ST. LOUIS – Minus the two-a-days, the IV drips, the soft tissue muscle pulls and the fatigue, Chris Long has actually become a fan of training camp.
The leader of the St. Louis Rams' pass rush, and their seniority leader heading into his sixth season, does not miss the summer grind that was eliminated with the new collective bargaining agreement. The defensive end relishes how fresh his body still feels and has newfound respect for those like his Hall of Fame father Howie Long, who endured long dog days throughout their careers.
"I like training camp now, I hated training camp before the new CBA," Long said. "You're not constantly fighting being super-fatigued where I think it's like a point of diminishing returns. You work so much, you're actually maybe even getting worse."
Plus, Long and other selected veterans get to sleep in their own beds instead of at the team hotel.
The Rams practice once a day, usually starting in the late afternoon, with walkthroughs in the morning, and no one's been collapsing in exhaustion or dropping a ton of water weight. Unusually mild weather certainly has helped, with temperatures in the high 70s about 20 degrees cooler than usual, but the schedule itself is the biggest factor.
Players had the day off Tuesday to recover from the first of four full-pad workouts this week, capped by a scrimmage on Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome. Long said there should be no excuses.
"If we're not getting any better," Long said, "it's on us."
Long was the second overall pick of the 2008 draft out of Virginia. He's been durable in addition to the production, yet to miss a game, and inherited the mantle of senior Ram when running back Steven Jackson left in free agency after nine seasons.
Long is signed through 2016 after getting a four-year deal on the first day of camp last season. The walk to his parking spot in the players' lot will be shorter, one of the perks of the position, although coach Jeff Fisher recognizes overall longevity in the NFL in the pecking order. Long is way behind linebacker Will Witherspoon, entering his 12th season, and center Scott Wells, in his 10th.
"He's still about four or five down the line," Fisher said of Long. "Will Spoon came in here and he got the first one right off the bat."
By word and deed, Long tries to set the tone.
He's been on a pair of seven-win teams and a two more teams that mustered just three wins his first two seasons, so he's seen it all. He leads by example on the field by staying relentless.
The memory of toting veterans' equipment off the practice field in Mequon, Wis., his rookie year remains fresh. So the newcomers also learn that camp isn't 100 percent serious business.
"I really feel for these rookies," Long said. "They come out here and they've got a lot of jitters and it's very antsy, they don't know what to expect. We've been through it a bunch of times, so it's just fun for us."
Early in camp, Long has been a ringleader making sneak attacks with whipped cream pies on unsuspecting teammates before and after practice. Last week, a salvo from Long and cornerback Trumaine Johnson caught cornerback Cortland Finnegan with a direct hit and — bonus for the players — splattered members of the media, too.
"I'm winning the pie war," Long said. "I'm always ready."
Long's prankster side doesn't detract from production on the field. He has blossomed since settling in at left end a few years ago, and has had double-digit sack totals the last two years, relying on speed and leverage by sprinting past blockers out of a two-point stance. The last three seasons, Long has been a Pro Bowl alternate. If the Rams take off, more recognition might come, but he said it's not a motivating factor.
"I've had people tell me they're sorry, they feel bad for me," Long said. "I don't care, I think the right guys are going to the Pro Bowl. The NFC has some awesome defensive ends and I don't expect to go any time in my career."
Long is among a bevy of first-round picks, including outside linebacker Alec Ogletree this year, on a defense aspiring to be a top 10 unit. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, a former second-rounder, has led the team in tackles all four of his seasons.
"Guys like myself and James who have been here the whole time have been really lucky to just kind of ride it out through the bad, and now we're on the upswing," Long said. "I really believe that. We have evidence to believe, we have reason to believe."
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