BY BILL COATS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
05/20/2010

He'd absorbed the bumps and bruises that are unavoidable. But wide receiver Brooks Foster never had experienced a serious injury while playing football.

That streak of good fortune ended last Aug. 14, when he turned his ankle in the Rams' preseason opener against the New York Jets. The injury originally was thought to be a sprain, but further testing disclosed more serious damage.

Foster underwent surgery and landed on injured reserve. In a blink, his rookie season was over.

"That was my first time in maybe 12, 13 years not playing a season of football," Foster said. "It was tough. I wanted to be out there, especially my rookie season. I felt I had a lot to prove and didn't get the chance."

After so many months on the sideline, Foster finally is getting a second chance. He's recovered and is participating fully in organized team activities, which got under way this week at Rams Park.

"It feels good to be running around," Foster said. "I'm just glad to be out here."

Foster stayed in town after his surgery. He attended meetings, studied the playbook and sought tips from the veterans on how to conduct himself like a pro.

"I definitely think the biggest thing is taking care of your body and approaching this like a job," he said. "Because that's what it is."

The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder from Boiling Springs, S.C., was a record-setter at the University of North Carolina in the weight room, not on the field. He set school marks for wide receivers in the bench press (405 pounds) and power clean (353).

"I always go hard in the weight room. I take a lot of pride in that," said Foster, 24. "I try to make sure it carries over to the field."

He assured that his speed has been unaffected by the injury. "Hopefully I'm getting faster," he said. "I don't think I'm in tip-top shape, but I'm definitely going to be there before (training) camp starts."

Foster never earned a full-time first-team job with the Tar Heels. In 41 games, which included 13 starts, Foster had 97 receptions for 1,237 yards and six touchdowns. He also was busy on special teams.

The Rams saw enough, however, to make him their fifth-round draft pick (No. 160 overall) in 2009. And he'd made a positive impression during training camp and the preseason before he was hurt.

He rehabbed aggressively, then continued a demanding regimen after the season, pounding away in the weight room. Coach Steve Spagnuolo noticed.

"He's had a tremendous offseason," Spagnuolo said. "He just looks like a different person. These guys come here young-looking out of college, but he looks like a man to me."

The injury "definitely motivated me to work even harder," Foster said. "I've just got to keep going from there."

The injury was difficult enough; the decision to place him on IR worsened the situation, Foster acknowledged though he emphasized that he understood the move. "It was such a long recovery, and they didn't know how my body would react once I came back," he said.

"But I was ready by Week 12. I could've got in at least four or five games," he added. "I might not have been in the best shape, but I would've worked through it. I definitely could've done a little something on the field."

The task on the field now is earning a job. The Rams are carrying 13 wideouts; only five or six will wind up on the 53-man roster.

"It's definitely a competition," Foster said. "But I just worry about me; that's the only thing you can do. I've seen a lot of guys come and go. You've just got to do what you do, go hard every day, and see where it lands you."

Among those in the mix is Mardy Gilyard, a fourth-round draftee last month. Foster said he wasn't surprised that the Rams took a wideout. "I kind of figured they would," he said. "But it's cool."

No matter who is on hand, Spagnuolo promised that Foster would get a long look. "He can jump right in there, like the rest of those guys," Spagnuolo said.

That's all that Foster asks: another chance to prove himself.

"I didn't have too much of a status anyway," he said, smiling. "I'm just going to work my hardest."