Another Young Gun: Rookie Chillar is poised to start at linebacker
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Sep. 11 2004

The Rams have made a habit of starting rookie linebackers: Tommy Polley in
2001, Robert Thomas in 2002 and Pisa Tinoisamoa in 2003.

That trend should continue Sunday in the regular-season opener against Arizona.
Brandon Chillar, the team's fourth-round draft pick in April, is expected to be
in the lineup.

Ironically, he's manning the spot Polley held for the past three seasons.

Chillar started the last three preseason games and graded out well.

"He just doesn't make mistakes," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "The way he times
and gets through people and gets to the ball, head in front, outstanding
tackler, does not make mistakes, gets lined up right, takes on blockers ...
he's just a refined player for a guy that young."

When they strap on the helmets for real, though, Chillar anticipates a
noticeable difference.

"I expect it to be a lot faster," he said. "I think the guys are going to be a
lot more hungry. Every yard's going to count. I've tried to prepare myself the
best I can. Once I get out there, I'll just have to adjust."

NFL rules kept Chillar, 21, out of the Rams' full-squad minicamp in May because
his senior class at UCLA hadn't yet graduated.

So he arrived in Macomb, Ill., on July 27 "a little bit behind the 8-ball,"
linebackers coach Joe Vitt said.

Chillar made up for it by diving into the playbook.

"That was the advice I got from the older guys, to get into your playbook, that
the fastest way to get off the field is making mental errors," he said. "The
mental preparation I do, I take that real serious."

First, Tony Newson supplanted Polley on the No. 1 unit early in camp. A week
later, Chillar nudged Newson aside and has stayed there since.

"We knew that he was going to be extremely physical and that he had courage,"
Vitt said. "What's surprised us is his range and his athleticism. ... He's got
a good grasp of what we're doing with our regular package.

"He's got a long way to go, as he knows. But he's easily coached. He takes to
hard coaching, and he wants to be good."

Chillar is the first NFL player of Indian descent.

His father, Ram Chillar, left his native India in November 1974, settling in
Southern California.

He soon became an NFL devotee.

"I didn't know anything about U.S. football," his dad said. "But the first game
I saw, I liked it, even though I didn't know what they were doing. I liked the
action, the speed and the excitement."

At 6 feet 3, Brandon is slightly taller than Thomas and Tinoisamoa, and at 235
pounds, he's about the same weight. Each of them has one glaring asset: speed.

"I just try to get to the ball as fast as I can," Chillar said.

"The quickness and the speed are very evident," Martz said. "He doesn't look
like a rookie."

Or does he think like one, apparently.

Most first-year starters would be brimming with apprehension as their first
game approached. But Chillar said his nerves have remained steady.

"What takes away the butterflies for me is just knowing that I'm trying to
prepare the best I can," he said. "I try to do everything I can to prepare
myself to play well in the game. After that, all you can do is go out there and
play."

Chillar was seen this past week lugging veterans' pads from the practice field
to the locker room, a typical rookie task.

But shouldn't a rookie starter get a break?

"That doesn't mean anything; if you're a rookie, you're a rookie," Chillar
said, laughing. "And I'm definitely still a rookie. I'm just paying my dues."