Tuesday, June 28, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

If only it wasn’t for that darn Isaac Newton offensive lineman Claude Terrell might be preparing for Tuesday night’s NBA Draft instead of his first training camp as a member of the St. Louis Rams.

Growing up in LaMarque, Texas, Terrell harbored fantasies of playing professional basketball, but as he kept growing, he realized that probably wasn’t in his future.

Too big to play little league football, Terrell had to work on his game on the court, but again his size set him back.

"I couldn't make weight, so I had to work on my hoop dreams," Terrell said. "Basketball was my first love until I started growing horizontally instead of vertically. I have a football body and not a basketball body. I used to be able to dunk back in the day. I'm too heavy now. Gravity brings me down too quick."

After spending time as a small forward on the LaMarque High basketball team, Terrell made the conversion to a not-so-small guard on the football team. Terrell is 6-foot-3, 335 pounds now and has been nicknamed “Big C” since his high school days because of his girth.

By the time Terrell realized his future was brighter in football than basketball, he had signed to take his gridiron game to New Mexico. He spent his college career with the Lobos before the Rams used a fourth round choice, No. 134 overall on Terrell.

For a team that traditionally only drafts offensive linemen in the later rounds, St. Louis’ selection of Terrell was the third on a lineman in the draft. With tackle Alex Barron going in the first round and guard/tackle Richie Incognito in the third, Terrell must have done something to impress the team.

In fact, it wasn’t even offensive line coaches John Matsko and John Benton who got the first glimpse of Terrell.
“Wilbert Montgomery went out there to the workout and he fell in love with this kid,” Matsko said. “John and I did a lot of research on his tapes, as did the scouts. We are very high on him, especially at the guard position. We think a lot of this kid.”

Montgomery, of course, is the team’s running backs coach. Generally, he would focus his attention on players at that position, but Terrell was impressive enough to gain his attention.

It is that kind of standout performance that could go a long way for Terrell during the pre-season if he wants to find his way on to the field in his rookie year. There is no shortage of bodies competing for spots along the offensive line and the ability to play multiple positions on the line as well as perform consistently will determine who makes the final roster.

As it stands, Terrell will probably compete for a spot at guard, though he spent some time at tackle for the Lobos. The likely starters at that position are Adam Timmerman and Rex Tucker, but any number of others will be aiming for the backup spots. Larry Turner, Blaine Saipaia, Incognito, Darnell Alford and Zach Bray also figure into the mix of those competing for spots. Scott Tercero, who has played every position on the line, but will probably see time at center when he returns from injury, could also play guard.

It would probably serve Terrell well to show that he can play some tackle if needed, too. Almost every back-up lineman on the Rams has shown some versatility, especially Terrell’s main competition.

Turner has played center and guard, Saipaia plays tackle and guard and Alford plays tackle and guard. When Incognito returns from a knee injury, he can play any of the spots along the line.

Versatility of the linemen has become an important factor because of the way the Rams handle dressed players on game days.

“I think that’s important if you are the number six or seven offensive lineman,” coach Mike Martz said. “Obviously, if you are a starter like Andy (McCollum) you can play guard and center. Usually those sixth and seventh linemen have to be able to do more than one.”

Terrell has no problem playing either position, saying he just likes the physical requirements of his job.

“Where ever they want me to be, that is where I am going to be,” Terrell said. “I love to compete. It’s a chance to be physically dominant with another person and not get in trouble."