ST. LOUIS (AP) -Days away from his regular-season snaps, rookie Chris Long told himself to not get too excited. The second pick of the draft knows he needs to conserve energy.
``If I didn't stay calm now, I'd be out of gas mentally by Saturday,'' Long said Wednesday. ``So I'll be pretty calm through the week, probably until the morning of the game. You've just got to bottle it up.''
The former Virginia star is part of a line that's expected to be a strength for the Rams, 3-13 last year, heading into Sunday's opener at Philadelphia. The young anchor is nose tackle Adam Carriker, the first-round pick in 2007.
``Chris has a lot of talent, a lot of potential,'' Carriker said. ``We've got a lot of guys who can make plays. We definitely have all the ability in the world.''
Long has the potential, certainly, given how highly-regarded the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long was coming out of Virginia, where he was a unanimous All-American as well as Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year. Long was among the nation's leaders with 14 sacks as a defensive tackle in the Cavaliers' 3-4 defense.
With the Rams, he's in a conventional 4-3 alignment and that's taken some adjusting. All the training camp snaps he's taken as the pass-rushing threat on the opposite end from veteran Leonard Little have helped him become comfortable.
``It's totally different. There's no comparison,'' Long said. ``The more time you spend playing in this system, the less time you spend thinking, and there's a direct correlation.
``You can study all you want and you can look at your playbook all you want, but you have to go through reps and that's the way it is.''
Throughout his first NFL summer, the Rams have assessed Long's play as a succession of highs and lows, savvy moves and rookie bonehead mistakes. The preseason statistics, two solo tackles and two assists, certainly haven't been eye-popping.
Long just wants to get better as the season progresses.
``I don't know where I'm going to be at the end of this week, I don't know where I'm going to be in a month, but I won't be the player I am right now,'' he said. ``That's just the approach I've taken. I just try to improve every week.''
The same goes for the defense as a whole, which faces the challenge of controlling Brian Westbrook.
``We're just going to have to go out this week and see where we stand,'' outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. ``I'm optimistic about this year and how our defense is, but until we go out and prove it, it's all up in the air.''
Because he was picked so high in the draft, Long expects extra attention from fans this week. He attended a playoff game in Philadelphia when he was in high school and recalled: ``They're wild, they're fiery, some of the best fans in football if they're your team's fans.''
Long knows he'll be a target.
``If you're an opposing team, especially an opposing rookie, I think they get after you pretty good,'' he said. ``That can't really impact the outcome of how you play.''
Carriker was in Long's shoes a year ago, although not with such a focus on his play given he was the 15th overall pick. He anticipates a year of experience will be a big help while taking on the double-teams in the middle that free up others to make the plays.
``It's what they ask me to do, it's what they want me to do, and I don't have a problem doing it,'' Carriker said. ``It's a lot of double-teams, kind of the grunt work.
``I like to hit people in the mouth, so that's good for me. As long as we're winning games, I'm totally awesome with that.''

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