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Top picks represent big step forward
Top picks represent big step forward
By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
Sunday, Apr. 26 2009
After losing 27 of 32 games the last two seasons, the Rams became accustomed to
New coach Steve Spagnuolo is trying to change all that. To alter the team’s
personality, he must add some new, positive personalities.
Top draft picks Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis fit that profile. Both are
vocal leaders. Both could fill those roles for the Rams -– and sooner rather
(Third round pick Bradley Fletcher is another story. The Rams drafted the Iowa
cornerback based on his athletic potential, not his collegiate productivity or
his reputation as a field general.)
The Rams needed to land transformational players in this draft. General manager
Billy Devaney needed to fill gaping hopes in his lineup and the leadership void
in their locker room.
The top two picks compare favorably to last year’s No. 1 selection, defensive
end Chris Long. Smith is a mortal lock to start at left or right tackle and
Laurinaitis likely will win the middle linebacker job over Chris Draft.
For the record, Spagnuolo doesn’t want to put that on them just yet.
“I would never put that on a young guy coming in,” Spagnuolo said. “We had
leaders here now, but at some point other guys have to step up. If that is the
role they have to serve down the road, I think they can fill that, but I’m
relying on some of the veteran leadership we have right now.”
That is polite phrasing, for sure. The Rams decided to jettison several
supposed team leaders, including potential Hall of Famers Torry Holt and
Holt, in particular, soured as the “Greatest Show on Turf” deteriorated during
the last several years. He desperately wanted out.
Some of the returning players (Alex Barron and Richie Incognito in particular)
have much to learn about leading and winning. Quarterback Marc Bulger is
another notable non-leader.
This is why Devaney factored personality so highly in his early picks.
Smith didn’t win big at Baylor. But he took on the challenge of playing for a
second-tier program in the brutally competitive Big 12 South.
Now he seems ready for this challenge. The Rams became a NFL laughingstock
during the last two seasons.
“Obviously, they are at the bottom, they want to be at the top,” Smith said. “I
could feel that when I was there. I could feel that talking to the guys and
then I had the opportunity to go watch the team work out and I’m feeling like I’
m part of them. I’m saying ‘why not us? Why not us? Why are we not the ones?
And I was like ‘whoa, whoa, whoa,’ I’m not even there yet.
“But why not us, you know? So obviously I have a job to do and I’m going to
have that same mentality, ‘why not us?’ Why not me? Why not today? Why not
this game? Why not this year? Why not this playoff? Why not this Super Bowl?
Let’s make dreams and visions become reality’.”
Laurinaitis learned about leading and winning at The Ohio State University. He
didn’t help his draft stock by sticking around Columbus for another year, but
he developed additional character.
“I got to experience so many great things this year as a senior,” he said.
“Being a part of the first Ohio State team to beat Michigan five times in a row
and Senior Day and being a two-time captain. Just things that I wouldn’t have
been able to accomplish if I would have left early. To me it’s always been more
about relationships and experiences and I don’t regret it at all.”
There are still lots of questions about this team. The Fletcher pick will be
debated for months to come, perhaps years. The team’s inability to draft an
impact wide receiver will also merit discussion.
But there is no doubting the addition of Smith and Laurinaitis. These two got
the big money and these two will do big jobs for the franchise moving forward.
There is still a great deal of work to do, but the Rams organization took
another big step forward this weekend.
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