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Talking Chris Long

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I've already gone on record and said that I don't want the Dolphins to have any part Matt Ryan.  So who do I want?  Well, there's three players I like a lot, and I would be satisfied with any of those 3 being chosen by the Dolphins.  Those 3 are Jake Long, Vernon Gholston, and Chris Long.  Today, though, we are talking Chris Long.

There are plenty of scouting reports that you can read on Chris Long.  So I'll just post one of them for you guys to check out, courtesy of NFL Draft Countdown:

Strengths:
Has good size and bulk...Very active and has an unparalleled motor...Hard worker and team leader with top-notch intangibles...Strong, tough and powerful...Sheds blocks well...Outstanding hand use...Does a terrific job versus the run...Technically sound and understands leverage...Great in pursuit and has a burst to close...Real smart with good instincts and awareness...Versatile and could play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme..Durable...Has a lot of experience..Had a fantastic senior campaign.

Weaknesses:
Doesn't have great timed speed or quickness...May not have a lot of upside...Not a great natural pass rusher...Isn't going to strike fear into the hearts of opposing offensive tackles off the edge...Was not overly productive prior to his senior year.

One note about that scouting report.  The last sentence in it (about how Long wasn't too productive prior to his 2007 season) would make you think he was a one year wonder.  But that's not true.  Todd McShay went on the air last year prior to the 2007 season and declared that Long would be the nation's top senior player in '07.  People wondered how he could make such a crazy declaration.  Then Chris Long went out and simply dominated at the defensive end position and people took notice.

We also talked about a month ago on this site about how Long would likely have to play outside linebacker in Miami's 3-4 defense.  Some were skeptical about his ability to succeed at that new position.  But then the director of football operations for the Steelers, Kevin Colbert, said this:

"There's not a lot of 3-4 college defenses and the way Chris plays in coach [Al] Groh's defense, he's as NFL-ready as you can be from a 3-4 standpoint. Could he stand up and be a linebacker? Absolutely."

And since that quote, Chris has backed up Colbert's observation, excelling at the linebacker drills at both the Combine and at his pro-day workout.  

Now that's all stuff you may already know.  But what I wanted to do was highlight something you may have missed.  In the March 10 issue of Sports Illustrated, there's a terrific article about Long by Lee Jenkins.  It really helps you get to know not only the kind of player Chris is, but also the kind of person he is.  And when your team is about to invest a significant portion of their salary cap to one player, you really need to find out all you can about a player.

The first thing the article talks about is how Chris quickly debunked the idea in college that he was just a rich kid with a famous dad and that he was "soft."  Another recruit that came to Virginia the same year as Chris, Clint Stintim, was one of those who felt that way...until he met Long:

Then Sintim got to Virginia and saw how Long approached game days. Chris had eye black smeared across his cheeks and D-Block blasting out of his headphones. He stalked around the locker room, screaming at himself and his teammates, explaining in vivid detail how he was going to annihilate the man in front of him and how his teammates would annihilate the men in front of them. "Who's going to ride with me?" he hollered. "Who's going to ride with me?" This did not sound like some spoiled rich kid. It sounded like Ray Lewis.

Football players, especially pass rushers, are often fueled by hardships they faced early in their lives. This is true for Lewis, for Shawne Merriman and for Howie Long. Chris is the opposite. He is fueled by the lack of hardships he faced, by the perception that his advantages somehow made him soft. The fuel is different, but potent nonetheless.

I'll tell you what I get from this.  I think that Chris would be an ideal replacement as the leader of this defense now that Zach Thomas is gone and Jason Taylor could be gone anywhere between now and 2 years from now.  He's got that fire and determination that great players and great leaders need to have.

Due to the length of this post, you'll need to click "Read More" to see the rest.

As for those of you who seem to think that Long has been playing football his whole life, that's not exactly true.  It actually wasn't until 9th grade when Chris finally got acquainted with the defensive end position, as pointed out below:

As a ninth-grader Chris went out for the football team at St. Anne's-Belfield, a private K-to-12 school with an enrollment of about 840. But when he tried to run at his first practice, he looked as though he might trip over his size-13 cleats. Coach John Blake told him to get on the defensive line and drop into a stance. Chris bent down -- back perfectly straight, butt high in the air, free hand tucked behind his leg. Chris's eyes even bugged out. "Oh, my God," Blake said. "That's Howie Long." It was the first of a thousand comparisons.

However, despite the many comparisons between Chris Long and his dad, Howie, they are two different players.  Chris is far more athletic than Howie, which will allow Chris to excel as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, rather than as a defensive end:

At some point the comparisons to Howie began to fade. Even though they both played defensive end in a 3-4, Chris is clearly quicker with his feet and his hands, so much so that he's capable of becoming an outside linebacker in the NFL. Steve Rosner, who represents Howie and used to represent Lawrence Taylor, turned to Howie during a game at Virginia last fall and told him, "Chris is as close to Lawrence Taylor as anybody I've ever seen."

Lawrence Taylor?  Yeah, sign me up!

The reason that the Dolphins may draft Chris Long also extend beyond the kind of player he is on the field.  You see, Chris is also a guy that really eats, drinks, and sleeps the game of football.  He's a "Parcells guy."  And the following story shows why:

After Chris was honored as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in December, he flew home from the awards banquet with Virginia sports information director Jim Daves. During a layover in Philadelphia they learned that the Cavaliers would play Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl. Chris grabbed Daves's laptop computer, called up the Texas Tech website and clicked on the bio of left tackle Rylan Reed. Daves asked him why. "Because he's got my lunch money," Chris responded.

That's the kind of football player I want on my team.  And I'll be honest, Chris may very well be my #1 guy right now.  When you read things like this, it's hard not to want to have a player like this on your team.  

But what finally sold me on Chris was the following quote:

"I don't know of a player in this draft who has no negatives," says Gil Brandt, draft analyst for NFL.com and former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys. "Except Chris Long."

You read that right.  He has no negatives.  None.  And when you're talking about investing the kind of money that the top pick commands, don't want to ensure that your investment has minimal to no risk?  Sure, it's not our money; it's Wayne Huizenga's.  But that's not the point.  It still affects us as fans because of the cap investment that is made.  A poor investment of $35+ million in guaranteed money can set a franchise back years.

Sure, Long doesn't fill a need at this point.  But when push comes to shove, I want to take the player who can be great for years and years, but who also doesn't have any negatives.  Right now, that guy is Chris Long.  And barring any unforeseen issue that arises, it's likely that Long will be at the very top of my wishlist come April 26, followed by Jake Long and Vernon Gholston.

Thoughts?