ST. LOUIS (AP) -- As the St. Louis Rams struggled to a 1-15 finish last year on their way to the No. 1 pick in the draft, one bright spot was the improved play of defensive end Chris Long.
In his second season, the former No. 1 pick struggled along with his team in the first half of the season. But after not recording a sack in the first seven games, Long had five of them in the last nine games and was noticeably more active from his defensive end spot.
He's hoping to pick right up where he left off in 2010.
"I was just kind of letting things go; not worrying about it so much and just playing," Long said of his play in the second half of 2009.
"I think that's just me getting better. I don't think it's a flash in the pan thing. I hope not."
Long, who starred at Virginia, was the Rams' first round pick in 2008 and the second overall selection. As if that weren't enough pressure, Long is the son of Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long, who played 13 seasons in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders.
He admits that the expectations can be a burden, but also refuses to use that as an excuse.
"I can't lie; you think about that stuff all the time," Long said. "Everybody puts pressure on themselves in different ways. It's just how you handle it.
"But I don't think I'm any different than anybody else. A guy signed as a free agent might have the same amount of pressure as the guy who was drafted second. We're football players. We all have to deal with it."
One thing that should help is after learning three different defensive schemes in three years, Long will be in the same system for the second straight year under head coach Steve Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole. Spagnuolo believes that the 6-foot-3, 276 pound Long should be even more of a factor this season.
"He did come on toward the end of the year," Spagnuolo said. "We talked to him a lot. He's talked a lot about his first two years being in new systems. That's not the case this year. Now, it's not so much the mind as it is the body and he just goes because he should know what he's doing. Hopefully, he'll be more productive."
Long agrees with that assessment.
"It helps a lot," he said. "It's the first year I've been able to repeat schemes. I'm not the only one going through that; there's a couple of guys in my class who have been through a couple coaches. It's a great scheme, and the more we have time to learn it and master it, the better."
However, Long will be in a new spot on the defensive line, as he moves over from right end to the left. He is looking forward to the switch.
"There's a lot more looks, with tight ends and it's a little more complicated," Long said. "I do like it. I think there's some stuff I can do over there I couldn't do on the right."
As a defensive end, Long plays in a position that usually takes a few years to master. Now heading into his third season, he's hoping for the break out year.
"A lot of things have to come together," Long said. "You need to work hard, you need to get better technically and be in the right situations and things got to come together. God willing, that will all happen this year.
"But individual stats are not my No. 1 goal; I want to win. If I can get that stuff done along with it, that would be great."
NOTES: Defensive tackle Chris Hovan returned to practice after tweaking his back. ... Former general manager and CBS Sports and NFL Network commentator Charlie Casserly attended practice Tuesday morning. ... The Rams had plenty of motivational speakers in the last 24 hours. Former head coach Dick Vermeil, who led the team to the Super Bowl title in the 1999 campaign, addressed the team at a special meeting Monday evening. Tuesday, boxing promoter Don King was on hand at practice along with St. Louis native Devon Alexander, who will defend his WBC and IBF 140-pound titles in St. Louis against Andriy Kotelnik.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)