He's right where we thought he would be and our target is the Cleveland game.”

Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau believes it's important for Long to get some live game reps before the season in the same way it's important for quarterback Sam Bradford to get some work. Get those early hits out of the way and see how they react when their knees are put to the stress test.

"The good thing is there's very little or no swelling and his mental state is very confident," Boudreau said. "He needs to get in a game, he needs to get rolled up. God forbid, he gets rolled up but then he can see his leg is still attached, that's the whole thing. When you're injured, that's the biggest task. Hey, it's fixed. That right now is the next thing, the mental part of it."

Fisher also mentioned that right guard Rodger Saffold is "close" to returning from a stinger. Barring any more injuries -- which is far from certain with this group -- the Rams could have their starting five together sooner than later.