The St. Louis Rams filled a need so glaring with the second pick of the NFL draft that they quickly anointed Virginia defensive end Chris Long a starter.
The Rams' defensive ends totaled 5 1/2 sacks last year and top pass rusher Leonard Little is coming off toe surgery that limited him to one sack in seven games. That made the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Long, an All-American and son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, the logical selection over LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey on Saturday.
"I don't want to use the overused term, no-brainer," coach Scott Linehan said. "But I guess I'm going to have to. It's just going to be a great fit for us and a great fit for the city.
"I'm a little geeked up right now."
In the second round the Rams addressed another need, taking Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery with the 33rd overall pick. Avery was the first wide receiver taken in the draft after being among the fastest at his position at the NFL Combine and St. Louis has need after the departure of Isaac Bruce, a second-rounder in 1994 and also the last player St. Louis took with the 33rd overall pick.
"Really?" Avery said. "So I guess I've got to step up, huh?"
Long had 14 sacks, 23 quarterback pressures, nine pass breakups and an interception as a senior, and forced two fumbles. He's already had his jersey retired at his high school and college.
Once the Dolphins signed Michigan tackle Jake Long with the first overall pick on Tuesday, it was clear in Linehan's mind that the other high-profile Long was the best option. But they declined to tip their hand until the very last, saying they also were considering Dorsey and defensive end Vernon Gholston.
Long knew the Rams were interested. How much, he wasn't sure.
Howie Long was the nervous one at the start of the day, to hear Chris Long tell it. The suspense didn't last, with the Dolphins' formality of picking Jake Long put the Rams on the clock almost immediately and then quickly came "the most exhilarating moment" of Chris' life.
"I didn't know it was going to be me until the commissioner called my name," he said. "Everybody that was in New York, the Rams were interested in, all six of us. It comes down to needs and the way it falls."
The Rams also had been willing to trade down for the right package. In the end, they immediately elevated Long ahead of journeyman James Hall, the primary starter at right end last season.
"What we need," Linehan said, "is what he brings."
He's the first defensive end taken in the first round by the Rams since they selected Grant Wistrom, another player with a high-motor reputation who had a solid career, with the sixth pick in 1998. St. Louis has a spotty record with first-rounders this decade, with only four of 10 players remaining with the team, a handful of busts such as Jimmy Kennedy (2003) and only Steven Jackson (2004) a certified hit.
Adam Carriker, last year's No. 1 pick, started every game at nose tackle last year but also got his share of snaps at end. The Rams had been considering shifting him to the outside, but the pick solidifies his immediate future in the middle.
"Adam made great strides there," Linehan said. "He played very well for us last year and we made a lot of improvement in our run defense. We drafted Adam to play there and that's why it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to move him back out."
Long plans on winning the starting spot the Rams bestowed upon him.
"I don't see it that way," he said. "I'm going to have to earn whatever I get. There are guys who are busting their tails there and make no mistake about it, my first order of business is to come in and try to work hard and earn the respect of the veterans and learn from them."
He pledged to be in training camp on time, too.
"When I grew up watching people miss out on camp, I didn't get it," Long said. "I want to be a good teammate and I want to set my best foot forward and I don't want to show up when people have already started working."
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