Jake Long admitted he’s had a frustrating ride outside the lines of the NFL while waiting for an opportunity to resume his career after injuries put a temporary halt to his time in the NFL.
The offensive tackle has had two surgeries to his right anterior cruciate ligament in 2013 and 2014 when he was with the St. Louis Rams.
“My body feels great right now. Honestly, this is the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Long said Tuesday after his first practice with the Minnesota Vikings. “I’m about two years out from my ACL, so really had time to heal. My whole body’s had time to heal. I feel great.”
“Injuries happen. Unfortunately, I’ve had my fair share. But through all of them, I’ve put my head down. I’ve rehabbed, worked hard, haven’t given up and I know what I can do. I know the type of player I can be when I’m healthy. So, I just put my head down and got through the frustration, worked hard to get back and know I’ve got this opportunity and I’ve got to thrive in it.”
Long played sparingly (11 snaps) for the Atlanta Falcons late last season but hadn’t been with a team since then as concerns over the health of his right knee likely gave many teams pause about pursuing the former No. 1 overall draft pick of the Miami Dolphins.
The Vikings, however, have been thinned considerably on the offensive line, especially at tackle. Former starting right Phil Loadholt retired before training camp and starting left tackle Matt Kalil was lost for what is expected to be the remainder of the season with a hip injury. Six plays into their Week 4 win, the Vikings lost right tackle Andre Smith, who had replaced Loadholt at right tackle, to a triceps injury that requires surgery, causing him to be placed on injured reserve.
With all that trauma at tackle, the Vikings made the call to Long last week after Smith’s injury. He worked out for the Vikings on Monday and was signed on time for Tuesday’s practice.
Long says he has been working out five or six days a week in anticipation of a call from an NFL team.
“I knew a call would come at some point, and I needed to show that team that I was in shape and working hard,” he said. “When that time came, it worked out well.”
The Vikings have a bye this week, giving Long a little extra time to re-acclimate himself to offensive line coach Tony Sparano and his system on the line. Sparano was the head coach in Miami when Long had four Pro Bowl seasons to start his career.
At some point later this week or weekend, he will return home to pack and bring his wife and baby to Minnesota.
The real practices will start next week, when he says he can start to “knock the rust off,” but his initial practice with the Vikings had him working mostly at left tackle, where T.J. Clemmings was forced into duty after Kalil’s injury.
“They got a great group in there. Just off today, they were communicating with me on – I knew most of the plays – but some of the things they were telling me where to go,” he said. “So, just the communication they have and the tight-knit group they have in there, they welcomed me right away and were helping me out with the things I needed. There shouldn’t be a problem with that.”
It also helps that, despite all the losses on the offensive line, the Vikings haven’t lost a game and remain the NFL’s only undefeated team at 5-0.
“It’s exciting, and when I got that call I was jacked up and ready to roll,” he said. “When we had the workout yesterday, everything went well and signed and getting out here back in football I was like a kid in a candy store. It’s fun to be back out.”