Long Just Happy To Be Healthy
Other than maybe quarterback Will Grier, West Virginia’s football team needs linebacker David Long on the field and making plays more so than anyone else on this year’s squad
A knee injury suffered in the summer of 2017 kept Long out of action for first four games of his sophomore season. He came back with a vengeance, and recorded 76 tackles over the next eight games, the third most on the squad last year despite his shortened stint.
But he injured his shoulder in WVU’s bowl game against Utah, and he was held out of spring drills to recover from the ensuing surgery.
His shoulder and knee both seem fine now. That’s good news for the Mountaineers, because they desperately need his playmaking ability on defense. Despite missing a third of the season in 2017, he still would up the team leader in tackles for loss with 16.5. That number also would have tied him for third in the Big 12, though Long doesn’t appear in the conference stats because he didn’t play in enough games to qualify. Still, 16.5 is 16.5, whether he played in nine games or 13.
Long has been full go through fall camp so far. He’s been anxious to get back on the field.
“Camp has been very exciting,” noted the junior from Cincinnati, Ohio. “I’m focused, and staying on top of my recovery and stuff, so I can stay healthy.”
Long is having to adjust to new linebackers around him. WVU’s starter at middle linebacker, Al-Rasheed Benton, has graduated. Dylan Tonkery, who started the four games at the will linebacker when Long was injured and then five more at the sam linebacker later in the season, has moved inside to replace Benton in the starting lineup at the mike. Charlie Benton, a junior college transfer who just arrived at West Virginia in January, will likely start at the sam.
“It’s definitely different without Al being out there,” admitted Long. “He and Dylan are two different types of players. Both are very good players, but just a little different. Tonk’ is a hard worker who wants to get better, so we’ll be fine.”
Benton and Long developed a great feel for each other, having played two years side-by-side at the mike and the will. Now Long looks to build that same type of chemistry with Tonkery.
“I couldn’t work with Dylan in the spring because I was out with the injury,” explained Long, who is a member of the Big 12 Commissioners Honor Roll for his academic work. “But I’ve been on the field with Dylan before. He’s a hard worker, and through the summer we were together and we gelled. I know what he likes to do, and what angles he’s going to take and how I’m going to play off of it. I’m sure that will even get better as time goes on.
“We have to continue work on our communication on the field more than anything else,” he added. “We see it on film, and then we have to go out together and work on it on the field.”
So far this year’s linebacking unit has made a good early impression on the most veteran player of the group.
“We’re looking good,” said Long. “We still have a lot of stuff to learn, but we’re looking good, getting after it and making some plays. There are some early mistakes, as usual, but we’ll get there.
“We know what the offense can do; the offense is going to score points,” he concluded. “(The defense) just have to be up there with them and stop people from scoring points.”