ST. LOUIS — Fans arriving at Rams Park to watch practice are greeted by a couple of signs with St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long's photograph on them.
"You hang on long enough, they put your picture up,'' Long said. "It's a lot of luck. I'm just fortunate to still be here. We've had a lot of ups and downs, but the past is the past and we're in Year 2 of Coach (Jeff) Fisher's era here. We're just going to keep building. I think we have a good foundation under us.''
The 28-year-old Long has hung around long enough -- he's entering his sixth season -- to be the longest-tenured Ram.
Long earned that title when running back Steven Jackson signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons in March. Jackson had been with the Rams for nine seasons.
Long said he's not surprised that he's been with the team longer than any player currently on its roster.
"When I knew Steve was leaving, I knew I was the most-tenured guy, for whatever that is worth,'' said Long, who was the second overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. "I'm in Year 6, so I don't know how that would be in other organizations but for whatever reason that is how it has gone.
"I'm proud to be here for six years. I'm proud to be a part of the turning around. I know this is it, and we're going to turn it around.''
The Rams won only three games over Long's first two seasons with the team and 12 games over his first four seasons.
"More downs in that time, but certainly the past being the past, you can learn from it and it makes you appreciate right now and the opportunities we have a lot more,'' Long said.
Fisher said Long has embraced his role as a leader for the Rams even though there are several players with more NFL experience on the squad.
Linebacker Will Witherspoon is entering his 12th season in the NFL, and his second stint with the Rams. Center Scott Wells is entering his 10th season.
"We assigned parking spots to the players, and we did it based on seniority, and he's still about four or five down the line,'' Fisher said of Long. "(Witherspoon) came in here and he got the first one right off the bat. From a standpoint of seniority (of players) that's been here, yeah, he's enjoying every minute of it. He's taken a leadership role in the room with a bunch of young guys. They work together, and he's taking a lot of pride in this defense."
Long is coming off back-to-back seasons with a team-leading, double-digit sack total. He had 13 sacks in 2011 and 11.5 sacks last season.
Long also led the Rams in quarterback pressures with 50 and quarterback hits with 24.
"I can get a ton better obviously,'' Long said. "I had a pretty good year last year. Not the year I wanted to have. I don't think it's ever the year you wanted to have.
"You look back on the mistakes you made and opportunities you missed. I can always compete harder and keep working to get myself in better condition. That's the one thing I can control.''
Fisher agreed that Long has room for improvement.
"He makes a great share of his big plays with effort, and if you ask him, he'll tell you that he can still do better with technique,'' Fisher said. "He and (defensive line coach) Mike (Waufle) are doing a great job working together, as the rest of the guys are, and that's been the biggest improvement up front. It's been hand usage and technique with the defensive line."
As a team, the Rams tied for the NFL lead with 52 sacks. They bring back their entire front four on defense this year.
"The sky is the limit,'' Long said. "I think the sky was the limit last year, but we made too many mental mistakes, too many undisciplined mistakes. Our approach is going to be: Be the same edgy defense, but make less mistakes. Just focus more and grow up a lot in one year.''
Other players such as Sam Bradford and Cortland Finnegan also appear on the signs around training camp, and Long doesn't consider himself the face of the franchise or even the face of the defense.
"Not at all. I would definitely say that's 55 (James Laurinaitis), but they decided they'd put a couple of my pictures up,'' Long said. "I appreciate that. I'm a welcoming kind of guy, so 'Welcome to Rams Park.'''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.