When the Minnesota Vikings signed Jake Long less than a month ago, there was the unknown of what he would bring to an injury-depleted Vikings offensive line. By his own admission, he needed to “shake off the rust” – a process that has taken some time.
His first game against the Philadelphia Eagles was a rough start, allowing defenders to get a pair of strip sacks against Sam Bradford that resulted in turnovers.
Over the last two weeks, he has been the full-time left tackle and has seen improvement in his game as he is getting up to speed with his teammates and feeling more comfortable and confident in his level of play.
Like many of his teammates, he was encouraged by the new-look, quick-pass offense the Vikings unveiled against Detroit and sees it as an advantage for the athletic offensive line the Vikings possess.
“The quick throws give us a chance to get on the linemen and block more easily,” Long said. “We’ve got some athletic guys on the line, so we can get out on those screens and get into space to help get successful plays out of them.”
He gave himself and the line passing grades for their performance against the Lions, but added that they are still a work in progress as they implement new elements to the offense and look to improve from one game to the next.
The line is far from a finished product or a well-oiled machine, but the line is minimizing the number of mistakes despite having the occasional play that can prevent sustaining drives.
“It was kind of up and down,” Long said. “We had some good plays and some good drives, but then we would have a play or two here or there that would stall us. The big thing we need to do is get consistency. We have the talent to make plays and have scoring drives, we just need to execute more consistently than we have.”
The one element of the offense that has Long excited is the lack of predictability the Vikings showed against the Lions. They didn’t run as often on first down. They came out in several different formations and made a point of getting the ball out of Bradford’s hand as quickly as possible.
The idea is to not allow defenses to get comfortable with what the Vikings are going to run. Against Detroit, it worked pretty well because the Lions often seem confused with what was coming at them from one play to the next.
“Whenever you can mix in different types of plays – quick-hitting plays or screens – it keeps the defense guessing,” Long said. “That is definitely an advantage for us and something we’re looking to use to keep them off-balance.”
With Long preparing for his fourth game as a Viking, he is feeling more confident every week as his body continues to adjust to the rigors of the season after being on the shelf for most of the last two seasons with knee injuries.
He isn’t satisfied with his level of play yet, but he continues to see incremental improvement, which is pretty much what he expected showing up to the Vikings late to the party for the start of the season.
“I’m definitely feeling better each week and getting back into the flow of the game,” Long said. “Jumping right into the season without any camp or preseason was tough because everyone else is going full-speed and you’re catching up. I don’t use that an excuse. It’s just the situation that it is. But I feel I’m getting better every week in practice and I’m going to keep working hard to help this team get better as we go along.”