NASHVILLE – Linebacker David Long Jr. worked all offseason to earn a starting spot with the Titans in 2021, only to find himself sidelined with a hamstring injury at the midway point.
When Long was healthy enough to return, coaches put him right back in the starting lineup.
And Long stayed there as a starter inside even when the team acquired another inside backer, Zach Cunningham, via trade later in the season.
"It felt good," Long said. "There's a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes, that I, that we, put so much heart into. So, it was good to see it pay off, me getting the spot (back) and me taking advantage of the time I was out there, capitalizing on it. And I plan to continue to do that."
Long, who will be headed into his fourth NFL season in 2022, finished third on the Titans with 75 tackles in 2021 despite missing seven games. Long was inactive for six straight games during the second half of the season while dealing with the hamstring injury.
But Long was back in the starting lineup at the end of the year, including the team's playoff contest vs the Bengals, opposite Cunningham, who played well down the stretch. Meanwhile, veteran inside backers Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown were used more in situational roles.
So, what's next for Long?
For starters, he wants to stay healthy. He also wants to do a better job of keeping up his weight during the season – after starting at 220 pounds, he said he ended up around 212. Long played around 226 pounds in college at West Virginia.
Long plans to train in Austin, Texas, a part of the offseason working on his mind and body.
"I have learned a lot since I've been here," said Long, a sixth-round draft pick of the Titans in the 2019 NFL Draft who also had a pair of interceptions in 2021, along with six quarterback pressures and four tackles for a loss. "I just want to continue to get better and continue to stay on time of my health.
"But there is no limit for me. I think I can be any type of player that I want to be, as far as how great I can be.
"So now it is about fixing the fundamentals, and whatever it might be, to be better, and to stay on the field."
Long said the final result of the 2021 season – a playoff loss to the Bengals after earning the No.1 seed – will motivate him all offseason.
As a rookie, Long played on a team that advanced to the AFC Championship Game. During his second season, the Titans lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Ravens.
"You work so hard, you want to win," Long said. "We know what type of team we have, and we know we can get to AFC Championships and Super Bowls.
"Coming back and fixing the things we need to fix individually and as a team, I think we can go back and do whateve we want to do as a team."