By Jim Thomas
Monday, Sep. 04 2006

The timing of the phone call was so odd, just a couple of days after Christmas,
that safety Dwaine Carpenter thought his agent was kidding.

"I was asleep," Carpenter recalled. "I told my agent to quit playing with me.
This doesn't happen at the end of the season."

But it was true. The Rams wanted Carpenter on the active roster for their 2005
season finale in Dallas because of an ankle injury to Jerome Carter.

Things never got that far for linebacker Jamal Brooks and the Rams late in the
'05 campaign. Kurt Gouveia, brought in at midseason to help interim head coach
Joe Vitt coach Rams linebackers, was lobbying for Brooks. (Gouveia had coached
Brooks with the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe.) But Brooks stayed home -- and
unemployed -- for the holidays.

Eight months later, Brooks and Carpenter find themselves on the Rams' 53-man
roster. There are 26 new faces on the 2006 roster compared to last year at this
time. Among those 26, there probably are no bigger longshots than Brooks and

"I think both were looked at as guys, who if they made our team, they were
going to really help us on special teams," coach Scott Linehan said.

Brooks backs up Will Witherspoon at middle linebacker. Carpenter is the No. 2
free safety behind Oshiomogho Atogwe.

Brooks and Carpenter entered the NFL as undrafted free agents. Both kept their
careers alive playing in other leagues. Carpenter had stints in the Arena
Football League and Arena League2. Brooks, meanwhile, had two stints in NFL
Europe, with the Thunder in the spring of 2005 and with the Scottish Claymores
four years earlier.

It's not as if Brooks lacks other job skills. A two-year captain in college at
Hampton, Brooks has a degree in business management and owns a real-estate

"Everybody can't make $10 million a year, so you've just got to be smart with
your money," Brooks said.

On more than a few occasions Brooks was close to relying full-time on that
business degree. Beginning in 2000, he has had stints with New Orleans, Dallas
and Cleveland. But except for the 2001 season, when he played in 16 games for
Dallas, Brooks has not participated in a regular-season NFL contest.

He missed the entire 2002 season with a fractured fibuula, and has been
scrambling to carve out an NFL career ever since. What keeps him coming back?

"I guess being confident in your talent," said Brooks, 29. "Because it never
was a situation where I couldn't play. Coaches would tell my agent, or tell
other coaches, 'This kid can play.' "

The addition of Jim Haslett to Linehan's coaching staff as defensive
coordinator helped keep Brooks' career going. Haslett was in his first season
as New Orleans' head coach in 2000 when Brooks tried to make the Saints' roster
as a rookie. Rams linebacker coach Rick Venturi and defensive quality control
coach Joe Baker also were on that Saints staff.

"I know their coaching style," said Brooks, who signed with the Rams on Feb.
21. "All they want you to do is execute, and do what you've got to do. Play all
out. Don't make excuses. Don't make the same mistake twice."

Brooks earned Linehan's admiration -- and the nickname "Old School" -- by
playing through a painful toe injury in preseason. Locked in a tight battle
with rookie Tim McGarigle for a roster spot, Brooks probably clinched the job
with a busy first half Thursday against Miami. He recorded seven tackles, a
sack, two quarterback hurries, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery.

"You can't tell the difference, whether it's pads or shorts," Linehan said.
"The guy plays at the same speed, running into everybody. He's tough against
the run. He's a real heady player. He's proof that if you just stick with it,
don't get frustrated, and take advantage of the opportunity you get, you're
bound to stick with somebody."

The same could be said for Carpenter, 29. He played in 30 games for San
Francisco in 2003 and '04, with eight starts. But he was cut two games into the
2005 season by the *****, and then waited more than 3 months before that
surprise phone call after Christmas.

"The biggest shock was not getting picked up right away," Carpenter said.
"There were a couple of teams who called my agent ... but nothing ever

In signing Carpenter on Dec. 28, the Rams added the '06 season to the contract.
The addition of secondary coach Willy Robinson to Linehan's staff helped his
cause. Robinson was defensive coordinator in San Francisco in '04, when
Carpenter started six times, recorded 49 tackles and one interception, and
returned a recovered fumble 80 yards for a touchdown.

"He's an aggressive, hard-nosed type of person," Carpenter said. "And that's my
mentality. Running around out there, hitting, and trying to make things happen."