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  1. #1
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    Will Rams' red-flag gamble pay off?

    Will Rams' red-flag gamble pay off?
    By Bill Coats
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    05/06/2006

    The Rams hope that defensive tackle Claude Wroten (left) has a firm grip on putting his problems behind him.
    (Bill Haber/AP)

    Since rolling into town in 1995, the Rams have selected a total of 104 players in 12 drafts. As could be expected, some turned out to be rollicking successes, while others were abject failures.

    That reflects the unavoidable hit-and-miss nature of projecting the hefty transition from college football to the pros, despite the innumerable hours that coaching and personnel staffs put into preparing for drafts.

    That task is made even more difficult when a prospect presents a sketchy resume, one that includes a past indiscretion. How to judge whether the risk of picking that player - and investing perhaps millions in him - is worth the possible benefit?

    "You put your (draft) board together and you say, 'All right, where am I williing to take a chance?'" said Gil Brandt, the former longtime personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys. "You have to decide just where you feel you're comfortable taking somebody like that."

    According to coach Scott Linehan and general manager Charley Armey, the Rams felt comfortable when they chose Louisiana State defensive tackle Claude Wroten in the third round of last weekend's draft. Wroten comes with baggage: He failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, just a month after he was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, a charge that subsequently was dropped.

    But Wroten also brings significant promise: The 6-foot- 2, 292-pound All-Southeastern Conference first-teamer was a near lock to be a first-round draftee before his drug problems surfaced.

    In a pre-draft interview with ESPN.com, one unidentified AFC general manager said he wouldn't touch Wroten. "He's probably one of the best tackles I've seen in the last few years," he said. "But you make an investment in these guys. ... I'm not going to let a guy (with character issues) cost me money."

    The Rams, though, were willing to take a shot, especially after draft-day deals netted them two additional third-round picks. Wroten was the 68th player taken overall.

    Hit and miss

    In 1995, with just their third draft choice as the St. Louis Rams, the team selected Jesse James, an offensive lineman from Mississippi State. James was the Rams' second pick in the second round, No. 62 overall, and he received a four-year, $1.62 million contract, including a $530,000 signing bonus.

    That proved to be a poor investment. Like Wroten, James had failed a drug test at the combine, which usually places a player in the league's substance abuse program. Such players are subject to up to 10 random drug tests a year, and a second violation could bring a four-game suspension.

    A little over a year later, James, indeed, was banned for four games as a repeat offender. His career fizzled quickly, and he wound up in the Canadian Football League.

    Several other draftees that were considered gambles when the Rams chose them also washed out rapidly. Heading that list is the tumultuous tale of Lawrence Phillips.

    Phillips was a star running back at Nebraska. But he also had been in trouble, pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault and misdemeanor trespassing. The victim was his former girlfriend. He was suspended for six games his senior season, placed on probation for one year, and ordered to undergo counseling for domestic abuse and anger control.

    And yet the Rams made Phillips the sixth overall selection in the 1996 draft. Phillips hadn't even begun his rookie season when he was arrested for drunken driving, again pleading no contest. A few months later, he was charged with disorderly conduct after an incident at an Omaha, Neb., hotel. He wound up spending 23 days in jail for violating his probation.

    Dick Vermeil, then the Rams' coach, vowed to stand by Phillips. "There's just no way you can remove the scars within this guy's personality, within his environment, within his background (overnight). It's going to take time," Vermeil said. "And if we fail, we fail. But if we fail, we're going to fail because we tried very, very hard and tried everything we possibly could."

    In November 1997, the Rams gave up on Phillips, releasing him a day after he walked out on team meetings and skipped a practice. He was with the team just 19 months.

    Phillips also self-destructed when provided opportunities later by the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco *****, one Arena League team and two CFL teams. He has faced at least nine charges, including attempted murder, domestic violence, death threats and false imprisonment. He was behind bars as recently as last November.

    Since their move here, the Rams have drafted 10 players with sketchy backgrounds (see accompanying chart). Four of those rolls of the dice came up snake-eyes: James, Phillips, running back Raymond Priester and safety Steve Bellisari. None made an impact in the league.

    Three turned out well: linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, offensive lineman Ryan Tucker and wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim. All have cobbled together productive NFL careers with no subsequent hint of trouble, although only Tinoisamoa remains with the team.

    It's too early to draw a conclusion on two current Rams, third-year quarterback Jeff Smoker and second-year offensive lineman Richie Incognito. And then there is Wroten.

    Worth the risk

    Prior to the draft, Wroten sent a letter to all 32 teams, acknowledging his wrongdoing but also maintaining that those actions were out of character for the 22-year-old from tiny Bastrop, La.

    Linehan said he and his staff scrutinzed Wroten. "I spent a lot of time personally researching his background," Linehan said. "Obviously, there's some stuff out there, and we acknowledge those things."

    Several of Wroten's coaches at LSU moved with head coach Nick Saban to the Miami Dolphins, and Linehan was a member of that staff last year. So, he said, he had contacts that he knew well and felt he could trust in evaluating Wroten's character.

    "There is a certain amount of risk there," Linehan acknowledged. "But I think the risk, based on what I know about him, is way outweighed by the positives. ... He did everything they asked and more (at LSU). They never had a problem with him."

    Rams general manager Charley Armey, who has been involved in NFL drafts for nearly three decades, said that when a player with questionable character is considered, exhaustive research follows.

    "We go way back and see what his history was like" before he got into trouble, Armey said. "We look at how he was brought up and what he was exposed to. ... We look at it very seriously, and we're only willing to take a risk if it looks like a win-win for us and the player."

    Wroten confimed that the Rams questioned him extensively. "They did; they were concerned just like any other team," he said. "I was straightforward with all the teams."

    Veteran defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said he planned to keep an eye on the newcomer. As much as is feasible, anyway.

    "Off the field, he's got to be a grown man; nobody is going to baby-sit you and hold your hand," Glover said. "But in the locker room and on the field, guys can try to lead him in the right direction, and hopefully he'll be receptive ... There is a lot of temptation out there, and he's going to be making a lot of money. He's going to be kind of in a fishbowl here."

    Wroten won't be making as much money as he might have, at least initially. The drop from the middle of the first round, where he was forecast before his troubles surfaced, to early in the third will cost him millions.

    For example, last year's No. 15 selection, Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson, received a five-year contract from the Kansas City Chiefs that could net him as much as $13 million. Conversely, the No. 68 pick (Wroten's spot), Indiana wide receiver Courtney Roby, got just under $2 million in a four-year deal with the Tennessee Titans.

    More important than the money, Wroten insisted, is proving to the Rams and their fans that he was worth the gamble.

    Vowing that his drug problems were "totally behind me," Wroten said: "I just want the players and the community to know that it's not a problem at all, and that they have a great guy. They shouldn't be concerned."

    Of course, only time will tell whether Wroten's actions back up his words.

    bcoats@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8189


  2. #2
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    Re: Will Rams' red-flag gamble pay off?

    good post...... i hope he stops!

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    Re: Will Rams' red-flag gamble pay off?

    I know Incognito was in trouble in college but I didn't Pisa and Smoker got into trouble, what did they do?

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    Re: Will Rams' red-flag gamble pay off?

    Quote Originally Posted by TheBritishRam
    I know Incognito was in trouble in college but I didn't Pisa and Smoker got into trouble, what did they do?
    Smoker lost the starting QB job at Michigan State for a year and had to enter an alcohol rehab program. He returned for his senior year and did well.
    I wasn't aware of Pisa though.

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    Re: Will Rams' red-flag gamble pay off?

    Quote Originally Posted by TheBritishRam
    I know Incognito was in trouble in college but I didn't Pisa and Smoker got into trouble, what did they do?
    Pisa served four months for an aggravated assault charge way back when he was around 18 yrs old. I am not 100% sure about his age at the time but it was a long time ago...
    :up:

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    Re: Will Rams' red-flag gamble pay off?

    Quote Originally Posted by MauiRam
    Pisa served four months for an aggravated assault charge way back when he was around 18 yrs old. I am not 100% sure about his age at the time but it was a long time ago...
    :up:
    Yea, he made a bad decision in high school and did a little time. You'd never know it now though.
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

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    Re: Will Rams' red-flag gamble pay off?

    Several of Wroten's coaches at LSU moved with head coach Nick Saban to the Miami Dolphins, and Linehan was a member of that staff last year. So, he said, he had contacts that he knew well and felt he could trust in evaluating Wroten's character.
    When reading this, my first question was.....If Saban feels good about Wroten, why didn't he draft him?

    However, when you look at the fins draft, they had exactly ONE pick within the top 68, and with that they took a CB (Jason Allen) for a secondary that desparately needs a talent infusion. I'm curious to see how soon Saban would have rolled the dice on Wroten, but with only one pick before Wroten was gone, Saban had higher priorities than a 3-technique DT.

    So would have Saban selected Wroten earlier or later than Linehan did, who knows? However, the fact that he didn't take him, in this case, doesn't say as much about Wroten's selectibility as some opponents to the pick might have one believe.
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

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    Re: Will Rams' red-flag gamble pay off?

    i cant believe pisa did that but hes probably not going to do it again and he probably learned his lesson

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