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  1. #1
    RamWraith's Avatar
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    Witherspoon Happy In The Middle

    Thursday, January 11, 2007

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    Last offseason, the Rams moved quickly to fill the hole that was clearly the most gaping on their defense. When the team announced the signing of linebacker Will Witherspoon and the subsequent decision to play him in the middle, that hole was filled.

    With limited experience at the position, Witherspoon had plenty of work to do. He isn’t the prototypical middle linebacker, listed perhaps at 230 pounds. But Witherspoon has speed, instincts and solid tackling acumen.

    Of course, his first full season as a middle linebacker wasn’t without its share of struggles, but Witherspoon still was learning that being the middle linebacker involves more than leading the team in tackles.

    The idea of becoming a leader, the task of being the man in the middle involves being the center of attention for the defense. That’s something Witherspoon had to learn in 2006.

    “Will played that weakside linebacker spot in Carolina, so he wasn't a 'big-picture' guy,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “He didn't see the whole thing. You don't have to, when you're playing one side. Now, he has to be that guy. He's got to be more of a leader.”

    That process began in 2006 as Witherspoon did all of the things asked of him as far as his tangible performance on the field. He led the team in tackles with 136, adding three sacks, nine pass breakups, 14 quarterback pressures, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

    The next step for Witherspoon is to embrace the intangible aspects of his new position. Of course, it would be hard to do that without the knowledge that he will indeed remain at middle linebacker next season.

    After the defense struggled mightily against the run this season (finishing 31st in the league), some would like to see a bigger, more physical presence in the middle. While the Rams will investigate all ways to improve the defense in free agency and the draft, it appears that Witherspoon will get the stability he would like in the middle.

    “I thought he made great strides, and we still have a way to go with him,” Haslett said. “But I think the more he stays in there, the more he sees, the better he gets. You look for guys like that to play in the middle in this league, because he can run sideline to sideline. He can cover receivers. He can run the middle of the field. Athletically, he can do almost anything you want.”

    Perhaps the best way to help Witherspoon improve in the middle aside from another year of simply learning the position is to get some more bulk up front at the defensive tackle position. In doing that, Witherspoon should have more room to roam free and make plays.

    As it stands, all indications are that is how the Rams will attack the offseason. Witherspoon said he has been given no indication that anything will change before 2007 kicks off.

    “I am fine in the middle,” Witherspoon said. “That’s one the coaches will have to make, but I think they are happy with where I’m at right now. I think we are all on the same page. This is my first year at the same position for an entire year so I think I am only going to be that much better next year. It comes back to learning the defense and not having to take that second step and make myself that much better and moving into that next season.”

    Witherspoon enters the offseason with the full expectation of being in the middle again next year. As part of that, he wants to do as much as possible to learn all of the intricacies of the position that will allow him to take the next step next season.

    “For me, it’s fine tuning the things that I need to learn as middle linebacker,” Witherspoon said. “Making sure I understand every facet of the defense; what everybody around me is doing. For every guy, it’s something a little different. For the whole team to win, everybody’s got to get just a little bit better. Everybody’s got to keep moving forward in the right direction, and keep striving to get the things done that we need to get done to make us better next season.”

    In Carolina, Witherspoon spent most of his time as the weak side linebacker, seeing things essentially in the tunnel vision that goes with playing and defending one specific area. He did work some in the middle, but not enough to understand all of the aspects of making calls and seeing what Haslett calls the big picture.

    “I think we really set up our foundation this first year,” Witherspoon said. “It has been a learning experience for everybody both offensively, defensively and special teams. Guys had to really learn something new this year. I think all in all it was a step in the right direction for next year.

    “I think I’m only going to be that much better next year. Everything’s already known. Now it’s just fine tuning everything and making it that much better.”


  2. #2
    sprtsmac's Avatar
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    Re: Witherspoon Happy In The Middle

    I have no problem with him staying in the middle; just get some big boys up front to help him out.
    Sprtsmac :football:

  3. #3
    Rambos's Avatar
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    Re: Witherspoon Happy In The Middle

    How about have him add 10-15 pounds?

  4. #4
    ramsplaya16's Avatar
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    Re: Witherspoon Happy In The Middle

    Rambos, does Zach Thomas need to add 10-15 pounds? Nope, he weighs 215, he may not be big, but his heart is a million sizes huge
    Built RAM tough

  5. #5
    tomahawk247's Avatar
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    Re: Witherspoon Happy In The Middle

    im happy for him to stay there as long he gets some big guys to clear the way in front of him

  6. #6
    HUbison's Avatar
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    Re: Witherspoon Happy In The Middle

    Spoon needs to hang a picture of Jack Lambert in his locker. If Lambert played today, he wouldn't even be a large SS, much less a MLB. But somebody forgot to tell Lambert. He owned the middle and dared anyone to step in his space. It was a personal insult for any carrier to come into the middle, and Lambert didn't take insults well (very similar to the greatest MLB ever...Dick Butkus).

    Of course, it didn't hurt any that Lambert played directly behind an individual whose name has never been mentioned without a prior declaration of the adjective "Mean".

    I think Spoon will be fine. What we have to remember is at that level of play, a position switch is a huge ordeal. It's not like the pop warner, high school, or even college ball that we all stopped at. There's more involved than just moving a player from one LB spot to another. MLB was a new ballgame for Spoon, but now he has a full season under his belt. He will be fine.
    "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

  7. #7
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    Re: Witherspoon Happy In The Middle

    If his body holds up, OK. Then give me MONSTER linemen.
    "The horror"

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