By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Wednesday, Aug. 03 2005

This past spring, the Rams gave linebacker Robert Thomas 25 million reasons to
believe that his job was in serious jeopardy.

On March 2, they plunked down $14.5 million to sign former Dallas Cowboy Dexter
Coakley to a five-year contract. Two days later, they ponied up $10.5 million
for ex-Minnesota Viking Chris Claiborne for three years. Together, the veteran
linebackers, both free agents, collected $6.6 million in signing bonuses.

Thomas, who has started 32 games since he was the Rams' first-round draft
choice in 2002, knew that the team wasn't investing that kind of money in
backups. Just like that, the former Pacific 10 Conference defensive player of
the year from UCLA no longer was a first-teamer.

"That's what happens; every year they bring new guys in," he said Wednesday
between training camp practices at Rams Park. "I just accept it as a challenge.
They're great guys, great athletic ability, and I'm glad to play with them, to
tell you the truth.

"I'm learning from them, and actually competing against them is making me
better. And it should be making them better, competing against me."

Claiborne, a 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound player entering his seventh NFL season,
has taken over Thomas' spot in the middle. The 5-foot-10-inch, 236-pound
Coakley, who spent all eight of his previous seasons with the Cowboys, replaces
the departed Tommy Polley on the strong side, with Pisa Tinoisamoa retaining
his weak side spot. That leaves Thomas, 6-foot-1 and 237 pounds, on the second
unit and facing an arduous uphill climb to regain his position.

"That's all I can do; I've got no other choice," he said. "You're either going
to fold, or you're going to step up and accept the challenge. That's what I'm
doing, stepping up to the challenge."

A groin injury kept Thomas, 25, sidelined for three games at the end of the
2003 season, when he collected a career-high 102 tackles. A bad ankle cost him
three games and hampered him in several others last year, and his effectiveness
dipped significantly. He finished with 69 tackles, eighth on the team.

Thomas, who is in the fourth year of a five-year, $5.75 million contract,
focused his offseason workouts on staying healthy. Now, he said, "I don't even
think about being injured. I worked hard to prevent injuries and come into the
season just working hard and taking care of my body."

He figures that if he can stay on the field, he'll be in the best possible
position to reapply for his job.

"He's got a good start (at camp). We'll see where it goes," coach Mike Martz
said.

Thomas vowed, "I'm not slacking off, by any means. I'm going to be pushing them
... and just wait patiently for my shot again."


Mizzou's Sesay visits

Former University of Missouri tight end Victor Sesay was scheduled to report to
Rams Park on Wednesday night and, if all went well with his physical exam, be
on the practice field this morning.

A second-team junior college All-American at Ventura College in California,
Sesay played for Mizzou in 2003 and 2004. He had 46 catches for 469 yards and
five touchdowns despite suffering a ruptured knee tendon late in the 2003
season.

Sesay was not drafted but signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins in
April. He subsequently was released.