By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
08/31/2007

The Rams went into their final exhibition game Thursday night with several fuzzy areas remaining before the final roster cutdown. But coach Scott Linehan noted in the week leading up to the match with Kansas City that at least one major question had been answered.

That was, how would first-round draft choice Adam Carriker's transition from defensive end at Nebraska to tackle with the Rams go?

"Excellent . . . probably one of the best parts of this entire preseason," Linehan said. "Once we put the pads on, he's really improved and sewn up the middle of our defense at the defensive tackle spots, particularly at nose."

Like virtually all the regulars, Carriker didn't play Thursday night in the Rams' 10-3 Governor's Cup victory at the Edward Jones Dome.

Still, Linehan noted that Carriker saw different offensive-line schemes in the first three preseason games, which would benefit him in preparation for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener vs. Carolina.

"You have to get that background a little bit and understand what people are trying to do to you inside," Linehan said. "He's really played well."

The team has been searching for a run-stopping nose tackle for several years. Ryan Pickett was a good, not great, solution, but he left as a free agent after the 2005 season. Jimmy Kennedy inherited the job last year, but he wasn't effective and eventually was traded.

Skeptics wondered whether the 6-foot-6, 308-pound Carriker could make the switch quickly enough to land a starting role. But defensive coordinator Jim Haslett pointed out that in Nebraska's 3-4 scheme, Carriker's gap responsibilities at end were similar to what they are now at nose tackle.

The Rams figure to use a four-man rotation up front that consists of Carriker, fellow rookie Clifton Ryan, second-year pro Claude Wroten and veteran La'Roi Glover.

"Adam is a big guy," Wroten said. "They have to block him, and if they double-team him, that's more one-on-ones for me." And more room for the linebackers to scour the field without interference from lead blockers. All the better for the Rams to improve on a defense that ranked 31st — second to last in the NFL — in run defense.

"That's why they brought me here," Carriker said. "I'm very confident I can handle it."

Carriker acknowledged that some butterflies will be present when he lines up against the Panthers at the Dome. "I'm sure I'll be anxious for that one. The bullets, they're for real now," he said.

Carriker and Ryan aren't the only draftees who will be stepping into roles as rookies. Second-rounder Brian Leonard will back up Steven Jackson at running back and also get some work at fullback; and cornerback Jonathan Wade, a third-round pick, is competing for the nickel back spot with veteran Lenny Walls.

Wide receiver Derek Stanley, a seventh-round selection, has shown promise. The three other draft choices — center Dustin Fry (fourth round), tackle Ken Shackleford (sixth round) and defensive tackle Keith Jackson (seventh round) — probably won't make the 53-man active roster but could be headed for the practice squad.