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It's a Long day at the combine


INDIANAPOLIS - Jake Long of Michigan is considered to be the best offensive tackle available this April. After his combine workouts, he might have established himself as the top prospect at any position going into the draft.

The versatile lineman, who can line up at left or right tackle, looked especially impressive during his workout sessions, posting a position-best 37 bench press reps. He also was among the top-five linemen on Saturday in the vertical jump (27.5 inches) and three-cone drill (7.44 seconds).

The 6-7, 315-pound Long could have entered the draft a year ago, but decided he needed one more year of maturation on the line.

"Last year, I didn't feel I was good enough to come out," Long said. "I wanted to improve on things, and those things I improved on. I feel I'm a smarter and better player than I was last year. I'm smarter in identifying the defenses. I worked on the little things in my game and I've gotten a lot better."

Long's timing couldn't be better. Last year, Joe Thomas of Wisconsin headlined the offensive line class and was picked third overall in the draft by the Cleveland Browns. Thomas was so dominant his rookie year that he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.

{QUOTE}Coaches think Long could follow in Thomas' footsteps and become an anchor at left tackle for many years to come in the league.

"I love the left side," said Long, who allowed only two sacks during his four seasons starting. "I started off my first two years at right tackle and moved over to left the last two years. I'm left handed and I feel very comfortable on that side. I think I proved myself as a left tackle."

Ryan Clady of Boise State has been considered the second-best tackle next to Long, but the junior did not perform well in the physical tests, failing to make the top five in the bench press, the vertical jump and the 40-yard dash.

Clady (6-6, 317) possesses great potential, but is still developing his game and will face a major learning curve in pros next year.

Another raw talent is Pittsburgh's Jeff Otah (6-6, 339), a massive right tackle with good hands and mobility. He struggled during individual drills, and his 40-yard dash time of 5.56 seconds ranked among the worst of the linemen that ran.

Otah, however, has been hampered by a left ankle sprain, and it doesn't seem that NFL teams are going to downgrade his status. Most coaches see freakish potential in Otah, especially if they can get him on an intense strength and conditioning program.

Chris Williams of Vanderbilt also will have to hit the weight room. The tackle displayed polished technique and a fierce competitive streak at the Senior Bowl, but his weak upper-body strength could hurt him.

Williams (6-6, 315) recorded just 21 reps on the bench press. He did display good mobility during footwork drills, and scouts like that he has the ability to move inside to play guard.

USC's Sam Baker (6-5, 312) was not expected to shine in physical tests because he battled injuries his senior year. He is considered to be a savvy veteran who knows how to play the game. After the combine, he will continue to rank as one of the top-five offensive line prospects.

"I think it was definitely the right decision," Baker said of waiting until his senior year to come out. "Even if my draft stock is lower or I get drafted lower, the things that I learned from and the adversity that I faced this year will serve me for the rest of my life."

Climbing the charts is Gosder Cherilus (6-6, 312) of Boston College. Cherilus, who could be the most polite and well-mannered player off the field, plays and practices with a mean streak. Coaches and scouts love it.

"What I tell people is that football is what I do, it's not who I am," Cherilus said. "Don't get me wrong. When I step on the field, it's business.

"You step on the field, you go at it and I have fun doing it. I'm not dirty. I do everything within the whistle. I've never had a personal foul. But if I have a chance to go after a guy, I will because that's what the game is all about."

Arizona State's Mike Pollak produced one of the strongest offensive lineman showings on the RCA Dome turf. The 6-3, 301-pound center twice ran the 40 under five seconds, including an offensive-line best of 4.98 seconds. With a strong Senior Bowl performance under his belt, Pollak has solidified himself as the top center in the draft.

Offensive Line Test Results

Top five 40-yard dash times (seconds)
1. Mike Pollak, Arizona State (4.98)
2. Jeremy Zuttah, Rutgers (4.99)
3. Donald Thompson, Connecticut (5.00)
4. Duane Brown, Virginia Tech (5.08)
5. Heath Benedict, Newberry (5.09)

Top five vertical jump results (inches)
1. Cody Wallace, Texas A&M (30.5)
2. John Sullivan, Notre Dame (30.0)
3. Heath Benedict, Newberry (28.5)
4. Chad Rinehart, Northern Iowa (28.5)
T5. Duane Brown, Virginia Tech/Jake Long, Michigan (27.5)

Top five bench press results (reps at 225 lbs)
1. Jake Long, Michigan (37)
2. Jeremy Zuttah, Rutgers (35)
3. Kirk Barton, Ohio State (34)
4. Mike Gibson, California (31)
5. Carl Nicks, Nebraska (31)

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