Former West Virginia linebacker David Long Jr. has steadily improved over the first three years of his NFL career.
He saw the field in spurts as a rookie and collected 15 tackles. He got his first five starts in his second season and finished with 54 total tackles in 14 games.
As a third-year player in 2021, Long had his most productive season to date. Appearing in just 10 games due to injury, the linebacker recorded 75 total tackles, doubled his career total in tackles for loss, and collected his first two interceptions.
“I’ve been hearing the undersized stuff since high school, but it never changed the way I played,” Long, who stands at five feet, eleven inches tall, said earlier this week during Titans offseason workouts. “It really just revved me up for up, for real, as far as that dog mentality. And as far as like, ‘I’m going to show you,’ how big or how little you think I am. That’s just been me.”
Despite entering just his fourth season in the National Football League, Long can already be considered a veteran on a Titans defense that improved mightily last season. Not only did the unit improve, as a whole, but Long did, individually, as well.
“Now, it’s like, I know a lot. It’s more about fine-tuning things, and fundamentals, and what else can I evolve in my craft,” Long said when asked about what he’s working on this offseason. “Whether it’s spinning on blitzes, or whatever that may be, just finding ways to get better, and then finding ways to rally my teammates to do the same thing.”
Long has already begun imparting some of his wisdom to the young players that are experiencing OTAs for the first time.
This is Long’s fourth go-around with the NFL’s offseason regimen. And while he admits that he isn’t the most vocal player in the locker room, it’s just as much about leading through his actions.
“It’s important to me, because you know I feel like I’m still growing into the player that I want to be,” Long said. “It was just important for me to get here to show that I’m grinding.”
That doesn’t mean he’s quiet once the pads come on, though.
“You can’t be quiet on the field, especially as a linebacker – as a leader on the defense,” he said. “So, that’s a step in my game I’m trying to improve in. Whether it’s on the sideline talking to the rookies, or it’s out on the field, knowing what everybody’s job is and being able to communicate that.”
However, it’s not just current pros that he’s helping this summer.
For the second year in a row, Long is holding his own football camp in his home city of Cincinnati, Ohio. He said the camp is “way bigger” this time around, and is even being sponsored.
“It’s crazy that I’m holding my own camp back at home,” he said. “It’s so good to have that platform that I can reach kids that come from the same type of area, the same type of background, the same type … Things that I wanted as a kid that I can be that platform to do that.”
Long’s message to the campers is simple: don’t wait too long to figure out if you’re all in on football or not.
A Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Long said he figured out early that he was “all-in” on football.
He added that communication is just part of his game that he’s maturing this offseason. Blitzing and coverage techniques are high on that list, as well.
He allowed a 70.7 completion percentage on targets in his area last year, according to Pro Football Reference. That was an improvement on the 85.3 completion percentage that opposing quarterbacks had against him in 2020.
By comparison, second-team NFL All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith allowed 71.2 percent of passes to be completed to wideouts in his coverage area last year.
The steady improvements are part of why Bleacher Report recently called Long one of the best kept secrets in the NFL.