Long learning the ropes with Rams
by John Czarnecki
There seems to be no one who doesn't like Chris Long. He may be Howie Long's son and one of those rich rookies ($48 million over the next five years) but he's also simply a young man who knows how to fit in and be one of the guys.
I realize it may be difficult to view any young millionaire as regular, but many young athletes are just that. They are being paid a lot to play a game they love and somehow remain unfazed by the zeroes in their savings accounts.
At the end of the first Rams' practice I attended, Chris was one of the last players still signing autographs and also posing for pictures with fans who were kept behind a picket fence by team security. One fan even yelled out, "Mr. Long," and both of us chuckled at what his father would have thought of that.
I'm a little biased on this story because I have worked with Howie going on 15 seasons with Fox NFL Sunday and I first met Chris when he was in grammar school. Yes, he has good genes — and I'm talking about his mother, Diane, who raised him right.
"That's what I always say about my mom," Chris said, smiling. "I always tell people my dad tried to make me into a prima donna."
Just kidding, Howie.
Having gone to the U. of Virginia, near his family home, Chris has a girlfriend who is a very good lacrosse player. It's kind of interesting that she is also from his mother's home state of New Jersey. "If you live long enough," Chris said, "you're bound to meet and have some friends from New Jersey. There are quite a few people living there."
That's Chris, kind of matter of fact with his facts.
I had to ask. What kind of fancy car did you buy?
"I like old cars," he said. I'm thinking maybe an old Ford Shelby or a classic '57 Chevy. "No, I bought an '83 Mercury for $4,000. Found it on the internet. I put $10,000 into it, sound system and tires. My dad kept telling me how much a new car depreciates once you drive it off a lot."
Last season, Chris was a consensus All-American; the best defensive end in college football. The Rams drafted him with the second overall selection, right behind his good buddy Jake Long, and right before Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. His father, a Hall of Famer with the Raiders, was a mere second-round pick.
The football transition hasn't been smooth sailing, however, since Chris joined the Rams.
"He really struggled in the beginning trying to get a grasp of the defense," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "He's been better this past week in camp. It's a hard adjustment for a young player who was used to doing a lot of two-gapping in college. When he gets tired sometimes, he reverts back to that. But he is a good player and he works hard and he's always trying to please."
There were rumors prior to the draft that Haslett wanted LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and not Long.
"Hey, Dorsey is a helluva player," Haslett said. "But we needed an end, and Chris is an end. We needed someone who can put some pressure on from the other side."
Long is starting on the opposite side from Leonard Little, who has 75 career sacks in 80 NFL starts. But Little had only one last season before missing nine games in order to have surgery on his left big toe.
"Leonard has been teaching me a lot," Long said. "He has had double-digit sack seasons and I view him as a premier pass rusher in this league. And if he's not that, then I don't know what this NFL is all about. I'm hoping I can be an asset to this team and take some of the pressure off of him."
Another over-30 veteran, La'Roi Glover, has been teaching Chris too. "He's technically very sound," Chris said of Glover. "He's taught me a lot."
Basically, the Rams have the makings of a very good defensive line if Little can return to form and if Long plays as advertised because there's Glover and last year's first-round pick, Adam Carriker, inside at tackle. There are also three key reserves in situational rusher James Hall, nose tackle Clifton Ryan and end Victor Adeyanju. The line appears to be the strength of the defense with linebackers Pisa Tinoisamoa and Will Witherspoon.
Long has a lot to learn. It may be hard for fans to understand, but Haslett has a defensive playbook that mirrors some team's offensive binders. There are many different fronts, formations and responsibilities.
"Everything is different for me as far as the scheme goes," Chris said. "I am playing away from the ball and learning how to play in space. The other thing is learning how to deal with the techniques of the guys across from me. I was terrible in mini-camp. But once I started to learn, I felt a lot better. I like playing in pads a lot better than just shorts."
"Chris is the kind of player who is going to work his way through it when everything is not working for him," Howie said. "He will figure it out. It may take some time, but I know he feels like he has made strides already."
Father and son haven't really talked much since training camp opened, but the two do text message each other. "It's not like he's asking for help and advice all the time," Howie said. "It's more father-son stuff. A lot of our messages are very short and at the end of the day when he's pretty tired."
Chris has already fulfilled one of his rookie requirements, singing at supper for the veterans. He and rookie linebacker David Vobora teamed up to belt out that Righteous Brothers' ballad, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling."
"Chris and I think we have a pretty big future in show business if this whole football thing doesn't work out," said Vobora, a seventh-rounder who has a shot at making the final cut.
The day I visited, Chris got his hair cut at lunchtime, sporting a nicely balanced Mohawk.
"You can tell that he doesn't mind any of this stuff, the razzing, his new hairdo," said Billy Devaney, the Rams' new personnel man. "He has fit right in and become one of the guys. He is very self-motivated and he's driven to succeed. I really do believe he won't disappoint."
"Once he learns everything, I think he will have a lot of fun on the field," Little said. "You can tell that he cares and that he wants to be good. I don't think it will be very long before he's playing like a veteran."