Draft Prepared for Former Team
Thursday, September 6, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
You donít have to hang around the Russell Training Center long if itís your goal to meet Rams linebacker Chris Draft.
Essentially from the day he arrived in St. Louis after signing a three-year contract on April 2, Draft has been comfortable with his new team. The affable and charismatic linebacker has already emerged as a leader in the locker room even though heís only been with the team a few months and isnít a starter.
ďYou can tell he's been on the field for years. You can tell he's started a lot of games,Ē coach Scott Linehan said. ďHe's so comfortable, so smart. It's his first year in this defense and you would have thought he had been here all year long.Ē
Itís no surprise Draft has ingratiated himself into the Rams family as quickly as he has. The Rams are Draftís fifth NFL team so moving around and finding his niche has become commonplace.
Make no mistake, though; Draft brings more to the table than leadership and locker room skills. Just last year for Carolina, Draft led the NFLís seventh-ranked defense in tackles with 111 and registered five and a half sacks.
Those numbers would place Draft among elite company in terms of linebackers so as he headed toward free agency, it seemed the Panthers would do what it takes to retain him. For some reason unbeknownst to Draft, Carolina never showed much interest.
ďI don't even know,Ē Draft said. ďThat's basically on them. I thought, and I think everybody there thought, there was no question that was going to happen. But that's just how this game is.Ē
So Draft went looking for a new home after two solid seasons in Carolina that came on the heels of five years with Atlanta. Ideally, Draft would have landed another starting job somewhere.
But for a player who was drafted in the sixth round out of Stanford in 1998, nothing has ever come easy.
Draft shopped the open market for a while before landing in St. Louis. With Will Witherspoon and Pisa Tinoisamoa entrenched in their spots and Brandon Chillar with another year under his belt, St. Louis didnít exactly provide an open spot.
Draft didnít mind, though, and decided that St. Louis was the right fit for him. Capable of playing any of the three linebacker spots, Draft says the role of backup is just fine for now.
ďItís kind of a role I played in Carolina before I ended up starting as many games as I did,Ē Draft said. ďWhatever I can do to help us win is what Iím going for. Everybody knows how this game is. You never know whatís going to happen, so Iím always going to be ready to go. Iím going to keep pushing the guys in front of me. I want to start, and Iím going to keep pushing them. So, I either end up starting, or I push them to be better. Thatís what really creates a top-notch team. The teams that I have been on that have gone to the championship game have had depth, and not just depth where you just have guys and players, but depth where theyíre always nipping at the heels of the starters, and that just makes everybody better.Ē
Sunday, Draft will get a chance to take on the Panthers for what could be a slight measure of revenge. Most players who were so unceremoniously let go without so much as an offer would be bitter.
Draft doesnít look at it that way, though and considers todayís game nothing more than a chance to get the season started the right way.
ďIím looking forward to it, I am,Ē Draft said. ďIím looking forward to it not anymore than Iím looking forward to any of the other games. Itís the first game. Actually, thatís kind of a lie, I am looking forward to it a little more, but itís one of our games. Itís one of our 16 games, and the biggest thing is, we have to come out and play. We have to start fast, because thatís going to set the tone for the rest of our season.Ē
While Draft has wasted no time making presence felt on and off the field, he knows he has plenty of work to do to feel completely at home in St. Louis. After a bout with asthma set him back early in training camp, many wondered when he would finally get on the field.
Now that he has, Draft finds himself working at all of the linebacker positions and on special teams. In other words, heís a de facto starter ready to go at a momentís notice. And if he doesnít get on the field right away, heís comfortable enough doing what he can to help his teammates do better.
ďBeing a leader is something that you earn,Ē Draft said. ďIím going to come in and be the same guy. Iím about making a difference, and making a difference is not an individual thing, but more of a team thing. We have players that want to be able to do things and they are just trying to figure that out. I want to help them figure out what they want to do sooner, rather than later, because while theyíre playing, they have the chance to make the biggest impact. The quicker they figure out what they want and the quicker theyíre able to get out, the quicker we can make changes.Ē
Re: Draft Prepared for Former Team
I've always thought of Draft as a special teams player that was able to back-up the 3 linebacker positions. Just didn't have the talent to be an everyday starter. He did play well for the Panthers last season.
I really like this guys attitude and feel very comfortable at the LB position knowing he can fill in if needed.