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Long could follow in Williams' footsteps


INDIANAPOLIS – Defensive end Chris Long's name will be called in the first round of the NFL draft, as he is expected to be a top-five pick, maybe even the first overall selection.

That would make him the second defensive end taken at No. 1 in the past three years with the Texans choosing Mario Williams with the first overall choice in 2006.

Long has been compared to Williams because both are athletic, explosive players who can drop back from the line to rush the passer as linebackers.

At the combine, Long said he was flattered by the comparison, considering Williams recorded 14 sacks last season. But the Virginia product also knows that Williams had to endure intense media scrutiny his rookie season after being selected before Tennessee's Vince Young and New Orleans' Reggie Bush.

"It's tough," Long said. "When you're picked at No. 1, as Mario Williams was, people don't have patience. When you don't touch the ball on a regular basis and you're playing at a position like his, the only number they look at is sacks.

"This year, Mario Williams started producing more sacks. He was a pretty darn good football player from the start, which people didn't realize, but now his numbers are better and people are starting to justify it."

{QUOTE}Long, 6-3, 272 pounds, tied for third in the nation with 14 sacks last season, was a first-team All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Scouts have said that he plays with an incredible motor and possesses the highest football IQ in the draft.

They are all traits that Long could have inherited from his father, NFL legend Howie Long, who anchored the Oakland defense for 13 years and helped lead the team to a Super Bowl championship.

"My dad taught me to work hard and be the same guy every day," Long said. "I don't think of myself as doing anything extraordinary. I think that's just the way football is supposed to be played, at a high speed. I'm not a guy who does things half-speed well."

One of Long's earliest memories of his father's playing days was hiding on the floor of the car and sneaking into the Raiders' training camp.

"They had rules that families weren't allowed, and I remember ducking in the car so I could visit my dad," Long said. "Don't tell Al Davis that happened."

There's a chance that Long could follow in his father's footsteps and go to the Raiders, who have the fourth pick in the draft.

"To play there would mean the same as playing anywhere else," he said. "It would be an opportunity to play in the NFL. I'm not afraid of any situation or any burden that comes with the name. It would be pressure, but I welcome pressure."

The other highly-touted defensive end prospect is 6-3, 266-pound Vernon Gholston of Ohio State.

Gholston has been marketed as a tweener who can play outside linebacker or defensive end.

"I'm not really uncomfortable with either one of them; I played them both in college," Gholston said. "It's really wherever the team puts me. The biggest thing is I'm capable of playing both positions. Actually, I played linebacker in high school, so when I got to Ohio State the biggest adjustment was becoming a defensive end, playing with my hand on the ground.

"I love playing defensive end. I love getting after the quarterback and affecting the game that way."

Gholston did just that as a pass rusher for the Buckeyes. Last season, Gholston enjoyed a breakout year, notching 14 sacks and 37 tackles, 15.5 of which were for a loss. His skill set is perfect for a team needing an athletic player who wreaks havoc in the backfield, and he has been projected to be a top-10 pick.

"I know how big the defensive line is (for NFL teams)," Gholston said. "If you got a front four that can control the game, you're destined for championships."

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