Stills Takes Special Teams Lead
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
When your resume` as a special teams player reads the way Gary Stills does, you are entitled to a certain amount of arrogance.
“Wide receivers get double teamed but coverage guys - if there is a guy such as myself – you have to double me,” Still said. “I feel I will take one guy and just take him where I want him to go. You have got to double me. You have to try to stop me. Eighty percent of the time I will beat a double team – I know that’s being cocky - but I am confident I can beat a double team.”
When the Rams signed Stills to a one-year contract Tuesday morning, their purchase represented more than a productive special teams player. The idea of signing Stills extended beyond his penchant for getting down the field and bringing down returners.
No, the Rams wanted to add some attitude, leadership and intensity to a unit that needed help in all facets.
When the Ravens released Stills in the final cuts, Rams coach Scott Linehan wasted no time getting on the phone. In the immediate aftermath of his release, Stills flew from Baltimore to his home in Kansas City.
It was only about four hours after his release that he heard from Linehan. Soon enough, Stills was in a car, breezing down Interstate 70 to St. Louis.
“He’s an intense special teams player which means he kind of brings all of that attitude and energy to them,” Linehan said. “He just brings a great amount of intensity to some really key spots. He is a guy who is going to be on all four facets of our special teams. He’s going to bring instant credibility and leadership to a group that has some developing players. We really wanted to bring in a veteran who has kind of made a name for himself to influence our players in a positive way toward our special teams.”
Stills’ influence was evident right away in the Rams’ locker room. After meeting with the media, Stills spent some time talking shop with young linebacker Quinton Culberson, who appeared to be hanging on every word.
And why wouldn’t he, considering the body of work Stills brings with him to St. Louis. In nine NFL seasons, Stills has racked up 218 special teams tackles. Those efforts earned him a Pro Bowl berth in 2003 and multiple Pro Bowl alternate nods.
Stills began his career in Kansas City in 1999 where it didn’t take long for him to realize he would need to make an impact on the special forces to stick on the roster.
In 2001, special teams coach Frank Gansz issued an ultimatum to Stills.
“They said we don’t want you to play linebacker, we don’t want you to play defense, if you can’t play special teams you have got to go,” Stills said. “I said ‘OK, this is what I love to do.’ It wasn’t about my livelihood; I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I just went down there and made all the plays. After a while, when you realize as a special teams player you are on the bubble every year, it is important.”
Soon after, Stills became one of the best special teams players in the league. In 2002, he racked up 34 tackles. He had 29 in 2003, 25 the next year and what is believed to be a league record 44 in 2006.
While most special teams aces earn a reputation as crazy wild men with no fear, Stills figured out that special teams is about playing under control and having an idea of where the ball is going to go on every kickoff.
With that in mind, he took to doing diligent film work every week, inviting his teammates to join him so they can see the cerebral side of the job.
“Most of it’s not going down there and knocking some guy’s head off,” Stills said. “It’s getting to the returner. A lot of young guys get hurt – shoulders, stingers, concussions – because they are just running down there and they don’t really know what’s going on. When you realize what’s going on, you can play that to your advantage and then you don’t have to make too much contact with the blocker, you make contact with the ball carrier. That’s the guy you need to get down.”
Stills left Kansas City for Baltimore after the 2005 season with a reputation already in hand. And make no mistake; Stills’ special teams skills aren’t limited to making tackles. On the return units, he was an integral part of Dante Hall’s success from 2002-2005.
Now, Stills is reunited with Hall and hoping to recreate some of that Kansas City magic on the other side of the state.
“I’m excited because I feel like playing with him, I can be who I was,” Stills said. “He is one of those guys that I played with, that my career started with. He’s a guy that’s going to make things happen. He can run down the field on touchdowns and I can go down the field and block for him. Hopefully we can pick up where we left off on that end and I will go down and make all the plays on special teams.”
BROWN BATTLES BACK: As recently as Monday, cornerback Fakhir Brown’s chances of playing Sunday against the Eagles were precarious at best. Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon and things look much better for Brown.
Officially, Brown is listed as “full participation” on the injury report as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury. According to Linehan, Brown participated in most of the repetitions and had a good day of work Wednesday.
“He’s basically as close to being ready to play now as he’s been,” Linehan said. “He got some good work today, I’m very encouraged.”
Brown is also encouraged by the progress he’s made lately. Late last week, Brown made a trip to Florida to visit with shoulder and elbow specialist Dr. James Andrews. Andrews confirmed that the hole in the tendon of the shoulder was essentially healed and Brown simply had some fluid on the back of the shoulder.
The best news for Brown was the confirmation that he wouldn’t need to go under the knife, a concern he still had even as he went for the visit.
“All of that is healed up pretty much,” Brown said. “It’s just it had a little fluid on the back of it. Everything else healed up pretty good. I didn’t have to have surgery. That was the main thing.”
While Brown is participating in his usual right cornerback spot during practice this week, he still hasn’t had much contact. Even if he is able to start and play, there are legitimate concerns with how the shoulder will affect his tackling ability.
“I’m just going to take it slow and hopefully let it heal good enough to get out there and try to do something on it,” Brown said. “It’s not like I have a whole lot of pressure on me to play. I want to play. That’s the thing. If I can’t go, I just can’t go, that’s all there is to it.”
A final decision on whether Brown plays against the Eagles won’t be made until later this week.
KEEPING PACE: Left tackle Orlando Pace was ‘ahead of schedule’ according to Linehan when training camp opened. But Pace had a hiccup in his return from shoulder surgery when he suffered a strain in his biceps against the Chargers on Aug. 16.
That setback aside, Pace has gotten back to work in the past week and a half and appears poised to make the start and play against Philadelphia.
“I feel really good, probably the best I’ve felt since last year this time,” Pace said. “It’s been a long time. It feels good to get out there. I’m kind of getting excited. I’m getting ready to go.”
Linehan also remains confident that Pace will be able to play at a high level against the Eagles attacking defense.
“I feel very good,” Linehan said. “He has taken all the reps this week and had a very productive, grueling training camp up in Concordia. From day one, he was cleared to practice so I feel very good about it.”
TAKING SHELTER: Although none of the storms hitting the New Orleans area have had the profound impact of Hurricane Katrina, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t cause for alarm.
For practice squad cornerback Darius Vinnett, the threat of more major storms near his Destrehan, La. , home caused members of his family to vacate their homes.
Vinnett said Wednesday that his family had safely made it out and he had put up about six family members in his St. Louis home. Other members went to Arkansas to stay with other family.
INJURY REPORT: The Rams injury report was surprisingly lean Wednesday, the first day of the season an official report was issued.
For the Rams, receiver Donnie Avery (sprained knee) was the only player who did not participate in any portion of practice. He did some running on the side during the workout.
Center Brett Romberg (broken hand) was limited in practice but is getting closer to return and could be available Sunday.
Brown and running back Brian Leonard (shoulder) were listed as full participation. Players who have been dealing with injuries but did not appear on the list include Pace, tight end Anthony Becht, safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, linebacker Will Witherspoon and receivers Drew Bennett and Dante Hall.
Bennett and Hall got plenty of work in Wednesday’s practice and both were running and catching well during the workout.
For Philadelphia, players of note appearing on the injury list include receivers Kevin Curtis (out) and Reggie Brown (limited). Safety Brian Dawkins (ankle) was listed as full participation.
Re: Stills Takes Special Teams Lead
I don't know if one guy can turn around an entire unit? If Stills' special teams prowess is in fact infectious and the other guys respond we could be in for a dominating win on SUNDAY.
Re: Stills Takes Special Teams Lead
Wow! is that return unit really that good?
Originally Posted by laram0
Re: Stills Takes Special Teams Lead
Between Stills and Hall, I would venture to say it will be great to watch.