The Tennessee Titans' late-season collapse, which cost them a chance at a third consecutive division title, came with a host of players nursing injuries.
After the disappointing campaign ended, Titans coach Mike Vrabel took a shot at two players, specifically, cornerback Kristian Fulton and linebacker David Long, for missing time due to injuries. Apparently, the coach believed they were injuries that could have been avoided.
"We look at soft-tissue injuries. We look at those soft-tissue injuries of repeat offenders," Vrabel said in early January. "It doesn't take too hard to look and see, you know, Kristian Fulton and David Long, they're repeat offenders of soft-tissue injuries. They have to figure out a way to train and act like -- this game's played at a high speed. Kevin Byard hasn't pulled a hamstring since we've been here. There's a durability factor to playing professional football. And we should not overlook. That's real. There's guys that are durable and guys that aren't."
The label that Long wasn't durable enough followed the linebacker into free agency. It's the main reason he signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Miami Dolphins. Sans the injury questions, Long is worth way more than that deal suggests.
During his introductory news conference in South Beach, Long said he was surprised by Vrabel's comments but not letting them bother him in Miami.
"If you watch film since my rookie year to the end of this year, every play, I lay it out on the line," Long said Wednesday. "So that was a surprise to me. I feel like it kind of created a narrative a little bit as far as how I take care of my body. If you ask anybody, I'm a first one in and last guy out type of guy. So I know he knows that as well. It really just put a bigger chip (on my shoulder) because I know what type of player I am. That wasn't discussed to me, as well. So it was a lot. I took it with a grain of salt. I'm not really much a media person like 'why did you single me out or whatever.' I'm going to roll with it and I'm just going to get back to work."
When on the field, Long is a lightning bolt of action. His ability to shoot gaps and make tackles fits brilliantly in Vic Fangio's scheme in Miami. His anticipation against the run is uncanny, and the 26-year-old always seems to be in the frame when he's on the field.
But Vrabel isn't wrong that Long's biggest issue has been staying healthy. The linebacker has never played a full-season slate in four years in the NFL. In the past two seasons since becoming a starter, he's missed 12 contests. It's little coincidence that the Titans lost all five games Long missed down the stretch of the season as he and other Tennessee players grappled with injuries.
As is often regurgitated among NFL coaches and players, one of the best abilities is availability. Long has the talent to be a stud in Miami. But first, he needs to stay on the field. If he does that, the Dolphins got a steal in free agency.