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  1. #1
    RamWraith's Avatar
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    Smith Hopes for Strong Start

    Wednesday, May 3, 2006

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    Perhaps more than any of the Rams’ free agent signings, linebacker Raonall Smith wanted to take his time and make the right choice.

    After the initial wave of free agency where players would rarely be allowed to leave their first visit, Smith wanted to make sure he found the proper match.

    Smith talked with plenty of teams, including Green Bay and about a possible return to Minnesota. But in the end, there was one thing that led Smith to St. Louis.

    “The opportunity,” Smith said. “They have a great team here obviously. A lot of strong offensive components, they have added a lot of defensive components. The opportunity to come in here and compete for a starting job. I’m familiar with Coach Linehan and some of the other coaches so it seemed like a pretty good fit.”

    That opportunity had been something denied to Smith with the Vikings for a variety of reasons, none more so than his propensity to come up injured. Minnesota used a second-round draft choice on Smith in 2002.

    Coming from Washington State, Smith was expected to help the Vikings’ ailing linebacker corps. Those expectations never materialized into reality, though. He injured his shoulder just before his rookie season, costing him the entire year.

    In 2003 and 2004, he played in only 14 games because of a hamstring injury and a concussion.

    “Everybody needs their health,” Smith said.

    Nobody needs it more than Smith, though. He finally got the opportunity to be on the field in 2005 when he played in all 16 games, more than he had played in his first three years combined.

    Along the way, he had six starts and racked up 30 tackles and a sack. He proved even more valuable on special teams where he had 21 tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries.

    When the time came to make a decision on his future, Smith turned to a familiar face in Rams coach Scott Linehan. Linehan knew Smith from his time as offensive coordinator in Minnesota.

    “At some point in his career, Raonall had made some errors, like a lot of young players do,” Linehan said. “But he always seemed to make plays: get a ball out, recover a fumble, make a key tackle on a kickoff. He's one of those guys that has a knack.”

    That knack was enough to land Smith a one-year contract with the Rams, where he will instantly be given an opportunity to compete for an expanded role. After signing Will Witherspoon to take over in the middle and with Pisa Tinoisamoa entrenched as the starter on the weak side, the Rams have an opening for a starter on the strong side.

    “They said the strong side is open and there will be a competition for it,” Smith said. “Nobody is going to be handed the starting job so it seemed like a pretty good fit. I have played the strong side; we are going to be running some mobile fronts which I am familiar with. I played WIL in my old position in Minnesota. It just seemed like a pretty good fit to have the opportunity to play on or off the ball.”

    Smith appeared to be an excellent athlete with plenty of potential in the team’s first minicamp. He got plenty of repetitions because of injury issues for Brandon Chillar, who is Smith’s top competition for the starting job.

    The Rams chose not to add another outside linebacker in last weekend’s draft, leaving Smith and Chillar as the odds on favorites to land the starting position. At 6-foot-2, 241 pounds, Smith is big enough to take on blockers, but athletic enough to cover anyone out of the back field. In the Rams’ scheme, Smith makes sense as a strong side starter in “bubble” coverages, where he can sort of play back off the line some.

    Having never had the chance to be a starter, Smith believes he has plenty of upside and potential that is unmet. At 27, there is still plenty of gas left in the tank. He believes there is one certain way to help him meet his potential.

    “Obviously, everyone needs help, but having a great coaching staff like they have here with Coach Venturi and Coach Haslett,” Smith said. “They have both been in the system, working with each other for 10 years so they are familiar with each other and know how to coach positions well. I think having a great staff with a lot of camaraderie can teach you the nuances of the game and make you a better player.”

    Even if Smith doesn’t earn the starting job, his special teams prowess should put him in good position to land a backup role. His versatility and speed make him a good fit on coverage teams. Smith also doesn’t lack the desire to play special teams.

    “Every linebacker has to play special teams,” Smith said. “It’s just part of the deal. Special teams is just as important as offense and defense. It’s just a different phase of the game.”

    And now Smith can move on the next phase of his career.

  2. #2
    Varg6's Avatar
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    Re: Smith Hopes for Strong Start

    I heard he's got A LOT of potential, but with the injuries we never knew how good (he might be) he is. Hopefully he'll show the NFL how good he is with the Rams!
    Always and Forever a fan of the St. Louis Rams

  3. #3
    Drew4EverRams Guest

    Re: Smith Hopes for Strong Start

    I think Smith could have a breakout year ,in all fairness to him he hasnt had a fair crack of the whip before due to injuries but the fact he played in 16 games for the vikes last season indicates he`s over them!
    (If he does, signing him to just a one year contract could comeback to haunt us!)
    i also like the fact that he will be a good special teams player for us,i can see us having a major improvement with special teams next season,defending k/p returns atleast!
    seems to me like all our linebackers have special teams skills,which is nice to have,i also think Chillar will have a better year thanks to being coached properly,hes only known marmie since hes been in the NFL so lets hope he can raise his game under more competent coaches,may the best man/player win!

  4. #4
    HUbison's Avatar
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    Re: Smith Hopes for Strong Start

    This should be a nice competition between Smith and Chillar. Smith is faster but Chillar is bigger and a more natural SOLB, in my opinion. Hopefully, a little open competition for the starting spot will take both their games to the next level.

  5. #5
    RamsFan4ever's Avatar
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    Re: Smith Hopes for Strong Start

    If Smith stays healthy...... he could be a great starting SLB.... but i think Chillar will get the starting job..... Its time for Chillar to shine!!!!!!!


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