Thursday, August 2, 2007

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

When the Rams used a second round draft pick on Rutgers running back Brian Leonard in April’s NFL Draft, many wondered what kind of player he would be at the NFL level. More specifically, they wondered how a player with his diverse background would fit into the Rams’ offense.

Almost a week into this training camp, the questions about what kind of player Leonard would be have been emphatically answered.

“He is exactly what we thought he was,” coach Scott Linehan said. “He wears a lot of hats and he wears them well. He can run the ball downhill. He can block. He’s a great pass protector on third down and on blitzing downs. He also has excellent hands. The only thing he doesn’t have is experience. That will come. He has been outstanding.”

Leonard is the Swiss Army Knife of NFL players, capable of working in just about every offensive capacity possible. The primary objective behind drafting Leonard was to give starter Steven Jackson a durable and reliable backup.

Last season, Stephen Davis filled the role of backup admirably, performing well when he played but doing a tremendous job in helping Jackson take the step to the next level. Now, it’s up to Leonard to figure out where he fits in and do his best to fill the many roles he is being asked to play.

“I’m a guy that can catch the ball out of the backfield, I can do the single back, I can even do the fullback set,” Leonard said. “That’s my specialty. I can do a little bit of everything and I think the coaches are seeing that and they have put me there.”

In the early stages of camp, Leonard spent most of his time working as the backup to Jackson and in third down packages where he can be effective as a receiver. Those roles are the reason he was drafted, but he is by no means limited to those.

In fact, Linehan and offensive coordinator Greg Olsen have Leonard working on the fullback position. Leonard was the star tailback for the Scarlet Knights until his senior season when he was asked to slide into the fullback spot. That move gave Leonard experience at just about every running back spot on the field.

“I think I’m doing all right,” Leonard said. “I have learned most of the running back spot and now I have to learn more of the fullback spot because I am going to play a little of both this year. That’s what coach tells me at least.”

As Leonard works on settling in there, he is also making it a point to turn to Jackson and fullback Madison Hedgecock for advice. Jackson and Hedgecock’s tips range from basics such as where to line up to more intricate details on blocking angles.

Additionally, Leonard is working on almost every special teams unit. One way or another, Leonard will find his way on to the field in some capacity.

“I just want to be on the field whether I’m a running back or fullback,” Leonard said. “I just want to help this team win.”

RUMPH GONE: The Rams released cornerback Mike Rumph on Thursday afternoon to make room for linebacker Larry Edwards on the roster. Rumph was expected to compete for a roster spot, but has seen limited action with the top units in practice.

Edwards was a four-year starter at North Carolina before going undrafted in this year’s draft. He signed with Buffalo in the spring, but didn’t make it to camp. With the injuries at linebacker, the addition of Edwards became a necessity.

The move leaves the Rams with Tye Hill, Ron Bartell, Fakhir Brown, Jonathan Wade, Lenny Walls, Josh Lay and Darius Vinnett at cornerback. The team will likely keep six cornerbacks, creating a competition between Lay and Vinnett for a possible final roster spot.

CHARACTER DRIVEN: While Linehan hasn’t hesitated to hand out praise when asked about particular players during this training camp, he says there isn’t any one person that has stood out to him.

Rather, it’s been the work ethic and performance of the whole team that has Linehan enthusiastic about the Rams’ prospects for 2007.

“Our team character,” Linehan said. “I have always been impressed with that. I think there is a tradition to being on this football team. We have been to two Super Bowls in the last eight years and won one. We have won a lot of football games. Time changes and things change for whatever reason, but I think the character has always been one of the strong points of this football team. This particular team from last year to this year is extremely strong and is one of the best character teams I have been around at any level.”

Linehan defines character as “what you do when a coach isn’t watching or pushing you. If you are working hard and doing things that are not necessarily required. I think your character is tested when you are tired. It is tested when you are competing or are knocked down and you see if you dust yourself off and get up and give it your best the next play. I have seen more of those types of scenarios than at any time to this point last year.”

RAM BITS: Linebacker Chris Draft took his treadmill test during the morning practice session and was expected back on the field for the evening workout…rookie tackle Ken Shackleford suffered a sprained knee during the morning practice and was scheduled to have an M.R.I. on Thursday evening…nothing has changed on tight end Joe Klopfenstein and linebacker Tim McGarigle. Both are recovering from hamstring injuries and are expected back next week…defensive tackle Tim Sandidge (knee sprain) worked out some in the morning and could return for the evening workout…receiver Lamart Barrett (shoulder) also missed the morning workout and could return tonight…linebacker Jon Alston, who suffered a head injury, did some running on the side but has not yet been cleared to return to practice…