Travis Long's career with the Philadelphia Eagles has hardly been glamorous to this point. Some might not even recognize Long's name or recall how he joined the team. To this point, it's fair to say Long has been flying under the radar.
The 6-4, 255 lb Washington State product signed with the Eagles in the middle of the team's 2013 training camp after his workout went well. He had just previously worked out with the Chargers the day before but they didn't have an open spot on their 90 man roster. When Long came to Philly, he only brought a backpack full of clothes for one day because he expected to work out and then return home out west. To Long's pleasant surprise, the Eagles offered him a contract instead.
Long, a rookie at the time, was coming off an ACL surgery that likely caused him to go undrafted. He went on to have a solid training camp and preseason performance but it wasn't good enough to earn him a roster spot. Long would go on to spend the entire 2013 season on Philadelphia's practice squad.
Now, instead of being an undrafted rookie afterthought, Long is a player to keep an eye on. At least that's what Eagles head coach Chip Kelly suggested.
He's really improved. 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.
The benefit of being fully healthy and spending a year in the team's system is sure to help Long's roster chances. Long projects as a backup to Connor Barwin's JACK linebacker position due to his ability to drop into coverage often. During Eagles preseason last year, Long dropped into coverage over 60% of his snaps playing OLB. That was the most on the team (small sample size, of course).
While Long may be a player to keep an eye on, it's worth noting the Eagles OLB position is crowded right now. Returning veterans Trent Cole and Connor Barwin are the starters. Marcus Smith II is the team's first round draft pick and will be a rotational player. Converted 4-3 defensive end Brandon Graham is still here and it seems like the team isn't in a rush to part with him. The Eagles signed Bryan Braman in free agency to be a key contributor on special teams and depth at OLB. So far, Long is embracing the competition.
There are a lot of guys. A lot of competition. That's good though. That raises everyone's level of play and that's just what we need for the team.
It will be interesting to see how many OLBs the Eagles keep this year. They went light at the position last season with a group of four: Cole, Barwin, Graham and converted ILB Casey Matthews. Long could end up back on the practice squad as he is still eligible, but there's always the risk another team could poach him away from Philadelphia.
In the end, having too many quality options at a key position is a good problem to have. How the OLB battle plays out remains to be seen, but the one thing for sure is that the Eagles have more depth at that position than this time last year.