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Long shots try to beat the odds with Rams
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Wednesday, Aug. 16 2006
When the Rams opened exhibition play last week against Indianapolis, scouts
from 20 NFL teams watched at the Edward Jones Dome, as did representatives from
three Canadian League squads and an Arena League club. There will be nearly as
many scouts in attendance this Saturday when Houston comes to town.
They're not coming to the Gateway City to watch Torry Holt and Orlando Pace.
They're looking for help -- players who might be cut in a couple of weeks by
the Rams but might fill a need on their respective teams.
As the days dwindle before the final roster cuts in late August and early
September, Rams roster long shots "" like the four listed below -- know that a
lot of eyes are upon them. They may not be the next Kurt Warner or London
Fletcher in St. Louis, but that doesn't mean it can't happen somewhere:
Now you see him, now you don't. Not only does the diminutive Russell have
4.4-second speed, he can be very elusive. For that, he thanks Mom and Dad.
"That's from getting spankings when I was younger -- running from my parents,"
he said, laughing.
For two seasons at Iowa, Russell ran all over the Big Ten. He became only the
third Hawkeye to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, earning
all-conference honors in 2002 and '03.
But his lack of size -- 5-7, 195 pounds -- has made it tough for Russell to
measure up in the NFL.
As an undrafted rookie in '04, Russell led Miami in rushing during the
preseason, including an 88-yard run. But he didn't make the final roster, and
spent most of that season on Chicago's practice squad. After a preseason stint
with the Bears last summer, Russell was out of football until the Rams signed
him in January. He was allocated to NFL Europe, where he led the Cologne
Centurions with 522 yards rushing on 150 carries last spring.
Russell was impressive in the Rams' scrimmage Aug. 5, and had a 54-yard run in
the preseason opener against Indianapolis. But with Steven Jackson, Tony
Fisher, and Moe Williams ahead of him on the depth chart, he faces an uphill
battle unless coach Scott Linehan decides to go with four halfbacks.
"I'm hoping this will be a good situation for me," Russell said. "I'm here with
a solid power back (Jackson). Hopefully, my change-of-pace style can complement
Haayer has a taste of what it's like to play -- and start -- in the NFL. From
2002 through '04 he played in eight games for Minnesota, including a start in
'04 against the Bears at right offensive tackle. Last season, he played in 12
games for Arizona, including four starts at left guard.
"It was a blast," Haayer said. "It was fun to go out of the tunnel, and play
the whole game. It's a lot better than when you're a backup, and you just sit
there and get stiff."
Haayer might have gotten a couple of more starts, but torn knee cartilage put
him on injured reserve for the final two games of the '05 season. Arizona
didn't renew his contract, meaning Haayer was out of a job until the Rams came
calling last week.
Missing the first two weeks of camp, not to mention the entire offseason
program, has Haayer playing catch-up ball in St. Louis. He has an ally in
Linehan, who was offensive coordinator in Minnesota when Haayer played there.
But that doesn't mean Haayer will be handed a job.
"You just try to catch on as fast as you can, and learn from watching the other
guys in front of you -- the older guys," Haayer said. "But it's tough when you
don't get much (practice) reps."
The Rams need a fourth tackle behind starters Orlando Pace and Alex Barron and
top backup Todd Steussie. Haayer could challenge Blaine Saipaia -- also a
guard-tackle swingman -- for that spot.
"I'm going to play this game until they pull me off the field kicking and
screaming," said Haayer, a sixth-round draft pick by Tennessee in 2001.
Seeing Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis depart as free agents in March certainly
helped Calahan's job outlook. Alas, the Rams signed veterans La'Roi Glover and
Jason Fisk in free agency, and added Claude Wroten in the draft. Just like
that, Calahan finds himself in the same situation he was in a year ago --
fighting the numbers. Barring injury, it will be tough for Calahan to bust into
the top four at defensive tackle ahead of Glover, Jimmy Kennedy, Fisk, or
"Certainly, it's a fight," Calahan said. "Who knows what's going to happen? I'm
just giving it my best and seeing where things fall. Coach (Brian) Baker is
pretty straight up with us. He tells us you're going out there and playing
these (preseason) games and 31 other teams are watching. He said you're putting
your résumé on that field every day -- in practices and in games."
Baker is the Rams' defensive line coach.
Calahan didn't survive the final cut a year ago as a rookie free agent, but
earned a spot on the Rams' practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster
with three games remaining, and made his NFL debut in the season finale against
Dallas. But the former Rice Owl left the game early with a knee injury. He
remains a hustle player who plays the run pretty well but needs to work on his
For Raiola, spending an August in St. Louis has brought new meaning to the
words: sweating out a roster spot.
"Where I'm from, it's in the 80s every day," Raiola said.
That would be Honolulu, where Raiola was an all-state performer at Kamehameha
High. Even at the University of Wisconsin, where Raiola started 39 games, he
didn't run into heat like this. Apparently, they know a thing or two about
blocking back home in Raiola's little corner of paradise.
His older brother, Dominic, has been a four-year starter at center for Detroit.
Neighbor Olin Kreutz is a Pro Bowl center for the Chicago Bears. Now comes
Donovan, who's trying to beat out Larry Turner for a backup center spot with
Raiola wasn't drafted, and concedes he didn't have a good senior year for the
Badgers, partly because of a knee injury. And he didn't test well at the NFL
Scouting Combine. But he has good quickness, particularly getting downfield, or
down the line, for blocks. He needs to get stronger at the point of attack to
make a living in the NFL.