Taking the long path to the NFL means that he will be turning 25 during the 2013 season, which is a bit old for a prospect that needs some work, but his athletic prowess is very tempting. He was even drafted by the White Sox as a flame-throwing pitcher.
Add the fact that Long will have a mentor and strong leader in Andrew Whitworth, as well as Paul Brown Stadium being located only 348 miles from Chris and the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, and it seems like Long could look great in stripes.
I mentioned coming away impressed with Long as a mid-round prospect for Cincinnati after watching the Senior Bowl. Now, after watching some of his 2012 tape more closely, it solidifies the feeling. Is he better than Clint Boling at left guard? Probably not at the moment, but the two are really not that far apart.
Is Long better than Andrew Whitworth at left tackle? Absolutely not. Long might not even be better than Anthony Collins as it stands. But his current value lies in his versatility and ability to be plugged into multiple spots. With Whit being hampered by a bum knee, a contingency plan is not the worst thing to have.
Let us also consider the Bengals’ shifting dynamic in the run game. Under Bob Bratkowski, Cincinnati ran a greater amount of power-running plays. Understated in the shift to Jay Gruden’s West Coast offense is a much more liberal use of zone blocking, which requires a much more athletic lineman, especially on the left side.
And Long has athleticism in spades.
But, at Oregon, the blocking scheme was a great blend of the two. Considering that Chip Kelly cut his teeth as an offensive line coach with a ground-and-pound background, his creativity in his overall scheme combined with a traditional approach in the trenches should not be a surprise.
Looking at Long playing left guard, his lack of anchor due to his slender frame was evident while run blocking a head-up, 3 technique defensive tackle. Long does not have a strong initial punch, but rather uses leverage created by good technique after the initial contact. Of course, this means that he is not going to clear out a hole, but his defender is almost always sealed off.
Pulling out of the guard position, however, is where Long’s value as a left guard is evident. On a Power G play, in which he pulled as the playside guard, he was able to turn the corner and seal off the linebacker before the defender even read the play. On a Power O, in which he pulled as the backside guard, he still easily beat the speedy Kenjon Barner to the hole.
He was an effective zone blocker as a backside guard, as well, due to his very fast first step. His bucket step was explosive, allowing him to seal off a backside defender without using a cut block, keeping him in the play. In fact, when playing tackle, he was able to easily reach the second level and beat the weakside linebacker to pursuit, eliminating the player who is one of the more likely defenders to make the play.