Injuries at linebacker have opened a door
BY STEVE KORTE
News-Democrat

ST. LOUIS --
Quinton Culberson was a Parade All-American and one the nation's top defensive prospects, but now he's an undrafted rookie hoping to beat the odds with the St. Louis Rams.

Due to injuries among the Rams' linebackers corps, Culberson has gotten an opportunity to showcase his talents.

He's made a good impression on the Rams' coaches working at middle linebacker, mostly with the second-string defense.

"He's a natural," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "I noticed when he puts the pads on, a light comes on with that guy. It is always good to see those guys that are maybe considered long shots come out and start to show up a little bit."

Culberson played cornerback and wide receiver at Provine High School in Jackson, Miss. He helped Provine High post a 26-9 record over his final three seasons at the school.

As a senior, Culberson had 22 catches for 430 yards and 10 touchdowns as a wide receiver and 64 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recovers as a cornerback.

Culberson was rated as the No. 3 safety prospect in the country by ESPN.com and a Top 10 defensive prospect by the G&W Recruiting Report.

Culberson weighed about 210 pounds coming out of high school. He now weighs 236 pounds.

Culberson said he broke his leg during his freshman season at Mississippi State, and started gaining weight after that.

"I played corner my freshman year in college, safety my sophomore year and middle linebacker my junior and senior years," Culberson said.

Culberson led Mississippi State in tackles as both a junior and a senior. He had 102 tackles, one sack and two interceptions, returning one 51 yards for a touchdown against Alabama last season.

Culberson was hoping to be taken somewhere from the fifth through the seventh rounds in the 2007 NFL draft, but he was passed over.

A slow time in 40-yard dash at the NFL combine probably scuttled Culberson's dream of being drafted.

"At the combine, I ran a 4.7 or a 4.6, something in between there," Culberson said. "I wasn't expecting that. I thought I would run a lot faster than that. I know my game speed is a lot better."

Culberson said the Rams were one of three NFL teams that contacted him after the draft.

Culberson said he was glad that he signed the Rams.

"I'm getting a lot of reps, and I do think I will be able to able to make this team if I continue to work hard," Culberson said.

Culberson knows his ticket to a roster spot is special teams. He'll have to show that he can be a productive special teams player during the Rams' preseason games.

"I have to go full speed and try to show my coach that I do want to play on special teams," Culberson said.

Linehan said linebacker Chris Draft, who has sat out the first week of training camp because of a problem with asthma, could return to the practice field by Friday, if he passes a treadmill test today.

"He has a precautionary test that he is doing tomorrow, and if he is cleared, there is no reason he shouldn't be out here by Friday's practice," Linehan said.

Another linebacker, Jon Alston, was injured in practice Tuesday night. He watched from the sidelines Wednesday.

"He got his bell rung last night in practice, so we're evaluating that," Linehan said.

Linehan said tight end Joe Klopfenstein could be back practicing early next week, while linebacker Tim McGarigle could be back by the middle of next week.

Both Klopfenstein and McGarigle have hamstring injuries.

Defensive tackle Tim Sandidge has a sprained knee, while wide receiver Lamart Barrett hurt his shoulder making a diving catch in practice Wednesday.