PITTSBURGH – Depth was thin at offensive tackle for the Steelers before Mike Adams was stabbed in the stomach and forearm over the weekend.
Adams is expected to be ready for training camp, but in the meantime – and no recovery is guaranteed – the next man up is free agent acquisition Guy Whimper, the veteran who allowed 14 sacks in 2011.
And last season, Pro Football Focus ranked Whimper the 74th-best offensive tackle out of the 80 in the league.
The only other alternative at this point is Joe Long.
He, at least, has some name value.
Long is the younger brother of Jake Long, the All-Pro left tackle who was the first pick in the 2008 draft by the Miami Dolphins.
Jake just signed a $36 million contract with the St. Louis Rams, the team that cut Joe last season.
“My brother got there and said, ‘Oh yeah, they’re asking about you,’” said Joe, a 6-5, 304-pounder who’s quick with a smile. “But I love it here. I would rather be here than with any other team in the country.”
Joe, five years younger than Jake, was undrafted out of Wayne State (Mi.) last year, signed with the Rams, was cut before the season, and signed on with the Steelers’ practice squad last November. He’s now alternating with the veteran Whimper at the tackle spots on the Steelers’ second-team line.
“I’m coming into my second year here, so getting to know the playbook last year gives me a huge advantage,” Long said. “I feel like I’m doing well. We’re doing well as a team. We’re starting to mesh pretty well. We’re getting better every day.”
Joe and Jake grew up with their other brother John in Lapeer, Michigan, about 50 miles north of Detroit and 20 miles east of Flint. Jake went off to star at Michigan while Joe walked on at Division II Wayne State. John is coaching offensive linemen at New Lothrop High School.
“We have O-line blood in our family,” said Joe.
The boys’ father, John Long, spent his life working for General Motors. He’s also a big man, but never played football.
“He was working, walking two miles to school in the snow,” Joe said with a chuckle. “That’s the kind of guy he was.”
At Wayne State, Long started a school-record 49 straight games, all at left tackle, and blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher all four seasons (two of those seasons by future NFLer Joique Bell).
Long was named to the conference all-academic team as a sophomore, to the all-conference first team OL and all-academic team as a junior, and to several all-America teams as a senior. He capped off his career by winning the Gene Upshaw Award as the D-II lineman of the year.
Throughout it all, brother Jake was never too busy making Pro Bowls and money to help out.
“It’s great having an awesome teacher,” said Joe. “I’m just trying to kind of follow in his footsteps and watch his game. And he helps me. Whenever I need it I give him a call and he can help me with anything. He’s always had patience with me, him and the rest of my family.”
Long said he doesn’t have a problem with the inevitable set of questions he gets from media and teammates about his older brother. He said it’s actually an asset.
“The guys respect that,” he said. “They kind of think it’s cool that I’m his younger brother. And Jake and I, we have a little bit of a competition. I’m trying to gain on him here a little bit, so we’ll see how the season goes. First I have to make the team.”
The numbers are right. And he’s with an organization that doesn’t discriminate against long shots, so to speak.
“When I got a call from the Steelers I got instantly excited to have this opportunity,” he said. “It’s been everything I expected, the camaraderie, the coaching staff. Coach (Mike) Tomlin, the owners, everybody’s been really great. Great family. There’s a real closeness here. I love it here.”
What kind of insider analysis can he provide on the pass-rushers he sees every day at practice?
“They’re all good,” he said. “I’ve been going against Sly (Stevenson Sylvester) a lot. I’ve also been going against Jarvis (Jones) a lot more these past few days. He’s a good player. He’s fast, definitely a strong kid. He’s going to do well.”