— By Sean Manning, The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This time a year ago, David Long was slowly jogging around the practice field while teammates knocked each other around during camp. He was recovering from a torn meniscus and wasn’t healthy until the season’s fifth game.
Last spring, it was more of the same for Long, slowly running along the sidelines and working on the spin bike while he recovered from minor shoulder surgery.
Nowadays, as West Virginia digs into preseason camp, Long no longer saunters the sideline. Instead, he was popping pads with his linebackers group as a full participant.
In nine games last season, Long finished with 76 tackles, including 16 1/2 for loss, which earned him preseason accolades — except one maybe exception.
The Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker, did not include Long’s name on its watch list in July.
“I smiled a little when I saw it, but you don’t have to be on those watch lists in order to win it,” Long said. “I’m just going to go out there and play how I know I can, and then everything should fall in place.”
While Long isn’t worried about preseason pub, he is concerned about maintaining a clean bill of health through camp, leading into the season-opener Sept. 1 against Tennessee in Charlotte, N.C.
The shoulder is back to 100 percent and there are no limitations.
“It’s very exciting. It’s making me stay focused and to stay on top of my recovery so I can stay healthy,” he said.
Long’s ability to be on the field is crucial this camp, especially with the loss of Al-Rasheed Benton as the Mike linebacker. Long and Benton played the majority of the defensive snaps together the last two seasons, but Long isn’t worried and already has a feel for how Dylan Tonkery plays in the middle.
“Tonk and I gel together really cool, but we are still learning from each other, too,” Long said. “That stuff will all come toward the end of camp, which is another reason why it feels good to be out there. Al and Dylan are two different types of players, but it’s not gonna be any different with Tonk in that spot. He’s a hard worker and he wants to get better.”
Long joins safety Dravon Askew-Henry as the unquestioned leaders of a defense being criticized as WVU’s weak link.
“People say there’s not a lot of talent over here and stuff like that — they don’t know, they really don’t know what we’ve got over here,” Long said. “They don’t know what they’re going to see throughout the season, but we know what we’re gonna do.”