Since the days of Karlos Dansby — and probably even further back, Hall of Fame linebacker Zach Thomas — the Dolphins have been searching for the perfect linebacker to anchor the middle of Miami’s defense. I admittedly thought Raekwon McMillan could be that guy. And I probably felt similar about 2022 third-round pick Channing Tindall, too. But this time, I really do believe the Dolphins found everything they’ve hoped for in a middle linebacker — when they signed former Tennessee Titans David Long Jr. to a two-year deal worth $11 million earlier this offseason.
During his four seasons with the Titans, Long has appeared in 50 games for Tennessee, totaling 230 tackles (137 solo), two forced fumbles, four interceptions, and five sacks. And when healthy, he has proven to be a difference-maker and a leader on the field. Last season, Long led the Titans in tackles despite missing a handful of games.
Here’s a look at a few of his games from the 2022 NFL season.
David Long Jr. vs. Washington Commanders
David Long Jr. vs. Indianapolis Colts
Unlike some of the other linebackers I’ve become hopeful for over the past decade, Long can do it all. He’s excellent against the run and exceptional in coverage — something Miami’s defenses have been severely lacking over the last few decades (H/T Bill Moody). In 2022, Long finished the season with an overall Pro Football Focus grade of 76.2.
But I’m not the only one impressed with what Long has accomplished, and excited to see what he can do in Vic Fangio’s defense. Here’s what head coach Mike McDaniel said on Monday about his newest interior linebacker.
“The guy is a spark plug,” McDaniel said during his media availability at the NFL’s owners meeting. “The guy has true instincts at the linebacker position, and he’s, you know, one of my favorite things that I told him, right when I met him is like, ‘Dude, you are the inspiration for a guy that people have probably told you, you’re maybe a little undersized.”
“And because of that he’s found so many different tools in his game to be successful that make him such a cool player how he defeats blocks with his hands and his feet. How he’s always finding the ball, how he beats other players on his unit to the ball in pursuit. These are all things that his coverage abilities, his ability to eliminate the space between him and the ball carrier and his ability to really be a quality tackler. Great fit for us and really excited to have him and he was always one of those guys that stood out on crossover for me. So that was another cool part is I’ve been watching him for a while so it’s exciting for our unit.”
Time will tell whether or not David Long Jr. can stay healthy and prove to be the quarterback in the middle of Miami’s defense that we all hope he can be. But on paper, the Dolphins’ defense seems much improved from a season ago. And with the guidance of new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the sky is truly the limit for the Miami Dolphins this upcoming season.
What are your thoughts on the addition of linebacker David Long Jr.? Do you think he can be a difference-maker in the middle of Miami’s defense? Is linebacker still a massive need for the Dolphins as the 2023 NFL Draft quickly approaches? Let us know in the comments section below!