INDIANAPOLIS • After Michigan’s 2013 season ended with a 31-14 loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Taylor Lewan received a message from Jake Long.
“He texted me the moment my bowl game ended and said, ‘If you need any help at all at any time, let me know. I’m here to help,’” Lewan said.
Long, just like Lewan, was a Michigan left tackle. It’s part of a great Wolverine tradition of producing topflight offensive linemen — a tradition that includes Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf of the St. Louis Cardinals.
During his time at Michigan, Lewan has gotten to know Long fairly well.
“Calls, texts,” Lewan said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I’ve seen him on campus a couple of times. I’ve been around him several times. Gotten to know him and his wife. They’re great people.”
Even though he played his high school football in Arizona, Lewan wore Long’s Michigan number (77) while being recruited by the Wolverines. Lewan also wore No. 77 at Michigan.
“Those are huge shoes to fill,” Lewan said. “Whether I filled those shoes or not (at Michigan), that’s really not for me to say. But he’s always gonna have a lasting impression at the University of Michigan, and I hope I do as well.”
To say Lewan admires Long would be understatement; to say he idolizes the Rams’ left tackle might be only slight overstatement.
“If I had to pick myself to be like somebody, it’d be Jake Long,” Lewan said. “He’s an unbelievable player. ... Awesome dude. I would love to be compared to him. He’s a fundamentally sound technician who plays through the whistle, and that’s one of the ways I would like to play for my career, however long it lasts.”
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With that in mind how would Lewan feel about being drafted by the Rams?
“That’d be unbelievable,” Lewan said with a chuckle.
Even though Rams coach Jeff Fisher doesn’t have a track record of selecting offensive linemen high in the draft, that could change this year. And Lewan is among three offensive tackles in the 2014 draft pool projected as potential first-round picks.
Behind door No. 1 is Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, a first-team all-American and the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. There’s a Rams connection here as well: Bruce played for Rams coach Jeff Fisher during Fisher’s long tenure with the Houston/Tennessee franchise.
Asked about his relationship with Fisher, Matthews said: “Knew him a little bit, not too well. Obviously, my dad played for him so he’s got a great relationship with him. I was just a kid running around when my dad was playing.
But Matthews added: “I would love to play for him.”
Matthews is considered the most polished and the most fundamentally sound of the top three tackles.
Behind door No. 2 is Auburn’s Greg Robinson. An early entry into the draft as a third-year sophomore, Robinson’s ascent of draft boards has been almost dizzying. Impressive performances in Auburn’s Iron Bowl victory over arch-rival Alabama and in the BCS national championship game against Florida State helped make that happen.
An overpowering run blocker at the college level, Robinson looks the part at 6-5, 332 pounds. Although his pass-blocking needs polishing, he has the wingspan (35-inch arms) to fend off pass-rushers in the NFL.
“Greg Robinson may have the highest upside of any of the offensive linemen in this draft,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “But he’s not quite as polished as Matthews or Lewan. ... He’s a little bit more raw.”
And then there’s Lewan behind door No. 3. If Matthews is the “safest” pick of the three, and Robinson has the biggest upside, Lewan is the “bad boy” of the group.
“Taylor Lewan gets a little top-heavy at times but he’s got a nasty finish,” Mayock said. “I think he’s very similar to Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel from last year, who were the first couple picks.”
Lewan doesn’t mind the comments about being a “nasty” player or displaying a mean streak. In fact, he embraces it.
“No doubt about it, I like to play through the whistle and do whatever I can to put people in the dirt as much as possible,” he said.
Unfortunately for Lewan, that bad boy image has spread beyond the field in a couple of instances while at Michigan.
At the end of the 2013 season, Lewan was involved in an incident in which he was accused of punching a bystander outside an Ann Arbor, Mich., restaurant.
“I wasn’t in any fight at any time,” Lewan said. “I was actually breaking something up. Some guy said that I slugged him. That’s not who I am off the field. It’s not the kind of person I am. It might seem that way because of the way I play football, but it’s not me as a person.”
Potentially more disturbing were allegations that Lewan threatened a Michigan student who claimed she was raped by former Michigan place-kicker Brandon Gibbons. Gibbons was Lewan’s roommate at the time. Media reports at the time said Lewan told the alleged rape victim if she pressed charges against Gibbons he would rape her.
“That’s definitely a situation between those two people,” Lewan said at his combine media session. “I’m not here to protect Brandon or the young lady. That’s not what I’m here to do. I’m here to talk about football.
“I can say I never said those things. I’ve said a lot of dumb things in my life but those are not things that I’ve said.
“Like I’ve said before, that’s definitely a very touchy subject. I would never disrespect a woman like that. I like to consider myself a guy who likes to hold doors instead of threatening people.”