Birds’ Long has whole lot of love for his old team

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

ANAHEIM, CALIF. » Ea­gles veter­ans Chris Long and Rod­ney McLeod weren’t around when the Rams moved to Los An­ge­les. But the re­minders of what could have been for those prod­ucts of the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia are ev­ery­where this week as the Ea­gles gear up to take on the Rams, who gave those Long and McLeod their starts.

When the Rams were in St. Louis, they took Long off the board with the sec­ond pick in the 2008 draft.

Long, 32, got a taste of what it would be like early as Scott Line­han was fired af­ter an 0-4 start and Jim Haslett, the de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, won just twice the rest of the way, the Rams fin­ish­ing 2-14.

Long played for four dif­fer­ent head coaches in eight sea­sons with the Rams, Jeff Fisher cut­ting him af­ter the 2015 cam­paign. Long started 95 of 114 games, record­ing 61½ sacks, 11 forced fum­bles and six fum­ble re­cov­er­ies.

“If I never got cut, I wouldn’t have a Su­per Bowl ring, so I’m not one of those guys that I’m up­set,” Long said. “I love those dudes that I played with. A lot of peo­ple that I still talk to on a reg­u­lar ba­sis still are there. If I hadn’t played like crap, I wouldn’t have got cut. If I didn’t get hurt, I wouldn’t have got cut. I wasn’t 100 per­cent and that’s what hap­pens in this league. So, I never hold any ill will to­wards a former team. I had eight great years there and I’ve got great re­spect for that or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

The Su­per Bowl ring came last year when Long played in ev­ery game for the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, notch­ing three sacks. Long op­posed the Rams last year at Gil­lette Sta­dium. As for rookie Jared Goff, who threw two in­ter­cep­tions in a 26-10 loss then, Long says he re­spect­fully ap­plauds what Goff and this edi­tion of the Rams are do­ing.

The Rams are 9-3. That’s two more vic­to­ries than Long tasted in any sea­son with the Rams, the team go­ing 3-29 his first two years and a col­lec­tive 39-88-1 (.448) in eight sea­sons.

“Yeah, I could see this com­ing,” Long said. “Cer­tainly, it took a while for guys that were there. But Coach (Sean) McVay has got them do­ing a great job. There were al­ways some pieces there. That de­fense is play­ing well. And to me, I’m not sur­prised they’re play­ing well. There’s a lot of good peo­ple in that locker room, and good foot­ball play­ers.”

McLeod, 27, didn’t miss a game in four sea­sons with the Rams, who signed him as an un­drafted free agent out of Vir­ginia in 2012. He left in free agency af­ter the 2015 sea­son, the Rams log­ging a 7-9 mark, the best then head coach Jeff Fisher achieved in his five-year tour.

When McLeod looks at this Rams team and its upside, he can only smile.

“I was there for four years,” McLeod said. “Ob­vi­ously, I would have loved for that to hap­pen when I was there. But I’m happy for where I am. And I’ve got a lot of guys over there that I know. So, happy for them. They’re play­ing well. And we’re go­ing to have to bring our A game on Sun­day.”

The Rams are fa­vored by 2½ points over the Ea­gles, who are com­ing off just their sec­ond loss in 12 games. The game fea­tures quar­ter­backs Goff and Carson Wentz, who came off the board 1-2 in the 2016 draft, and are play­ing like it.

Both teams have solid run­ning games, the Rams with certain Al­lPro per­former Todd Gur­ley, one of the most com­plete three-down backs in the NFL, the Ea­gles with their com­mit­tee of Jay Ajayi, LeGar­rette Blount and Corey Cle­ment.

The Rams have Sammy Watkins, a 6-1, 205-pound big body re­ceiver with sprinter speed and a pen­chant for get­ting into the end zone. He has six touch­downs and av­er­ages 17.0 yards per re­cep­tion. Robert Woods could miss the game with a shoul­der in­jury.

The Ea­gles counter with Al­shon Jef­fery and Nelson Agholor, with seven TDs apiece. Both teams need a win.

“We are a pretty even-keeled group,” Long said. “And it doesn’t mat­ter whether we’re in a ho­tel or sleep­ing at home, when we come out on the prac­tice field we’ve got to get some good work done. And we’re play­ing a great team. Those guys de­serve suc­cess.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Chris Long, left, helps carry fel­low Rams de­fen­sive end Robert Quinn off the field with Wil­liam Hayes, right, af­ter Quinn set a team sin­gle­sea­son sacks record in a game in 2013 against the Tampa Bay Bucs in St. Louis.

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