Long adds high effort to immense talent

INDIANAPOLIS -- In the NFL, we're conditioned to assume that a "high-effort" player comes up a little bit short on talent.

We believe that he tries harder in order to make up for whatever he might lack in speed or athleticism. We admire his approach, but in the end, we don't necessarily find him quite as impressive as players with exceptional 40-yard dash times or vertical jumps.

That is, unless his name happens to be Chris Long.

Long, a standout defensive end from the University of Virginia, is the consummate "high-effort" player. He pours everything he has into every play, never giving a thought to offering something less than his best. No, he is not regarded as the greatest athlete ever to emerge from the college ranks. Yes, his success is more a product of hard work, polish and intelligence than extraordinary physical gifts, even if he does have pretty good pedigree (his father, Howie Long, is a Hall-of-Fame defensive end).

But none of that changes the fact that Chris Long is widely regarded as a strong candidate to become the top overall pick of the draft.

Even if he doesn't blow away talent-evaluators with his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, he still will rank at or near the top of draft boards throughout the league. Simply put, the 6-foot-3, 272-pound Long is an excellent, all-around player.

And NFL teams absolutely love his effort, which has always come naturally to him.

"I think that's just the way football is supposed to be played, at a high speed," he said. "I'm not a guy who does things half-speed well. So it's been pretty natural for me to go that fast.

"My dad taught me to work hard and to be the same guy every day. If that's going 100 miles per hour and working hard, then that's what I'll do."

That is what Long did at Virginia, where, in the eyes of many league scouts, he established himself as one of the most complete and NFL-ready ends ever to emerge from the college ranks. He was credited with 187 career tackles, including 43 for a loss. He also had 22 sacks, forced three fumbles (two as a senior) and had an interception.

Long is outstanding against the run. Rushing the passer isn't supposed to be his forte because he is not particularly explosive off the ball, yet he did have 14 sacks in his final season. Most of that was because he was so relentless, opposing offensive linemen couldn't always match his intensity.

"The biggest thing about Chris Long is his motor," said Maryland offensive guard Andrew Crummey, another combine invitee. "He has great skill, but the fact he goes hard the entire play, every single play, you don't see that very often. And that's tough to prepare for. That's what makes him so effective throughout the game."

The Miami Dolphins, who hold the top overall choice, are known to be in the market for a defensive end. Bill Parcells, the head of football operations for the Dolphins, has long had a reputation for wanting ends who excel at run-stopping as well as pass-rushing.

Long looks to be his kind of player.

"He's a tremendous run-down player," St. Louis Rams executive vice president of player personnel Bill Devaney said. "He's an effort pass rusher. Every play, you have to block him to death and if you let up, that's where he's going to get his sacks from."

Long reminds many league observers of his father, who was known for going full bore on every down during his sterling career with the Oakland Raiders. He also compares favorably with Seattle defensive end Patrick Kerney, whose 14.5 sacks ranked second in the NFL in 2007.

"Chris Long is just like Patrick (as a pass-rusher)," said Devaney, who was Atlanta's assistant general manager when Kerney played for the Falcons. "But against the run, (Long) will be a force."

As remarkable as Long's effort has been during his time at Virginia, he will likely need to show that he has much more of it than the rest of the draft prospects in order to become the No. 1 overall pick. He knows it won't be easy.

"You want to jump off the screen when people watch film of you," Long said. "Obviously everybody, all 330 guys who are here, jump off the screen. That's why they're here. So the goal is to take your game to the next level so at the next level you can adjust that speed and then surpass it."

Long is too realistic and humble to presume that he will be the top overall pick. He realizes that no one, including himself, has made a clear-cut case to be viewed as the best of the best. LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, and Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan -- just to name a few -- provide strong competition on that count.

In that respect, Long again is very much like his father -- a player who understands that he must earn everything he gets, that nothing about the process of becoming an NFL player is easy.

"No matter where I was picked, any opportunity to play in the National Football League is an opportunity I would cherish," he said. "To be in that (No. 1) position, you have to work even harder and show up with more humility and more of an open mind, because people will be looking at you. Wherever I go and whoever I go play for, I'm a football player. I enjoy playing football, I enjoy the game, I enjoy being a teammate. I won't change. I'll be the same guy."

Spoken like a true "high-effort" player.

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