Linehan takes the high road AND sends a tough message
BY JEFF GORDON
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
It’s too bad about Anthony Hargrove.
He had a ton of potential at defensive end. He appeared to be a terrific draft find. He had the potential to become a disruptive player.
But just when he really needed to make a stand here -– that he was worthy of significant reinvestment -– the kid went south instead. He skipped a practice, then failed to win back his coaches and teammates upon his return to work.
So now he is a Buffalo Bill, traded for a fifth-round draft pick.
The Rams sent a clear message by suspending Hargrove for a game, benching him for another game and ultimately bidding him farewell.
Coach Scott Linehan doesn’t like to put it in those terms, but it is impossible to view this any other way.
“I don’t believe too much in sending messages, or making statements,” Linehan said. “It is . . . a trend for our program to progress towards a level of consistency that we want to achieve. We certainly aren’t there yet, but I think our players have 100 percent bought into that program.”
Well, most of them, anyway.
Linehan could have publicly skewered Hargrove for his AWOL episode, but he has remained on the high road. The rookie head coach doesn’t throw players under the bus.
“He’s a real likeable guy,” Linehan said. “He’s got a lot of talent. He’s been fighting with the level of consistency that we command and want to reflect as part of our program, and was working towards that.
“I told him, ‘To be honest with you, if we didn’t have a major problem right in the middle of the season, I’m not sure we would be having this discussion today,’ when I was talking about the trade. That’s real life. I feel bad that it didn’t work out. I told him that I wish him nothing but the best.”
The Rams have also sent a message (sorry, Coach) by supporting Pisa Tinoisamoa’s contract extension and exploring the possibility of doing the same for Leonard Little.
The new Rams regime won’t tolerate a lack of commitment. On the other hand, this regime seeks to reward the team leaders buying into the new program.
That is how a sports franchise should be run. Players should have to earn their spot -– and when they excel, the team should reward them.
In Hargrove’s case, there was plenty of competition for his repetitions. Punishing him was not painful. Rookie Victor Adeyanju progressed rapidly and brings solid run-stopping skills to the position.
“I think Victor’s filled in very well for a young player,” Linehan said.
Brandon Green is a high-energy player that applies good pass pressure.
“He gives us a guy with a high motor and is very consistent for what we ask him to do,” Linehan said. “He’s one of those guys that you can count on you’re going to get everything, and more, out of Brandon every time he plays.”
The team also wants to keep another rookie lineman active, given his potential as a run stopper. “I think Claude Wroten’s coming on now,” Linehan said. “I think a lot of that factors into it as well.”
Rams defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had viable options. So Hargrove heads off to work for his former position coach, Bill Kollar, and the Rams will shop for a new depth player at defensive end.
“He’s going to go back and play for the guy that really pushed the hardest to get him drafted,” Linehan said. “He’s a heck of a coach, Bill Kollar. I think sometimes change is good for both.”
Aside from credibility in the locker room, the Rams gained a draft pick for someone who wasn’t going to be back next year.
In the near term, the Rams could suffer some if one of their defensive ends gets hurt. In the long-term, though, the Rams can only gain by making this move.