Thursday, August 7, 2008

By Brett Grassmuck
Staff Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Rams safety Corey Chavous is back where it all began.

As the Rams make their temporary home in a Nashville, Tenn., hotel, all Chavous has to do is peek out the front window to get a glance of his former college home, Vanderbilt University.

“It’s pretty doggone close,” Chavous said. “I spent a lot of my time right across the street. I had a lot of classes over there.”

Chavous, an 11-year NFL veteran, has returned to the place where his NFL dreams began. He attended Vanderbilt from 1994 – 1998 and is still fourth on the school’s all-time interceptions list (12).

Chavous racked up 199 tackles in his college career. He had 38 stops his senior year in which he never allowed an opposing receiver to score.

“It’s been cool,” Chavous said. “I’ve enjoyed just being around the city where it all started, at least in terms of getting to play at this level.”

Chavous enters his third season with the Rams. He immediately became a leader in the Rams locker room on and off the field, spending numerous hours watching film and helping coach up the younger players while setting an example on the practice field.

“We consider him the quarterback of the defense, at least the back end,” secondary coach Ron Milus said.

Chavous is constantly trying to make himself a better player, even after 11 years in the league. He spends his days at training camp trying to refine his technique.

“I’ve been trying to improve on some things,” Chavous said. “I have a long way to go. It seems like every year you have to re-teach yourself something. I just have a lot of work to do.”

Things have changed a little since Chavous’ senior year at Vanderbilt. His favorite haunt, a nearby Chili’s restaurant, is no longer around.

With two-a-day practices and meetings in between, Chavous hasn’t had time to get out and explore. But he is going to make his way over to the Vanderbilt athletic facility Thursday evening to talk to some of the Commodore football players and coaches.

Chavous’ family will join him in Nashville on Saturday for the Rams preseason opener against the Titans. This may have been where his dreams began, but he doesn’t expect to see too many No. 25 Rams jerseys at LP Field on Sunday.

“It’s been so long since I played here,” Chavous said. “I probably still have a fan base here, but not that great.”

HENTRICH HANGS ON – In his 15-year NFL career, Titans’ punter Craig Hentrich has had only three punts blocked, but he remembers his first one like it was yesterday.

It was the St. Louis Rams’ first game as a franchise as they took on the Packers in Green Bay in September of 1995. Hentrich lined up for a punt, got the snap, but before the ball had even hit his foot, it was gone. Former wide receiver Isaac Bruce handed Hentrich his first career blocked punt.

“He didn’t actually block the punt, he blocked my drop,” Hentrich said. “He swatted my drop away, and I kicked him in the forearm. That’s how fast he was in there. That one’s haunted me for the last 15 years.”

Hentrich has put together an impressive NFL career. He’s played in three Super Bowls, winning one, and has been to two Pro Bowls. He began his career with the Packers, but has spent the last 10 seasons with the Titans. He handled punting duties for the Titans during Super Bowl XXXIV.

“When you first make it, you hope to get two or three (years in the NFL),” Hentrich said. “Twelve, 13 years later, I’m still playing. I’m very fortunate that an organization like this has trusted me for so long. It’s just a matter of taking pride in your job and doing what you’re asked to do.”

Hentrich makes his home in Nashville, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots. Every year the Alton, Ill., native and his wife Lisa, who is from High Ridge, Mo., make an annual pilgrimage to the Midwest when he hosts a golf tournament for the Alton Boys and Girls Club.

“I’ve done that for 13 or 14 years,” Hentrich said. “That’s the time when I usually go back and see family.”

Hentrich was a quarterback, safety, kicker and punter at Marquette High School in Alton, before moving on to kick and punt for Notre Dame. Hentrich has been kicking since he was five years old, when his father, Tom, acted as his holder.

“You kind of adjust as you go along,” Hentrich said. “My technique is so much different from when I started. You just kind of learn where your aches and pains are, and you learn to protect them in terms of technique. Being able to adjust is what keeps guys in so long.”

Hentrich’s not sure how much longer he’ll keep kicking, but he does know that his body will let him know when it’s time to stop.

“I just know that I’ll know when the time is right,” Hentrich said.

SERENITY NOW – While the Rams and Titans spent Wednesday getting their aggression out on the field, they spent Thursday morning trying to find their inner peace through yoga.

“I’m sure they loved it,” Rams coach Scott Linehan said. “It’s better than running gassers out here on the field.”

Thursday’s morning workout was strictly special teams, so any Rams players not on special teams were asked to join the Titans in their indoor practice facility for some yoga.

“Because they were doing it, Jeff (Fisher, Titans’ head coach) was kind enough to ask if we wanted to do it,” Linehan said. “The big guys and some of the other guys did it. We also jumped in and got a lift, because we haven’t been able to get in the weight room in a couple days.”

Thursday morning’s peaceful relaxation in the indoor facility was a complete 180 from Wednesday’s intense scrimmage, which featured several altercations between the two teams.

“It is a contrast to the game of football, but it was probably a good break for them,” Linehan said.

While many players were relaxing indoors Thursday morning, the intensity was still cranked up on the field in what Linehan called “the most physical punt and punt return drill (he’s) ever seen.”

INJURY REPORT – Running back Antonio Pittman suffered a bruised thigh in Wednesday’s evening workout. Pittman’s thigh started to swell Thursday morning, and he was limited in practice as a precaution.

“We didn’t think too much of it last night,” Linehan said. “Then, over the night, there was some swelling in there and it was real stiff. He wasn’t able to get a full range of motion. He came out, and it got a lot better today, but it wasn’t to the point where he was feeling 100 percent. So we just going to really work the therapy here in the next 48 hours so he can be ready to go Saturday night.”

Tackle Julius Wilson suffered a calf contusion at Wednesday’s evening practice and he was unable to participate Thursday. Linebacker Will Witherspoon was limited with a bruised shoulder. He should be ready to play Saturday night against the Titans.

Wide receiver Donnie Avery (pelvic bone), safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (hamstring), cornerback Fakhir Brown (shoulder), tight end Anthony Becht (hamstring) and defensive end Victor Adeyanju (finger) also missed practice Thursday.