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Competition Fierce, Deep at Defensive End
By NICK WAGONER
When Rams’ coach Mike Martz looks at his menu of defensive ends; it might depend on what kind of mood he is in to make his selection.
Martz said he has as many as six possibilities to full the position vacated by the departed Grant Wistrom. Wistrom chose to sign with Seattle in the offseason after six seasons in St. Louis. Replacing a talented pass rusher and charismatic leader such as Wistrom could be tough to do with one player.
“There was such an emotional attachment there,” Martz said of Wistrom. “We all felt like he was going to end his career here. It didn’t work out that way.”
With that in mind, the Rams have a variety of choices to replace Wistrom, each bringing something different to training camp. Leonard Little will continue to hold down his position at left end as one of the league’s most feared playmakers. That leaves the six others to fight it out for Wistrom’s former spot.
Bryce Fisher is penciled in as the No. 1 end on the depth chart. Fisher gives the Rams a solid, disciplined player who honed his leadership skills at Air Force. At 6-feet-3, 272 pounds, Fisher gives St. Louis bulk opposite the speedy Little. He finished the 2003 season with 47 tackles and a pair of sacks.
Fisher’s spot is written in pencil for a reason, though. He will face stiff competition in training camp for his spot. The group that is angling for his job includes a former first round pick, a recently retired “plane pusher,” a grizzled veteran, a returning Ram and an unknown free agent. Any of them could win the job, but with only three training camp practices in the books, nobody knows who it will be.
“I think last year I proved that I could play in this league,” Fisher said. “This year I am looking forward to proving that I can be a full-time starter for 16 games.”
Buffalo drafted Erik Flowers with the 26th pick in the 2000 draft. After two seasons with the Bills, Flowers moved on to Houston, where he adjusted to a new role as an outside linebacker. Flowers is still searching for the fit that can prove his detractors wrong and a clean start in St. Louis could be the cure for what ails him.
Perhaps the most intriguing prospect of the group is rookie Anthony Hargrove. Hargrove has been one of the camp’s early standouts, showing a quick burst and enough strength to pound against the run.
After missing his final season at Georgia Tech because of academic problems, Hargrove took a job at Hartsfield Airport as a “plane pusher,” helping Delta move planes in and out and riding alongside the planes to make sure the wings don’t hit anything.
Hargrove said he didn’t like having to wear the uniform Delta gave him because it was too small. That was the least of his worries there, however.
“I was always thinking NFL,” Hargrove said. “Working 9 to 5 behind a desk, I couldn’t do it. I knew this was where I wanted to be and I had to do whatever it took to get here.”
Tyoka Jackson is no stranger to competition. He has made his living as a sort of “utility player,” moving between tackle and end. He could figure into the mix for the Rams at end after he posted 45 tackles and five sacks in 2003. In 47 games, with St. Louis, Jackson has 12 sacks. If experience is what Martz is looking for on the right side, Jackson could be his man.
Another veteran is also hoping to make his case for the starting job. Sean Moran, who spent the 2000 and 2001 seasons in St. Louis, returns with his sights set on serious playing time. He comes back to the Rams after a pair of seasons in San Francisco.
“I just hope I can make the best of this,” Moran said. “We just have to go out and compete and whoever goes out and gets the job done is going to win it.”
The unknown commodity is second-year end Kevin Aldridge. Aldridge is inexperienced, but has great size and has shown a willingness to mix it up early in practice.
Martz said the competition will be fierce, but he has confidence in his staff’s ability to develop another top-level defensive end.
“There are six guys at defensive end on the left and right side that you’d be happy with lining up and playing,” Martz said. “Whoever lines up on the right defensive end, that’s who he is.
“I’m sure whoever that is will play very well.
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