Michigan's Long adds to Big Ten's OL legacy in NFL

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jake Long's oversized body spilled out of a chair as he turned to the right and glanced at a wall of photos of former Michigan players in the NFL.

Tom Brady's picture would stand out to most, but the 6-foot-7, 315-pound Long locked in on a row featuring several offensive linemen including Jon Jansen, Steve Hutchinson and Jon Runyan.

"It's the first time I've looked up there in a while," Long said in an interview with The Associated Press recently. "I'm excited to be up there, too."

Long's photo definitely will earn a spot in the recruiting lounge at Schembechler Hall.

He signed a deal Tuesday with the Miami Dolphins, who will draft Long No. 1 overall on Saturday.

Miami made Long the first offensive lineman taken No. 1 in more than a decade and the fifth in league history. The St. Louis Rams took Ohio State tackle Orlando Pace first overall in 1997.

"We had him at the top of our board for a long time," general manager Jeff Ireland said at a news conference in Davie, Fla.

Before Long's negotiations with the Dolphins became public, the former Wolverine insisted he wasn't consumed with the possibility of going No. 1.

"It doesn't matter to me when I get drafted," he said. "I'll be happy wherever I go and I'm going to do everything I can to have a great career. I have no clue who is going to take me and I don't really care because I've done everything to show what I can do."

The Big Ten Conference has produced many men to protect quarterbacks and pave the way for running backs over the years.

Some linemen, such as Pace and Hutchinson, turned out to be Pro Bowl mainstays -- while others, such as Michigan State's Tony Mandarich and Iowa's Robert Gallery haven't succeeded.

Pace was voted to the Pro Bowl seven straight times before being slowed by injury the past two seasons.

"Orlando is one of the best players I coached," said former Buckeyes coach John Cooper, a consultant for the Cincinnati Bengals. "I put him right up there with guys like Eddie George, Robert Smith, Shawn Springs, Terry Glenn and Joey Galloway."

Hutchinson, now playing for the Minnesota Vikings, has been a Pro Bowler the past five seasons.

Long, a two-time All-American and Big Ten Lineman of the Year, seems like a lock to be a standout if he stays healthy. But he wouldn't be the first lineman from the conference to be a bust if he doesn't pan out.

Mandarich entered the draft with unprecedented hype after the Michigan State tackle graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in a bare-chested pose showing off his huge body. The Green Bay Packers took Mandarich No. 2 overall in 1989, passing up future superstars Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders and Derrick Thomas.

Mandarich flopped miserably for the Packers and was dogged by rumors he took steroids. He passed tests for muscle-enhancing drugs and denied using them. Later in his career, he was a serviceable player with the Indianapolis Colts.

Gallery has been a lackluster starter for the Oakland Raiders since they took him with the second pick in 2004.

"Gallery is an enigma," said Gil Brandt, the NFL's scouting consultant and longtime personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys. "I thought he would be really good and he hasn't been."

More times than not, however, the Big Ten seems to fill rosters in the league with solid linemen. Each school in the conference had at least two in NFL at the start of last year.

Michigan and Ohio State both had seven linemen on opening day rosters in 2007 followed by Wisconsin (six), Iowa and Purdue (five each), Illinois (four), Indiana (three), Penn State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern (two apiece).

"Michigan has prepared guys well for the NFL over the years because they not only had to learn how to run block, but to pass block, too, in our system," retired Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said Monday. "Jake Long is going to be the next great one because not only is he a special player, but he's a great leader."

The Cleveland Browns took former Badger Joe Thomas third overall last year and he played in the Pro Bowl. The Arizona Cardinals drafted former Nittany Lion Levi Brown at No. 5 a year ago and remain upbeat about him even though injuries stunted his rookie season.

As a junior, Long beat out both Thomas and Brown for his first of two Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year awards. He gambled financially by choosing to return to Michigan for his senior season -- risking an injury that could've cost him millions -- and Brandt said it definitely paid off.

"Jake Long is going to make a lot more money for staying in school," Brandt said. "And, he'll be worth it because he's a great tackle and a special person."

Long gave up just two sacks and was called for only two penalties in his entire career. He joined Pace, Mandarich and Korey Stringer, a former Buckeye, as the only Big Ten linemen to be selected the conference's best in consecutive seasons.

Long's toughest challenge came off the field on the night the Detroit Pistons won the 2004 NBA title. The off-campus house he was living in caught fire and the only way out of his second-floor room, which was filled with smoke, was through a window. He kicked out the screen and belly-flopped on his buddy's Bronco.

Long suffered a sore shoulder from his fall onto a truck, and smoke inhalation landed him in the hospital for a week. He made a full recovery.

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