Dark horse OLB Travis Long pushing to make Eagles

Dark horse OLB Travis Long pushing to make Eagles

Mosher: Finally some depth for the Eagles

July 2, 2014, 11:30 am
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Travis Long had 20½ sacks in 47 career games at Washington State. (USA Today Images)

Travis Long spent his first NFL season on the Eagles’ practice squad, a fairly impressive accomplishment given that he went undrafted last April and didn’t sign his first contract until after training camp had already started.

And although he practiced with the team, joined them on the road and collected an NFL paycheck, he didn’t always feel like an NFL player.

“Maybe it didn’t quite feel like I was an NFL player because I wasn’t playing in games,” he said. “But at the same time I’m out here practicing, I’m in meetings, I’m traveling with everybody, so I still feel like I’m part of an NFL roster. It’s just I don’t get to do what I’m practicing for, going to play in games. But it is what I needed.”

Long, a former Washington State outside linebacker, broke out for 9½ sacks his senior year but had his season end prematurely when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament with just one more regular-season game to play.

That’s why 32 teams bypassed him in the draft and why Long didn’t find a home until some injuries at Eagles training camp cleared a roster spot.

Guys like Long are usually long shots to have staying power, but by the end of his first year on the practice squad, he had impressed his teammates and coaches enough to merit strong consideration for a roster spot this year.

Several teammates at the end of last year said Long would be a player to watch in training camp this summer, citing his relentless motor and pass-rushing techniques.

It helps that Long fits Kelly’s model for outside linebackers, with his long arms and slender frame. At 6-foot-4, he’s close to the ideal 6-foot-6 frame Kelly likes at that position.

Long also played in the Pac 12. If you haven’t noticed, Kelly, the former Oregon coach, has a special fondness for athletes who competed with and against him at the collegiate level.

“Yeah, that’s a confidence thing, and I did play against Chip for four years in college so I feel like he knows what I can and can’t do,” Long said. “I think that really might be one of the reasons I’m here. He did know what kind of player I was.”

Long recorded 20½ sacks in 47 games for the Cougars, winning the team’s defensive MVP award in his senior year despite missing the final game. He was also named All-Pac 12 honorable mention.

About midway through last year, when his knee finally felt fully healthy, Long said he felt more comfortable in the defense and started to showcase his abilities. During the spring camps, Long took most of his reps on the third team at the Predator spot on the right side, the pass-rushing position where Trent Cole usually lines up, but also saw opportunities at the Jack position (Connor Barwin’s role) on the second string.

“He's really improved,” Kelly said. “I think obviously when we got him, he was coming off of an injury. Spent a year on the practice squad and didn't miss any time, but you could tell he was still recovering from the injury, but has really made some great strides and is a guy that's really pushing hard to make this football team.

“I think he'll be able to contribute from a special teams standpoint, obviously adding some depth at the outside linebacker spot. So he's definitely a guy you have to keep an eye on right now.”

One hurdle Long faces is the depth at his position. Behind the starting tandem of Cole and Barwin the Eagles have two first-round picks in Brandon Graham and Marcus Smith. Smith was the 26th overall pick in May’s draft, so he’s a lock for the roster. The team also signed free-agent outside linebacker Bryan Braman, mainly to upgrade special teams but to also potentially contribute in the pass rush.

Long will have to convince Kelly that he’s worth the extra roster spot.

“There are a lot of guys, a lot of competition,” Long said. “That’s good, though. That raises everyone’s level of play.”

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