MOBILE, ALA. • As Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long reported to the Senior Bowl on Sunday, he was checked in by a Rams scout.
“The scout was looking down, and he said, ‘Chris?’ ” Long said, laughing. “And he looked up and it wasn’t Chris.”
No, it was his little brother, but their voices sound that much alike. And actually younger brother would be more accurate, since there’s nothing little about Kyle Long, who measured in at a shade over 6-6 and 304 pounds for Senior Bowl week.
All signs indicate that Kyle Long is about to become the third member of his family to play in the NFL, joining his Hall of Fame father, Howie, and older brother, Chris, who has blossomed into one of the league’s better defensive ends with the Rams.
But little more than three years ago, Kyle Long was about as far away from the NFL as one could imagine.
A 23rd-round draft choice by the Chicago White Sox in 2008, Long instead opted for Florida State as a lefthanded pitcher who could throw in the mid-90s.
“That was in a previous life,” he said. “Baseball, you didn’t have to hit anybody, and my dad didn’t know anything about it so he couldn’t step in and tell me what to do. They gave me a ball and said, ‘Throw it as hard as you can.’ I had some success with that until I realized there were a lot of guys that could do that and knew what they were doing.”
Things came almost too easy for Long, and he was far from a model student-athlete at Florida State. He partied too much, studied too little, ended up dropping out of school. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested for a DUI.
“I had to really establish my priorities,” he said. “My old priorities were out of whack, and I had to become a man. We all grow up at different ages, and we all grow up in different ways under different circumstances. And mine just happened to be a little bit later. I was a late bloomer, and I wouldn’t change anything because it’s made me the man I am today.”
Long got back in school at Saddleback College, a junior college in Mission Viejo, Calif. And he got back on the field, only this time in football. Why football instead of baseball?
“I decided I was out of breath from running from my bloodlines,” Long said. “I needed to get into the family business because it’s the only thing I know how to do.”
He played defensive end at Saddleback in 2010 but switched to the offensive side of the ball there at left tackle in 2011. Even though he hadn’t played offensive line since high school, he took to the position switch like a duck to water.
An Oregon Duck, as things turned out, which is where he headed after Saddleback. He had only the 2012 season at Oregon, unsuccessfully applying for an extra year of “hardship” eligibility based on “chemical dependency.” He showed enough in that one season to get a Senior Bowl invitation. The draft is still three months away, but early speculation is that he could go as high as the second round.
Obviously, the bloodlines don’t hurt, and Howie Long has been quoted as saying that Kyle may be the best athlete in the family.
At Oregon, offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, who was a tight ends and offensive line coach under Rich Brooks for the Rams in 1995 and ’96, had a big influence on Long.
“Coach Greatwood is an old-school, hard-nosed guy,” Long said. “That’s what I grew up around and I loved playing for him. He taught me a lot about what it means to be a man – on and off the field. And for that I’m forever grateful.’
For much of the 2012 season, Long rotated at left tackle with Tyler Johnstone, who was named a freshman All-American. Because of an injury at left guard, Long moved into the starting lineup there Nov. 3 against Southern California and started there the rest of the season.
Playing for the North Squad this week, Long spent most of his time at Monday’s practice at left guard. But he also got snaps in at left tackle and even right tackle.
“I took my first live rep pretty much ever at right tackle,” Long said. “Interesting experience. Humbling experience. I’ve got a lot to work on – a lot of technique and work to be done here in the next few days.”
Depending in part on what happens in free agency, the Rams could have needs at left guard and right tackle in the draft. Who knows? Kyle could end up joining his brother in St. Louis, going against him in practice.
“I’ve never been on the same football field with him,” Kyle said. “So I don’t know what he’s like in the locker room. I don’t know what he’s like on the sidelines and stuff. But I’m sure it would be a great experience.
“I mean, anybody would love to play with their brother. The only games I watch are the Rams’ games. You know it would be cool.”