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    Thumbs up Linebackers Ready to Run

    Linebackers Ready to Run
    Saturday, July 31, 2004


    By NICK WAGONER
    Staff Writer


    To play stout defense in the NFL used to mean grinding it out, using strength and size in the trenches. The days of running between the tackles and 3 yards and a cloud of dust are long gone. Today’s league requires a few things for success on defense: speed, speed and more speed.

    That shift in style of play has meant a search for athletic playmakers at every position. The Rams are no different from the rest of the league. They have used draft picks and free agent money in an attempt to accelerate the defense to keep up with the wide-open passing attacks and speedy running backs of their opponents.

    St. Louis has made their effort apparent at no position more than its linebacker corps. The Rams boast perhaps one of the fastest units in the league.

    Pisa Tinoisamoa said his team has an advantage because it has speed to burn at positions other than linebacker.

    “I feel like the defense as a whole brings a lot of speed,” Tinoisamoa said. “We have some defensive linemen that get to the ball as fast as the linebackers at times.

    “All the way around we have great speed and that’s only going to benefit us in the long-term.”

    The starting trio of Robert Thomas inside and Tinoisamoa and Tommy Polley on the outside covers ground like a tarp. Tinoisamoa and Polley are strong in coverage with the vertical speed to cover receivers and the lateral quickness to make plays sideline to sideline.

    With the departure of defensive coordinator Lovie Smith and linebackers coach Bob Babich, some assumed things might change for the Rams’ defense. Enter Larry Marmie as the new coordinator and put Joe Vitt in charge of the linebackers and not much has changed, except the intensity of the coaches.

    Tinoisamoa said Vitt has energized his teammates.

    “It is phenomenal,” Tinoisamoa said. “I enjoy his enthusiasm he brings to the game. He explains it to you in ways that I understand. I think he is only going to make the linebacking corps that much better.”

    It will take a stellar effort for Tinoisamoa to get better. In his rookie season of 2003, Tinoisamoa led the team with 121 tackles with two sacks and three interceptions.

    Polley will resume his role as Tinoisamoa’s tag-team partner in 2004. Polley has been sharp in early practices, showing improved speed. Polley finished third in tackles with 115 a year ago. He added four interceptions, also.

    The man in the middle is Robert Thomas,who missed time late in the 2003 season with a groin injury, but is showing no ill effects in camp. He finished with 102 tackles and a pair of sacks last year.

    Thomas’ role is a little different in this year’s camp. Aside from his starting position, Thomas is playing mentor to some of the young linebackers. One player in particular piqued Thomas’ interest. Rookie Brandon Chillar a fourth-round pick from UCLA joins Thomas as the pair of former Bruins on the Rams’ defense.

    Chillar rode to camp with Thomas, soaking up as much information as possible and said he has not hesitated to interrogate Thomas about all things football.

    “I have been asking a lot of questions of Robert,” Chillar said. “He is probably going to get sick of me by the time camp ends. I ask him everything.”

    Chillar isn’t the only young linebacker making an impression in the opening days of camp. Justin Smith had a strong practice Saturday morning, knocking down a few balls in passing drills. Other young players who will figure into the mix include Trev Faulk, Jeremy Loyd, Brandon Spoon and Tony Newson.

    Tinoisamoa said he feels comfortable with the group behind him.

    “I think in this league you need athletes at linebacker,” Tinoisamoa said. “I think we have that, especially behind us we have some great athletes that could step in right away.”

    The depth at linebacker appears to be developing fast and the coaches almost certainly wouldn’t want it any other way.



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    Re: Linebackers Ready to Run

    It's good to see Chillar picking Thomas's mind and being involved outside of practice. I love seeing rookies who show so much enthusiasm, and I think we got a good batch of them this year.
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