Rookies Rise To The Challenge For Rams
Rookies rise to the challenge for Rams
BY JIM THOMAS
Posted: Wednesday, September 8, 2010
As the Rams left the practice field late Saturday morning, with the deadline for roster cuts only hours away, running back Keith Toston was beyond nervous.
"I was scared," Toston said. "My head was like on a swivel. You could see those guys."
By "those guys," Toston meant the members of the Rams' scouting department who tell you that the boss wants to see you, and bring your playbook. In NFL lore, "those guys" are known as the Turk.
"We know exactly what guys come in here and get players out," Toston said.
And in a brief moment of fear Saturday, Toston said they were looking at him.
"I looked at 'em back," Toston said. "But they didn't say nothing."
Toston, a running back from Oklahoma State, never got that tap on the shoulder. For at least the immediate future, he's safe on the 53-man roster. After a slow start in training camp that included some lost time due to a concussion, Toston improved steadily as the preseason progressed.
"I might have started out slow for the first couple preseason games, didn't feel like I did the best that I could," Toston said. "But I felt I got better every game."
He scored a touchdown in the third preseason game against New England, and carried 10 times for 47 yards in the finale against Baltimore. He finished as the Rams' leading preseason rusher with 127 yards on 39 carries, albeit for a modest 3.3 yards a carry.
Toston credits running backs coach Sylvester Croom for his improvement, "just by pushing me in practice."
Of the three players competing for backup spots behind starter Steven Jackson, Toston looks like the most natural runner. He and Kenneth Darby performed well enough that they survived the weekend cuts, with Chris Ogbonnaya getting released.
There's no doubt the Rams will continue to look for upgrades at running back. Which means there's no guarantee that Toston will have a lengthy stay in St. Louis. But as an undrafted rookie, the former all-Big 12 selection already has beaten the odds.
"Any time a team or teams feel like you're not good enough to be drafted, most players take it as a challenge," Toston said. "There's only 53 spots on a team, and sometimes the best guy, or the guy that may be a little better, is not drafted. Because in the whole draft situation, you can't measure the size of a player's heart."
In that sense, Toston has plenty of company on the Rams' roster. In a normal year, maybe one or two undrafted rookies make a team's roster. Some years none make it at all. But five undrafted rookies survived the weekend cuts at Rams Park: Toston, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, wide receiver Dominique Curry, defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo, and safety Dorian Stewart.
On one level, it's an indication that the Rams have plenty of holes on their roster. But it also shows that the team's personnel department did their homework.
"That's a credit to those guys, and all the work they do right after the draft is over," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "But those players earned it. That's not easy to do in this league, in this landscape, to come in undrafted and make it."
Nine of the Rams' 11 draft picks from last April also survived the weekend cuts. So that means there are a whopping 14 rookies on the 53-man roster — or slightly more than one in four players.
"You didn't tell Spags that, did you?" general manager Billy Devaney joked.
"Until you guys started throwing out these numbers, I hadn't even thought about it," Spagnuolo told reporters. "Honestly, I didn't put the roster together, look at it, and say, 'OK how many seniors, juniors, and freshman do we have?' I didn't do that. It is what it is. We kept what we felt were the best football players, both for now and for the future."
Stewart, the safety from South Carolina, may not have made it if safety Kevin Payne had stayed healthy. But Payne, acquired in post-draft trade with Chicago, suffered a knee injury in the preseason finale and was placed on the injured reserve list.
Like Toston, Stewart improved as camp progressed and flashed good tackling skill against the Ravens. Stewart may be on the game-day roster Sunday against Arizona, particularly with James Butler's availability questionable because of a knee injury.
"My approach was to get better every day," Stewart said. "Everything happens so fast (in the NFL), I had to get caught up on the tempo a little bit. Everything's slowing down for me now."
The only way Lewis will play this season is if disaster strikes, meaning both Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley are sidelined with injuries. But Lewis registered a noteworthy upset in the preseason, winning the No. 3 quarterback job from Keith Null, who started four games last season.
Lewis knew something was up Saturday morning when Null was missing in the quarterbacks' meeting room. But he didn't rest easy until Spagnuolo came in and told the three remaining QBs they had made the club. "Since it came from the boss' mouth, I knew it was official," Lewis said.
Re: Rookies Rise To The Challenge For Rams
nice post, thanks for this!