NASHVILLE – Back in his college days, linebacker David Long Jr. had to adjust before he excelled.
During his freshman season at West Virginia, Long watched the veterans, and learned from them as he redshirted. The following year he stepped in and immediately took advantage of his opportunities, and his career began to take off.
It's still early in Long's professional career, but already he's heading down a similar path. At the least, he's shown some positive signs in recent weeks.
"He's an instinctive player," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of Long. "There's a lot of stuff that we've got to continue to coach him and (help him) improve, but he has shown since he's gotten here that he is an instinctive player, that he makes tackles, that he gets around the football. He got an opportunity to play (in our last game) and he showed up."
A sixth-round pick of the Titans in the 2019 NFL Draft, Long ranked third on the defense with a career-high 11 tackles while also forcing a fumble despite playing just 28 snaps in the team's win over the Chiefs. The forced fumble resulted in a recovery that fellow linebacker Rashaan Evans returned for a touchdown.
Prior to the team's win over the Chiefs, Long had played mainly on special teams for the Titans. But with linebacker Jayon Brown sidelined, Long got more of a chance to show what he can do -- and he stood out.
"It feels wonderful, just being out there playing pro ball," Long said of the increased opportunity. "It feels like college a little bit, the way I am starting to feel like I am back in my element."
A 5-foot-11, 227-pounder, Long racked up 252 tackles and 14 sacks in a very productive three-year career at West Virginia. As a junior, Long was selected Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches and the Associated Press. He also received second-team All-America honors.
Titans inside linebackers coach Tyrone McKenzie said the team was impressed by Long's instincts and production from his collegiate days. When he joined the team, some other things began to surface.
"His preparation," McKenzie said of Long. "He prepares hard during the week. We coach him hard with details and fundamentals and he takes to coaching. …. And you can see his love for the game."
Just like he did as a redshirt freshman in college, Long said he's learned from the team's veteran inside linebackers, a group that includes Wesley Woodyard, Daren Bates, Evans and Brown.
While his reps could be more limited when veterans in front of him are healthy, Long said he'll continue to work and make the most of his chances. In the team's game against the Chargers, Long was credited with his first career tackle for a loss when he stopped running back Melvin Gordon III for a four-yard loss.
"The veterans have been very helpful, teaching me ways to watch film and what to look for and I try to incorporate that into my game," Long said. "I like that I've gotten better and not made the same mistake twice, and the more I am out there the better I think I'll be. I'm just going to try and keep doing my job the best I can while also having fun."