Sports Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Wroten ready to shine
By MARQ MITCHAM
Published: Friday, July 20, 2007 6:26 PM CDT
Entering his second NFL season, Claude Wroten reports to the St. Louis Rams' training camp on Thursday. Wroten sat down for an interview prior to working out at the Bastrop High fieldhouse yesterday afternoon.
As a rookie, Wroten was a backup defensive tackle, playing behind La'Roi Glover. Playing in 15 games, he recorded 11 tackles (nine unassisted) with one sack, a forced fumble and seven quarterback hurries.
BDE: Is NFL training camp as tough as people say it is?
Claude Wroten: If you don't have your mind right, it can be mentally and physically taxing. It's not as hard as some people make it out to be, but if you're not in shape, it can be tough.
The blisters on your feet and the heat can get you.
BDE: Is the heat as bad in St. Louis as it is in Louisiana?
Wroten: It can get pretty hot in St. Louis, but there is nothing like 100 degrees at 3 (p.m.) in Baton Rouge.
BDE: I read in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that you came into camp a little out of shape last year, but reported to mini-camp in top condition. What was the difference?
Wroten: I went to training camp last year thinking I was in shape. After watching the veterans, I realized I didn't have a grasp on the mental and physical side of it.
My mindset this off-season has been to get bigger, faster and stronger. This is going to be a real good camp for me. I intend to open the eyes of a lot of people.
BDE: Is it easier going into camp as a second-year player, knowing what to expect?
Wroten: It is so much easier. As a rookie, you're getting initiated by the veterans, trying to learn the playbook and getting adjusted to the NFL. You've been watching all these guys on TV, then all of a sudden you're on the field with them.
With a year behind me, I have gotten used to it. I know the guys, I know the playbook and the schedule. I just have a better understanding of everything.
BDE: We've all heard the stories about rookies being hazed in NFL camps. Tell us about some of your experiences last year.
Wroten: It wasn't as bad as some people say it is. The veterans made us do stuff like carry their pads, wash their helmets, buy their lunch and clean out their lockers.
The Rams aren't as bad about hazing as some of the other teams. We didn't have to do anything that caused any hard feelings.
Some teams will wake the rookies up early and tape them to the goalposts, pour Gatorade on them and push them in cold tubs full of cold water.
We had a talent show last year where the rookies had to sing and do skits. It was actually kind of fun. I imitated Brian Baker, our defensive line coach.
BDE: Last year, you had a reputation for playing a little out of control. What adjustments did you have to make to become a more disciplined player?
Wroten: These guys are veterans and know the game real well. You can't just go out there on athletic ability alone. You have to know your keys.
I have learned what to do and what not to do in certain situations. In high school and college, the best athlete usually wins. In the NFL, that's not the case at all.
It wasn't that I was out of control last year - I was going fast and strong, but it wasn't always in the right direction.
Now, I've gotten a better grasp of the mental side of the game and learned to play faster and smarter.
Wroten was arrested for criminal property damage (a misdemeanor) earlier this month in Baton Rouge, following an incident at the home of his ex-girlfriend.
Shortly before the 2006 draft, Wroten was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute after being pulled over for speeding by Sterlington Police. Although charges were later dropped, Wroten paid a price for the incident. A projected mid-to-late first round pick, he was eventually drafted in the third round as the 68th pick overall.
On the field, he is looking to earn more playing time. In an effort to bolster the front four, the Rams drafted three defensive linemen - Nebraska end Adam Carriker in the first round and Michigan State tackle Clifton Ryan and Arkansas tackle Keith Jackson, both in the fifth round. Also, the Rams acquired end James Hall from Detroit and traded DT Jimmy Kennedy, a former first-round pick, to Denver.
BDE: Are you facing any possible disciplinary action, stemming from the charges in Baton Rouge?
Wroten: It was a small incident with my ex-girlfriend. No disciplinary action will be taken. The charges are going to be dropped.
You know I always shake back from my mistakes.
BDE: How are the Rams' off-season moves on the defensive line going to affect you?
Wroten: It's pretty much the same situation as last year. Adam played end in college and he's going to play nose guard for us. Jimmy didn't play the nose as much.
I'm primarily a three-tech (tackle). My playing time will increase a lot. Even though La'Roi Glover is a veteran, he can't do some of the things he did in his prime.
Coach (Scott Linehan) is looking for me become a leader and step up my game preparation and I intend to do that.
BDE: How much have you improved since last season?
Wroten: It's like night and day. I'm bigger, faster and stronger. The game has slowed down for me. I'm reading my keys and picking up things I haven't picked up before.
BDE: Are you expecting to have a breakout season?
Wroten: Not to be boastful or arrogant, but I don't think there is anybody in the NFL who can block me.
A lot of guys on the team have told me that I could become one of the best defensive linemen in the league, and that's what I'm striving to do.
I want to have at least 10 sacks. That's how determined I am and how much confidence I have in my ability.
BDE: There has been some talk of you filling in at defensive end and playing on special teams. What do you expect your role to be this season?
Wroten: It's going to be hard to start because you don't just push a guy who has been in the league as long as La'Roi Glover off to the side. It's probably going to be a rotation. I may not start, but I'm going to get just as much playing time.
On third down situations, I may slide out to end to utilize my pass rushing skills.
I'm versatile. I can play nose guard, the 3-tech or end. I know every position on the defensive line.
I'm willing to do the things to help the team win.
One of four NFC teams to finish with a break even 8-8 record (the New York Giants won the tiebreaker to gain the conference's final playoff spot), the Rams allowed an alarming 23.8 points per game - 28th in the league - and were particularly vulnerable against the run.
BDE: The knock against the Rams' defense last year was its inability to defend the run. Do you expect to see a big improvement in this area?
Wroten: It's going to be a totally different story this year.
We've added some defensive linemen in the draft. Besides Adam, who is going to start, we've added some depth.
We weren't terrible last year. It wasn't anything big, it was the little things that hurt us. We know what we did wrong and those mistakes have been corrected.
Our goal is to be one of the top defenses in the league in every category.
BDE: Do you expect the Rams to make the playoffs this year?
Wroten: We had a good team last year, but we lost a lot of close games. We lost two close games to Seattle that we should have won and we lost a game to San Francisco that we should have won.
I'm not satisfied at all with 8-8.
This year, we will definitely make the playoffs.
We're going to be better offensively, defensively and on special teams and we're going to stop the run.
Coach feels it, the team feels it and I know I feel it.
BDE: What are some of the less glamorous aspects of playing in the NFL that the average fan doesn't see?
Wroten: Everybody sees the big houses and the fancy rides. But they don't see all the work it takes to get to the NFL and what it takes to maintain your place in the league.
They see you playing on TV on Sunday, but they don't see all the preparation that went into the game. They don't see the grind, the practice and the sweat and blood we put into the game. Most people don't understand how much hard work goes into it.
It's a tough career.
BDE: Tell us about a typical day at training camp.
Wroten: During two-a-days, you wake up at 6 in the morning and go to meetings and breakfast by 7:30.
After practice, I try to get back to the room and take a nap.
Then, we watch film from the first practice and have our second practice around 1 (p.m.). The afternoon practice usually lasts an hour and a half or two hours. We'll watch some more film, eat lunch and get out around 4 (p.m.).
BDE: What's a typical day during the regular season?
Wroten: I wake up at 6 (a.m.) and get to the stadium by 6:30. We eat breakfast and have meetings until 7:15. Then, we have special teams meetings, team meetings and practice a couple of hours until noon.
After lunch, we have a light weight workout and watch film. On the average day, we leave the stadium around 4 (p.m.).
BDE: How is the food at training camp?
Wroten: Most of the time, Missouri food's just not as good as Louisiana food. Sometimes they'll have somebody from one of the St. Louis restaurants come in and cook for us.
Wroten works out regularly at the BHS fieldhouse with NFL tight end Brian Jones and former BHS defensive lineman Jarvis Edmonds.
BDE: You and Brian spend a lot of time at the fieldhouse. How important is it to you to give something back to the community?
Wroten: I feel like it's very important, even if it's just coming back and chillin' with my friends.
A lot of times you hear about people making a cash donation, but you never see them. I like to give back face-to-face.
BDE: You actually gave up football to focus on basketball your junior year of high school. Do you still play basketball?
Wroten: I do a little slamming at the park a couple of days a week with my fat-neck friend Jarvis Edmonds.
Basketball was always my first love. I was just too short and too fat.
But it's all worked out for the good. I've been blessed to have the opportunity to play in the NFL. I've been real blessed.
BDE: Everybody wants to play in the NFL, but so few have the talent or the drive. What advice do you give when you talk to high school football and junior high football players?
Wroten: I know it's kind of hypocritical, but the first thing I tell them is don't do drugs. I tell them to get their grades and to stay focused. Life is not going to go your way all the time.
What you do off the field is going to affect what you do in the long run.
If you do things right off the field, what you do on the field will take care of itself.