Expects to be 100 percent by training camp
BY STEVE KORTE
News-Democrat
ST. LOUIS - Retirement was never an option for St. Louis Rams linebacker Dexter Coakley after he suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle late last season.

"Obviously, when you have two young kids at home, you give it some thought, but I didn't want to go out like this," Coakley said. "They brought me here when the old coaching regime was here to help this ballclub win games. We didn't do very much of that last year. It never really crossed my mind to just lay it down and leave the game.

"I wanted to show that I was still capable of playing the game and helping a team win ballgames."

Six months after his injury, Coakley, 33, was back on the practice field during the Rams' mandatory minicamp this weekend.

"It's going well," Coakley said. "I'm able to get out there on the field and compete. I'm able to get out there and do everything that everyone else is doing. I feel pretty good. I'm still not 100 percent, but I'm very encouraged by what is going on."

Coakley suffered the injury -- which was similar to one suffered by Aeneas Williams in 2002 -- in the first quarter against the Washington Redskins last Dec. 4 at the Edward Jones Dome.

"(Linebackers coach) Rick Venturi told me yesterday that he felt a lot better about Dexter now than he did even a week ago," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "He still takes some time to get himself warmed up, but he seems to be able to get through without getting stiff.

"We really didn't expect him to be doing this much at this point, so he is way ahead of schedule."

Linehan said he wasn't surprised by Coakley's quick recovery from such a serious injury.

"Guys like that really don't surprise me anymore," Linehan said. "You can see why guys like that have been in the league so long, because they find ways to get themselves back out there."

Being injured was something new for Coakley, who had missed only one game during his eight seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

"I'd never been hurt," Coakley said. "I missed one game my whole career, and that was just for precautionary reasons. To go through a season like I did last year, and going through the rehab, it was a new situation for me.

"I hadn't been there before. It was tough. It was a challenge for me, but I just keep the faith and just kept plugging along until I got better."

Coakley had to learn how to walk all over again after undergoing surgery on his ankle. He was finally cleared by doctors to practice a couple of weeks ago.

"They're letting me go full bore now, and it feels pretty good," Coakley said. "By the time training camp starts, I'll be 100 percent. I'm very close. I don't want to have to think about my ankle.

"I want to be able to go out there and react and be a football player, and I'm not to that point just yet."

Coakley, a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the Cowboys, will have to fight for playing time this season.

Right now, he's the backup to Pisa Tinoisamoa at weak-side linebacker.

Free-agent addition Will Witherspoon is the starter at middle linebacker and Brandon Chillar is the starter at strong-side linebacker.

Coakley knows that he can't contribute until he's completely healthy.

"One of things they say is, 'You don't make the club in the tub,' and you don't want to be in the training room," Coakley said.

Coakley also said he can't get caught up with trying to impress the new coaching staff.

"Obviously, you can't press," Coakley said. "You have to go out there and let your natural ability and instincts take over. If I get worried about the mind game, wondering what the coaches are thinking, then I'm not on my game.

"Every time I have an opportunity to make a play, I have to make it and let my work and my play speak for itself."