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Rams long shots bring hope to practice
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Every morning, safety Andre Kirkland shows up for work at Rams Park, walks into the locker room, looks into his locker stall and gazes upon his jersey sporting No. 43.
He tells himself: "OK, I got another day. Thank you, Lord, for another day."
Kirkland earned second-team Mid-American Conference honors last season at Kent State but did not get drafted. The Rams signed him as a rookie free agent May 2, and ever since he has received a steady stream of calls and text messages from friends. They want to know anything and everything about the Rams.
"Like, 'How big is Steven Jackson?'" Kirkland said. "Or, 'Who's better? Torry or Isaac?'"
Kirkland faces an uphill struggle, to put it mildly, trying to make the squad in St. Louis. Corey Chavous and Oshiomogho "O.J." Atogwe are firmly entrenched as the starting safeties. Jerome Carter and Todd Johnson appear to have a stranglehold on the backup jobs. At best, Kirkland is fighting for the No. 5 spot, but there's a chance the Rams will keep only four safeties.
"I try not to look at the numbers," Kirkland said. "They say when you do, that's when you're out the door. I just try to do my job. If I don't make it here, hopefully, I'll make it somewhere else. All the veterans say that you're auditioning for all the teams, all 32."
In the meantime, Kirkland is trying to enjoy every moment in the NFL.
"It's everything I've dreamed about and prayed about," Kirkland said. "I walk in there every day, and I'm like, 'Man! I'm an NFL player.'"
Kirkland is one of several long shots trying to make the Rams' roster. Some others:
Last season, John David Washington was a novelty. Undrafted out of Morehouse College, he attracted lots of attention during training camp, but not because he's the only player in Morehouse history to rush for 1,100 yards-plus in two seasons. He's the son of Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington.
But this season, Washington is just another of the guys. A football player trying to earn a job in the NFL.
"I feel comfortable here, definitely, with my teammates," Washington said. "They understand that I'm here to play ball. I'm not here to act like I'm playing ball. I'm not in Hollywood. This is what I've been wanting to do since I was a little boy. So I do feel a lot more comfortable with my dad out of the picture, so to speak."
His father, the famous actor, still attends as many Rams exhibition games as possible. In fact, he attended the team's preseason opener last week in Minnesota. But Denzel Washington has a way of avoiding attention.
"I don't think he really understood, either, until he saw it last year, how tough his status is on me," Washington said. "He's a proud father, and I thank him for that. But he knows how to sneak in and out."
After spending the 2006 season on the Rams' practice squad, Washington has taken only four days off. He has either been training or playing in NFL Europa, first for the Hamburg Sea Devils and then for the Rhein Fire.
There is a logjam of players ahead of Washington on the depth chart at running back. Once again, the practice squad looks like his best option. But he does look quicker and more comfortable than he did a year ago.
"I know what to expect now," he said. "I'm not thinking as much. I can react better. I can play ball now for real."
Mark Anelli, TE
Mark Anelli wasn't popping champagne corks last March when the Rams signed one of the NFL's better tight ends, Randy McMichael, to a three-year contract.
"Great guy," Anelli said. "But I wasn't necessarily all giddy about it at first."
The Rams already had two high draft picks from 2006 on the roster in Joe Klopfenstein and Dominique Byrd. Not to mention a steady, young veteran in Aaron Walker. More often than not, Anelli looks good on the practice field. He caught a touchdown pass in the team scrimmage Aug. 4. But it's a stacked deck at tight end. What would he do to make this team?
"I'm pretty much willing to do anything right now," he said. "If you need me to grab towels or bring water, I'll do it. I'd snap, play fullback, play tight end, special teams. I'll do it all."
Anelli, 28, has been at this for a while. Since his rookie season in 2002, he has had stints with San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, the New York Giants and now the Rams. He also played with the Frankfurt Galaxy in NFL Europa. Through it all, Anelli has been in only two NFL regular-season games, both in 2002, with the *****.
"It's been an experience, that's for sure," he said. "I've dragged my wife all over the country, and it's been rough at times."
Anelli no longer is eligible for the practice squad, and there's now another mouth to feed: Son Marcello Anthony was born right as camp started. That makes this a make-or-break year.
"Pretty much, yeah," Anelli said.
Fred Capshaw, P
Capshaw, 27, has been at this almost as long as Anelli and has yet to punt in a regular-season game. A two-time all-Big East punter for the Miami Hurricanes, Capshaw has had stints with San Francisco, Arizona and now the Rams. A torn quad muscle in 2004 pulled his career off track.
"That kind of kept me out of people's minds for about a year, and the last two years I've been trying to knock on doors and get myself noticed again," he said.
In St. Louis, the punting job belongs to Donnie Jones, but Capshaw is hoping to punt well enough in preseason that somebody takes notice. If football doesn't work, Capshaw shouldn't go hungry. He has a triple major from Miami: finance, marketing and management. With that kind of academic résumé, there's only one thing for Capshaw to do after football: get rich.
"Exactly," he said, smiling.
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