Rams rookie cornerback David Long Jr. is competitive.
When you speak to the Rams' No. 79 pick out of Michigan about football for even a short time, that becomes clear.
It's part of why he loves the game, and has loved it for a long time. Like most who enter the NFL, Long has been playing since his Pop Warner days. And even then, the Pasadena native enjoyed the team-oriented nature of the sport.
"It gave me something to do, something to look forward to during the weekends," Long said in an interview with therams.com. "I just remember that excitement of having games — laying my clothes out and stuff like that. And even if I wasn't the star player on a Pop Warner team, it felt good for me to contribute — even on small plays when I was springing someone free with a block. Nobody cheered for me, but it was just exciting knowing I was involved with something that was bigger than me."
Even so, Long admitted that when he first got involved with the game, he wasn't very good. But his work ethic helped set him apart at a young age. Long noted that he started doing workouts to improve on the football field when he was as young as fourth grade. And that put him in position to make a difference once he got to the middle school and high school levels.
The Los Angeles Rams select Michigan CB David Long with the 79th pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.
That's also when he began to focus on the skill positions — receiver and corner.
But Long didn't settle on cornerback being his endgame position until he was in the middle of his high school career. He says one of the coaches who recruited him — now-Washington Huskies defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake — helped convince him that DB was the place to be.
"He was saying, 'I think you should move to corner, because I was telling John Ross that there's not too many receivers going in the first round that are his size,'" Long recalled. "It's funny because [Ross] ended up going in the first round [as a receiver]. But that kind of motivated my move to be a cornerback."
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds, Long isn't the biggest cornerback out there, but that's where his competitive nature comes in again. Long doesn't just play corner because it's practical — he does it because he enjoys the challenge.
Check out photos of the Los Angeles Rams continuing Phase II of the offseason program.
"I'm a real big competitor," Long said. "So at camps and high school, everybody wants to be a receiver. Everybody's afraid to be embarrassed and stuff like that. But, you know, I like the reps. I like to get better. The more reps you get, the better you get. So playing coiner gave me that opportunity.
"A lot of people can run forward," Long continued. "But if you can master your movement going backwards, it makes you really special and more valuable. So that was kind of what centered around it. I had a few scholarships at receiver, but by the end of my junior year going into my senior year, I was exclusively playing corner. I did play receiver and stuff during the season, but all my offseason stuff was all cornerback. That's, like, all I was doing. And I kind of just fell in love with it because it was kind of like learning the game again because I'd always been an offensive player."
"That's just who I am," Long added of his competitive attitude. "It's funny, we played the same way at Loyola as we did at Michigan. We're just going to be in people's faces, and be aggressive, and challenge people. And that's just my mindset. I'm not a huge talker, but I definitely like to challenge people throughout plays. So that's my mentality, and my move to corner allowed me to be challenged and aggressive and all those things."
Being the kind of player who embraces those challenges, Long actually used the word "disappointing" when describing how offensive opponents tended to stay away from him at Michigan. According to Pro Football Focus, on 595 coverage snaps, Long allowed just 18 receptions on 60 targets for 130 yards. And of those 18 receptions allowed, three went for first downs, and just one was a touchdown. He also had 19 pass breakups — which is remarkable since he allowed fewer passes to be caught.
PFF also said he never allowed more than two catches in a single game, while recording three interceptions in 24 games.
"It was a little bit disappointing," Long said of his opponents' approach. "Looking back at the stats, I remember games where I didn't get targeted. But it wasn't like I went into games like, 'They're not going to throw towards me.' There were a lot of games where I went in and I was thinking, 'I'm going to get this amount of targets,' and I didn't get anything that way. And so, it's a little bit disappointing.
"You've always got to stay engaged and stay within the parameters of the defense," Long continued. "I couldn't just go rogue and try to make a play because I'm not getting the ball, so just staying disciplined. I always like to think the ball's coming to me every play, just so I'm ready. But just in college, I never really got too many targets. And a lot of people say it's a credit to me being good, but I think I could've been better as far as disguising and putting myself in better position to make plays. So it's a blessing and a curse. People respect you, but I also wanted to be challenged a little bit more as far as people throwing at me — you get those stats, you get those accolades. But it comes with the territory."
After deciding to turn pro following the Peach Bowl against Florida as a junior, Long says he had accepted any outcome that would've resulted from declaring for the league. He knew he didn't have any control over where he would go, or when — or even if — he'd be selected in the draft. But he couldn't have realistically imagined playing for his hometown team.
That's especially because he'd once met general manager Les Snead years ago. On draft night, Snead told the story of how he'd met Long at Loyola high while enrolling his own son. Long recalled that conversation, too, as it did make an impact on him.
"I was a kid in high school — I wasn't even in college yet. But just someone who's in those offices, making those decisions, I just wanted to see what they were thinking. And then seeing what he was saying kind of manifest itself over the years, and last year the Rams were in the Super Bowl, and it was a crazy situation that I ended up here," Long said. "That's the first story I thought about after I got drafted. And even when I came here on my top 30 visits — like, it's crazy how things play out. How you meet somebody and you never know the impression that you make on them and how that can affect you later on in life."
And now that he's back home in SoCal and in the building every day, Long's primary goal for the rest of the offseason program is to just get better every day.
"When you're training outside of here, even with the Combine, you're kind of just guessing that what you're doing is going to translate," Long said. "But the things you're doing here — you know it's going to translate if you put the time in, the work in. So getting the structure and this foundation, you're able to build off of it very quickly — even if it's just 10, 20 minutes afterwards, looking up things, you're able to really piece these things together quickly and it translates to you getting on the field and being able to make plays. And that's what we all want to do. Everybody's trying to contribute, make plays, be of use, be of value. So being here, it's great, man. Just allows you to get better — flows you to get coached, get critiqued, and that's how you get better, ultimately."