Prized rookie tackles will be under pressure Sunday in Denver
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. One plus one equals two intriguing matchups Sunday at Invesco Field at Mile High. Miami tackle Jake Long, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NFL draft, will square off against Denver sacks leader Elvis Dumervil.On the other side, Broncos tackle Ryan Clady, the 12th pick of the first round, frequently will face the league’s top terrorizer of quarterbacks this year, Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter.That’s quite a rush for the first two offensive tackles drafted in April. “I’m definitely looking forward to that and to make my presence felt,” said Dumervil, who’s coming off his first two-sack game of the season. “I’m sure Clady will have a nice time with Porter on the other side. But I think Clady will be fine. We’ve just got to be ready. And I’m sure Long will be ready. There was a reason he was the No. 1 pick.”There are many reasons, in fact.
Long is massive, at 6-foot-7, 320 pounds, and abundantly strong. His coaches have lauded not only his physical play but his work ethic and maturity. He has tremendous punch as a pass protector with his hands, augmented by good feet, and he bends his knees and plays with leverage as a run blocker.A Dolphins line that yielded 42 sacks last season has given up only 13 during a 3-4 start, largely because of Long’s solid showing straight out of the University of Michigan.”He’s improved each week,” Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. “He sees different things each week in how teams try to attack him, different players speedwise, all that good stuff. And I think the guy’s been getting better and better.”While dealing with the expectations that come with his draft standing, Long has been penalized only twice for 20 yards while allowing his quarterback to be dropped for losses officially 2 12 times.”I like having the pressure on me,” Long said Wednesday during a conference call. “I feel I perform best when I’m under that pressure.”Clady has handled the demands almost as smoothly. “You don’t have to worry about him,” Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler said. “He locks down the left side and does a great job.”Sparano, a former offensive line coach with the Dallas Cowboys, broke down Clady’s game at draft time, so he isn’t surprised the rookie has started all seven games, been penalized twice and has yet to allow a sack.”Really, when you’re looking as an offensive line coach, you’re looking for these kids who have ‘blue’ feet – left-tackle feet. And he’s just such an outstanding athlete that way and an outstanding pass blocker, which, in our league, is a premium,” Sparano said. “You need to find those guys.”
And, as part of the resulting job description, you also need to stop the likes of Porter and Dumervil, who have a knack for pushing the pocket.Porter, a former Colorado State player, is on the best tear of his distinguished career. He has 10 12 sacks this season, matching a career high, and has Michael Strahan’s NFL record (2212) in his sights. Porter had two sacks, one leading to a safety, and two forced fumbles in Sunday’s win against Buffalo.No wonder, then, Clady is calling Porter his biggest challenge to date. “He has size, speed, pretty much everything. He’s the prototype linebacker in the 3-4,” said Clady, who is part of a line that has allowed only five sacks, trailing only the two allowed by Tennessee.Porter has at least a half-sack in each of the past five games and two or more for two straight weeks. “I’m big-time jealous,” Dumervil said. “Ten-and-a-half sacks in seven games? Out of control.” The change from a hand-down, defensive end in Miami’s 4-3 system in 2007 back to his natural position under Sparano has rejuvenated Porter. The 10th-year pro, who ranks eighth in sacks since 2000, is making a case to be Miami’s first defensive player of the year since 2006.”He’s energy, man,” Dumervil said. “A guy like that plays with passion. He’s got a swagger about him, plays hard. You’ve got to respect that. He’s doing a hell of a job.”
It reminds me of what I was at Louisville.”Dumervil only recently has started to morph back into the player he was in college. The defensive end who has produced 812 and 1212 sacks the past two seasons.He started the season with a cast on his right hand after dislocating his little finger during the preseason, and it affected his moves. Since that cumbersome wrap was removed, Dumervil has been more active, recording all three of his sacks and his top-two tackle efforts the past three games.”I think I might have opened a can of worms,” Dumervil said. It’ll be up to Long to try to close it, if that’s the case. “He’s a fast, slippery guy,” Long said of the challenge ahead. “He’s fast off the edge. He’s got good counter moves. It’s going to be a different type than a bull [rush], or something. He has speed and works it real well. It’s going to be a test for me.”Clady and Long know each other from the rubber-chicken circuit, various college awards banquets. They soon could be competing for Pro Bowls, too, because each is expected to stick around for the foreseeable future.”I think we’re both real good rookie tackles,” Clady said. Challenges such as Sunday can elevate them even further – or have them backpedaling a little more than usual.
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