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  1. #1
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    Cool Groce gets a chance to prove himself

    By Bill Coats

    Of the Post-Dispatch
    09/19/2004

    DeJuan Groce (24) tries to force wide receiver Mike Furrey to give up the ball during a Rams practice session.
    (Chris Lee/P-D)



    DeJuan Groce thought he'd saved the day.

    The Rams were clinging to a six-point lead late in the third quarter last Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, but Arizona was driving. On a third-and-7 play from the Rams' 16-yard line, Groce picked off a Josh McCown pass near the goal line.

    But a defensive-holding penalty nullified the interception, and the Cardinals moved in front 10-9 on the next play. After the Rams came back to win 17-10, Groce could shrug off his personal disappointment.

    "Oh, well," he said. "I have a lot more (interceptions) to go."

    How many more games he has to go as a first-team cornerback probably depends on how long it takes Travis Fisher to recover from surgery on the forearm that he fractured Aug. 23 in an exhibition game vs. Kansas City.

    Groce said he realizes that, but he also is eager for the chance to show that he can handle the position, too.

    "It's a little of both," said Groce, 24. "You're here to prove yourself ... (and) they have confidence in me in starting me. So I'm going to go out there and fill (Fisher's) shoes until he gets back."

    For a time, that job appeared to be Kevin Garrett's. Groce went down Aug. 18 at training camp with a strained knee and didn't return to the practice field until Sept. 6, which was less than a week before the regular-season opener. In the meantime, Garrett was teamed with Jerametrius Butler at corner. But the 5-foot-10, 192-pound Groce got the call in the regular-season opener.

    His performance against the Cardinals, coach Mike Martz said, buttressed that decision.

    "DeJuan played exceptionally well," Martz said. "He missed that time in camp, but right now it doesn't look like it. ... He's got such great confidence, quiet confidence. Nothing seems to shake him up."

    That might be because Groce has plenty of big-game experience. He played college football at Nebraska, where the competition is stout and the pressure is heavy.

    He started 27 games for the Cornhuskers, recording 142 tackles and eight interceptions, plus he had five punt returns for touchdowns.

    Groce, a native of Garfield Heights, Ohio, said he went to Nebraska for one main reason: coach Frank Solich.

    "He's a good guy, and he knew a lot about football," Groce explained. "Plus, he's an Ohio legend from when he played high school football there."

    Solich was an all-state and All-America running back at Holy Name High in Cleveland.

    He was Tom Osborne's hand-picked successor, and he went 58-19 in six seasons as the 'Huskers head coach. Solich was fired after the 2003 season, despite a 9-3 record that year, and replaced by former Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan.

    "I feel real bad" about Solich's dismissal, Groce said. "I wish the situation could've been a lot different. He was a good coach to me, but (athletics director Steve Pederson) made the decision to do that. So, it's on the AD."

    Callahan has brought the West Coast offense to Lincoln, which represents a sea change in Nebraska's approach.

    "It doesn't look like Nebraska football when you come out of the gate passing the ball. Throwing 30 times a game ... we used to rush the ball 30 times a game," Groce said. "But I've talked to some of the guys up there, and they really enjoy the offense."

    Groce was a fourth-round draft choice in 2003 and played in all 16 games as a rookie, with one start.

    "He's got a rare quality that the good ones have at that position: a great feel and awareness for when the ball's in the air," Martz said. "He's so disciplined, a smart player."

    Smart enough to know that he's in for a busy day Sunday, when the Rams take on the Atlanta Falcons and their multiple-threat quarterback, Michael Vick, at the Georgia Dome.

    "He uses his legs a lot, plus he has a strong arm. With that kind of combo, it's real dangerous," Groce said. "When he gets out of the pocket, he tries to make something happen, either by throwing down the field or just taking off."

    Groce said the defensive backs have to be careful not to abandon their coverage too soon when Vick pulls down the ball.

    "We've got to be plastered to our receivers and let everybody up front take care of that," Groce said. "If you take off and try to go after him, he's just going to dump it off. We're taught to stay with our receivers all the way around the field."

    Reporter Bill Coats
    E-mail: bcoats@post-dispatch.com
    Phone: 314-340-8189




  2. #2
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    evil disco man is offline Pro Bowl Ram
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    Re: Groce gets a chance to prove himself

    My boy Groce sounds pretty confident. I'm excited to see how he holds up as a starter for the second straight week. I was surprised he started ahead of Garrett, but he's been quietly staying ahead on the depth chart. Hopefully he gets a chance to compete for the starting job in the future.
    "Oh, well," he said. "I have a lot more (interceptions) to go."
    Let's hope so.

  3. #3
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    Re: Groce gets a chance to prove himself

    I remember seeing Groce's interception in Pittsburgh and thinking he could turn into a pretty good player. I love what Garrett brings in terms of speed and ability. I think we could have a pretty good secondary later this season or next year, with these guys now getting a chance to show their stuff thanks to Fisher's injury. Remember, everyone was worried when Aeneas moved to FS because Butler and Fisher were fairly unproven.
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