Rams’ Chris Long ready to live up to expectations

ST. LOUIS — That Rams defensive end Chris Long owns a pair of six-month-old English bulldogs — Rambo and Chubbs, who can’t last five minutes without getting some attention — seems about right.

Chris Long has more sacks than any of the seven defensive ends drafted in the first two rounds in '08.
Chris Long has more sacks than any of the seven defensive ends drafted in the first two rounds in ’08.

Tenacity is one of the characteristics of a bulldog. And Long is nothing if not tenacious.

The former Virginia lineman lines up and comes at you on every snap. In his first two NFL seasons, he has recorded 113 tackles, nine sacks and 31 quarterback pressures.

"If he were a late first-round pick or a second-round pick, then I think you’d be very happy with where he is," Seahawks vice president of football operations Will Lewis said.

But the Rams made Long the No. 2-overall pick in 2008, and with that selection came a lot of expectations. Big-time plays routinely. Double-digit sacks in a season. Pro Bowl berths.

None of that has occurred, which doesn’t mean Rams officials are unhappy with Long — they’re not — but has left some skeptics wondering if Long is another in a procession of high Rams picks to disappoint. Long admits it has been a challenging road, both individually and as a team. The Rams have won only three games in his two NFL seasons.

Asked which word best describes his first two seasons, Long replied: "Hectic. Frustrating and hectic. It’s just been hard to get into a rhythm or a flow, but I feel finally that time is kind of coming."

Since coming to St. Louis, Long has made the transition from a 3-4 defense in college to a 4-3 scheme, has had three head coaches (including interim head coach Jim Haslett) and has played in two different defenses.

But the statute of limitations is running out on the explanations. It’s time for Long to have a breakout season — and it could happen in ’10.

"I know some guys come in and make a big splash right away and maybe don’t get better or reach that level again," Long said. "I felt like I was solid for a rookie in my first year, and I’ve just continued to slowly get better. I’ve made a couple big jumps here and there, but I’d really like to make that really big jump this next year — and I think that will happen."

The light went on for Long midway through the ’09 season, during the Rams’ bye week. Until then, he felt like he had been playing under a yellow caution flag, wanting to avoid mistakes instead of playing aggressively. Finally, he thought the heck with that.

"Once I was able to get back to that mentality, my game opened back up," said Long, who recorded a sack in three of the first four games after the bye.

Long still hasn’t carved a reputation as a sackmeister, but he has more sacks than any of the seven defensive ends drafted in the first two rounds in ’08.

"He may not be getting the sacks, but the effort and athleticism show up when he does rush," Lewis said. "He’s got a good motor and he’s relentless and he’s playing hard all the time.

"He’s learning better pass-rush moves and better counter moves, so I think all those things are coming together."

Long is one of several Rams who has worked with a martial arts expert this offseason. The techniques he learned should help him use his hands and hips more effectively to shed blockers.

He also has switched from right end to left end, which he says is his more natural position.

"I feel like I can do both, and I’ll do whatever they ask me to do," he said, "but to be back primarily at the left is kind of exciting for me because I think I can do a lot more over there."

Is this the year Chris Long becomes explosive?

"That should be everybody’s expectation," Lewis said. "When you’re picked that high and you have the ability and athleticism and mindset to get better, if you’ve been coached hard and coached the right way, now it’s just kind of up to you to take off and go to the next level. It’s time to step up and make some plays."

It’s time for the bulldog to start playing like a pit bull.

Ahead of his class

Although Chris Long hasn’t yet lived up to expectations as the No. 2-overall pick in the ’08 draft, most of his statistics are better than the other six defensive ends selected in the first two rounds that year.

Pick Player, team                             Tackles     Sacks QBP  FF
2. Chris Long, Rams                         113         9         31      2
6. Vernon Gholston*, Jets                   19         0         3        0
8. Derrick Harvey*, Jaguars              104         5.5     49       0
28. Lawrence Jackson, Seahawks       61         6.5     17       2
32. Phillip Merling, Dolphins                59         3.5     11       0
50. Calais Campbell, Cardinals            78         7          3       2
52. Quentin Groves*, Jaguars              51         2.5     18       2

(Notes: QBP – QB pressures; FF – Forced fumbles; * – Also has played outside linebacker.)

Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.

ST. LOUIS — That Rams defensive end Chris Long owns a pair of six-month-old English bulldogs — Rambo and Chubbs, who can’t last five minutes without getting some attention — seems about right.

Chris Long has more sacks than any of the seven defensive ends drafted in the first two rounds in '08.
Chris Long has more sacks than any of the seven defensive ends drafted in the first two rounds in ’08.

Tenacity is one of the characteristics of a bulldog. And Long is nothing if not tenacious.

The former Virginia lineman lines up and comes at you on every snap. In his first two NFL seasons, he has recorded 113 tackles, nine sacks and 31 quarterback pressures.

"If he were a late first-round pick or a second-round pick, then I think you’d be very happy with where he is," Seahawks vice president of football operations Will Lewis said.

But the Rams made Long the No. 2-overall pick in 2008, and with that selection came a lot of expectations. Big-time plays routinely. Double-digit sacks in a season. Pro Bowl berths.

None of that has occurred, which doesn’t mean Rams officials are unhappy with Long — they’re not — but has left some skeptics wondering if Long is another in a procession of high Rams picks to disappoint. Long admits it has been a challenging road, both individually and as a team. The Rams have won only three games in his two NFL seasons.

Asked which word best describes his first two seasons, Long replied: "Hectic. Frustrating and hectic. It’s just been hard to get into a rhythm or a flow, but I feel finally that time is kind of coming."

Since coming to St. Louis, Long has made the transition from a 3-4 defense in college to a 4-3 scheme, has had three head coaches (including interim head coach Jim Haslett) and has played in two different defenses.

But the statute of limitations is running out on the explanations. It’s time for Long to have a breakout season — and it could happen in ’10.

"I know some guys come in and make a big splash right away and maybe don’t get better or reach that level again," Long said. "I felt like I was solid for a rookie in my first year, and I’ve just continued to slowly get better. I’ve made a couple big jumps here and there, but I’d really like to make that really big jump this next year — and I think that will happen."

The light went on for Long midway through the ’09 season, during the Rams’ bye week. Until then, he felt like he had been playing under a yellow caution flag, wanting to avoid mistakes instead of playing aggressively. Finally, he thought the heck with that.

"Once I was able to get back to that mentality, my game opened back up," said Long, who recorded a sack in three of the first four games after the bye.

Long still hasn’t carved a reputation as a sackmeister, but he has more sacks than any of the seven defensive ends drafted in the first two rounds in ’08.

"He may not be getting the sacks, but the effort and athleticism show up when he does rush," Lewis said. "He’s got a good motor and he’s relentless and he’s playing hard all the time.

"He’s learning better pass-rush moves and better counter moves, so I think all those things are coming together."

Long is one of several Rams who has worked with a martial arts expert this offseason. The techniques he learned should help him use his hands and hips more effectively to shed blockers.

He also has switched from right end to left end, which he says is his more natural position.

"I feel like I can do both, and I’ll do whatever they ask me to do," he said, "but to be back primarily at the left is kind of exciting for me because I think I can do a lot more over there."

Is this the year Chris Long becomes explosive?

"That should be everybody’s expectation," Lewis said. "When you’re picked that high and you have the ability and athleticism and mindset to get better, if you’ve been coached hard and coached the right way, now it’s just kind of up to you to take off and go to the next level. It’s time to step up and make some plays."

It’s time for the bulldog to start playing like a pit bull.

Ahead of his class

Although Chris Long hasn’t yet lived up to expectations as the No. 2-overall pick in the ’08 draft, most of his statistics are better than the other six defensive ends selected in the first two rounds that year.

Pick Player, team                             Tackles     Sacks QBP  FF
2. Chris Long, Rams                         113         9         31      2
6. Vernon Gholston*, Jets                   19         0         3        0
8. Derrick Harvey*, Jaguars              104         5.5     49       0
28. Lawrence Jackson, Seahawks       61         6.5     17       2
32. Phillip Merling, Dolphins                59         3.5     11       0
50. Calais Campbell, Cardinals            78         7          3       2
52. Quentin Groves*, Jaguars              51         2.5     18       2

(Notes: QBP – QB pressures; FF – Forced fumbles; * – Also has played outside linebacker.)

Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.

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