August 22, 2013 12:10 am
By Jim Thomas

Off the field, Rashard Hall’s time at Clemson was devoid of controversy. He earned a degree in marketing. Made the Atlantic Coast Conference academic honor roll three times.

On the field? Pretty good. He totaled 302 tackles and 14 interceptions over the course of his college career. He was a team captain and a second-team all-ACC pick last season.

The pre-draft projections looked promising. Several NFL teams called during draft week to tell Hall if he didn’t get picked, he’d certainly get a free-agent chance somewhere.

None of which happened. In retrospect, a slow 40 time — 4.68 seconds at Clemson’s pro day — may have done him in.

“My journey’s been kind of strenuous,” Hall said. “I didn’t get picked up right after the draft. I didn’t sign with

anybody.”

He did go to Baltimore’s rookie minicamp on a tryout basis in early May, but never got a call back.

“So after that, I just went to work,” Hall said. “Just trusted in God and was training all the way up until I got a phone call.”

It was a long wait. May went by, so did June and most of July before the phone rang. Just as Rams rookies were gathering for their two-day prelude to training camp on July 22-23, Hall was called in for a workout and signed.

“It’s definitely been a blessing,” said Hall, who’s from St. Augustine, Fla. “I’ve had some good opportunities so far. It’s just all about being consistent and catching the coach’s eye each and every play.”

Showing good range and ball instincts, Hall nearly had an interception in the preseason opener against Cleveland but dropped the ball. Afterwards, he heard from several family members.

“Yeah, my brother and sisters got after me pretty bad on that one,” he said, laughing. “They said I usually grab those — ’cause I usually do.”

The Rams will keep four or five safeties on their final roster, and there is competition for the final spot or two from Cody Davis and Matt Daniels.

“Sometimes you only get one chance at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hall said. “So that’s how I’m kinda preparing for it every day.”

The days are dwindling at training camp; the roster cuts are coming. Hall is one of several undrafted rookies trying to make the most of that one chance:

TE PHILIP LUTZENKIRCHEN

He moved to Atlanta from Chicago at about age 8 after a job transfer by his father, and then played college football at Auburn. Despite all those years spent south of the Mason-Dixon line, he has no trace of a Southern accent.

“I’m lucky I don’t have the thick southern drawl,” Lutzenkirchen said. “I’ve got hopefully a voice for broadcasting when it’s all said and done.”

He majored in communication at Auburn, and put that radio voice to work during an internship for a campus station. Lutzenkirchen said he covered everything, but especially liked his stint as a movie reviewer.

“I’d get to go watch movies for free that just came out, and then I’d have to kind of report on those and talk about if they were family oriented,” he said.

Family oriented. Maybe something like the tale of a long shot tight end who defies the odds and makes an NFL roster. That’s a plot Lutzenkirchen would endorse this summer at Rams Park.

There was a time when Lutzenkirchen didn’t look like a long shot. He played on Auburn’s national championship team with Cam Newton at quarterback, and owns the school record for most touchdown catches by a tight end.

“All along I thought I would end up getting drafted,” Lutzenkirchen said. “I decided to come back to school for my senior year and graduate. But I ended up getting hurt.”

A hip injury resulted in surgery last October and that may have been a red flag for NFL teams. He wasn’t drafted, but within 15 minutes of the draft’s conclusion he had agreed to terms with St. Louis as a rookie free agent. Jeff Fisher and Les Snead both called to recruit him.

He has opened eyes during training camp with his pass-catching ability, including a nifty sideline grab against Cleveland in which he got both feet in bounds before landing out of bounds.

“It’s always kind of come natural to me, the whole pass-catching thing,” Lutzenkirchen said. “So I think the coaches know that I can do that. I’ve just gotta continue working on my blocking and developing as an in-line blocker.”

Even with the release of Cameron Graham, the Rams still have seven tight ends in camp. They’re likely to keep only four. Lutzenkirchen has a friend of sorts at Rams Park in Snead, who also played tight end at Auburn.

“When we pass each other, we’ll say ‘War Eagle’ or say hello,” Lutzenkirchen said.

But it will take more than school pride to land a roster spot. More catches like that one in Cleveland wouldn’t hurt.

LB DAREN BATES


At Rams Park, Bates has been likened to a menacing neighborhood dog. The one who curls his mouth and starts growling at you as you walk down the street — a clear sign to steer clear.

“That’s a nice metaphor,” said Bates, who comes across as calm and low-key off the field. “I would like that to be what people see in me. Just to be that type of player that goes out, they know is going to play hard every time. They know they have to bring it when they see me.”

Whether it be on special teams or at linebacker, that snarling dog never seems far from the surface in Bates.

“This is my sanctuary out here,” Bates said. “You’ve got to turn it on when you step out on these white lines.”

That kind of attitude, Bates said, was instilled in him by his parents and also several past coaches. It’s the kind of attitude that can help a player thrive on special teams, an area that is Bates’ ticket to a spot on the Rams’ 53-man roster.

Another Auburn product, Bates started out as a safety in college before switching to linebacker for his final couple of seasons. He was an active tackler, averaging nearly 100 stops a season over his final two college campaigns.

Bates got the attention of scouts at his pro day with a brisk 40 time of 4.53. But that was at a mere 209 pounds — or safety-sized. Once he found out the Rams wanted him to play linebacker after signing him as a rookie free agent, he went to work with strength coach Rock Gullickson and got his weight up to 225 — still light for the position but at least in the ballpark. Bates said the Rams were the only team interested in signing him even as a rookie free agent. But he’s used to being overlooked.

“It was like it was coming out of high school for me,” he said. “I only had one team that showed interest in me.”

LB RAY RAY ARMSTRONG

Like Bates, Armstrong covers a lot of ground on the field, and has a chance to make the 53-man roster via special teams as a backup linebacker.

Like Bates, Armstrong has put on weight to reach NFL linebacker size. (Armstrong was strictly a defensive back in college.)

Due to Jabara Williams’ hamstring injury, Armstrong and Bates both have been getting work with the second-team defense behind starter Alec Ogletree. But they might not necessarily be competing against each other — both could make the 53-man roster based on their special teams value.

Armstrong is playing at 230-235 pounds, or about 15-20 pounds heavier than when he was a safety at the University of Miami (Fla.). He didn’t play at all in college last season after being dismissed from Miami 13 months ago. But he has made surprising progress so far with the Rams given that long layoff.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Armstrong said. “I’ve been playing football a long time.”

So it didn’t take long for Armstrong to knock off the rust?

“I would say probably like a week,” he said.

Which sounds like a man confident in his ability.