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Rams plug middle with Witherspoon (update on contract and Pickett's offer)
Rams plug middle with Witherspoon
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Mar. 12 2006
The Rams struck their second big blow in as many days in free agency, signing
linebacker Will Witherspoon to a six-year, $33 million contract on Sunday.
Witherspoon, 25, had spent his previous four seasons with the Carolina
Panthers, where he quickly established himself as one of the league's
up-and-coming weakside linebackers. But he will have a change in job
description with the Rams - middle linebacker.
"It's a good spot for a guy who runs around and makes all the tackles," Rams
coach Scott Linehan said. "In the scheme we're going to run, both of them
(weakside and middle linebacker) need to basically be mirror images of each
The plan to use Witherspoon in the middle is a mild surprise given his size and
past experience. At 6-1, 231 pounds, Witherspoon is undersized by NFL middle
linebacker standards. And he has spent most of his time in Carolina playing
outside linebacker. But whenever Dan Morgan got hurt in Carolina, Witherspoon
usually slid inside, so it's not as if he has no experience at the position.
"I probably played about 20 games in the middle at some point or another, or
even more actually," Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon started seven games at middle linebacker as a rookie in 2002 and
four games there in 2003.
"My productivity stayed up," Witherspoon said. "Nothing changed there. ... I
had a great time playing in the middle in Carolina. I know exactly what it's
going to take. I know you've got to just change your mind-set a little bit from
week to week. That's all."
Whether inside or outside, Witherspoon consistentlyplayed well for the Panthers
at linebacker. He led Carolina's highly-regarded defense in tackles in 2004 and
'05, and finished second on the squad in '03 - his first season as a full-time
Last season, he finished with 109 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, and two interceptions.
He returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown against the Jets.
"He makes a lot of plays," Linehan said. "But he's very disciplined, can cover,
doesn't get outmatched; tight ends and backs don't put him in a bad position."
Because of its stout front four, Carolina didn't call on him very often to rush
the passer, but he has eight career sacks.
"Not only is he getting his hands on balls in coverage, but he's getting there
and making that quarterback claustrophobic when he (blitzes)," Linehan said.
"So he's a pretty complete guy."
Witherspoon's versatility, productivity, speed and age combined to make him one
of the most-coveted linebackers in an otherwise so-so free-agent pool. New
Orleans, where former Rams interim head coach Joe Vitt now coaches linebackers,
wanted to get him out of St. Louis on Sunday and down to New Orleans for a
But Witherspoon agreed to terms by early Sunday afternoon. The contract was
signed shortly after 5 p.m.
Witherspoon's contract includes a $9 million signing bonus, which is less than
the $13 million figure widely-rumored on Saturday night. But the base salary in
the first two years of Witherspoon's contract is guaranteed - $2 million in
2006 and $4 million in '07. So counting the signing bonus, $15 million is
The Rams initially had targeted San Francisco middle linebacker Derek Smith,
but Smith re-signed with the ***** before the start of free agency
Even with the Witherspoon signing, the Rams still have a five-year offer on the
table for defensive tackle Ryan Pickett. Pickett visited Green Bay on Sunday
and may visit Buffalo.
Also, quarterback Jamie Martin will make a visit to Cincinnati this week.
Re: Rams plug middle with Witherspoon (update on contract and Pickett's offer)
I don't know much about the guy and I won't pretend I do. I do know that he was playing behind first class studs on the Panthers DEFENSIVE LINE. Big-time physical players in front of him. We need to sign Pickett.
Ray Lewis went from All-Pro to ordinary when they took away his Studs up front for a period there. Remember the Sunday night game two years when we kept running at Lewis, with much success.
It seems Ram's management has seen the weakness (DEF) and is attacking it. That has to be encouraging. The first pick (#11) in the draft will have to go to DEF too. Too many holes on that side of the ball.
Re: Rams plug middle with Witherspoon (update on contract and Pickett's offer)Originally Posted by Coach Linehan
Like I said, that's all I needed to hear, so with that, I will gladly cease my hesitation towards this signing."Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod