April 23, 2010
REMINDER: Saturday's practice (Apr. 24) begins at 11:00 a.m.
This aptly sums up cornerback Adam Long's first year with the Huskies in 2009, a campaign where flashy moments mixed with the typical mistakes you'd expect from a redshirt freshman. But what separates Long from his peers is blinding make-up speed, a facet of his game that makes him one of the more dynamic players on the field. It also gives the Huskies an even playing field in a Pac-10 Conference loaded with elite quarterbacks and polished receivers.
Injuries decimated the defensive backfield last season, and so Long got a look almost by default. Then the coaches liked how he handled himself on the road at Arizona State, a game where Long finished with eight tackles and a sack. His progress only snowballed from there, and Long has now entrenched himself atop the depth chart at corner, along with fellow sophomore Desmond Trufant.
Conversely, Long is no longer just a nice surprise on the field. His coaches are now counting on him to make plays, a challenge they issued to Long before spring football began. Cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin harps on "ball awareness" with his unit, preaching their need to intercept passes and give the ball back to Jake Locker and the offense.
"I've expected a little more of him this spring," Martin said. "Especially with his playmaking abilities and getting better where he left off last year. We're working on that as we speak."
Long understands he needs to improve in that area. In 11 games last season, the Los Angeles native finished with 35 tackles and seven pass breakups, but zero interceptions and zero forced fumbles. Martin has coached Long to get in a position where he's able to instinctively make a play on a lazy pass.
"We want to be able to catch the passes that we can catch and break up the passes that we can break up," Martin said. "We want to have ball awareness, knowing when to gamble and go for an interception."
The theory goes for the unit as a whole, which will boast more depth. Quintin Richardson and Vonzell McDowell Jr., are capable backups and will provide the Huskies with no drop off in talent when the team plays in nickel/dime defenses. Richardson has received plenty of extra reps this spring with the coaches holding Trufant out because of an injury. Additionally, UW is rotating in Anthony Boyles and Anthony Gobern during practice as well. The extra year of experience should help season a young group.
What impressed Martin so much about Long was how well he handled what might be the toughest conference for a corner to play in. The Pac-10 is so loaded at times, Martin said, that there's sometimes nothing a defender can do if the quarterback and receiver are in perfect sync, for example, a back-shoulder pass on a timing route.
Like all good cornerbacks, Long has a short memory. Even better, he has "track speed." Those are the smooth, loping strides that allow Long to cover an impressive amount of ground. Even when he'd be out of position, Long was never out of the play. A year later and more versed in the system, Long is ready to start being a difference-maker.
"I want to be a playmaker," Long said. "I just need to keep working towards it. I'll get there."