Long on motivation
Howie's son eager to prove himself on NFL stage
Posted: Monday February 18, 2008 12:27AM; Updated: Monday February 18, 2008 5:47PM
RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- I've got opinions about Spygate, the best receiver you never appreciated enough and the ridiculously challenging schedule of Myron Cope's favorite team. All in due time. First, I take you to the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel here, a few long spirals from Giants Stadium, to meet a man you're going to get to know very well over the next few years.
He shuffles into the lobby of the hotel from the bank of elevators in gray sweatpants, blond curly hair, wire-rimmed glasses ... and a wide jaw. Distinctive jaw. A Howie Long kind of jaw. Which is something you'd expect from the 22-year-old son of Howie, Chris Long, the defensive end from Virginia who was here to work out at a north Jersey training center and speed school, Parisi's, to prepare for this week's National Football League Scouting Combine.
The combine begins in Indianapolis on Thursday. And there won't be a bigger story in than the son of the Hall of Famer. Chris Long has progressed from being an intelligent college prospect when he entered Virginia to the kind of high-motor, edge-rushing force that has put him in competition for the top pick of the April draft. For Long, Indianapolis will be about continuing to prove he's so much more than someone the NFL is looking at prominently because he's Howie's kid.
It is hard to come away from a meeting with Chris Long and think he could have done any more to make a strong impression. In the same week we heard an icon say a friend "misremembered'' what he told him, I heard Long speak in complete, intelligible, thoughtful sentences. In this interview, he used the words malleable, tangible, pigeon-holed and debilitating. He seems relentlessly motivated to prove he can play well in the NFL, anywhere on the front seven. It's interesting that a kid born with such a silver spoon in his mouth could be this determined, this driven to be a success in the dog-eat-dog world of the NFL.
The combine's a big deal for Chris Long for a couple of reasons. It gives him the chance to work out, most notably, which many top picks often don't do because they don't feel they're in peak condition. It's a prima-donna move. They'd rather do the same drills in a more familiar environment of the home gym and home weight room, which, when you're the first or fourth or ninth player on the board, you can afford to do. Scouts are used to it by now, but to some veteran GM-types like Indy's Bill Polian, it leaves a bitter taste that they remember on draft day. Long will work out in Indianapolis, doing everything except possibly the bench-press reps of 225 pounds because of a sore thumb.
And it gives him a chance to disprove what he thinks some draftniks and NFL scouts are saying about him. "That I don't have top-end speed, and I can't play more than one position well, and I'm a high-motor, overachieving guy, but I'm not an athlete,'' he said. "When I lie in bed at night, those are the kinds of things I hear. I hear the negative things. People try to pigeon-hole me as a player, and that kind of drives me.''
This is a guy who motivates himself by cutting out quotes about himself, or about things opponents have said about his team, and taping them to the wall in his bedroom, so he can see them and feel their impact in the days before games. That's how he's treating some of the Long-is-limited stuff he's heard about himself entering the Indianapolis workouts.
Long has an interesting view of the combine. Many people in and out of the game -- including me -- have long decried the emphasis teams place on what they see at the annual meat market. Long takes this angle on it:
"You can very rarely get caught up in numbers in this game, because it's all about the team. But the combine gives me a unique opportunity to set tangible goals. The NFL is giving you a test, and they're giving you the answers. If you fail, either because you didn't prepare or for whatever reasons, it's all your fault, and it probably says something about you.
"I can look at what guys in the past have done in certain drills and aim for those numbers. I don't want to see what the average guy did last year. I want to know what the lead dog did. Tell me what Gaines Adams [drafted fourth overall by Tampa Bay] did last year. Tell me what Jarvis Moss [drafted 17th overall by Denver] did last year.''