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Rookies feel challenged, blessed by life in the NFL
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Nov. 13 2004
Rookie linebacker Brandon Chillar sometimes can't help himself. He looks around
the Rams' locker room at stalls labeled "Faulk," "Bruce," "Holt," "Little" and
"Pace," and just shakes his head.
"This is what I've been praying for, this is what I've been working for, this
is what I've wanted to do for so long," said Chillar, a fourth-round draft
choice from UCLA. "It's what I asked for, and it's what I got. So, I'm blessed.
I must be living right or something."
Chillar is one of 12 first-year players who rise every day and report to Rams
Park in Earth City. A year ago, they woke up on college campuses and headed for
"This is a job; it's not just football," said cornerback Dwight Anderson, an
undrafted rookie from the University of South Dakota. "You come in here at 6
o'clock in the morning, and you come to work. It's just like your mom goes to
work at 7 and comes home at 5. This is our job. ... But it's a fun job."
Chillar said the commercial aspect of pro football came as a bit of jolt. "You
start to learn how much of a business the NFL is," he said. "That's one thing
that I didn't expect so much. Maybe that's just being a dumb rookie."
But safety Jason Shivers said the NFL experience "is pretty much what I thought
it would be. You have to get used to the stringent routine, because it's day in
and day out. You have to really be focused 100 percent of the day. I think
that's the biggest change" from college football.
Shivers, a fifth-round pick from Arizona State, has yet to see game action,
spending most of the season on the practice squad. "It's disappointing because
I know that I'm better than that," he said. "But all I can do is just keep
working and hopefully I'll get on the active (roster) and then I can get out
there and do my thing."
Others have been asked to contribute right away, despite their first-year
status. Chillar has started four games; running back Steven Jackson, the team's
first-round selection (No. 24 overall), is getting steady work spelling
Marshall Faulk; and third-round pick Anthony Hargrove, an end from Georgia
Tech, has been filling an increasing role on the defensive line rotation.
"Things right now are going exceptionally for me, being able to compete on this
level," said Jackson, an Oregon State product. "All the things I was going to
deal with, Coach (Mike) Martz and his staff did a great job of exposing me to
that early on. They kind of let me get my feet wet in the preseason and early
in the regular season."
Said Hargrove: "I'm getting more and more comfortable at both tackle and end,
although some things are still a little confusing. (The NFL) is everything I
thought it would be. The physical part of it, to me, isn't that big of a deal,
like everyone says it is. But the speed of the game's different. Plus,
everybody's professional and everybody's really good."
Defensive tackle Brian Howard (undrafted, Idaho) has filled a reserve role, and
center-guard Larry Turner (seventh round, Eastern Kentucky) has been busy on
special teams. Tight end Erik Jensen (seventh round, Iowa) was placed on
injured reserve after hurting a knee in a preseason game and undergoing
Perhaps no rookie has been asked to do more, at least on the practice field,
than quarterback Jeff Smoker, a sixth-round pick from Michigan State. Smoker
holds a clipboard on Sundays as the Rams' third QB, but during the week, he
emulates the opposing quarterback in scout team work.
"I've never really been a backup before - high school, little league, college,
even; I played all four years," Smoker said. "So running scout teams and kind
of standing back and watching is definitely a new experience for me."
Smoker said he has to be an actor of sorts as he tries to give the first-team
defense a sense of what it will face on game day. The coaches "ask you to do
specific things," Smoker said. "Like the week I was (Atlanta's) Michael Vick, I
was out there running around ... got a little tired. But you try to give the
defense the best look possible."
In the meantime, Smoker also is striving to absorb Martz's intricate offense.
"It's been steadily improving as the season's gone on," he said. "But as my
grasp of the offense has been moving on, so does the offense as the season goes
on. You have to add new plays each week and new little wrinkles, just to keep
the defenses on their toes."
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