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Longshots Embrace Land Of Opportunity
Longshots Embrace Land of Opportunity
Monday, September 7, 2009
By Nick Wagoner
In giving his early assessment of his Rams roster way back in the spring, coach Steve Spagnuolo repeatedly referred to the practice fields at the Russell Training Center as the “Land of Opportunity.”
With little to no preconceived notions about any of the players on the roster, Spagnuolo and his staff came to those organized team activities and minicamp practices with an open mind and that carried on into training camp and the preseason.
“Every position is an ongoing competition,” Spagnuolo said. “I don’t mean to overstate what’s going on but it really is.”
When the Rams announced the results of the competition from training camp and the preseason by declaring their 53-man roster on Saturday night, there were four Rams from various backgrounds who seized their opportunity.
Perhaps more than the rest of their more experienced teammates, defensive end C.J. Ah You, guard Roger Allen III, tackle Eric Young and safety David Roach wasted no chance to impress the coaching staff.
And for their efforts, that quartet landed spots on the team’s final roster regardless of the odds they faced in getting there.
For each player, the path was different but it ultimately led to the same spot.
THE PRACTICE SQUAD VET
Entering this year’s training camp; it’s safe to say that Ah You had placed a certain amount of expectation on himself.
After spending the past year and a half on the Rams practice squad, Ah You found himself hoping for a shot to finally land on the active roster.
Of course, that seemed a tall order considering that the Rams seemed to have a solid quartet at defensive end already in place in Leonard Little, James Hall, Chris Long and Victor Adeyanju.
“I knew coming in I had my work cut out for me so all I could do is work on my game and do everything I can and hustle and work hard and hopefully the coaches like what they see and keep me around,” Ah You said.
Ah You’s expectations perked up a little bit after the team hired Spagnuolo, though. From watching Spagnuolo’s defenses in New York the past two years, Ah You knew that the new head coach had a penchant for moving defensive linemen around and sending them out on the field in waves.
That knowledge created hope that maybe the opportunity to land on the roster would be greater than it had previously been.
“When he first got hired I saw the opportunity to maybe come inside and maybe (go) outside,” Ah You said. “I got a lot of work on that in training camp and now I’m here so it worked out.”
Ah You performed well on the practice field but it was when the lights came on in the preseason contests that it started to click. Ah You posted consecutive big games against Cincinnati and Kansas City to close the preseason with a flourish.
When the final cut down came around, Ah You relaxed and spent the day with his visiting family before Rams general manager Billy Devaney personally called him to break the news that he had finally met his goal.
“I really appreciated that,” Ah You said. “I thanked him for the opportunity and sticking by me. I am just excited for this year.”
BACK IN BUSINESS
For Roach, the journey to the active roster isn’t a first time deal. He originally signed with New Orleans before last season as an undrafted free agent but was released and signed to the Rams practice squad on Oct. 21.
Roach was released and brought back again before the Rams eventually gave him the call up to the active roster from the practice squad on Dec. 18.
Although he was on the 53, Roach was inactive the final two games. Still, it was clear the Rams had high hopes for him.
In this year’s camp, Roach made a positive impression on special teams and an injury to Eric Bassey created an expanded role for him in the preseason games.
“Obviously, (he) performed well enough and caught our eye,” Spagnuolo said.
Now, Roach appears poised to get another opportunity to more than just dress on game days.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
There was a time not long ago when Young was considered a strong offensive line prospect. Coming out of the University of Tennessee, Young went to the Browns as an undrafted free agent.
Young had suffered a quadriceps injury in the ninth game of his senior season for the Volunteers that essentially ruined his chances of being drafted.
In Cleveland, Young was signed with the future in mind and he was allowed to work out, rehab and attend meetings. When the Browns changed coaching staffs early in the offseason, Young was cut loose.
After arriving in St. Louis, Young took advantage of his chance and, more important, his newly regained health.
“I feel like I kind of started off a little slow, considering I had been out of football for 22 months with an injury but once I got to game speed I feel like I played pretty well,” Young said.
Young played well enough to land the gig as the team’s fourth tackle though he is also well aware that rosters are constantly being tweaked even after the final cuts.
“You still have to approach every day, go out there and work as hard as you can and keep fighting,” Young said. “That’s my mindset.”
THE DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
In virtually every training camp, at least one undrafted rookie will sign with a team and do enough in the preseason to steal a roster spot. In the Rams’ case, this year’s feel good story comes from right here in the Show Me State.
Allen, a native of Raytown, Mo. and Missouri Western State alumni, came to the Rams as a strong, talented if not raw prospect with plenty of upside.
During training camp, Allen showed a lot of that potential but spent most of his time working with the third team. As camp wore on, Allen continued to improve and the week before last week’s preseason finale against Kansas City, Allen was informed that he would be working with the second string.
That vote of confidence buoyed Allen and let him know he could fit in on this level.
“That let me know they liked me,” Allen said. “They wanted to see big things out of me. I know they brought me here with big expectations and I plan on living up to them and the fact that I played (so much) against Kansas City just amped it up that much more.”
Like most of his rookie brethren, Allen spent Saturday sweating out the results, watching television and playing video games. His parents were in town and helped him get through it.
“They’d help me pack up my stuff if things went wrong,” Allen said, jokingly.
Sure enough the call never came and Allen was finally informed that he had made the team when his agent called him with the good news.
“He called me and said congratulations,” Allen said. “I said ‘Congratulations about what?’ he said he talked to them and you made it. I was like ‘Are you sure? Oh, thank God.’”
Although the stories of Allen, Roach, Young and Ah You all have their own twists and turns to them, there’s no doubting the amount of hard work, blood, sweat and tears each of them has poured in to getting to this point.
Reality says things can change at the drop of a hat in the NFL. But for now, Spagnuolo wants to make sure none of his players - whether they be Pro Bowlers or roster long shots made good – take what they’ve been given lightly.
“They deserve to be here,” Spagnuolo said. “I told the guys this morning…I congratulated everybody first of all, for being on an NFL football team. It is special – not everybody can do that and then I told them that they should feel proud of it and never take it for granted. Coaches, players, should never take this for granted. It can be taken away like that and hopefully the message got through.”
Re: Longshots Embrace Land Of Opportunity
Ah You caught my eye a lot during preseason. He's a gamer with a high motor and I'll bet he's going to make some solid contributions this year.
-09-09-2009 #3Registered User
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Re: Longshots Embrace Land Of Opportunity
No doubt all of these guys were long shots to make the Rams, but what I don't understand is why no mention of Quincy Butler? I mean who is this guy and isn't he as much of a long shot as the others?
I know I haven't ever heard of him before this year.
WHAT SAY YE?
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