Alston Adjusting to OTAs
Thursday, May 24, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
On any given Thursday last year around this time, Jon Alston was exactly where he didn’t want to be. He only knows that because he had a preferred destination in mind.
Alston was stuck at Stanford, because of NFL rules that prohibit college players who attend universities that use the quarter system from attending camps or practices until their academic year is complete,.
While there are worse places to be than Palo Alto, Calif., Alston would have much preferred to be in St. Louis. Specifically, he would have loved to be on the practice field, getting to know his teammates and learning the nuances of the NFL game so he could make an impact in his rookie season as a Ram.
“At that point, you don’t have too much work left,” Alston said. “You are just kind of hanging out and feeling left out.”
Worse than the feeling of being left out, though, was the fact that Alston was falling behind, far behind the rest of his teammates. The addition of a new coaching staff had everyone, rookies and veterans alike, clamoring to learn the new system. But Alston couldn’t be a part of it and it put him well behind on the learning curve.
“He had to miss everything,” coach Scott Linehan said. “He was not out here at this time last year because of the rule on quarter system players. It’s somewhat of an unfair penalty, I guess, but I understand it. We are not anti-education around here. But it’s a world where have a schedule and unfortunately it doesn’t fit for the guys who have to finish up on the quarters. So he missed a lot of things that put him behind.”
By the time Alston had arrived in St. Louis for training camp, he had only participated in a single rookie minicamp. He was in town long enough to get to know some of his fellow rookies and learn bits and pieces of the defense, but he had to turn around and go home with nothing but a playbook to study and a spinning head from his first taste of the NFL.
At training camp, Alston was visibly behind, struggling to catch up to the speed of the game and find a position where he feels comfortable. At Stanford, he was essentially a blitz specialist, asked to use his tremendous physical tools to chase down quarterbacks. He did it and did it well.
But in St. Louis, it was unclear whether he’d be a linebacker or a safety and he tried to learn a bit of both. After spending the first 13 games of the season inactive and in street clothes, Alston finally got an opportunity to get on the field. And though it wasn’t at linebacker (he played strictly special teams), he got his first taste of NFL football.
“He’s a lot further along because he’s not missing every practice,” Linehan said. “I think he made strides and caught up especially on special teams he made an impression on us at the end of the year so he was active but he was still a ways away as a linebacker.”
And now that Alston’s had a taste and he’s in town for all of the offseason workouts and the Organized Team Activities, he can’t wait to get another chance.
“I realize what I missed not having that last year,” Alston said. “When we first started OTAs, I kind of struggled a little bit getting accustomed to the defense again, learning my techniques again and everything, but I really feel like I have come into my own. I think though I am not there yet, having these OTAs is going to help me get to the player I know that I can be, which is a really special player.”
Alston spent the majority of his offseason working on his physical conditioning so when he arrived at OTAs and the minicamp he would have to focus solely on the mental aspects of the game.
To that end, Alston said he weighs about 225 pounds right now, down from the 230 or so pounds he weighed when he came in last year. Although he would prefer to bulk up some, Alston wanted to be sure that he weighed around 230 pounds the right way.
And Alston’s indoctrination into OTA hasn’t been a normal one. After missing them entirely last year, Alston is more than making up for lost time this year. With starting weakside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa still recovering from right shoulder surgery, Alston is the main attraction on the weak side, where he is getting double the normal reps.
While that can be physically taxing for any player, Alston is more than happy to get the work.
“At first, it was a little bit overwhelming, but now it is starting to feel like I have a grip on the defense and a grip on what we are doing,” Alston said. “I am really happy to be here during this time of year because it is going to give me an added advantage going into next year.”
It isn’t likely that Alston will get the opportunity to push for a starting spot this season because of the presence of Tinoisamoa, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have a role.
Alston took to special teams more and more as the season went on and said he hopes to be a key contributor in that area this season.
“I really can’t expect a whole lot but to contribute whenever I am asked to contribute wherever I am asked to do it,” Alston said. “So whenever my number is called there will be no drop off.”