Wagoner: Long's Talent Not Hidden
Long's Talent Not Hidden
Saturday, February 23, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
INDIANAPOLIS – Chris Long spent a solid portion of his childhood hiding. As the oldest of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long’s kids, Chris was expected to spend plenty of time in the shadows.
But this wasn’t what he had in mind. Al Davis, the authoritarian owner of the Oakland Raiders, had his rules, a set of rules as strict as any school. Included in those rules was a limit on when the families of players could come to visit when the team was at training camp.
It wasn’t unusual for a player to break those rules, but Davis was in his dictatorial prime when Howie Long was at his football peak. In other words, any visits outside the allotted time had to be done with tact.
“My earliest memory of Al Davis was when I was ducking in the car when I came to visit my dad at training camp because there were no families allowed,” Chris Long said. “That was my earliest memory. Don’t tell Al Davis that happened.”
Even now, as Long stands before a large crowd of reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine as the potential top pick in April’s Draft, Long prefers not to draw Davis’ ire.
Of course, Long shouldn’t worry considering he has moved well past the shadows of his father let alone the backseat of his mother Diane’s car.
By the time Chris turned 8, his father had completed his NFL career but he hadn’t embraced the idea of football yet. Chris had other interests, but soon enough decided that following in the footsteps of his famous father wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
The Long family had set up its abode Charlottesville, Va., home of the state university. Long attended St. Anne’s-Belfield, a private school where he played football and lacrosse.
By the time he was a junior, the kid with the famous last name had begun to make a name for himself. The Cavaliers offered him a scholarship in Sept. 2002, when Long was early in his junior season.
It didn’t take long for him to accept and he stayed home to play in front of his family.
Still, Long faced plenty of questions about his ability and even more about his dad. But Howie Long did everything he could to make Chris’ adjustment to big time football easy. He stepped away early on and let Chris take his turn in the spotlight.
“I think it’s a testament to him, he’s such a great guy and such a humble guy it’s not his style to want to steal the spotlight,” Chris Long said. “I have two little brothers and he does the same thing with them. He takes a backseat. Everybody has a time and this is our time. I tell him he’s an old man it’s our time now. He’s done a great job with that and I am grateful and I am at the point now where I am comfortable standing in that spotlight.”
The spotlight might never be bright for Chris than it is right now. In four seasons at Virginia, Long continued his rapid ascent up the draft boards of every NFL team.
By the time he was done, Long had posted 187 tackles, 43 for loss, 22 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception. In his senior season, Long rang up 14 sacks, two forced fumbles and 79 stops.
Along the way, Long got the opportunity to match up against former top five offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson on a daily basis in practice as well as potential first round guard Branden Albert this season.
Long was the force behind Al Groh’s 3-4 defense, using his perfect technique and non stop motor to propel himself to All American status and get his No. 91 jersey retired before his career even ended.
At 6’3, 272 pounds, there’s no doubting that Long has the size to play in the NFL. But some wonder if he has the athleticism to be a top pick in April’s Draft. Long isn’t considered a speed rusher by any means and he didn’t really accumulate sacks in college until his final season.
But Long has found a way to have success at every level and anyone who has seen him play his quick to point out why.
Scouts, coaches and draftniks alike will tell you Long has earned his status because of his always running, non stop passion and desire to succeed.
“I don’t think of myself as doing anything extraordinary with my effort,” Long said. “I think that’s just the way football is supposed to be played: at a high speed. I’m not a guy who does half speed well so for me it’s been pretty natural for me to go that fast.”
Long believes he developed that insatiable desire from his father, a player of similar ilk who used flawless technique and said motor to rack up 93 sacks on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Although Long is quick to say he doesn’t do anything different than what most players who love the game do, he does acknowledge that it’s a goal of his to be recognized for his desire.
“You want to jump off the screen when people watch film of you,” Long said. “My dad taught me to work hard and be the same guy every day. If that’s going 100 miles an hour and working hard, that’s what I am going to do.”
Clearly, Long has jumped off 32 screens around the NFL and that has him in the discussion for a top pick in April’s Draft. Maybe Long isn’t a speed rusher, but neither are Jared Allen, Aaron Kampman or Patrick Kerney, the guys who led the NFL in sacks in 2007.
Billy Devaney, the Rams Executive Vice President of Player Personnel, says Long reminds him of Kerney, who Devaney spent plenty of time with in Atlanta. And though pass rushing might not be his biggest strength, Devaney sees a player that will find a way to get the job done regardless of circumstance.
“I think he’s good,” Devaney said. “I don’t think that’s his forte. I think he’s a tremendous run down player. He’s an effort pass rusher. Every play you have got to block him to the death. If you don’t, if you let up, that’s where he is going to get his sacks. A lot of guys operate that way. We had a kid in Atlanta a lot like him in Patrick Kerney. He’s a try hard guy, a good athlete and is just relentless. Chris Long is just like Patrick. He will be a force.”
With the second pick in the draft, the Rams figure to be in the market for an end. Long is the best one available and though as recently as a week ago they didn’t seem to be as high on him, he does appear to be growing on them.
The most recent defensive end to go that high was North Carolina State ’s Mario Williams, who went No. 1 two years ago. After struggling some as a rookie, Williams had a breakout year in 2007.
Considering his pedigree and fine tuned technique, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Long made an instant impact as a rookie.
And if Long goes at the top of the draft, the spotlight will be all his, at least for a while. Long’s brother Kyle is committed to play baseball at Florida State and could be the top pick in the baseball draft ad a hard throwing left-handed pitcher.
“We told him to go with his heart,” Chris Long said. “Nobody in the family was pressuring him either way. I think my parents had their fingers crossed that he wouldn’t play football. He doesn’t have to get hit playing baseball and he’s throwing 96 miles per hour, he’s a lefty, it seems like a no brainer to me. I just hope I can live in his condo if I fall on hard times or something.”
Re: Wagoner: Long's Talent Not Hidden
Sounds like only mediocre interest to me, but we can't really give away anything we could love him and not show it. One thing I do know Devany understands the importance of creating a good pass rush with two good DE's. Trading for John Abraham and having a combo of Kerney and Abraham and also drafting Jamaal Anderson and having a combo of Anderson and Abraham.