NASHVILLE – David Long rarely – if ever – is one of the first players mentioned when the subject of the Tennessee Titans defense is raised.
After all, that unit features returning stars such safety Kevin Byard, defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons and outside linebacker Harold Landry along with promising youngsters like cornerback Kristian Fulton and safety Amani Hooker.
Long’s name came up early recently, however, when Pro Football Focus released its linebacker rankings for the 2022 NFL season. The fourth-year veteran was included in the “young ascending tier” at No. 17 overall.
And defensive coordinator Shane Bowen had a lot to say – all of it good – when he was asked about the 2019 sixth-round selection out of West Virginia last week.
“I think David’s done a great job,” Bowen said. “I really do. … He’s taken that position, that role by the horns and he is running with it. We’ve got some young guys in that room … and he’s really a solidifying force in that room right now. I’ve been really pleased with him.”
Among the Titans inside linebackers, Long is the only one who has spent more than a year in the defense. That group includes Monty Rice, a 2021 draft pick, Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole, both of whom were added well into the regular season last year, a 2022 draft choice, Chance Campbell, and an assortment of other journeymen and hopefuls.
That makes Long a key factor for a defense that wants to continue the progress it made last season when it finished 12th in yards allowed and tied for fifth in points allowed, up from 2020 when it ranked 28th and 24th, respectively, in those areas.
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He already has made it known that he intends to be more of a vocal presence, but he also wants to make sure he is included in all conversations about some of the best players at his position.
“Of course, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder,” Long said early in the offseason. “Of course, there’s obviously people that don’t know. But coming into this year, I know what role I (have) without having to figure out what’s going on. I know what role to do, and I know what to do.”
Injuries limited Long to 10 games played last season, but he started nine of them. He was Tennessee’s leading tackler through the first nine games and ultimately averaged seven and a half stops per contest and tied for second overall in tackles.
When healthy, he had relegated former starter Jayon Brown to a role player. That move up the depth chart started late in 2020 when Brown ended up on injured reserve, and Long stepped in and made 40 tackles in the final five games.
Brown, now with the Las Vegas Raiders, is 29th in PFF’s linebacker rankings, well behind Long.
“I think he’s really excited for the opportunity and is very deserving with what he’s done here, especially last season,” Bowen said. I’m excited with where he started with this thing. And I’m excited to see where it goes as we get into training camp.”
If Pro Football Focus is correct, it is clear which direction things are going.