Well, that’s if the scheme was actually new to him. The reality is that it really isn’t that new to the 2008 No. 1 overall draft pick of the Miami Dolphins.
You see, when Long was drafted by the Dolphins out of the University of Michigan, his first four seasons were under Tony Sparano, who was the head coach there from 2008-2011. It was also the four seasons that Long was named a Pro Bowl player. After one practice with the Vikings, Long said Sparano, now the offensive line coach in Minnesota, is the same guy he remembers from Miami.
“Absolutely. It was good to reunite with him. He’s a great coach and I loved playing for him in Miami so I’m going to enjoy playing for him here,” Long said.
“I’m pretty familiar with (the scheme). A lot of carryover, similar to the stuff we did when I was with him in Miami so there’s some new terminology and some new plays. Luckily we’ve got the bye week and I can really get in the playbook and spend some time with him and learn everything.”
The Vikings made quick work of courting Long.
They got serious about signing him last week after Andre Smith injured his triceps, which landed him on injured reserve. Long was brought in for a workout on Monday morning and signed before Tuesday’s practice.
While many of his new teammates are heading out for the bye week, Long will spend a little extra time in Minnesota getting used to the playbook and then head out to bring his wife and baby back to Minnesota with him for the 11 remaining regular-season games and whatever kind of playoff run the Vikings can make.
Long said he already knew most of the plays they were throwing at him on Tuesday and appreciated the welcoming nature of the rest of the offensive line.
“They’ve 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 there 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.”
But the familiarity goes beyond Sparano and his scheme.
Center Joe Berger was in Miami with Sparano and Long from 2009-10 before signing with the Vikings in 2011. Long said he is “good friends” with Berger.
“Heck of a player, strong, and he got his opportunity here and did a great job,” Long said. “He’s playing well for them now.”
After spending his first five NFL seasons in Miami, Long joined the St. Louis Rams in 2013 for two injury-filled seasons, where Sam Bradford was his quarterback.
Once again, the respect level is high.
“I know the type of guy he is. He loves this game. He plays hard, physical guy and he takes a lot of hits, but he gets right back up. So I knew he would thrive when he came here and he’s showing that and he’s doing a great job for this team,” Long said.
Bradford is off to a great start in Minnesota. Like with Long, Bradford was also acquired because of injury. When starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tore multiple ligaments in his knee, the Vikings gave up a first-round pick in the 2017 draft and another conditional pick in 2018 draft.
Like Long, Bradford has had two ACL surgeries. One of those came in 2013 with the Rams, but in the seven games he played that year he produced his best passer rating, 90.9, before this year. After playing in four games for the Vikings, Bradford has a career-high 109.7 rating, second-best in the league among those with enough passes to qualify.
“Sam’s a special quarterback. I’ve known it ever since he came into the league and being able to play with him in St. Louis just really solidified that with me,” Long said. “For him to really shine and be doing great, I’m happy to see.”
Although Long said he has been paying attention to the Vikings the last few weeks, he said he doesn’t know much about head coach Mike Zimmer but at least has his mantra down: “I know he’s a hard-nosed guy and likes to play smart, tough, physical. I’m going to do whatever he wants.”
While it seems likely Long will be a starter when the Vikings return from their bye, given the struggles of T.J. Clemmings at left tackle, he’s willing to do whatever is needed.
“I’m going to do whatever they want, whatever side they want, whatever I can do to help. That’s up to them. I have no clue right now,” he said. “I’m focused on knocking off the rust and just focusing on what they want.”null