Commentary

Long addresses immediate need for Rams

Updated: April 26, 2008, 8:22 PM ET
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com

The St. Louis Rams had trouble choosing between the players, so they chose between the positions.

They went with Chris Long, the Virginia defensive end with Hall of Fame bloodlines, over Glenn Dorsey, the LSU defensive tackle with more imposing physical attributes. And it wasn't easy.

[+] EnlargeChris Long
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe selection of Chris Long gives the Rams much-needed youth and athleticism at defensive end.
"Really, what it came down to was, did you want a tackle or an end?" defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said by phone shortly after the Rams made the pick.

Coach Scott Linehan put it more bluntly during his post-pick news conference in St. Louis.

"It's kind of like you pick one of your children or something," he said.

The Rams' decision to go with the defensive end addresses a clear need now that Leonard Little and James Hall are in their 30s. The plan is for Long to start on the right side, attracting enough attention to make life easier for Little on the other side. The choice could fuel controversy for years if Dorsey becomes a significantly better player, but Long needed only minutes to begin showing why the Rams couldn't pass him up.

Linehan had just finished installing Long as a starter when the rookie, well-schooled in the ways of the league by his famous father Howie, shot down the notion for the right reasons.

"I will have to earn whatever I get," Long said. "There are guys that have been busting their tails there, and make no mistake about it, my first order of business is to come in and try to work hard and earn the respect of the veterans and learn from them."

Haslett has experience drafting and developing defensive ends. He was head coach in New Orleans when the Saints used first-round picks for Will Smith (2004) and Charles Grant (2002). They have combined for 72 sacks in 10 seasons, all for the Saints.

"They are different," Haslett said. "Will is probably a guy who is powerful and really fast. He can do a lot of different things. Chris is more of a slip-and-slide type of guy who can drop and stand up. Charles is really more of a 4-3 defensive end and a heck of an athlete who played running back in high school."

Long didn't impress the Rams with this 40-yard-dash time. But he did tie Ohio State's Vernon Gholston for the fastest 10-yard split among defensive ends at the combine. That mattered more to the Rams.

"If we need him to run 40 yards, we're in trouble," Haslett said.

Haslett was also with New Orleans when the team traded up to take a supposedly fearsome defensive tackle named Johnathan Sullivan.

Sullivan, chosen sixth overall in 2003, was out of the league after 16 starts.

Dorsey should far exceed what Sullivan accomplished, and he might prove to be a wiser investment than Long. But the Rams have whiffed on more than a couple of defensive tackles in recent seasons. And they felt Long filled a position of greater need.

"Working backwards, there wasn't anything that made us shy away from Dorsey," vice president of player personnel Billy Devaney told reporters in St. Louis. "But I think we were pretty obvious over the last couple of months that we kind of had four candidates at the top."

Jake Long was out of the equation when Miami signed him early in the week. Long, Dorsey and Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston were on the short list.

"The more time we spent with [Long], we just saw what he brings to the organization," Devaney said. "The energy, the fit, the work ethic -- it just adds to what we have here already."

The Rams' defense improved significantly last season. The gains went largely unnoticed because the offense imploded after injuries knocked out left tackle Orlando Pace and most of the starting offensive line. The Rams have the talent to jump from 3-13 back into the NFC West race if their offense stabilizes enough to keep Long and second-year defensive tackle Adam Carriker from playing too many snaps.

Starting defensive tackle La'Roi Glover turns 34 this summer. Had the Rams taken Dorsey, they could have paired the 300-pounder with Carriker on the inside, leaving Little and James Hall to rush from the outside.

In selecting Long, the Rams borrowed loosely from the approach Seattle has used to dominate the division. In 2005, draft analysts questioned the Seahawks for trading up in the second round to select undersized linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Like Tatupu, Long bristles at the "high-motor" label for what it implies. But Tatupu's been to three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl in three NFL seasons.

"I feel like everybody who has gotten to this point has to have a high motor and has to work hard," Long said. "I just play the game the way it is supposed to be played and I think sometimes when people call you 'high motor,' they don't look at you for athletic ability. I think I have some, but I work very hard."

The Rams couldn't have known it at the time, but their decision might have been sealed on a chilly day in Charlottesville, Va., after the college season, when Long was holding one of several workouts for NFL teams. Linehan and Rams president Jay Zygmunt were severely under the weather. Devaney arrived separately and brought antibiotics for his ailing co-workers.

"I leaned over to both of those guys and I said, 'This is an omen,'" Linehan said. "We are going to the end of the earth for this fellow -- this has to be our pick.'"

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com