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Mix of players vying to replace departed Wistrom

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  • Mix of players vying to replace departed Wistrom

    Mix of players vying to replace departed Wistrom


    R.B. FALLSTROM

    Associated Press



    MACOMB, Ill. - At this time last year, Anthony Hargrove was pushing airplanes around instead of offensive tackles.

    After being declared academically ineligible at Georgia Tech, the St. Louis Rams' rookie defensive end got a taste of life in the real world. He worked as a ramp agent at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, squeezing himself into undersized work clothes, wheeling around in carts, toting baggage and supervising the parking.

    Now, he's in a mix of players vying to replace Grant Wistrom at right defensive end. It's the only position vacancy on a team that went 12-4 and won the NFC West last year.

    "I couldn't ask for anything better," Hargrove said. "It's a free battle on the right side and we've got a lot of guys competing, and I'm right in the mix."

    There's an immediate opening for Hargrove, a third-round pick in this year's draft, after Wistrom was bowled over by a six-year, $33 million contract from the Seahawks that included a $14 million signing bonus. Bryce Fisher, a 1999 seventh-round pick of the Bills, entered camp first on the depth chart.

    Other candidates in the group are Sean Moran and Erik Flowers. Coach Mike Martz said the Rams will be just fine with a no-name rotation opposite Leonard Little, who was among the league leaders with 12.5 sacks last year and went to his first Pro Bowl.

    Veteran Tyoka Jackson is another backup end, but on the left side behind Little.

    Martz thought Wistrom, a 1997 first-round pick of the Rams, would be with St. Louis his entire career. But he's moved on.

    "There's six guys on the left and right side that you'd be happy with lining up and playing, I can safely say that," Martz said. "Whoever lines up on the right end, that's who he is, and I'm sure whoever that is will play very well."

    Players also are confident there won't be a dropoff.

    "We'll line up and play, that's the way it works," Jackson said. "Grant was a great player and a great friend and he's always going to be a friend, but he's on the wrong side of the ball now.

    "We've got some guys; people may not know who they are, but we've got some guys."

    Wistrom had 7 1/2 sacks last year and was a coaches' favorite because of his non-stop motor. Fisher, on the other hand, has made three career starts.

    "We're really working our tails off to prove we can be out there," Fisher said. "Everybody adds a little bit something different. Tony is a phenomenal athlete, Erik has a great takeoff, Sean is a nine-year veteran and I use my hands well."

    Unlike other members of the defensive line like tackle Ryan "Grease" Pickett and Jimmy "Bear" Kennedy, line coach Bill Kollar has not bestowed a nickname on Fisher. He just wants to capitalize on this opportunity.

    "I'm going into my fourth year and right about now players have to prove themselves," Fisher said. "This is what the league will think of you the rest of your career."

    The Rams already like Hargrove's high-energy approach. He's confident, modeling his playing style on a combination of Jevon Kearse and Warren Sapp.

    "I try to play with Sapp's tenacity and meanness, but also be a skill and finesse player like Kearse, but still with the bull rush, and play the run real well," Hargrove said.

    Of course, there's plenty of hunger after his airport job. He knows it's easier pushing Grant Williams, the stand-in starter at left tackle until holdout Orlando Pace signs, than a Delta 88.

    "I knew I wanted to be back on the field," Hargrove said. "I knew that wasn't my life, working a 9-to-5.

    "And I knew I'd do whatever it took."

    __________________________________________________________
    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

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  • RamDez
    Fisher has lead in battle to replace Wistrom
    by RamDez
    Fisher has lead in battle to replace Wistrom
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Saturday, Aug. 21 2004

    Grant Wistrom was a five-year starter for the Rams at right defensive end. A
    hustler. A hard-nosed player. And later in his tenure in St. Louis, a locker
    room leader. But whatever mourning period there was following his free-agent
    departure to Seattle has long since passed.

    "That's the way it works," defensive captain Tyoka Jackson said. "No one's
    sitting around saying, 'Oh, Grant's gone.' He was a great player. Great locker
    room guy. Great friend. But he's on the wrong side of the ball now."

    As for replacements, Jackson says, "We've got some guys. People may not know
    who they are, but we've got some guys."

    At the moment, Bryce Fisher and Erik Flowers are the top two ends on the right
    side. Both were washouts in Buffalo - the team that originally drafted them -
    but both appear intent on making the most of the opportunity in St. Louis.

    Talented but raw rookie Anthony Hargrove eventually could work himself back
    into the picture at right end. But for now, the team has been looking at him at
    defensive tackle.

    For all of his contributions in St. Louis, Wistrom was never an elite pass
    rusher. He had superior speed and effort, but not much in the way of moves.
    Fisher and Flowers have the potential - repeat, potential - to be at least as
    productive. They combined for three sacks in the preseason opener against
    Chicago - one by Fisher and two by Flowers off the bench.

    "Bryce has got real good instincts," defensive line coach Bill Kollar said. "He
    plays with pretty good strength most of the time; plays with leverage so he's
    able to end up hanging in there against the bigger players."

    Fisher isn't as fast as Wistrom but has a good short burst. And like Wistrom,
    effort has never been a problem.

    "That's how I made it into the league," Fisher said. "And that's how I plan on
    staying in the league, just by being that guy that keeps on hustling."

    Claimed off waivers from Buffalo just before the start of the '02 season,
    Fisher appeared in only four games for the Rams that year. But he talked his
    way onto special teams last season, including coverage units - which aren't
    normally the domain of defensive linemen. That got Fisher on the field on game
    day, and eventually got him in the defensive line rotation. He finished with 47
    tackles and three sacks.

    "Last year, I was really focusing on being the very best special teams player I
    could, and then trying to get as many reps on defense as I could," Fisher said.
    "It kind of worked out where...
    -08-21-2004, 11:57 AM
  • RamWraith
    Competition Fierce, Deep at Defensive End
    by RamWraith
    By NICK WAGONER
    Staff Writer

    When Rams’ coach Mike Martz looks at his menu of defensive ends; it might depend on what kind of mood he is in to make his selection.

    Martz said he has as many as six possibilities to full the position vacated by the departed Grant Wistrom. Wistrom chose to sign with Seattle in the offseason after six seasons in St. Louis. Replacing a talented pass rusher and charismatic leader such as Wistrom could be tough to do with one player.

    “There was such an emotional attachment there,” Martz said of Wistrom. “We all felt like he was going to end his career here. It didn’t work out that way.”

    With that in mind, the Rams have a variety of choices to replace Wistrom, each bringing something different to training camp. Leonard Little will continue to hold down his position at left end as one of the league’s most feared playmakers. That leaves the six others to fight it out for Wistrom’s former spot.

    Bryce Fisher is penciled in as the No. 1 end on the depth chart. Fisher gives the Rams a solid, disciplined player who honed his leadership skills at Air Force. At 6-feet-3, 272 pounds, Fisher gives St. Louis bulk opposite the speedy Little. He finished the 2003 season with 47 tackles and a pair of sacks.

    Fisher’s spot is written in pencil for a reason, though. He will face stiff competition in training camp for his spot. The group that is angling for his job includes a former first round pick, a recently retired “plane pusher,” a grizzled veteran, a returning Ram and an unknown free agent. Any of them could win the job, but with only three training camp practices in the books, nobody knows who it will be.

    “I think last year I proved that I could play in this league,” Fisher said. “This year I am looking forward to proving that I can be a full-time starter for 16 games.”

    Buffalo drafted Erik Flowers with the 26th pick in the 2000 draft. After two seasons with the Bills, Flowers moved on to Houston, where he adjusted to a new role as an outside linebacker. Flowers is still searching for the fit that can prove his detractors wrong and a clean start in St. Louis could be the cure for what ails him.

    Perhaps the most intriguing prospect of the group is rookie Anthony Hargrove. Hargrove has been one of the camp’s early standouts, showing a quick burst and enough strength to pound against the run.

    After missing his final season at Georgia Tech because of academic problems, Hargrove took a job at Hartsfield Airport as a “plane pusher,” helping Delta move planes in and out and riding alongside the planes to make sure the wings don’t hit anything.

    Hargrove said he didn’t like having to wear the uniform Delta gave him because it was too small. That was the least of his worries there, however.

    “I was always thinking NFL,” Hargrove said. “Working 9 to 5 behind a desk,...
    -07-29-2004, 07:31 PM
  • RamWraith
    Wistrom's Address Changes, Effort Remains
    by RamWraith
    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    In this day of free agency and big money contracts, it is rare for a player to stay in one place his entire career.

    Gone are the days of Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and John Elway, who played their entire careers in one place. Even Emmitt Smith, who was the defining player for the Dallas’ dynasty of the 1990s, is playing for Arizona. The sight of someone like Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards’ uniform will forever haunt Bulls’ fans, who grew accustomed to Jordan winning championships in their black and red.

    Grant Wistrom seemed to be the kind of player who could spend his whole career in one place. The defensive end played his college football at Nebraska, and was drafted by the Rams in 1998 as the sixth pick overall. After six productive and winning seasons, Wistrom signed with the Seahawks on March 4.

    Wistrom said he always envisioned being the rare athlete to play from start to finish in the same city.

    “I always envied the old (football) Cardinals that I’d see around town, the guys that got to play there their whole career and got to retire there,” Wistrom said. “I always wanted to be one of those guys. I don’t think there could’ve been anything better, but obviously, the opportunity didn’t present itself."

    “I couldn’t imagine being in a better situation than I’m in right now. I’m playing for a great organization. I’m playing for a great football team, in a city that I’m really starting to like. It would have been nice to have stayed in St. Louis, but those things don’t always work out, so I couldn’t imagine being happier anywhere else.”

    Some might ask why Wistrom would leave if he was so happy in St. Louis. If he was a free agent and had the right to choose, why wouldn’t he choose to stay in a place he was so happy?

    The answer is free agency, money and a perfect opportunity. Wistrom was wanted in St. Louis as much as he wanted to stay. St. Louis wanted to keep him, but when push came to shove, Seattle made an offer that nobody else was even close to. Desperate for a leader on a young defensive line, the Seahawks were intent on making sure Wistrom didn’t leave the Emerald City without putting pen to paper.

    The offer contained more numbers than Wistrom ever thought possible. He didn’t leave. He signed a six-year, $33 million contract, with a $14 million signing bonus. That might seem like a lot of money for a defensive end who has never had more than 11 sacks. That kind of cash is usually reserved for the high-end pass rushers, but as Rams’ coach Mike Martz is quick to point out, Wistrom is well worth the money.

    “So many of these guys that get the money that Grant gets, they are pass rushers,” Martz said. “That’s how they see themselves, as a specialist. That’s not Grant. He’s the whole package, as we all know. He makes tackles, because he chases the...
    -10-08-2004, 08:11 PM
  • RamDez
    Wistrom gets ready to face old team, and stand-in Bryce Fisher
    by RamDez
    Wistrom gets ready to face old team, and stand-in Bryce Fisher By Greg Bishop
    Seattle Times staff reporter




    KIRKLAND — Funny how things work, lives intersecting and disconnecting, only to circle back in a way that seems impossible.

    Grant Wistrom was Midwest ethos at its best, a hard worker who stayed at home and did just that. He played high-school football in Webb City, Mo., college football at Nebraska and pro football in St. Louis.

    Then hard work met paydirt, and along came a $33 million contract, which included a $14 million signing bonus, which whisked Wistrom from his roots to Seattle and a division rival.

    And so who do the Rams replace Wistrom with? None other than Bryce Fisher, a Renton native and Seattle Prep graduate.

    And who do the Seahawks host this weekend? None other than the St. Louis Rams, Wistrom's former team, with one of his pupils manning his old position in the area in which the pupil grew up.

    Funny how things work. Although neither Fisher nor Wistrom laughed too hard.

    Said Wistrom: "You can hype it up all week long as much as you want. Everybody is making a bigger deal out of this than I am. It's just another football team, another opponent and a game we have to win."

    Said Fisher: "I expect it to be like any other road game. Except my mom will love it more."

    Wistrom knows this won't be like any other game. Too many memories involved. Too many old friends to shake hands with. Too much importance in the grand scheme of the NFC West, a division in which the Seahawks hold a 1˝-game lead.

    Too much emotion, period.

    "There is a deep, deep emotional impact," St. Louis coach Mike Martz said of Wistrom leaving. "He's like one of my family, one of my kids. I just miss him. I do. I miss him."

    So does the Rams defense. Last season, St. Louis led the NFL with 46 takeaways, good for a turnover differential of plus-seven, seventh best in the NFL. The Rams, sans Wistrom, forced two turnovers in their last game, their only takeaways in their first four games, tied for last in the NFL.

    Meanwhile, the Seahawks, with Wistrom, have forced 10 turnovers, tied for fifth best in the league, for a plus-seven differential, third best in the NFL.

    "Wow," safety Aeneas Williams said. "The ability for a defensive end to make plays all over the field, almost like a linebacker, is contagious. You get big plays that are unexpected out of a defensive end being able to run and pursue. You get caused fumbles, tipped balls. I don't know if I've ever seen a defensive lineman with that kind of tenacity."

    One player can't make that much a difference. Can he?

    "You can talk about all those famous Seahawks — the Matt Hasselbecks and so forth," ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth...
    -10-07-2004, 12:19 PM
  • RamDez
    Seahawks DE downplays matchup with former team
    by RamDez
    Seahawks DE downplays matchup with former team

    By TIM KORTE
    AP SPORTS WRITER

    KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Grant Wistrom remembers the animosity on the field between NFC West rivals Seattle and St. Louis.

    Now, it's not so clear.

    Any free agent who switches teams within the same division knows what's coming twice a year: showdowns against former teammates and endless questions about how it's going to feel.

    That's the case this week for Wistrom, who spent his first six NFL seasons with the St. Louis Rams (2-2).

    "I think everybody is making a bigger deal about this than I am," said Wistrom, who ranks second on the Seahawks (3-0) with 2 1/2 sacks. "When the opening kickoff happens, you forget about all that stuff. It's just another football team."

    Oh, but there's a little extra invested for Wistrom this week.

    Not only is he facing his former teammates, but for the first time he'll line up against the potent Rams offense directed by his old coach, Mike Martz, a man he grew to know very well.

    Martz said Wistrom's departure had "a deep, deep emotional impact. He's like one of my family, like one of my kids."

    Wistrom's reasons for leaving were sound, Martz said. Wistrom received a $33 million contract that included a $14 million signing bonus, and Martz said he believes the star defender deserves that kind of money.

    "I don't look forward to playing him," Martz said. "I've watched him on tape and I think he's really playing very well."

    Wistrom went out of his way in recent years to stand up for Martz when he felt the coach was being unfairly maligned.

    "We were pretty tight," Wistrom said. "I really appreciate coach Martz. When he was catching a lot of heat, I always stood behind him. I told him that I believed in him as a coach, and I think he receives a lot of undue criticism."

    Another unusual experience for Wistrom will be matching up against five-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace. They routinely faced off in blocking drills, but Wistrom expects this to be different.

    "It's going to be a 60-minute battle," Wistrom said. "I practiced against him for six years, but Orlando's practice speed and his game speed are two different things. I'm going to have to work."

    There's one more twist.

    Wistrom was fined $5,000 by the NFL last season for flattening Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck during the Rams' 27-22 win in St. Louis. The next day, Hasselbeck called it "a great block."

    That's ancient history, though, because Hasselbeck understands Wistrom's full-throttle approach on the field. They're buddies now, and it's not unusual to see them trading good-natured barbs in the locker room.

    "He's just a good guy," Hasselbeck...
    -10-06-2004, 10:29 PM
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