ST. LOUIS -- Like most of his teammates in this difficult season, St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long would rather experience group success than individual stardom.
A career-high 13 sacks? He would rather have more victories than an NFC-worst two. A chance to earn a Pro Bowl spot? He would rather compete for an opportunity to make the playoffs.
On Tuesday, Long sat in a small office at Rams Park as one of the few positives for his franchise in a disappointing year. His sack total with two games left has surpassed his previous career-best of 8 12 set last season. The fourth-year player views current hardship as a sign that future success will be more fulfilling.
"There has been a lot of adversity," Long said. "I take pride in our entire unit trying to play through some adversity, especially on the D-line. I feel like I'm proud of my D-line mates. I feel like I have been able to enjoy some successes individually, and that's all great. But I would rather have some wins than some numbers."
But Long's numbers rank among the NFL's best. He is fifth in the league in sacks, trailing Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jason Babin (18), Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen (17 ), Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (16) and New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (13 ). No other Rams player has more than defensive end James Hall's five in the category.
Long has shown steady progression throughout his career. As a rookie in 2008, he had four sacks and 40 tackles. In 2009, he had five sacks and 43 tackles. And last year, he had 29 tackles to go along with his previous career-best sack mark.
The fact that Long has developed in St. Louis is a scenario that almost did not happen. Before the 2008 NFL draft, the Rams' defensive staff preferred LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey as a potential selection. But general manager Billy Devaney and then-head coach Scott Linehan chose to take Long, a Virginia product, with the second overall pick.
In time, the choice has proven to be smart. Dorsey went fifth overall to the Kansas City Chiefs and has had four sacks, never earning more in a single season than the two he had last year. In addition, the former consensus All-American has been criticized for lax work habits and self-discipline.
"He's relentless, and he's a hard worker," Rams rookie defensive end Robert Quinn said of Long. "I always hear him give credit to the guys around him. I think everything is working hand-in-hand, and he's having one of those breakout seasons."
Long's breakout was evident during the Rams' upset victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 8. He sacked quarterback Drew Brees three times in St. Louis' 31-21 triumph, the Rams' first of the season. His performance was part of St. Louis' six-sack effort after entering with 11.
After the game, Long stood in a locker room filled with the sights and sounds of a celebration and credited the Rams' defensive line for rushing with aggression. During the postgame scene, Hall congratulated Long on his effective day. Brees was held to 269 yards passing with one touchdown and two interceptions, in part because of Long's effort.
"He's been playing an outstanding season, working hard, and the hard work has been paying off for him," said Hall, who has five sacks and 44 tackles this season. "He has been playing well all year. From the first game up until now -- there wasn't any particular moment where it clicked for him. It has been a steady rise."
Long wants to continue his steady growth. He said he has become more comfortable each year in his preparation. This past offseason, he improved his hand work and studied film with a more experienced eye.
He also has a prominent family member to help him prepare. Former Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long, an eight-time Pro Bowl player who competed from 1981 to 1993, is Chris' father and acts as a source of knowledge.
To Chris, his father's example serves as inspiration as well as motivation. He said he thrives on the pressure of meeting Howie's standard. In 2000, Howie was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after earning 84 career sacks.
"I lean a lot on my family, like anybody else in this league does," Chris said. "I think my situation is a little bit unique, because my dad played. He certainly does know a lot about the game, and he is a great resource to have. He has been a lot of what has made me into what I am today. The pressure his career created for me has driven me, and I thrive on that pressure. But not only that, he's an awesome friend and an awesome father. He has a great amount of football knowledge that he is willing to pass on to me when I want it."
Long's knowledge will mature with time. Still, his success this season has not been lost on Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo, who said after a defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, "Chris Long is a warrior and is emerging as one of our strongest leaders."
Leadership traits were on display last week when Long and Spagnuolo discussed the young defensive end's health. Long has been limited in practice because of a right-ankle injury sustained in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11. Despite his condition, Long approached Spagnuolo and asked to play.
"Coach," Spagnuolo recalls Long saying, "I want to go out there with my guys."
"I want to be dependable, consistent, one of the best players at my position," Long said Tuesday. "I'm not one of those guys who says I have to be the best, but I want to be one of the best guys. I want to be well-respected."
Such is the hunger of one of the few bright spots the Rams will remember from a season to forget. One day, Long hopes individual accolades produce team rewards.