At David Long Jr.'s size -- he's 5-foot-11, 227 pounds (depending on how much he ate at Thanksgiving) -- he should be a box safety, or maybe a running back. Instead, the fourth-year linebacker is very much in the middle of the Titans' defense and in the middle of the action, despite being cautioned to approach the game otherwise.
"A lot of people was like, 'You be always trying to hit them big boys. Stop trying to hit them so hard, just wrap up.' I'm like, 'Nah, that's not me. They got to feel me every time,'" Long told me Wednesday, laughing as he said that.
Trust me, they do. Long is a heat-seeking missile with a habit of causing mayhem in opposing teams' backfields. He has a career-high seven tackles for loss this season. That's tied for the team-high with Jeffery Simmons. Long also leads the Titans in tackles (79 total) and, according to Pro Football Focus, is the second-highest rated linebacker against the run this season, grading behind only Los Angeles' Bobby Wagner. Not bad for a player selected with the throw-in sixth-round pick that was part of the Titans-Dolphins trade that sent Ryan Tannehill to Tennessee.
"I mean my attitude towards this is coming into the league, sixth round, after becoming defense player of the year in the Big 12 (at West Virginia). So it was just always a chip on my shoulder coming in," he said. "It's like damn, they must not really believe, not even the Titans, they must not believe I can play in this league at my size. So I was always trying to show I've been playing at this level even before this year, it's just now, just I've been more in the game, so it's more recognition at this time."
The game matters to Long. His teammates matter. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel once said of the 26-year-old Long, "David really wants to do well, you can sometimes look in a guy's eyes and when he makes a mistake, it hurts, it bothers him. He wants to do well, he puts a lot into it."
That has led to Long becoming one of the leaders of that defense, despite not having as high a profile as some of his more decorated teammates. His energy and his relentlessness fit with the entirety of a group that's allowing just 18.5 points per game (tied for eighth-best in the league), fueling the 7-3 Titans to the top of AFC South once again.
"I feel like that's the mentality we hold each other to, especially that D-line and front seven with Jeff (Simmons), (Teair) Tart and them boys, that's just the mentality," he said. "We all play with a chip on our shoulder. Tart was an undrafted free agent. So we all have that fire under us, we feel like we have something to prove, and we have the standard that we want to stay at."
In the final year of his four-year rookie contract, Long has seemingly earned himself a nice payday for the -- wait for it -- long-term (see what I did there?). But in the here and now, he's worried about one thing: living up to that standard, something he has done exceedingly well during his time in Tennessee, both to his benefit and to the team's.