- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

No NFL player deserves a healthy training camp more than Tennessee defensive tackle Rien Long.

Long, who won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman following his junior season at Washington State in 2002, tore his right Achilles tendon on the first day of camp last summer. While undergoing a second surgery, he developed a serious staph infection. Long said doctors later told him there had been a 24-hour period when they were concerned they might have to amputate his right foot.

“It was nasty. It was purple, just oozing stuff,” Long told the Tennessean in Nashville. “It felt like someone was holding a lighter behind my Achilles. … They didn’t know if they were going to have to cut [my foot] off or not. Luckily [the infection] just ate away the skin and we caught it early enough. I went from ‘I can’t wait to get back for next season’ to being thankful I’ve got a foot to walk on.”

In the hospital, Long’s companion was a mini-vacuum cleaner-like device. Its constant suction helped keep his foot together.

“It was wild,” Long said. “I could see my Achilles when they changed the bandage or the suction sponge.”

In December, skin from Long’s hip was grafted to replace what had been lost in his foot to the infection. Two more such grafts followed during the winter, the last one using synthetic material.

Long made it back on the field for June’s minicamp, nearly 11 months after he was injured. He said he felt he was at 85 percent normal and figured to be 100 percent for training camp late this month. That would be great news for a Titans defense that ranked last without him in 2006. Long had 8½ sacks in 2004-05 despite starting just five games as Tennessee ranked 27th and 19th, respectively.

“It’s like I got held back,” said Long, who will wear a brace on his right ankle this season. “It’s like I’ve got to repeat the fourth grade. I’ve got to do it over again.”

Turnaround on rookies — Kansas City coach Herm Edwards doesn’t have many regrets about his five years with the New York Jets. But Edwards does wish he had been more willing to play younger players, specifically receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who hardly played in their two seasons together before bursting into the limelight with 82 catches last year.

“The worst thing I did when I was in New York was draft Jerricho Cotchery and … he never got on the field for me,” Edwards told the Kansas City Star. “Now he’s playing very well and doing what he was doing in practice when I was there. We just didn’t play him enough. I’m not letting that happen again. We’ve done some things differently offensively now to make sure these young guys have the ability to play. That doesn’t mean we’re changing the [schemes].”

But it does mean that the Chiefs’ three top draft picks — receiver Dwayne Bowe and defensive linemen Turk McBride and Tank Tyler — should play a bunch. Fifth-rounder Justin Medlock should be the kicker. Rookie free agent Ean Randolph could be the punt returner. And Edwards, of course, dumped longtime starting quarterback Trent Green for Brodie Croyle, who threw only seven passes as a rookie in 2006.

Only six rookies have been regulars during Edwards’ six seasons in command: first-rounders Dewayne Robertson, Jonathan Vilma and Tamba Hali; second-rounder Justin Miller; fourth-rounder Kerry Rhodes; and fifth-rounder Erik Coleman. All played defense for the ex-cornerback.

Who’s No. 1? — Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade left as free agents. David Givens is still so gimpy that he might be not ready for the opener. So who’s Tennessee’s No. 1 receiver? Try Brandon Jones, who had 50 catches while starting 18 games the past two years. That puts him ahead of free agent signee Justin Gage, who had 35 catches in 11 starts for Chicago in 2004-05. Tennessee’s other returning receivers combined for just 18 catches (eight by the ailing Givens). The Titans’ three drafted wideouts aren’t big names either.

“I wouldn’t say I was the No. 1 guy. I would say I’d be in the middle of the pack,” Jones told the Tennessean. “I haven’t done much. I only had 27 catches last year, so you can’t say you’re the No. 1 guy because No. 1 guys are guys like [Cincinnati star] Chad Johnson.”

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