Rams' Stewart willing to do the dirty work

BY BILL COATS
Thursday, December 23, 2010 12:15 am

After the Rams chose him, Darian Stewart chose the Rams.

A safety from the University of South Carolina, Stewart received overtures from several NFL teams wanting to bring him to training camp as an undrafted rookie. The Rams, Stewart decided, provided the best opportunity.

"I felt like I could get some playing time," Stewart explained.

Of course, he first had to make the team, never an easy task for a first-year player left out of the draft. But Stewart beat the odds.

"When he first got here, I thought he kind of stuck out," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "He's got a little bit of burst to him, some natural football instincts. That's what you look for at any position, especially safety."

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Stewart has dressed for 13 of the Rams' 15 games, including each of the last six. He's on three special-teams units: kickoff coverage, kickoff return and punt return. Lately, he's seen increased work on defense, coming in on certain packages in passing situations.

"I came here to help the team any way I can, on special teams as well as on defense," Stewart said. "I'm just taking it as, wherever they need me, I'm willing to play it."

Spagnuolo said Stewart has "kind of found a home. We play him a little bit in that nickel, dime (on defense). And he does a real good job on special teams."

Stewart said he "most definitely" thought that he'd be drafted after starting for three seasons for coach Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks. But, he conceded, "I think everybody expects to get drafted."

Being bypassed "was a downer for me. But you just make them pay for it now," Stewart said. "It makes you work even harder."

When he considers how raw he was when he arrived at Rams Park in the spring, Stewart shakes his head.

"I'm a work in progress. I'm still learning each week," he said. "The vets have been very helpful to me. ... I'm more confident in myself. I feel like I'm a much better player than when I came in."

injury woes

Fullback and special-teams standout Brit Miller, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sunday vs. Kansas City, is the 13th Rams player to suffer a season-ending injury.

Taking Miller's place on the 53-man active roster is linebacker Curtis Johnson, from the practice squad. Johnson, 6-2 and 242 pounds, is a third-year pro out of NCAA Division II Clark Atlanta University. He played in seven games for Indianapolis in 2008 and three for Dallas last season.

Johnson was signed to the practice squad Sept. 6. He suited up for one game Oct. 24 at Tampa Bay but didn't see any action.

"I've been just waiting for the opportunity to come. It's late in the season, but Coach is finally giving me a chance and I've got to step up to the plate," Johnson said.

Spending time on the practice squad "is tough," he said. "You want to be out there helping the team as much as you can." But, Johnson pointed out, the practice squad members' contributions on the scout team, simulating the upcoming opponent in practice, is a vital component in the starters' preparation.

"We can help by giving them looks (so that) when they're playing in a game, it's just going to be that much easier for them," he said.

Wide receiver Joe West has been added to the practice squad. West is a Texas-El Paso product who has yet to see action in an NFL regular-season game.

limited practice

Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, out since sustaining a high-ankle sprain Nov. 28 at Denver, returned to practice Wednesday but didn't get as much work as expected.

"He didn't feel good coming off the Monday, Tuesday" individual workouts, Spagnuolo said. "So he went a little bit, but he really didn't get as much as we thought" he would.

Defensive end Chris Long (thigh) also sat out. Running back Kenneth Darby (rib) was limited.

RAM-BLINGS

Rams executive Kevin Demoff reported that as of Wednesday evening, roughly 1,000 tickets needed to be sold before today's noon deadline so Sunday's game can be televised locally. ... The ***** have given up 1 more yard on the ground than the Rams: 1,472 to 1,471.