Travis Long ready to resume NFL career

EIGHT MONTHS since surgery to repair the torn ACL in his left knee and two-and-a-half years since surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee, former Washington State standout Travis Long says he’ll report to off-season workouts today with the Philadelphia Eagles with close to a clean bill of health.

“I would say I’m anywhere between 80 (to) 90 percent right now,” Long told Cougfan.com.

In a phone interview Thursday, Long explained there are benefits, believe it or not, to having a second surgery to repair a torn ACL. A lot feels familiar, from the rehab process to how the body reacts.

“It was much easier coming off this surgery,” he said.

Physically, sure.

But there was a mental toll, at least initially, when Long tore his left ACL last August in the Eagles’ final preseason game. It was the fourth quarter of a blowout win over the New York Jets. It appeared to happen on a play where Long didn’t make contact with another player.

The truth is he was only a handful of plays away from making his NFL regular-season debut. Eagles coach Chip Kelly had him on punt coverage, punt returns, kickoff returns and kickoff coverage at the time he was hurt, Long said.

He was a sure bet to make the 53-man roster — a truth Kelly intimated in a one-on-one meeting shortly after they learned of the injury.

"I was doing everything they were telling me to do at a high level,” Long said. “It was just an unfortunate accident.”

“As soon as I found out, it was like, ‘This is going to suck,’ he said.

So the week of the surgery, he did what any sensible 20-something would do: he bought a PlayStation 4. While recovering, he passed the time by binge-watching The Office and Breaking Bad from his apartment in Philadelphia as he looked ahead to 2015.

Asked if he considered retiring after sustaining a second major knee injury in less than three years, Long was succinct: "No, that thought might have crossed my mind for a second or two but I was like, ‘I want to play in an NFL game.’ That thought never really crossed my mind too much.”


LONG STARTED 47 STRAIGHT GAMES FOR THE COUGARS FROM 2009-2012 BEFORE A KNEE INJURY SIDELINED HIM FOR HIS FINAL GAME AS A SENIOR. HE WAS NAMED ALL-CONFERENCE HONORABLE MENTION OR SECOND TEAM FOUR-STRAIGHT SEASONS.

Long is better positioned to make an NFL roster now than the months after he tore his right ACL on Nov. 17, 2012 in WSU’s 46-7 road loss to Arizona State. It was his second-to-last game as a Cougar, and the timing -- both for the ensuing Apple Cup game and for his pro aspirations -- couldn’t have been worse.

By April, when most NFL prospects were participating in Pro Days, Long hadn’t started running. Once considered a lock to get drafted, he never heard his name called.

"No one wanted to take a chance on some dude that was three months post-surgery,” he said.

Long eventually signed as a free agent with the Eagles in late July of 2013. He spent his first pro season on the practice squad, taking his lumps, learning the playbook and showing what made him a four-year WSU starter with 20 ½ career sacks and 42 tackles for loss.

He did virtually everything with the Eagles, including travel on road trips, but never played on Sundays. It left him wanting more.

"I did the practice squad thing. I did not want to do that again,” Long said. “I came in late during training camp so I was kind of behind from the beginning.

“But I felt like I worked my way all the way up during the OTAs and during training camp,” he added. “I felt like I did enough to show that I could make the roster. I think the coaches knew that too."

The NFL draft starts in less than two weeks, and the Eagles will add more depth to their roster after a wild off-season under Kelly, who is in his first year with control of player personnel to go along with head coaching duties.

But Long, 23, will at least enter off-season OTAs knowing he can make the roster, if 2014 is an indicator. Last season, the Eagles tried him at inside linebacker. But he expects to move back to the outside.

In the near-term, Long said the Eagles plan to monitor his reps during workouts while he works his way back to 100 percent. But he likely won’t be held out of many drills.

The rest of the off-season will be busy, too. In July, he is getting married to his fiancée, Sarah, in Spokane, with former WSU QB Connor Halliday set to serve as best man. Long and Sarah started dating during his freshman year at Gonzaga Prep, and almost a decade later, he proposed last October while they were living together in Philadelphia.

“I wasn't in a cake or anything like that,” Long joked about the proposal.

He decked out his apartment with pictures from high school dances and candles. The move worked.

“I thought about doing one of those things where the photographer hides somewhere out in public and then catches you doing it,” he said. “But that's not me."

NOTABLE:

  • While the Cougars' 2009 recruiting class turned out to be a bust of epic proportion, two members of the group -- Long and quarterback Jeff Tuel -- are entering their third NFL seasons.

  • Long ranks fourth all-time at WSU in tackles-for-loss (42) and sixth in sacks (20.5).

  • Long is the third Cougar from Spokane to play for Philadelphia. Bud Roffler (Lewis & Clark) and Jerry Williams (North Central) were both Eagles in the early 1950s.

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