The Raiders took Long after using their two first-round picks on defensive back Ted Watts and tackle Curt Marsh, both of whom were out of pro football after five seasons.
"Earl Leggett is responsible for Howie Long the football player, more than anyone," Long proclaimed. "If it weren't for Earl Leggett, I wouldn't be much, just another Joe Blow. And that's a fact."
Leggett made Howie his personal project. He worked the raw-boned rookie at virtually every line position. "Everyday at practice it was a new position," Long recalled. "I played on the nose. I played right end, left end, left tackle, and right tackle. I couldn't understand what he was doing at the time. A lot of people were questioning it because I wasn't settling in at one position. So how could I grow as a player?"
What Leggett was doing was taking advantage of Long's strength, quickness, and intense desire. "We were just going to try to develop those talents, bring him along slowly, see how he progressed. Luckily, he learned quick." In the process Leggett made Long one of the most versatile defensive linemen in the league.
Although he didn't become an immediate starter his first year in Oakland, Howie's versatility paid off. He led the team in sacks as a rookie playing both end and tackle. Halfway through his second season - first for the Raiders in Los Angeles - Leggett moved him into a starting role. The "diamond in the rough" was about to emerge as a real gem.
In 1983, Long recorded a career high 13 sacks, including five in one game against the Washington Redskins, a team the Raiders would again face in Super Bowl XVIII. In that game, Howie recorded four solo tackles and one assist as Los Angeles trampled the Redskins 38-9.
Long was named All-Pro and to the first of his eight Pro Bowls. He became just the second Raider defensive lineman to earn the post-season honor.
"There are guys who are bigger, guys who are stronger, guys who are meaner," said teammate Matt Millen. "But none of them puts it together the way he does. Nobody has his blend. He does everything."
In 1984, Long continued his climb to the upper echelon of the NFL with a season's performance that included 58 tackles, 12 sacks, and nine passes defensed. He was again named All-Pro and selected to play in the Pro Bowl, and the NFL Alumni named him the NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Howie's superlative play not only drew the attention of the public and the media, but more importantly from his peers whom recognized him as a force to be reckoned. Although he consistently ranked near the top in league sack totals, he played the run just as well. Unfortunately, that meant that on many occasions he would be double and even triple teamed.
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