Harris leads Cason in fight for third spot
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Aug. 28 2005
Will it be Arlen Harris and Aveion Cason when the Rams trim their
roster to the final 53?
Or is it an either-or proposition for the two running backs behind Steven
Jackson and Marshall Faulk on the Rams' depth chart?
Early in training camp, coach Mike Martz set out the parameters for Harris and
"One's not going to eliminate the other if they're both playing good," Martz
said at the time. "Now, if one's playing really good and the other one's not,
yeah, you eliminate the other guy. But if they're (both) playing good, we're
going to keep them somehow, some way."
A decision may not be rendered until the final roster cuts on Sept. 4. But at
the moment, Harris is the clear-cut leader for the No. 3 running back spot
ahead of Cason.
"It's time for Aveion to relax and be himself," running backs coach Wilbert
Montgomery said. "Every day that goes by and every practice that goes by, the
window keeps shrinking. You're in a competitive situation. You're trying to
fight for a spot on the team. At some point, the light's got to go on in the
room so you can see everything, and you've got to come out of the dark."
Cason realizes he has to make something happen in the Rams' final two
exhibition games, beginning tonight in Detroit.
"I feel like I do," he said. "I feel like I have to go out and make some plays,
either if it's on special teams or on offense."
Cason, 26, carried six times for only 7 yards in the exhibition opener against
Chicago. He did not carry from scrimmage last week in San Diego.
In two exhibition games, Harris, 25, has gained 67 yards on 19 carries,
including a 10-for-40 effort against the Chargers that included an impressive
Cason also has been outperformed on kickoff returns so far. He has a 19.3-yard
average on four returns, while cornerback Terry Fair has averaged 22.8 yards on
Harris, who was the Rams' primary kickoff return man until giving way to Cason
late last season, hasn't returned a kickoff this preseason. But that could
change tonight in Detroit, and Harris is eager for any return duty.
"That's something that I like to do," Harris said. "I feel I'm at a great
playing weight for it."
Harris bulked up to nearly 230 pounds last year because the Rams planned to try
him at fullback. "It was just too much weight," Harris said. "I had a lot of
different injuries and pulls."
Those fullback plans never really materialized, and so now he's down to about
210 this summer, and is noticeably quicker. Even so, Harris doesn't have the
ideal skill level to be a No. 2 - or perhaps even a No. 3 - running back in the
NFL. He needs to be sharper and smarter on his run reads, and must try to
develop his vision and instincts.
"But he's got great potential because he's a tough kid," Montgomery said.
Montgomery has continually pointed to the Pittsburgh game of 2003 as a
benchmark, when Harris gained 81 yards and scored three touchdowns.
"I've told him that every week he comes out there, he should try to make it a
point to be a solid player," Montgomery said. "Be a guy that we can put in the
ballgame, that understands the protections, that can get us out of things, and
won't embarrass himself and his teammates."
At the lighter weight, and with two-plus years in the Rams' system, Harris says
he's more comfortable in his abilities and in his status on the team. Not that
he's taking anything for granted.
"You won't know until that last cut day, or that last day," Harris said. "So
you've just got to practice and play every day like you're not going to be
here. ... Nobody's above the league. You could be traded, you could be cut, you
just never know. So you can never relax at this level."
Cason, who has had stints with Detroit, Dallas - and the Rams in 2001 - knows
this all too well.
"I know the business of the game," Cason said. "I've been in the NFL for five
years now, so I know how it's going to be. ... I never wish anything bad on
anybody. Arlen's competing. So may the best guy win."