It would be easy for Tony Newson to get complacent. After spending a little more than a year out of football altogether, he practiced with the first-team defense at strongside linebacker for St. Louis on Sunday.

He could now rest on his laurels and enjoy the fact that he seems to have locked up a roster spot with a legitimate chance at cracking the starting lineup. Newson, of course, won’t do that. He doesn’t know the easy way out because he has never had it easy.

The 6-foot-1, 247-pound linebacker entered training camp simply hoping to make the roster, perhaps by way of special teams. “Coming to camp, I had to prove myself,” Newson said. “It was trying to establish yourself and let everybody know that you are accountable for what you do.”

For the time being, Newson appears to have shown that he is capable. Coming out of Utah State in 2002, Newson signed with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent. He was on the practice squad before moving on to the Chiefs for the final four games of the season.

In 2003, Newson entered training camp with hopes of improving and perhaps playing more. Those hopes were dashed when he fractured his sternum early in training camp. The Chiefs cut him before the season started and Newson went to work in the real world.

He spent time working many jobs and rehabilitating from the injury. He worked with emergency medical technicians, telemarketing and as a business representative. Newson said time spent in the “real” world helped him appreciate his opportunities in football. “Anytime you’re out for an entire year, a lot goes through your mind,” Newson said. “Of course, you are a lot more hungry than you were before.”

Newson signed with the Rams on March 15. It didn’t hurt Newson’s cause that Joe Vitt, the only linebackers coach he has had, moved from Kansas City to St. Louis in the offseason. Newson was familiar with Vitt’s terminology and infectious enthusiasm for the game, making the adjustment that much easier. “I’m more comfortable with him and his teaching methods,” Newson said. “It helps a lot.”

In his pursuit of the starting job, Newson moved past Tommy Polley, who had started for the better part of the past three years. Polley has been one of the teams’ top tacklers in that time, finishing second on the team in stops last season with 115.

Coach Mike Martz said competition is a big part of training camp and the move is by no means permanent.
“This happens all the time in camp,” Martz said. “We are trying different combinations and seeing what the best combination is. “We haven’t settled on our final three yet by any stretch of the imagination.”

While Newson isn’t sure that he will remain with the top unit, he is sure that it is where he wants to be. Polley will almost certainly respond to the move with an intense finish to his camp. If anything is for sure in the NFL, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. Nobody knows that better than Tony Newson.

MORE MOVEMENT: Linebacker isn’t the only position where adjustments were made. Scott Tercero, who performed well at right tackle in the Rams’ first preseason game, moved to left guard and replaced Andy King. King started at the spot against the Bears.

Tercero played guard at California and practiced there most of last season, making the move easier for him. He said he doesn’t know how long he will stay at guard, but is trying to prepare for anything. “I played guard in college, so I think I feel a little bit more comfortable at it, but I need to be comfortable at every position,” Tercero said. “I’m trying to get just as comfortable at tackle as I am at guard.” Martz said he is confident in Tercero’s ability to adjust to the changes.
“I was really, really shocked by how well he’s gone back inside and handled it,” Martz said. “Guys like that can go in there and continue to focus and stay at a high level like he’s done at a different or new position is remarkable.”

Tercero’s switch left a vacant spot at right tackle. Greg Randall, who signed with the team toward the beginning of camp, moved up to the first unit in Tercero’s spot. The line, which has been depleted by injuries to Kyle Turley and Dave Wohlabaugh and the absence of Orlando Pace, now features Tercero, Randall and Grant Williams alongside veteran starters Adam Timmerman and Andy McCollum.

INJURY CHECK: Steven Jackson sat out the afternoon workout with pain in his right knee. Martz said the injury for Jackson is from a past problem with the knee combined with the number of repetitions he’s taken. Kevin Curtis missed practices for the second straight day with shin splints. Cameron Cleeland and Robert Cromartie appeared closer to recovering from hamstring injuries, for they ran sprints and looked more active than they have in weeks. Erik Jensen (knee) also sat out again.

GORDON RETURNS: Running back Lamar Gordon returned to Macomb after surgery on his ankle that repaired a chip that had bothered him for most of his young career. Gordon had a solid start to his career before the injury, but the possibility of what he could do with total health excites Martz.

Martz said he felt bad about past criticisms of Gordon’s toughness and credited Gordon for his toughness to play through the nagging injuries. “I’m excited,” Martz said. “Look back at what he’s done with that bad ankle, we all got excited about him with that bad ankle. He might be pretty good without the bad ankle.”