Spagnuolo gets his man

BY BRYAN BURWELL, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist
Friday, April 29, 2011

For the story line that best describes the sort of night Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney experienced as the NFL Draft's wild and unpredictable first round went hurtling toward them, we wanted to rely on the words of a legendary draft guru with the great hair, pouty lips and a Hall of Fame legacy. But since Mel Kiper Jr. was a little busy last night, we decided to consult with another deep thinker named Mick Jagger.

"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need."

I know, you know and you can best believe that Spags and Devaney know what everyone with even a passing interest in the Rams had targeted as their most important need. Game-breaking wide receiver. Driving to Rams Park on Thursday afternoon, a truck pulled up next to me at a stop light and a guy motioned for me to roll down my window.

"Hey, Bryan, who are the Rams gonna pick? Are we gonna get a wide receiver?"

I have heard that question and hopeful wish at least 100 times from random strangers and good friends alike over the last few days building up to the draft. But everyone knew the likelihood of Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones actually being there when the Rams picked at No. 14 were next to impossible. So, the moment Atlanta aggressively jumped from near the bottom of the first round (No. 27) all the way up to sixth and snatched Jones away, reality set in.

The Rams were going to load up on defense.

The selection of University of North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn sounds just like the sort of logical pick you would expect from a guy such as Spagnuolo, who likes collecting pass rushers the way Donald Trump likes collects birth certificates. Quinn is a big, fast, strong and aggressive guy who Spags can plug into his rotation that already includes Chris Long, James Hall, George Selvie, Fred Robbins, C.J. Ah You and Eugene Sims.

On first blush, this looks like a good deal, a bit of great fortune and an absolutely wonderful alternative to not getting Jones. Yes, everyone wanted Jones, but if Quinn turns out to be the player Spags and Devaney imagine, he will be the player the Rams needed just as much.

A year from now, when looking back on the way things worked out, we may look back on this unpredictable night when four quarterbacks were surprisingly selected among the top 12 players in the first round and be delighted that 20-year-old Quinn ended up falling into the Rams laps. While Jones could have been the final missing piece to Sam Bradford's offensive attack, Quinn might be the missing piece to Spagunolo's greatest defensive dreams. The coach who earned his reputation as a defensive wizard in New York by accumulating a deep stable of versatile pass rushing linemen just got a bit closer to creating a defense here in St. Louis that could create some major havoc.

But there is some risk involved. A lot of risk. Whenever a kid starts talking about his background and he begins speaking in codes, you know there are some issues to consider. And with Quinn, there is "the thing," "the situation," and "the stuff" from "the situation."

The "thing" is a benign brain tumor. The Rams were satisfied with all their medical reports, but quite a few teams took Quinn off their draft board because he underwent a medical procedure during his senior year of high school. There has never been a player with a brain tumor picked in the history of the NFL draft until Quinn. The good news is since the operation in 2007, the tumor has not been an issue. There are no guarantees that it won't become one in the future.

The "situation" was the trouble Quinn got in with the NCAA which caused him to miss his senior year when the NCAA ruled him ineligible for taking illegal benefits. That is the sort of "situation" that calls into question character issues. But the Rams, who are sticklers for sniffing out such things, came away satisfied that Quinn will be a good teammate and better player. And the "stuff," of course, is the jewelry he admitted to receiving, over $5,000 in jewelry and travel accommodations that he got while still in school.

All of those things make you wonder what sort of player the Rams are getting. But the one thing I've learned over the years of covering professional sports is this: it's not high school. It's not college. If you can play, and you can play really well, and the coaching staff and personnel department think that you are not some incurable reprobate - and let me repeat, if you can play - they will make certain allowances.

By most reports, Robert Quinn is a 20-year-old kid with a tremendous upside who the Rams believe could be the kind of defensive difference maker for years to come. He might not be like Bradford was a year ago, the kind of phenom who steps right into the starting lineup. But they are counting on him developing into a quarterback killer in the not-too-distant future. He's a few weeks shy of his 21st birthday and with only two years of college playing experience under his belt. But he is a big, fast, strong and talented pass rusher who Spags can add to his growing complement of defensive weapons.