Dominic Douglas tries to gain spot on St. Louis Rams' roster
Quinton Culberson #53 of the St. Louis Rams sits on the bench during the game against the San Francisco ***** on November 16, 2008 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
BY BILL COATS firstname.lastname@example.org > 314-340-8189
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Their careers never overlapped at Mississippi State, but Quinton Culberson and Dominic Douglas formed a quick bond in St. Louis. They have more in common than their alma mater.
— Both are linebackers.
— Both grew up in the Jackson, Miss., area.
— Both were undrafted out of college.
There is one major difference between them, though: Culberson has spent two seasons in the NFL after beating the odds and making the Rams' roster as a rookie in 2007; Douglas still is facing that hefty challenge as the team's third, and final, spring minicamp kicks off today at Rams Park.
Culberson's achievement "gives me a lot of inspiration, just knowing that somebody from where I come from did it," Douglas said.
Initially, the coaches noticed that the 6-foot-1, 236-pound Culberson always seemed to be around the ball. Jim Haslett, then the Rams' defensive coordinator, noted that "even when (Culberson) doesn't know what the hell he's doing, he makes a tackle."
But it was his value on special teams that cemented his spot on the club. Culberson played in 14 games that first season, and his 17 special-teams tackles were second on the squad.
After Brandon Chillar left for Green Bay as a free agent, Culberson earned the starting job at strongside linebacker last year at training camp. When the Rams started 0-3 and Culberson's play was spotty, veteran Chris Draft stepped into that spot.
Culberson wound up with 10 starts and 52 tackles on defense in 16 games. He dipped to 10 special-teams stops, sixth on the team.
Now, Culberson again is in the mix at strongside linebacker, although Larry Grant and David Vobora have been getting the bulk of the first-team reps there lately. Draft has been stationed mostly in the middle during organized team activities.
"New coaching staff, a little change, but going into my third year, I'm starting to feel more like a vet," said Culberson, 23. "I'm just trying to learn the terminology, the things they want you to do, the way they want you to go about them."
Douglas, whose 116 tackles last season led the Southeastern Conference, conceded that he expected to be drafted in April.
"But you can't do anything about that," he said. "You just have to bounce back."
When the free-agent offers began to arrive, Douglas, who transferred to Mississippi State after two seasons in junior college, sat down with his agent and his mother to discuss his options.
"You get to pick and choose," he said. "We just felt like the Rams was the best organization for me."
Douglas, 6-1 and 229, started out on the weakside here, but now he's getting most of his work in the middle.
"I can play any (linebacker) position, and I feel like the coaches have seen that," said Douglas, 22. "They want to put me in the best position that fits me, and I'll just take it and run with it."
The Rams brought in free-agent rookies Douglas and K.C. Asiodu after spending their second-round draft pick on linebacker James Laurinaitis of Ohio State.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo likes what he's seen so far.
"I think all those young linebackers are doing a nice job," he said. "It's a challenge in this system as a linebacker, but they're all doing pretty well."
Will Witherspoon moves to the weakside from the middle, where Laurinaitis is expected to earn the starting job. Pisa Tinoisamoa, a first-team linebacker throughout his six seasons with the Rams, was released about a month ago in a money-saving move.
So the competition is keen for the other starting job. Once that's decided, the Rams will determine their depth at linebacker. Culberson advised Douglas to follow his formula for success: Establish yourself on special teams first.
"I told Dominic, learn your plays on defense, but ... (understand that) special teams is the best way for a free-agent rookie to make the team," Culberson said. "You have to be dominant on special teams and show them that you're willing to play any position on any special team."
As the offseason program begins to wind down, Douglas said he feels as if he's making some headway in his effort to follow Culberson's improbable lead.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time, just moving forward," he said. "I'm progressing, getting used to the scheme and to the coaches. I feel pretty good about everything."