Transitioning to the NFL can be tough for a rookie, especially if they come from a smaller college that didn’t face top tier competition. According to Tennessee Titans rookie linebacker David Long, who the team drafted in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the hardest part of transitioning to the NFL is learning a deeper, more complex playbook.
“It depends on what school you go to, your playbook may not be as big as the pros,” Long said. “You go from retaining a little bit to, now, you have to retain a lot. So, that would be probably the biggest difference.”
Long went to college at West Virginia, who, when he was there, ran a system on defense pretty different than anything that’s utilized in the NFL.
“I would say it was a difference, it was definitely a difference,” Long said. “I ran 3-3-5 in college. It’s a 4-3 here, so I’m really more inside. It’s just different, but I’m adjusting. I’m trying to get better every day.”
David Long on his new head coach. pic.twitter.com/yJX4yx1uQl
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) May 11, 2019
Working in Long’s favor as he makes this transition is the fact that he has a very strong veteran presence within his position group. He gets to practice every day alongside talented players like Jayon Brown, Rashaan Evans, and Wesley Woodyard.
“You’ve got two younger guys in there and two older guys that have done it in Daren [Bates] and Wesley [Woodyard]. You’ve got Riley [Bullough] and then Nigel [Harris]. All these guys have been in the league and know stuff that I don’t, so I can learn from them. Learn how to practice reps, how to take notes, just different stuff. Take it and apply it to my game.”
Long and the Titans’ other rookies were able to get their feet wet prior to joining the veteran players in rookie minicamp. That time served as an opportunity for rookies to dive in the playbook and start small before getting into bigger things.
“Rookie minicamp was smooth,” Long said, “because it was just three days. There wasn’t much install, you don’t have that much to worry about. When you get in here, it picks up a little bit more. You’ve got to adjust, stay on your toes, try not to make the same mistake twice. Don’t let it overwhelm you, because it can.”
Once the Titans rookies were thrown in with the veterans during OTAs (organized team activities), things were a bit different for them.
“One difference is that, at rookie minicamp, you’re probably in the front of the line. Here, you’re in the back, behind the guys that have been here. Learning from them is a difference, that’s pretty much it. Just adjusting and learning from them.”
Lucky for Long, he has already noticed some improvement in himself since joining the Titans in May. While there’s still plenty of work to do on the field, he has begun to adapt off of it to the day-to-day life of being in the NFL.
Vrabel calls David Long “instinctive.” Says the size of NFL linebackers has shrunk over the last ten years.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) April 27, 2019
“I was slow at first, now I’m trying to pick stuff up, different terminology and stuff. I would say having a routine, [improving] my routine such as getting ready for practice, or coming in here early morning, stuff like that. Getting back used to waking up early, that definitely takes some getting used to.”
Long will have plenty of opportunities over the next few months to impress the Titans’ coaching staff and earn a spot on the final 53-man roster, a feat that seems to be well within the realm of possibility.
“I’m looking to show that I can learn and put what I’ve learned in the room to on the field,” Long said. “Just learn how to be a football player, how to practice like a pro football player. That’s what I would say. Come in, know my place as far as what I want to do this year. All of that is up to me. I’ve just got to stay on my grind, stay focused.”
Cover image via @David__Long on Twitter