Long Moves Past Pressure
By Nick Wagoner
Through the magic of television, Rams defensive end Chris Long is never far removed from his father Howie, the former Oakland Raider and Hall of Fame defensive lineman.
And when his famous dad pops up in one of the incessant Chevrolet advertisements on the tube, Long doesn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to crack wise.
“About 12 at night, 1 in the morning, I’ll text him a random line from his commercials,” Long said.
His favorite is the ad in which Howie talks to a customer who has recently purchased a foreign pickup truck and Howie tells the man to “have fun being a real trucker.”
“Real tough lines, dad,” Long said.
It’s not all fun and games for Long now as he enters his second season in the NFL but there’s no doubt that with one season under his belt the pressure placed on him has at least regressed a bit.
After the Rams used the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft to make Long one of the building blocks of their defense, the expectations and demands placed on Long would have been enough to make even the most steel-minded buckle from the weight.
Adding to the lofty draft status was a lavish contract and the fact that Long is the son of the aforementioned Hall of Famer.
“Sometimes it bothers you but it’s your job as a football player to weather that storm of pressure and there’s going to be pressure no matter what situation you’re in whether you’re 2-14, a rookie, not starting, battling for a position, whatever it is,” Long said. “I believe everybody has got their own battles to fight.”
Long fought his share of battles in his rookie season. Although the expectations placed on him would have been impossible to meet anyway, nobody has higher standards for Long than Long himself.
During training camp and the offseason program, Long worked to learn the nuances of playing end in a 4-3 defense rather than the 3-4 he came from at Virginia. Instead of occupying two gaps (the B and C), Long was asked to learn to penetrate the backfield by rushing from the edge.
That process took Long some time because he had to unlearn the basic tenets of the defense he spent four years playing for the Cavaliers.
In spite of the pressure and expectations, Long made great strides in his first season. Although he finished with just four sacks, Long led the team with 16 quarterback pressures and had 57 tackles and a fumble recovery.
With some time to reflect on his debut performance, Long believes he made strides in his first season and is excited about what his second season could bring.
“I think it was good for me,” Long said. “I’ve been blessed enough to be a part of a great defensive line. Sure, I got thrown into the fire, but heavy is the head that wears the crown and being a high pick; you have to embrace those expectations. My goal is to be night and day from my first year and every year after that is just to get better and better.”
To that end, Long has been a regular the Russell Training Center in trying to find ways to get better.
Of course, it won’t hurt to have Steve Spagnuolo as his new coach considering the success Spagnuolo has had in developing and deploying his defensive linemen in a variety of ways.
Having an entire offseason to work out and focus solely on football has been a serious benefit according to Long.
“Just getting the full slate of training rather than coming in right now,” Long said. “We’ve been at it for over a month and you have your whole offseason to kind of reflect, watch tape and think about the things you’ve done. Plus, the whole year of experience just makes a big difference in watching tape and learning in the offseason.”
There is more learning to be done, though. In his rookie season, the task for Long was to not only adjust to the speed of the game and learn a new position but also to grasp all of the defensive concepts and schemes of the previous coaching regime.
Long won’t have to play catch-up this time around in terms of the game speed or the position but he’s still in the process of learning a new defense. The new defensive scheme takes pages from a number of different teams and mixes them up which requires plenty of film study and patience.
This time, though, Long is going through that progression with the rest of his teammates.
“I’m excited,” Long said. “It’s great not to be a rookie and although it is a new scheme, everybody is kind of on the same wavelength and on the same plane. Everybody is learning a new scheme so we are all in this together and we can build team through that.”
As he heads toward his second season, Long is also taking hold of more of a leadership role within the team. If nothing else, Long can serve as a sounding board for Jason Smith, who is following in his footsteps as the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft.
Coincidentally, Long played at Virginia with the other tackle the team considered, Eugene Monroe. Both Long and Monroe had made it clear a reunion would have been fun but Long says he’s been nothing but impressed with Smith so far and expects Smith to adjust faster and better to the rigors of the NFL than he did last year.
“He won’t have issues like me,” Long said. “That kid is way ahead of where I was. Everybody should be on the same plane coming in but the expectations are so high. All he needs to do is just focus on the day to day and don’t be overwhelmed. I know it seems like everybody is pulling at you but just be you. He has seemed to do that so far.”
Almost a year removed from his rookie experience, Long is well beyond the pressure placed on him from the outside. Now, he can focus on improving in year two and providing help for Smith as he deals with the expectations.
“When you come out of the draft you feel like you're a burden,” Long said. “You're a rookie, you're screwing everything up, everybody's looking at you, and you're trying to catch up with everybody else. I feel for the guy. He's got a lot of pressure on him, and that's what people don't understand. It's immense pressure.”