Long had his right anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments repaired in late January, making his return this preseason something of a questionable proposition. But he surprised some when he showed better than expected mobility during organized team activities, and coach Jeff Fisher said the expectation was for him to be back in action about midway through this training camp.
Those hopes remain but in the meantime, the Rams have apparently concocted a detailed plan for how they're going to deploy the offensive line in the meantime.
“Yeah we’re going to move everybody around," Fisher said. "The two rookie sessions that we had, we had [OL] Greg (Robinson) out their getting some work. Greg actually worked out there today, we’re just going to move people around. Jake is doing well, we expect Jake barring any setbacks to be ready for the opener. That’ll give some of the younger players opportunities to line up out there and play during the preseason.”
Amongst the Rams staff, there has been unwavering faith that Long will be ready for the regular season opener on Sept. 7 against Minnesota. But it still remains to be seen whether he'll be able get back on the mid-preseason schedule the Rams were hoping for. With no definitive timetable on that and Long still doing some work on the side and participating in walk through paced things in camp, the Rams are moving some things around on the offensive line.
In the first two days, it's been the rookie Robinson handling the bulk of the snaps at left tackle, something he did earlier in the week when it was rookies only for a couple of practices. That represents a departure from his projected starting spot of left guard, the position that Rodger Saffold has been playing though he projects to start the season at right guard.
Davin Joseph, the veteran signed from Tampa Bay after the draft, has been handling right guard duties. And with presumed starting center Scott Wells not participating in the first two days, the Rams have alternated between Tim Barnes and Barrett Jones in the middle.
All told, only right tackle Joe Barksdale is currently manning the spot he's expected to start the season.
But just because that's how the line looks now, doesn't mean that's what the Rams are going to stick with throughout the preseason. In fact, Saffold said there's actually a schedule telling each lineman where he'll line up and play from practice to practice.
"I actually do," Saffold said. "I switch a couple of times during the day and then from week to week I might change. You never know what I might have. I might line up outside as a tight end standing up running a route but trust me, I’m going to catch the ball."
Jokes aside, nobody on the line knows the value of playing multiple positions more than Saffold. He can even quantify it as something in the range of $19 million guaranteed after he signed a lucrative five-year deal in March.
The Rams re-signed Saffold on the basis of that versatility but also on the belief that he could be a Pro Bowl caliber guard if he gets the opportunity to play there consistently. Still, even though Robinson is getting thrown into the fire at his projected long-term position -- and facing end Robert Quinn every day in drills is about as hot as the fire can get -- the Rams are well aware they can lean on Saffold should Long have a setback or not be ready to go when the season starts.
"I think now coach Fisher, offensive line coach [Paul] Boudreau, they trust me to do whatever," Saffold said. "If anything ever happened, they’re just like ‘Well, Saffold’s got it.’ So that’s the goal."
One way or another, the Rams are taking no chances on having backup plans for an offensive line that has its share of injury questions heading into the season.