Ever since I have been following the draft, the St. Louis Rams have had a lot of difficulty finding success in selecting defensive linemen. Defensive tackles in particular have been difficult, with names that make fans cringe like Claude Wroten, Ryan Pickett, Damione Lewis and of course, Jimmy Kennedy . For whatever reason (attitude mostly) these guys have had all the talent in the world, but could not put it together consitstantly in a Rams uniform.
On the other hand, defensive ends have seen mixed results. Before Chris Long, the last true defensive end drafted was Victor Adeyanju in 2006 (Adam Carriker was a d-end in college, but was moved inside by the previous coaching regime). Adeyanju has seen a little bit of the field, but his run-stopping prowess and lack of pass-rush ability has kept him in the specialty category. Tony Hargrove was drafted in the 3rd round of 2004's draft, and well -- like everyone but a certain Steven Jackson from that class -- Hargrove no longer plays for the Rams.
But Long was supposed to break that streak of bad d-linemen. Coming out of college, he looked like a can't miss. He had talent. He had pedigree. He went up against fellow future first round pick OT Eugene Monroe in practice. More importantly, he had the right attitude. What wasn't to like?
Well, here's Long's career stat line to date (according to NFL.com):
Total Tackles: 54
So the inevitable question arises: What to make of Chris Long's struggles? One blogger's take after the jump.
I must confess, the Post-Dispatch sort of beat me to the punch here, but I'm still going to offer my take on the situation.
In short, I think there is no need to panic regarding the performance of the the 2nd overall pick in 2008...yet.
Conisder this. Vernon Gholston, the talented DE from Ohio state who fell to the Jets at no. 6 that year, has yet to record a sack in his professional career (although he was moved to OLB). The other two DE's taken in the first round that year were Derrick Harvey from Florida and Lawrence Jackson from Southern Cal. Those two have combined 8.5 career sacks. A litte more than twice Long's total. But neither Jackson nor Harvey were rated worthy of the no. 2 overall pick. So even with hindsight, I like the pick based on how the draft unfolded. I could argue with a lot of other draft picks, but that's for another day.
Another comparison that I think has merit is to his father, Hall-of-Famer Howie Long. Through his first two seasons in Oakland ('81-'82) he had 5.5 total sacks. That's it. I know, different era, different game. OT's are bigger and faster. But Chris learned from arguably one of the top five sack artists of all time (Howie ended his career with 84.0 sacks and a bust in Canton). There's no need to panic. He's holding his own, particularly against the run. He's learing from Leonard Little and his hall of fame father. He'll get some sacks. That's what I found the consenus to be among the Rams writers at the PD.
But let's not give him a complete pass here. He was drafted to do a job, and start games at DE and rush the passer. So far, he's been a serviceable starter. But he's struggled rushing the passer. He, and the rest of this d-line, must put pressure on the QB this year, or the Rams will be picking high again next year.
The recipie for success? Billy Devaney must make a commitment to get some big bodies in the middle. That will take some blocking attention from Long and make it easier for him to do his job. And Long must learn from Steve Spagnuolo. He has a knack for helping out okay d-linemen and turning them into great ones (see Osi Umenyiora). Those two things combined will help Chris Long erase the d-lineman draft woes of the past and get this defense -- and this team -- back on the winning track.