|Rams rookie defensive end is star attraction at camp|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 31 July 2008 17:56|
When St. Louis Rams veterans in the dining room began calling his name to sing, Long was an all-too-willing participant, and not with some lame school fight song. Instead, he concocted an impromptu and crowd-pleasing duet of ``You've Lost That Loving Feeling,'' with seventh-round pick David Vobora sharing lead vocals and a female trainer serving as a prop.
This, after second-round pick Donnie Avery bombed with the first two lines of ``Amazing Grace'' followed by long silence and a sheepish retreat back to his table.
Long cheerfully lugged Leonard Little's shoulder pads off the field earlier that same day, because that's what rookies do.
``We just try to make sure there's no pads left out here,'' Long said. ``Because that would make the vets angry.''
Never mind the five-year, $48 million contract that makes him the Rams' second-highest paid player behind only quarterback Marc Bulger's six-year, $65 million deal. Forget his status, too, as the teams' No. 1 interview subject in camp, by far.
If you can.
``All the rookies, we're the same,'' Long said. ``We all get the day-to-day, lighthearted, hazing kind of stuff.''
The funny thing is, he appears to believe it. Factoring in the ups and downs that every rookie encounters, Long immediately upgrades what had been an anemic pass rush. Yet perhaps his strongest asset in camp has been taking the constant coaching in stride, and realizing the 3-13 team needs him now.
At the start of draft day he was the other Long, following the Dolphins' already-signed Jake Long to the podium in New York. Moments later, coach Scott Linehan handed the son of former Raiders great Howie Long the starting job at right defensive end.
Still, he prefers to identify with the rest of the hopefuls populating training camp, the ones who had to wait for their names to be called or didn't get drafted, and not the guy with the perfect pedigree. At the end of another practice, he playfully wrestled with rookie offensive guard Roy Schuening, a fourth-round pick, before bounding off the field.
On the other hand, he knows the expectations that accompany the pick and the contract.
``I'm fortunate enough to have an opportunity to work with the ones in some situations and I don't want to screw it up for the defense,'' Long said. ``There's no time for me to play catch-up; I have to do it now.''
He'll make it on his own, too. A visit from his famous father, better known to the son's generation as a Fox TV analyst, is not in the cards during training camp.
``I don't think so,'' Long said. ``He kind of stays hands-off and lets me take care of it. He's got his job to do and I've got my job to do and that's that.''
Like dad would have anything relevant to relate.
``That was a different time and a different era,'' the younger Long said. ``Guys are conditioned coming in, and they don't use training camp to get in shape anymore.
``Really, it's been more fun than I thought it would be, and I'm just trying to remember at the end of the day it's football.''
As if the 6-foot-3, 263-pound Long needs any more attention.
Virtually every play in camp there's been feedback - positive, negative or even lukewarm from defensive line coach Bryan Baker and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. The early verdict: Long has all the physical tools to excel in the NFL, but needs to work on his awareness of the other side of the ball.
``I think he's doing OK, and I think he's got a ways to go,'' Haslett said. ``He picks up things fast and he's really athletic, so that's not an issue.
``We just need him to understand what the offense is trying to do to him, so when he gets in a game he'll have an understanding.''
Little, the team's career sacks leader with 74 1-2 in 10 seasons, likes what he sees and believes Long gets a bit of a bum rap as a so-called high motor guy. That's a euphemism for a player who's not all that talented, compensating with endless hustle and drive.
``I don't like it when people say he's a try-hard guy; it offends me,'' Little said. ``He is, but he's very athletic, too. He does have a lot to learn, and some of the stuff he did before doesn't work in the NFL, so you've got to hone your skills or guys will take advantage of you. And he will.''
Long takes the constant, instant assessments in stride, realizing the goal is to quickly develop him into a second pass-rush threat opposite Little, the longtime productive left end now recovered from a toe injury. Little was limited to one sack and had to cut short his season in 2007.
``I appreciate that. That's how I'm going to get better,'' Long said. ``I can't get better on my own. I have two great coaches who deal with me on a very regular basis and they stay on me, but it's good for me at the end of the day.
``I was once told that when they stop coaching you they don't care about you, and I guess that means they care.''
Long's self-assessment: He knows he's a work in progress, liable to follow up a nice pass rush with a bonehead move that opens a big hole on a run.
``If you're a rookie you do a lot of good things and a lot of bad things, and sometimes in the same period, and sometimes back to back,'' Long said. ``You just try to put together an entire practice where you don't screw up anything too bad and you work on your technique and you get better.''
Long's arrival has made a distinct impact on James Hall, the incumbent at right end who was briefly released by the Rams in a salary cap move before re-signing in March. Hall, hampered by an ankle injury that the team kept quiet last year, has been a terror early in camp.
``He's been outstanding,'' Haslett said. ``It's amazing, you get a little competition and guys kind of rise to the occasion. I know it's a cliche, but it's true.''