By Bill Coats
Saturday, Dec. 09 2006

A year of forced exile provided Rams tight end Aaron Walker with a renewed
appreciation for football. "When the game that you love is taken away from you,
like it was for me last year, any opportunity you get to be on the field is
great," he said.

The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Florida product was a fifth-round draft choice by San
Francisco in 2003. He played in all 32 games, including six starts, in two
seasons, collecting 18 receptions for 231 yards and a touchdown. Then the *****
released him abruptly last year after the preseason.

The Rams signed Walker in late December, but he spent the last two games of the
season on the inactive list and wasn't prominent in their plans for 2006
especially after they spent two first-day draft picks on tight ends, Joe
Klopfenstein (second round) and Dominique Byrd (third round).

"Going into training camp with those two guys, you know you've just got to work
that much harder to prove yourself," Walker said. He not only survived the
cuts, he beat out Byrd for the No. 2 spot behind Klopfenstein.

"He's done a real good job in that area, situations where we felt we needed a
pretty good point blocker at the tight end spot," coach Scott Linehan said.
"He's been very consistent. You need to have guys like that in your system."

Said Walker: "You take a sense of pride in showing this coaching staff that
they made the right decision in keeping you. I think that's what gets me
through every day, just having that pride on making this team and helping this
team win games."

Klopfenstein has caught 15 passes for 191 yards and a TD. Walker has just one
reception, for 16 yards. Not that he's complaining.

"If you're a player, you want the ball in your hands. But I'm having a good
time," Walker said. "Everybody's got a role in this offense, and mine's
blocking the edge and for pass protection while Joe's out on the routes. If
that's what it takes for our team to win ballgames, that's fine with me."

Back to practice

The Rams' personnel crisis in the secondary eased considerably Friday, when
free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and cornerback Tye Hill, both first-teamers,
returned to practice.

"They look significantly better than they did" Thursday, Linehan said. Atogwe
had been out after suffering a mild concussion last Sunday vs. Arizona, and
Hill was nursing a strained thigh muscle. "I definitely don't want to miss
'Monday Night Football,'" said Hill, a rookie.

The news wasn't good, though, for rookie defensive end Victor Adeyanju, a
Chicagoan who was eager to play against the Bears. Adeyanju, who broke his
right forearm Nov. 26, has been ruled out.

"It's a shame to miss this game," he said. "It would've been memorable, my
first year, against my hometown team on Monday night. But things happen. I just
need a little bit more time."

Paint the town white

As part of a sponsorship promotion, Russell Athletic plans to hand out 66,000
white T-shirts to fans Monday night to create a "white out" effect at the
Edward Jones Dome.

The Rams announced Friday that they had entered into a multiyear "branding
initiative" with Russell that will include naming rights to Rams Park.
Officially, it will be dubbed the Russell Athletic Training Center, Home of the
St. Louis Rams.

Also, the playing surface at the Dome will be the Russell Athletic Field but
only for Monday night's game.

Vote for Oregon State

Running back Steven Jackson predicts a lopsided victory for his alma mater over
Missouri in the Sun Bowl.

"Oregon State by 20," Jackson said. "Missouri's good; I've had a chance to
watch them. But we finished really well. We beat USC (33-31 on Oct. 28). We're
one of the reasons why they're not in the national championship this year."

Mizzou (8-4) and Oregon State (9-4) will square off Dec. 29 in El Paso, Texas.

League fines Little

Defensive end Leonard Little was fined $5,000 by the NFL for his roughing the
passer penalty Sunday vs. Arizona. Little was cited specifically for making
contact below the knees on Cardinals QB Matt Leinart