Wednesday, December 14, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

It was a nice, relaxing Tuesday afternoon for Jeremy Calahan. The young defensive tackle was out hunting, looking to bag a deer on his weekly day off.

Sure enough, he was able to land a doe, but by the time his afternoon was over, he had bagged much more than that.

“Yesterday I was actually out hunting deer and I shot a doe,” Calahan said. “I had two missed calls from my agent, checked my voicemail and then called him back, didn’t get a hold of him and then he called me back.”

The news was better than any hunting success for Calahan. The rookie from Rice, who had spent all season on the Rams’ practice squad, was being promoted to the active roster.

With three games to play and the playoffs a mathematical impossibility, the Rams have turned their attention to giving a number of young and inexperienced players a chance to prove themselves.

“All of the moves we have made we think are going to give us the best chance to win our next football game,” interim coach Joe Vitt said. “We brought some of the young kids up, they have worked hard all year and they deserve the chance.”

In addition to Calahan, the Rams also promoted defensive end Clifford Dukes and tight end Jerome Collins to the active roster. To make room for the trio, the Rams placed cornerback Travis Fisher on injured reserve and released tight end Cameron Cleeland and running back David Allen.

How much those rookies or anyone else plays against Philadelphia on Sunday will be determined by the way this week in practice develops.

Like Calahan, Collins was somewhat raw coming out and has made some strides in recent weeks.

“It’s too early to tell,” Vitt said. “We’ll see how they practice. Those that practice the best are going to play.”

For Calahan, the move to the active roster comes as somewhat of a surprise. He developed a reputation for being strong, but unpolished in training camp. He took no repetitions with the defense until he took some last week in place of Brian Howard, who was suffering the effects of a concussion.

“I started out just raw, not knowing anything and Coach (Bill) Kollar has really changed the way I play and taught me a lot,” Calahan said. “I’m nowhere near where I need to be, but I have made leaps and bounds. I am a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident. I still have a long way to go, that’s for sure.”

Kollar has made a point of pounding a few basics into Calahan that have helped speed up his development.

“All technique stuff, especially pass rush stuff,” Calahan said. “My pass rush wasn’t near as good as it needed to be and that’s come along slowly. Then, of course, Coach Kollar teaching hustle, hustle, hustle. That just becomes ingrained in you when you do it every week. I’m learning a lot.”

Another player who has learned a lot, not just about the game, but the business is Collins. Collins was drafted in the fifth round out of Notre Dame, but when he struggled in the preseason he didn’t make the active roster.

After playing a number of positions for the Irish, Collins was finally converted to tight end near his senior season. Like Calahan, Collins was somewhat raw coming out and has made some strides in recent weeks.

“The start was kind of difficult, but you have just got to get through it,” Collins said. “The start was kind of difficult, but it always gets worse before it gets better. Right now, it’s getting better.”

The most difficult part was watching the Rams bring in tight end after tight end while he stayed down on the practice squad. With injuries to Brandon Manumaleuna and Roland Williams, the Rams brought in the likes of Cleeland, Jeff Robinson, Darrius Williams and converted lineman Blaine Saipaia to play tight end before Collins got a shot.

Now, Collins will get his chance as he is the second tight end on the roster behind Manumaleuna.

“It’s definitely an audition for next year and the years coming up if not here then somewhere else to make sure that when they see me on the field they know I can contribute,” Collins said.

As for Dukes, the defensive end has been labeled a ‘tweener, too big to play linebacker and too small to play end, but he has also shown some flashes of potential.

Dukes replaces Fisher, who has battled a groin injury all season and is now out for the rest of the season.

“We have three weeks left, we have to move on,” Vitt said.

The promotions left some openings on the practice squad, with two of the vacancies filled Wednesday afternoon.
St. Louis added running back Derrick Knight from Boston College and offensive lineman Drew Strojny of Duke to the practice squad, leaving one more spot open.

Of course, Dukes, Calahan and Collins aren’t the only young players being given an opportunity to show what they can do. The likes of cornerback Ron Bartell and safeties Oshiomogho Atogwe and Jerome Carter are also expected to play key roles in the coming weeks.

While the games might not have much meaning in the playoff picture, they might help clear up some questions about the future of the Rams.

“When you get the opportunity to play, you want to make the best of it,” Bartell said. “It gives you a step ahead for next year so you can come in and compete for a starting job.”

RETURN RERUN?: With Allen out of the picture, the Rams are left to contemplate who exactly will be taking over the kickoff and punt return duties. As it stands, both jobs are up for grabs.

“We worked three today,” Vitt said. “We worked Dane (Looker), we worked (Aveion Cason) and we worked Marshall (Faulk) back there a little bit. We’ll sort that out by the end of the week.”

The same group worked at kickoff return with the addition of cornerback Chris Johnson. Faulk volunteered to help at both positions, a move that didn’t surprise Vitt, who said Faulk simply wants “to contribute.”

INJURY REPORT: The Rams injury report continues to be filled with names suffering from a variety of afflictions.
Quarterback Marc Bulger (shoulder) and Fisher are officially listed as out. Clearly, Fisher is out for the rest of the year and Bulger’s status remains in question.

Running back Arlen Harris is doubtful because of a hamstring injury. Bartell is questionable because of an ankle injury suffered against Minnesota, but Bartell said Wednesday he’d be ready to go.

The list of probables is the most lengthy with tackle Matt Morgan (asthma), tackle Orlando Pace (hamstring), tackle Rex Tucker (flu), tackle Alex Barron (thumb) and defensive end Leonard Little (knee) probable.

Of that group, most are expected to play according to Vitt.

Tucker had the flu all last week and is still struggling to recover.

“He had a relapse today,” Vitt said. “We are going to get him on some IVs and get him as healthy as we can.”

The biggest names on the list, Pace and Little are also expected to play against the Eagles.

“Orlando has a groin,” Vitt said. “He’ll be ready to go, he just rested that. Leonard has a knee and an ankle. He is just resting that. They’ll both be ready to go.”

Barron, who is sporting a large cast on his thumb, is also expected to return to the lineup.