By Matthew Marczi
Given the departures of Max Starks, Willie Colon, and Doug Legursky, paired with the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers did not address the offensive line in the draft, a few speculated during the offseason that a couple of players from the practice squad last season stood a chance to make the roster. Justin Cheadle had his season ended by a significant hamstring injury, however, and Joe Long did not receive any playing time in the first preseason game, behind the likes of Guy Whimper and D’Anthony Batiste.
Long finally saw some late-game action in the second preseason game, giving up one hurry on 13 pass protection snaps at right tackle, playing ahead of Batiste, while Whimper was moved inside. After the game, he was promoted to co-second-string with Batiste, and he was called upon to play right tackle with the second-team offensive line against the Kansas City Chiefs last week.
The fact that the Steelers gave Long such an extended period of playing time in the third preseason game—about a quarter and a half—suggests that the team is serious about seeing what he can do as a possible eighth offensive lineman. He may have the opportunity to win that job on Thursday against the Carolina Panthers, during which he stands to log a considerable amount of playing time, especially after the releases of Batiste and Mike Farrell.
I have already broken down Whimper’s play at right guard, and Long played alongside him at right tackle for the same duration, so consider this a companion piece of the same plays.
On the first snap, again, the Steelers attempted to run a wide receiver screen with Derek Moye, who was unable to bring the ball in. Long was on his way to the outside, and it is unclear whether he would have been able to reach the defensive back to block in time. The Steelers then ran a screen with Baron Batch, and linebacker Mike Catapano made the tackle after Batch was slowed down by being forced to dodge another defender.
On the next play, he squared away on Frank Zombo in run support, though the play went to the left. On second down, he tried to cut block Allen Bailey, who nearly made the tackle. Long’s cut blocks were ineffective, and is something that he needs to improve upon. He was solid during the drive in pass protection, however, and he was able to give Bruce Gradkowski a tremendous amount of room on the right side to find Markus Wheaton for the long touchdown.
In fact, he looked strong in pass protection throughout the first two drives, and showed good in recovery to push the rusher around the pocket when beaten to the edge. He was also key to the long run by Alvester Alexander, chipping in on Bailey before spilling out to cover Nico Johnson. He may have gotten away with a bit of a hold here on the left shoulder, but that is the kind that you are more likely to get away with, and it was not obvious.
Again, however, his cut block failed to hit the mark, and Bailey was able to easily step over him to get involved in the play, although it would have gone for a loss regardless of Long’s efforts. He kept Tysyn Hartman out of the backfield on a blitz on the would-be second touchdown to Wheaton on the next play; however, he was beaten badly by Zombo on the following play for a sack. Zombo caught Long on the backpedal and was able to bull rush his way to the quarterback.
A roughing the passer penalty on the play ultimately helped the Steelers take the lead on a field goal, but that was Long’s worst rep in pass protection on the night. He got through the next two snaps in pass protection cleanly, including a double-team block with Whimper. On the last play of the drive, however, he allowed Zombo to make the tackle short of the first down, although Alexander was unlikely to get the first down anyway.
On the first play of the next drive, he ran past Bailey, whom he was supposed to block, but he somehow got enough force on a push to not only knock him out of the play, but to send him barreling into Jamie McCoy. A bit of a positive out of a negative. On second down, Long displayed some nice athleticism by getting out to the sideline to throw a block on a wide receiver screen.
Unfortunately, Jalil Brown was able to deflect most of the block by spinning out of it, and was able to make the tackle six yards further down the field, but not after a first down. Still, it was impressive to see him get out to the edge so quickly, and a more solid block could have led to a big gain.
Aside from giving up a quarterback hit to Zombo on the penultimate offensive play of the game, Long was able to finish off the game on a strong note, and in general, he made a good impression in his first extended look. It will be interesting to see not only how well, but how much he plays in the preseason finale to get a hint at just how serious the Steelers are about giving him a chance at cracking the active roster. At worst, he seems to be a lock to spend another year on the practice squad.