Rams' Long cautions against expectations

ST. LOUIS — There’s plenty of excitement around the Rams this season, especially their defense, but veteran defensive end Chris Long is trying his best to make sure he and his teammates are focused.

“We can be a lot better than last year, we just have to keep grinding away at it,” Long said Saturday following the team's second full-squad practice of training camp. “At the same time we tell the guys don't believe the hype.”

There’s definitely more hype around this team, the third year of the Jeff Fisher era, than there has been in a long time.

Coming off a 7-9 season, FOX Sports ranked the Rams 12th in the NFL. Peter King of MMQB had St. Louis 10th in his early list of the best teams in the league. Those are high expectations for a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2003 and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004.

Long, 29 and one of the elder statesmen at Rams Park now, has seen plenty of highs and lows throughout his first six seasons in St. Louis. So the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 draft isn’t going to let expectations get out of hand, especially for a defense that now has a veteran defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams with a strong resume.

Yes, this Rams defense could be among the league’s best. But they’ve got to focus on the right things — like working hard to get better — rather than thinking they’ve already made it.

“It's good to have notoriety but it can be dangerous if guys buy into it,” Long said. “We've got humble guys, team guys that just want to win.”

The Rams have improved in the first two years under Fisher, but they still have a long way to go. It won’t be easy, either, considering they finished fourth in the best division in football last season. Rivals Seattle and San Francisco are the teams to beat in the NFC right now and among the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Arizona won 10 games last season.

So while the Rams are closer to where they want to be, they’ll still face a difficult challenge to post their first winning season in more than a decade. And, as the Cardinals showed in 2013, a winning season — even a 10-win season — doesn’t guarantee a berth in the playoffs.

“Every year you think, this could be the year,” Long said. “This could be the year for you personally, it could be the year for the team, it could be the year for you to make a different on this team to try to get us over the hump. Every team in the NFL has hopes and we're all undefeated right now. Pretty quickly, you've just got to move from excitement to intense focus. We have a lot of potential but that stuff has to play itself out on the field. Potential can only get you so much. We've been here before where we've said, 'This has got to be the year.' Well, it's got to be the year if we make it the year.”

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com

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