Team is in need of run-stuffing tackle
BY STEVE KORTE
News-Democrat



ST. LOUIS --
Defensive line is the one area that the St. Louis Rams almost assuredly will address early in the 2007 NFL draft.
"We'd certainly like to address our defensive front and add a quality player or impact player," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "I don't know if you're going to get a guy who is going to impact you as far as going out and leading the league in sacks next year, but you can get someone you can say is going to start for your football team and make you better."

The Rams want to improve their run defense, which has gotten pushed around in recent years.

"We'd like to add some size to our team," Linehan said. "We're not the smallest defense in the league, and we're certainly not the biggest. That was a deficiency before we got here. It showed up in the two San Francisco games in '05 when they were able to pound it pretty good. Last year at times we made improvements there. I just think the combination of playing better, coaching better and adding some quality players is going to make our team improve on that side of the ball."

None of the three defensive tackles currently on their roster -- Jimmy Kennedy, La'Roi Glover or Claude Wroten -- are your typical run-stuffing type who can consistently tie up two blockers so your linebackers can run free and make tackles.

The top two defensive tackles available in the draft are Louisville's Amobi Okoye and Michigan's Alan Branch.

Okoye, who is 19 years, 322 days old, will be the first teenager taken in the draft since 1967.

Okoye was born in Anambra, Nigeria. He tested into the ninth grade after his family moved to Huntsville, Ala., when he was 12 years old.

Okoye was the youngest player in college football (age 16) when he enrolled at Louisville in 2003.

Scouts are wondering how Okoye will handle the trappings and fame and fortune, but Linehan said the Rams have an insight into Okoye's personality because assistant defensive line coach Mike Cox helped recruit him to Louisville.

"They asked the same questions when he was coming out of high school," Linehan said. "Is he too young? Is he going to be immature? Can he handle college football? Is this guy for real? He is pretty impressive."

Linehan said the Rams think Okoye can play both nose guard (a run-stuffing defensive tackle) or the three-technique position (pass-rushing defensive tackle).

"He really showed up as a three-technique in the Senior Bowl when he dropped his weight a little bit," Linehan said. "He really looked like a special three-technique. He has excellent pass rush technique. He's played the nose. He's been anywhere from 315 to 295 (pounds). He has that in his background. I think he can play both, but I think he is suited for three-technique spot."

The 6-foot-5 1/2 , 324-pound Branch is a natural nose guard. He was a part of a Michigan squad that led the nation in run defense last season.

The knock on Branch is that he gives inconsistent effort.

"He's the best-looking guy for the (nose guard) position," Linehan said. "He doesn't always play the way you like, but it's hard at that position to always be effective. You get doubled a lot and those kind of things. You'd like to see a little more production, but you see the potential. I went to his workout and I was impressed with him."

Linehan said the defensive line class for 2007 is a versatile group. The most versatile might be Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker.

"I think his value in a 4-3 defense is he can play three positions, and do all three at a starting level," Linehan said.

The Rams believe that Carriker has the size and athleticism to play either of the defensive tackle spots.

"He came here on his visit and he was 308 pounds, and he didn't look any different," Linehan said. "He can easily be 315 or 320."

Even though they traded for Detroit's James Hall, the Rams could use another pass-rushing defensive end to keep opponents from double-teaming Leonard Little.

Little had 13 sacks last season. The rest of the Rams' defensive ends combined for three sacks.

Arkansas' Jamaal Anderson had 13.5 sacks last season, while Purdue's Anthony Spencer had 10.5 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss last season.