By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
Monday, Apr. 28 2008

As we’ve noted earlier in this corner of cyberspace, this Rams offseason is all
about rehabilitation.

The veteran nucleus must heal. Leonard Little, Orlando Pace, Marc Bulger,
Richie Incognito, Mark Setterstrom, Drew Bennett, James Hall . . . the list of ’
07 casualties goes on and on. These guys must all bounce back from their
injuries.

But the Rams must rehab their attitude as well. The locker room needs
rejuvenation. The team must rebuild its collective work ethic and relocate its
spirit.

This explains the Scott Linehan/Billy Devaney draft strategy over the weekend.
With each pick, the brain trust zeroed in on smart, high-character and
hard-working players.

With each pick, the Rams refused to gamble on potential stars with glaring
personal flaws. The front office passed on all the knuckleheads, regardless of
their talent.

“I don’t think we took it to an extreme,” Devaney said Sunday night, after the
two-day marathon finally ended. “But we wanted to stay on point there.”

You know the sad story with the Linehan Era. The Rams have seen a LOT of
promising young players go south on them.

Anthony Hargrove could have become a terrific right defensive end. Big Claude
Terrell could have become a mainstay at guard. Dominique Byrd had explosive
potential at tight end.

All three players washed out because of off-field issues. (Byrd is still
technically on the roster, but I can’t imagine he remains in the team’s plans
for 2008. He personified the team’s mental and emotional drift last season.)

Joe Klopfenstein is still a major project at tight end. Is it really that
difficult to learn blocking skills?

Claude Wroten is still a reclamation project on the defensive line, after his
disastrous ’07 season. Alex Barron has yet to realize his full potential at
right tackle.

Linehan and Devaney didn’t want any such projects in this draft class. They
sought players who could fill team needs AND improve the group’s personality.

Top pick Chris Long will be a leader in that campaign -– although Glenn Dorsey
would have brought similar attributes.

Rams Nation has panned the second-round selection of Donnie Avery. But the wide
receiver corps was a flawed group this season, as we saw Saturday when none of
them went in the first round.

Did the Rams reach to take Avery? Perhaps. But his stock rose because the stock
of so many other receivers plunged as teams took longer looks at their
shortcomings. And the Rams simply HAD to add speed at wide receiver.

After that pick, the Rams added working-class players at key positions.

“John Greco is a versatile offensive lineman,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. wrote. “CB
Justin King has a lot of potential, but he gets beat in coverage far too much.
Wide receiver Keenan Burton would have gone higher than the fourth round if he
hadn't been slowed by knee and ankle injuries in his senior season.

“Roy Schuening has a chance to start this year at guard. Chris Chamberlain had
a very nice season at Tulsa. And don't forget about OLB David Vobora, aka Mr.
Irrelevant, who I thought was a mid-round pick. Vobora has some ability and I
would be surprised if he didn't make this team as a special teams player.”

Greco ought to push Barron. Some fans want him to replace the mistake-prone
right tackle, but Greco isn’t that type of player. Yet.

Schuening could become a Setterstrom-type find. His arrival should make it
easier for the Rams to move either Setterstrom or Incognito to center to
compete with Brett Romberg for that job. Schuening and Greco add youthful depth
and potential while replacing old-timers Todd Steussie and Andy McCollum.

I’m skeptical of King. He is a smart guy, but intelligence doesn’t help much
out on that cornerback island. His speed will help on special teams, but many
draft experts panned his tackling and coverage skills.

Yes, he played a lot at Penn State. But some high-end receivers lit up the
Nittany Lions on his watch. So we’ll have to watch his development closely.

Burton will have every chance to play himself into the top six at receiver.
While Avery may be graded as a reach, Burton could be a late-round steal.
Receivers Dante Hall, Dane Looker and Marques Hagans will be on the spot once
the Rams get to work.

Linebackers Chamberlain and Vobora were selected for their special teams
potential. They made lots of tackles at the mid-major level of college football
and they will try to carry that aggression to the NFL.

There is nothing flashy about this group. Even Long appears somewhat pedestrian
when compared to the monstrous Dorsey.

But Linehan and Devaney expect this rookie class to do more than fill some
lineup holes and provide more depth. They expect this class to help change the
personality of the team -– which will be the biggest challenge of all heading
toward next season.