The Black Hole in Oakland has long had a reputation for boasting some of the NFL’s most rough and tumble fans. The type of fans who love rough and tumble linemen who make a habit of sacking the quarterback.
It’s why Raider nation will always love Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long after he carried the Raiders banner with grit, determination and class for so long. He joined the Raiders in 1981 and played with them for 13 seasons, going to eight Pro Bowls and winning a Super Bowl along the way.
Howie Long’s son, Chris, is cut from the same mold, carries himself the same way and plays with the same tenacity. The only problem this weekend is that
“I didn't grow up there really,” Chris Long said. “But again, I'm very appreciative of their fan base. Any time I've been around people who are Raiders fans, they've always been great to my family.”
When the Rams visit Oakland Coliseum on Sunday for their second contest of the 2010 season, it’s not likely that he will get anything close to the reception that his father would.
Growing up in Virginia, Long didn’t spend a whole lot of time around his father when he was at work. He attended games here and there and of course enjoyed himself in no small part because his father was a Raiders legend in the making.
“I'm not going to make more of it than I should,” Long said. “I'm really appreciative of everything they did for my Pops. The organization and the fans were really great. But I've never really been there much. I went to a couple of games when I was really, really young. For me, I grew up in Virginia, so it's kind of going to be a surreal experience.”
Of course, Long doesn’t have any intention of going to Oakland to reminisce about what his father accomplished or how much Oakland thinks of him.
Instead, Long has designs on building on a dominant week one performance in which he didn’t register a sack but did set up shop in Arizona’s offensive backfield and repeatedly got to know Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson.
When all was said and done, Long had registered two quarterback hits and two more quarterback pressures. Of course, that didn’t take into account the general havoc he was wreaking when he was drawing repeated double and triple teams throughout the game.
“I thought he did a nice job,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “He had some pressures. He probably did some things that probably go a little bit unnoticed. But I think Chris was kind of what we expected him to be and hopefully we will get that week in and week out.”
Despite the kudos from Spagnuolo, Long remains unsatisfied with his performance and say he hopes to use it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things in this, his third NFL season.
“There were some things I did well and some things I want to improve,” Long said. “That's very general for me to say that, but I've just got to learn from the good things, the bad things and move forward. Certainly I want to play better 15 times this year and just keep trying to improve.”
One way for Long to improve in his mind would be to close the deal and start racking up some sacks. After finishing 2009 on a tear by ripping off five sacks in the team’s final nine games and leading the team in quarterback hits with 15 and pressures with nine, Long enters what figures to be a breakout year.
On top of the improved pass rush performance to close out last year, Long now also has the advantage of playing in the same defense for the second consecutive year for the first time in his young career.
“I think everybody knows where they're supposed to be, everybody knows what they're supposed to do when they get there,” Long said. “It makes it a lot simpler ... like second nature.”
Being in the scheme for a second year serves another purpose as well. Now that Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole know what each player brings to the table and are confident in what they can do, they are able to cut it loose a little more in terms of some of the more exotic blitz and pass rush packages they can use.
Last week against the Cardinals, the defense was extremely aggressive in getting up the field and getting after the quarterback. That’s the identity the Rams want to create for themselves defensively and an identity that is openly embraced by Long and his teammates.
“I think Coach has a lot of confidence in us, that our blitzes will hit home and that we'll be in the right gaps and doing the right things,” Long said. “I think that's a good sign. And we like that, when Coach has a lot of faith in us. It's fun to fly around and hit the quarterback and get after it.”
Considering how close Long has been to dialing up the sack total, it’s probably only a matter of time before those numbers begin to come.
As he prepares for the Raiders, it’s things like that which have drawn Long’s attention and not anything sentimental.
“I'm not underplaying it, but I hadn't really thought about it until yesterday and somebody told me, 'You might get a question about Oakland,'” Long said. “And I was like, 'Why? Oh, wait ... oh, yeah.'”