By Bill Coats
Saturday, Dec. 30 2006

Barring a last-minute setback, Rams linebacker Raonall Smith will achieve a
modest milestone Sunday in Minnesota: He'll complete a full season without
missing a game for just the second time in his five-year NFL career.

"It's nice to be injury-free," said Smith, whose first name is of Irish
derivation and rhymes with "panel."

In the 2002 NFL draft, only 37 players were selected ahead of Smith, a
Washington State product taken in the second round by the Vikings. But a
shoulder injury scuttled his entire rookie season, and he played in a total of
just 14 games over the following two years, when a bad hamstring and a severe
concussion limited him.

"He's had a number of injuries, and really, that's the only thing that's kept
him off the field," said coach Scott Linehan, who was the Vikings' offensive
coordinator from 2002-04.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Smith, 28, finally managed to stay healthy in 2005,
when he amassed a career-high 30 tackles for the Vikings. In April, the Rams
signed Smith, a free agent, to a one-year contract for $750,000.

He fills a three-pronged role here: He's busy on special teams, he backs up
Brandon Chillar at strongside linebacker, and he comes in on passing downs as
what defensive coordinator Jim Haslett terms the "buck end."

Defining the "buck end" duties is difficult, Smith noted. "It changes from
week to week," he said. "Sometimes you get to rush the passer out of an odd or
even front; sometimes there's (pass) coverage responsibilities."

Said Linehan: "It's a good fit for him, because one of his strengths is being
able to be a big, powerful linebacker who has pass-rush ability, and who can
drop (into coverage). He's embraced that role and done a good job of it."

Smith's nine tackles on defense include 1 sacks. He leads the team in
special-teams stops, with 13.

"It's gone pretty good so far, I guess; I'm just taking it as it goes," Smith
said. "I'm really enjoying playing here. I like my teammates, the coaching
staff and the organization. I just wish we had a couple of more wins."

Incentive to win

Playoffs or no playoffs, an 8-8 finish with a three-game winning streak would
provide positive thrust heading into 2007, wide receiver Torry Holt pointed
out. "You would think if you finish up strong, things would carry over into the
following year," he said.

Added Linehan: "I think it's very good momentum for not just the next season,
but your offseason. It's always better to finish with improvement. So, we're
playing for a lot, not just the playoffs."

P. Smith is still ailing

Continuing neck discomfort is expected to keep fullback Paul Smith on the
sideline for the third week in a row. A variety of injuries limited Smith to 10
games this year.

"It's been frustrating," said Smith, a seven-year veteran. "I had the big
injury against Detroit (a severe concussion Oct. 1), and it seemed like it just
kind of snowballed from there. But you really can't control something like
that. It's the nature of game."

Smith was listed as doubtful on Friday's injury report. Defensive end Victor
Adeyanju (arm) was questionable, and Holt (knee), linebacker Will Witherspoon
(knee), defensive tackle La'Roi Glover (ribs) and defensive end Leonard Little
(neck) were probable. All but Smith practiced Friday.