Opportunity came with Butler's injury
BY STEVE KORTE
News-Democrat

ST. LOUIS - Cornerback DeJuan Groce doesn't see himself as one of the new guys on the St. Louis Rams' starting defense going into the team's season opener against the San Francisco ***** on Sunday.

Groce started four of the first six games last season after Travis Fisher suffered a broken forearm in the preseason.

Groce has became a more permanent fixture in the Rams' starting lineup this season after Jerametrius Butler went down with a season-ending knee injury early in training camp.

"I'm just taking all my learning experiences from last year out there with me this year," Groce said. "Last year, I had to start the first regular season game. I just have to go out there and play. I'm just going to take everything I learned from Aeneas (Williams), Fish and J.B. onto the field."

Fisher thinks Groce will be able to handle the pressure of being a full-time starter.

"DeJuan has been here, he got a lot of playing time last year," Fisher said. "He has really improved his game and I think all of the players, as well as the coaching staff, have a lot of confidence in him."

The ***** have two young receivers in Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle.

Lloyd, a former University of Illinois standout, had 43 catches for 565 yards and six touchdowns last season.

Battle had eight receptions for 103 yards to go along with a punt return for a touchdown and 16 special teams tackles last season.

"(Lloyd) is more of a deep threat, and Arnaz is more of an over-the-middle man," Groce said. "He'll catch it and take the hit over the middle."

Coaching comrades

Rams coach Mike Martz and San Francisco ***** coach Mike Nolan served together as assistants on Norv Turner's Washington Redskins coaching staff in 1997 and 1998.

Martz was the quarterbacks coach, while Nolan was the defensive coordinator.

"Mike has always had a great deal of leadership," Martz said. "He's a calm personality who exudes confidence, a very sharp individual. He just demands a great deal of respect automatically when you meet him. He has that sort of air about him, a very intelligent guy. He does a great job."

The respect between Martz and Nolan is mutual.

"On a personal level, I really enjoy Mike," Nolan said. "He's very witty. He has a dry sense of humor, and I think he is a very good guy. On a professional level, I think he has a very good mind for football, which is evident in what he has done there in St. Louis. I have a lot of respect for Mike as a coach and a person."

I am the Wahlroos

The Rams' renewed emphasis on special teams probably played a part in linebacker Drew Wahlroos earning a spot on the team's 53-man roster.

"My role on this team is definitely as a special teams player," Wahlroos said. "We have some great linebackers up there, but if any one of them goes down, that's my role, too."

Wahlroos is a second-year player out of Colorado who played in six games last season after being signed from the team's practice squad.

"I think the experience I got from last year definitely gave me the idea that I could do it," Wahlroos said.

Wahlroos said he wasn't worried last weekend during the final round of roster cuts.

"After the last game, I had done pretty much all I could do, so it was out of my hands by then," Wahlroos said. "I had no real anxiety."

Wahlroos found out that he'd survived the roster cuts from linebackers coach Joe Vitt.

"Basically, I got through Saturday, and my position coach called me up on Sunday and told me I made it," Wahlroos said. "It was a real quick conversation. 'I'll see you tomorrow, and be ready to go."'

Quick hits

Defensive tackle Damione Lewis' status for the ***** is up in the air due to a toe injury. However, Lewis said he's confident he'll be a part of the Rams' defensive tackle rotation against the *****.

"I think it's just a sprain of the joint," Lewis said. "I'll be ready to play. I got a cortisone shot yesterday, and it's feeling a lot better."

The Rams have nine players with 11 or more years of experience on their roster, while the ***** have two (Johnnie Morton and Bryant Young).

"I think when you add that kind of experience, guys who have play at a high level, they know how to respond when you get into tough situations in the game," Martz said.

The 2005 Rams media guides arrived from the printer on Friday, making them the last of the 32 NFL teams to distribute their guides.