Wednesday, September 27, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

When the Rams used the 15th pick of this year’s NFL Draft on Clemson cornerback Tye Hill, he immediately realized the implications of what being a first-round choice were.

Everyone expects immediate contributions from a first-round pick. As the team’s nickel back and special teams contributor, Hill has been extremely active in his first three games. But Hill isn’t the only member of the 2006 rookie class to have an immediate impact.

With defensive end Victor Adeyanju grasping a starting job and Joe Klopfenstein entrenched at tight end, the Rams have a trio of rookies making a significant impact in their first year.

“I think there’s urgency for me to play,” Hill said. “Any time you are a No. 1 pick for a team you have to play. For a lot of people in my rookie class to be able to contribute early, that just shows the talent level that the coaches drafted and brought in and how they are able to contribute early.”

The Rams had 10 selections in the 2006 draft. Of that 10, seven made the final roster. Receiver Marques Hagans (fifth round) and linebacker Tim McGarigle (seventh round) made the practice squad and guard Tony Palmer was signed to Green Bay’s active roster.

The rest of the group has found its way on to the Rams’ top 53 with the aforementioned trio making an early impact. For the group as a whole, though, it’s a badge of honor of sorts to be on the field and making positive contributions this early in their careers.

While Hill isn’t starting, he might as well be considering the amount of repetitions he is getting. It didn’t take Hill long to make his presence felt, as he picked off a pass in his debut against Denver. He has also proved a willing tackler with four stops and has made three more tackles on special teams.

“I think everything is coming together for me,” Hill said. “I think when I am out there on the field; I am able to be comfortable and able to play which will allow me to be able to make plays eventually. I’m very happy and comfortable and confident in it.”

Klopfenstein, the team’s second-round choice, is also starting to fit and get comfortable with his role. After putting in the work to improve as a blocker in training camp and some early blocking recognition issues, Klopfenstein settled in against Arizona and did good work in the blitz pickup, even lining up as the “move” end in the back field on a few occasions.

So far, he has just a pair of catches for 34 yards, but offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Monday that he expects to use Klopfenstein more and more as he gets acclimated to the offense. And though the ball hasn’t been coming his way regularly yet, Klopfenstein is enjoying his role and seeing his fellow rookie classmates get involved.

“It means a lot to me,” Klopfenstein said. “It was obviously my goal coming into this thing and it does show that we have a good rookie class. There were certain spots where I think they needed somebody to come in and contribute and they tried to take care of that in the draft and I think they are definitely contributing.”

Aside from Klopfenstein, Hill and Adeyanju, the rest of the rookie class is still working to find its way on to the field. NFL rules state that each team can only have 45 players active each week, meaning eight Rams have to be in street clothes on Sundays.

Because of their inexperience that makes many rookies more likely to land there. Third round choices Jon Alston and Dominique Byrd and seventh-round pick Mark Setterstrom have yet to be active in a game as they adjust to the speed of the NFL.

Defensive tackle Claude Wroten, meanwhile, has been active but received less playing time than the other three rookies who have been up. Wroten got some limited opportunities against Denver and Arizona, but didn’t get any snaps against San Francisco.

Wroten has the potential to be a solid pass rushing tackle, but still needs to solidify against the run according to defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

“He has to be more consistent in the running game, No. 1,” Haslett said. “When he has opportunities and gets one on one opportunities in the passing game, he has to win those things. Right now, he is probably a little bit behind compared to Victor but the guy has great upside and I think he’s going to be a heck of a player in the league. Right now, we are trying to give enough reps to the players we think will affect the game more and make some plays.”

SLOW PACE: The Rams were fortunate to have left tackle Orlando Pace last week against Arizona, just seven days after he suffered a concussion in week two against San Francisco.

Pace reported starting out the game against the Cardinals slow and picking it up as the game went along. But Pace is still suffering from the effects of post-concussion syndrome and did not dress for or participate in Wednesday’s practice.

“He didn’t feel great the last couple of days,” coach Scott Linehan said. “We just kept him out. He felt pretty much like he did last week. We will evaluate him day to day here as we get close to the game.”

Pace is listed as questionable on the team’s injury report and will have his status reviewed every day before a decision on his status for this week’s game against Detroit is made.

“From what I understand, the evaluation process is part of how you feel and part how you respond to questions,” Linehan said. “This post-concussion syndrome thing is something that goes on and on and on for weeks. So, we’ll just keep an eye on it.”

HARGROVE RETURNS: Defensive end Anthony Hargrove returned to practice after missing Thursday and Friday workouts and meetings for personal reasons. Hargrove was replaced by Adeyanju against the Cardinals and remains behind him on the depth chart this week.

“I’m real glad he’s back and out there and getting things together a little bit,” Linehan said. “He’s kind of starting a little bit over. He’ll be getting reps, preparing just like we do every week.”