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Offensive Line Group Could Make Big Splash in NFL

Posted Feb 22, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - This year's NFL rookie offensive linemen are chock full of stories and characters.

Luke Joeckel and Barrett Jones have the neatly trimmed hair, the clean-cut faces, the All-American pedigrees and have paved the way for Heisman Trophy winners.

Eric Fisher wants to show everyone that Central Michigan has prepared him just as well for the NFL as any of the perennial powerhouse programs.

D.J. Fluker makes people laugh off the field and grimace on it, and Kyle Long will spend this weekend trying to convince NFL scouts he can add another chapter to the family's NFL legacy.

Yes, this draft class has a little bit of everything - except a consensus No. 1 pick.

"The way I'm looking at it, I want to get there. I am definitely striving to be the No. 1 pick, going through this entire process and playing this season and all that kind of stuff,'' Joeckel said. "But my dream is to just play in the NFL. I know, being the No. 1 pick, after that, it doesn't really matter. You've got to go prove yourself in the NFL.''

Most analysts believe the offensive and defensive linemen will make up the vast majority of this year's first-round picks, but who goes where will likely depend on what teams need or want.

And there are plenty of questions to answer before draft weekend rolls around.

Joeckel is the straight-laced guy who pretty much sticks to the script on and off the field. He measured in at 6-foot-6, 306 pounds, a little lighter than he had hoped and perhaps a little lighter than the scouts would have liked, though he remains the tentative favorite to go No. 1 overall.

Jones, an Alabama grad, enjoys life so much he even poked fun at reporters' questions Thursday.

He has perhaps one of the rarest resumes in college football history - three national championship rings and three All-American selections at three different positions, twice on the first team, once on the third.

Yet his biggest hurdle is staying healthy. Jones can't work out in Indy because he's only six weeks into a four-month recovery from surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury in his left foot.

While some wonder where this 6-foot-4 1/2, 306-pounder will play in the NFL after excelling at right guard, left tackle and center in college, there are few doubts about his intangibles.

He was tough enough to confront quarterback A.J. McCarron on the sideline during last month's BCS championship game, has made missionary trips to Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and has shown a propensity for quickly assimilating into the offense.

"I think when you play a lot of different positions, you start learning the offense from a lot of different perspectives and you understand the offense instead of just knowing it,'' he said.

"Where do I feel most comfortable? I've always felt most comfortable with where I played last.''

Fisher is trying to follow the lead of Joe Staley, another Central Michigan alum who made it big in the NFL. Teams appear to like his quick feet and athleticism, skills he developed as a high school basketball player long before measuring in at 306 pounds on combine week.

What he needs to prove now is that he can make a smooth transition from the Mid-American Conference play to the NFL, something Staley and Greg Jennings have done but others have struggled with.

Long, the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother of Rams defensive lineman Chris Long, appears to be the next in the family lineage with an NFL resume.

But he took a circuitous route to the combine by starting out as a Florida State pitcher. Long acknowledges that he struggled throwing his 96 mph fastball for strikes and eventually wound up on the police blotter following a DUI arrest in January 2009.

After leaving school, he headed back West, worked briefly in a surf shop and resurfaced as a football player at Saddleback Junior College in California before heading to Oregon, where he switched from the defensive line to offensive line last season.

He insists the bad-boy image is long gone.

"I've grown a lot as an individual. I was definitely immature. I was not independent. I feel I've grown up as a man the last few years,'' Long said. "I've taken responsibility for some of the things I've done. It was the worst thing and the best thing I've done. I've been through hardship and fought my way back. ... I'm proud of the progress I've made and don't plan on stopping making progress anytime soon.''

All he has to do now is convince team officials he's changed.

Fluker, an early entry candidate, has been rising quickly on draft boards and could continue to move up if he slims down. At the Senior Bowl, he was measured at 355 pounds. And similar to his Alabama teammate Chance Warmack, he could wind up being a first-round pick in two months.

What does it all mean?

That's there's a lot of homework for NFL teams over the next two months to make sure they find the right linemen this year.

"I think I have a lot of room to improve. I definitely don't think I've played my best football,'' Fisher said. "My goal here is to prove to everybody that I am the No. 1 tackle in the nation. It's been my goal for a long time.''

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