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Long shot Michna is making good impression

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  • Long shot Michna is making good impression

    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    MACOMB, Ill. - Quarterback Russ Michna is right at home in Macomb. During his standout career at Western Illinois University, he spent two years living in the Thompson Hall dormitory.

    These days, Michna finds himself right back at Thompson, trying to make the Rams' roster as an undrafted rookie.

    "How weird is that?" Michna said. "It's even weird walking around seeing the same people in the dorms. Seeing the same security people. The same janitors.

    "The only thing that I can say is different is they've got a new dining hall. Otherwise, everything looks exactly the same as the first day I walked in there."

    No, Michna didn't ask for his old dorm room.

    "I wasn't getting greedy," he said. "Wherever they put me, I was happy."

    In college, Michna was a two-time offensive player of the year in the Gateway Conference. He threw for a school-record 3,160 yards last year for the Leathernecks, annually a Division I-AA football power.

    About 10 or 12 NFL teams talked to Michna up to and through the draft, but he didn't get selected despite his lofty numbers and Western's success

    "I didn't have my mind set on getting drafted," Michna said. "A lot of the things that I heard (from scouts) is that I was very raw. I hadn't been coached. But I just wanted the opportunity ... and to have that opportunity to learn. I've got that here."

    The Rams had talked to Michna not long after the draft.

    "They said, 'We're planning on bringing you in after June 1,'" Michna said. "But still, what does that mean?"

    In this case it meant: When we release Kurt Warner, we'll have a roster spot at quarterback.

    Michna was signed on June 2 - the same day Warner was released.

    Michna (pronounced MICK-nah) is a bright player. Not only does he have his undergraduate degree in finance - he already has is master's in business administration. He already has been able to grasp some of what the Rams' do on offense. In addition, the lefty has an accurate arm, decent arm strength, and very good mobility.

    "He's a good little player," coach Mike Martz said. "He's not a camp arm."

    For the record, Michna is 6-1, 224 pounds. His chances of making the 2004 Rams roster are slim. During the offseason, the Rams made a four-year, $19.1 million commitment to Marc Bulger as their starter. They also brought in veteran Chris Chandler as their backup, and drafted Michigan State's Jeff Smoker in the sixth round.

    With practice squads expanded to eight players this year, Michna's best chance of staying with the Rams in '04 would be on that developmental squad.

    Much to the delight of Leathernecks fans in attendance at Hanson Field, Michna played in the Aug. 7 scrimmage against Chicago - completing one of two passes for 17 yards.

    But he didn't play in last week's preseason game against the Bears, and there's no guarantee he'll get in any of the Rams' remaining three preseason games, either.

    Bulger figures to get more work from here on out; Chandler is new to the system; and Smoker needs plenty of work.

    Michna said the "Air Martz" playbook was overwhelming at first.

    "But then once you get into it, and you really start to understand the concepts of why things are happening, it's really impressive," Michna said. "It makes all the sense in the world. It's just very articulate, very precise, and it's a great system to be in."

    He has far from mastered it, however. As soon as Michna thinks he has something down, there's a new challenge or new wrinkle the next day.

    "So it's a process," Michna said. "You've got to continue to work at it, and continue to try and get a good feel for it."

    With roster cutdown days fast approaching, there's no guarantee of how much longer the learning process will continue for Michna. But at least he's made a good impression.

    "He's way further along than I was after a couple months," Bulger said. "Light years past where I was. He's able to say the verbiage and understand it. He's definitely good enough, I think, to play in the NFL."

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  • RamWraith
    Rookies feel challenged, blessed by life in the NFL
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Saturday, Nov. 13 2004

    Rookie linebacker Brandon Chillar sometimes can't help himself. He looks around
    the Rams' locker room at stalls labeled "Faulk," "Bruce," "Holt," "Little" and
    "Pace," and just shakes his head.

    "This is what I've been praying for, this is what I've been working for, this
    is what I've wanted to do for so long," said Chillar, a fourth-round draft
    choice from UCLA. "It's what I asked for, and it's what I got. So, I'm blessed.
    I must be living right or something."

    Chillar is one of 12 first-year players who rise every day and report to Rams
    Park in Earth City. A year ago, they woke up on college campuses and headed for

    "This is a job; it's not just football," said cornerback Dwight Anderson, an
    undrafted rookie from the University of South Dakota. "You come in here at 6
    o'clock in the morning, and you come to work. It's just like your mom goes to
    work at 7 and comes home at 5. This is our job. ... But it's a fun job."

    Chillar said the commercial aspect of pro football came as a bit of jolt. "You
    start to learn how much of a business the NFL is," he said. "That's one thing
    that I didn't expect so much. Maybe that's just being a dumb rookie."

    But safety Jason Shivers said the NFL experience "is pretty much what I thought
    it would be. You have to get used to the stringent routine, because it's day in
    and day out. You have to really be focused 100 percent of the day. I think
    that's the biggest change" from college football.

    Shivers, a fifth-round pick from Arizona State, has yet to see game action,
    spending most of the season on the practice squad. "It's disappointing because
    I know that I'm better than that," he said. "But all I can do is just keep
    working and hopefully I'll get on the active (roster) and then I can get out
    there and do my thing."

    Others have been asked to contribute right away, despite their first-year
    status. Chillar has started four games; running back Steven Jackson, the team's
    first-round selection (No. 24 overall), is getting steady work spelling
    Marshall Faulk; and third-round pick Anthony Hargrove, an end from Georgia
    Tech, has been filling an increasing role on the defensive line rotation.

    "Things right now are going exceptionally for me, being able to compete on this
    level," said Jackson, an Oregon State product. "All the things I was going to
    deal with, Coach (Mike) Martz and his staff did a great job of exposing me to
    that early on. They kind of let...
    -11-13-2004, 07:03 PM
  • RamWraith
    Long shots make their mark with Rams
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    Long shots, like CB Dwight Anderson (above), are taking full advantage of their chance to try and make the Rams roster.
    (Chris Lee/P-D)

    MACOMB, Ill. - NFL players come in all shapes and sizes, and from all kinds of colleges. But whether you come from South Carolina, or South Dakota . . . Colorado, or Colorado School of Mines . . . Washington, or Eastern Washington . . . Arizona, or Akron . . . if you're good enough to get a chance, you just may get a job.

    With three exhibition games remaining, and cutdown days fast approaching, here's a look at four roster long shots trying to latch on with the Rams:

    CB Dwight Anderson: Traveling Jamaican

    Anderson didn't grow up dreaming of the NFL in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Heck, you couldn't even watch it on television.

    "It was either cricket, soccer, or track," he said.

    Anderson's sports were soccer and track - even after he moved to the United States in 1992 at age 11. But one day at Bloomfield (Conn.) High, he watched the football team practice and was intrigued.

    "I want to try that," he told himself.

    Not surprisingly, he was a kicker as a freshman.

    "Sophomore year, I started playing wide receiver and DB," Anderson said. "The (varsity) coach saw me playing JV, and he was like, 'All right, we're going to move you up. See what you can do up here on the varsity level.' And from there, it just exploded."

    Anderson, who now lives in Queens, N.Y., played junior college ball at Arizona Western in Yuma. He finished college with the South Dakota Coyotes, and now he's been to Macomb and St. Louis trying to make the Rams' roster as an undrafted rookie.

    "I've been going across the country," Anderson said. "I've almost done all 50 states now. I'm having fun with it."

    If the Rams keep five corners, he has a chance. If not . . .

    "I think I've got a chance," Anderson said. "If I just keep working hard, something's going to pay off. I'm not really thinking about getting cut."

    Anderson looks the part. He has 4.35 speed and doesn't seem overwhelmed on the field. What he needs is work on technique and focus. And no more silly penalties, like his costly holding penalty last week against Chicago.

    "It was an iffy call," Anderson said. "But you know the refs, they're cutting down on a lot of that holding."

    WR Brian Sump: Building a career

    With about a semester's worth of additional work at the Colorado School of Mines, Sump will earn his degree in civil engineering. He's in no hurry. Before he starts building dams and bridges, he'd like to build an NFL career.

    -08-20-2004, 05:12 AM
  • RamWraith
    Open Locker Room Quotes
    by RamWraith
    Friday, December 10, 2004

    WR Torry Holt

    (On QB Chris Chandler)
    “We all feel good about Chandler. We all have a great connection with him. I think we built on that this week. We had a good week of practice, and we just need to carry that into Sunday.”

    (On Chandler’s arm strength)
    “He’s throwing the ball extremely well. I’m very impressed with how he throws the long ball. I knew that in training camp and in preseason that he could throw the long ball, and he can throw it very well. His accuracy is real good too. So we have some good things up this weekend, and hopefully we can get to the long ball, get some completions, back those guys up.”

    (On if he is looking for revenge from last year’s playoff loss to the Panthers)
    “Last year was last year, and it’s all said and done. To be able to come back this year and have an opportunity to play against them is good. To say we aren’t thinking about what happened last year, I would be totally lying to you. We owe them one. You have to believe that they are going to be ready and excited about playing us. It’ll be a great match up for us. The way we are rolling and the way we are feeing right now, we should do pretty well.”

    (On starting the season as a possible fullback)
    “I roll with it. I gained the weight like (Coach Martz) wanted me to. I wasn’t real comfortable with it, but whatever they wanted me to do, that’s what I was going to do.”

    (On being prepared)
    “There are situations all over the league like this, where a guy goes down, you just have to be prepared. A lot of these guys (who have gotten their opportunities) are showing out, and doing the best that they can.”

    QB Jeff Smoker

    (On how he’s been handling the offense)
    “I’ve been learning little by little every week. Obviously, I don’t know everything, and I don’t know as much as Marc (Bulger) or Chris (Chandler). But I know enough to be efficient and run the offense.”

    (On how he was elevated to the number two quarterback)
    “(Coach Martz) gave me a couple of reps yesterday. I got in there and threw some good passes and made some good reads. I think he gained a little confidence that I’ve studied, and I haven’t been sleeping in the meetings for the past couple of months. Usually, I am on the sidelines, writing on the clip board, maybe joking around here and there. But I have to stay into the game now, and be prepared to go in at anytime.”

    (On what has been the hardest thing to learn)
    “There is just so much to it, as far as the offense goes, as far as making the jump from college to pro. It just takes time with any new thing. It’s tough for a rookie in any position, I think, not just the quarterback, to be in there and be successful right away.”
    -12-11-2004, 07:12 AM
  • RamWraith
    Long shots hope to defy the odds, stick with Rams
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Tuesday, Aug. 23 2005

    The "Turk" isn't here yet, but he's on his way. By Aug. 30, NFL rosters must be
    trimmed to 65. By Sept. 4, each roster shrinks to the regular-season limit of

    So in less than two weeks, one out of every three players currently practicing
    with the Rams will be out of a job. For some, these next few days will be their
    last in professional football.

    Until then, there's always hope. Hope that they can survive the roster
    cutdowns, and maybe - just maybe - become the next London Fletcher or Kurt
    Warner. Here's our annual look at some Rams roster long shots hoping to beat
    the odds:

    Jeremy Calahan: The next Zgonina?

    He has a stocky frame, thick calves, and wears jersey No. 90. If only Calahan
    were crabby on a regular basis, he'd be a dead ringer for Jeff Zgonina. The
    Rams thought so, too.

    "They took a picture of me and sent it to Zgonina as kind of a joke," Calahan

    The picture, taken in the Rams' indoor practice facility, shows defensive line
    coach Bill Kollar with his arm around Calahan. Zgonina, now with Miami, wore
    jersey No. 90 in five seasons with the Rams.

    "I didn't know (about the similarities) until I'd seen him on film," Calahan
    said. "The guy's just massive. He's huge. And he's a great player. I hope one
    day I can be at his level."

    At Rice, Calahan started three games as a true freshman, and was a full-time
    starter his final three college seasons. He's a hustle player who has shown a
    good inside push at times on the practice field. For a while, it looked as
    though he might give Brian Howard a run for the fourth defensive tackle spot
    behind first-round draft picks Ryan Pickett, Jimmy Kennedy, and Damione Lewis.
    But the arrival of 13-year NFL veteran John Parrella may change the depth-chart

    Not that it seems to matter to Calahan.

    "I'm having the time of my life," he said recently. "I think I fit in well with
    Coach Kollar. He's an effort and hard-work guy. He got me in here. So I'm just
    loving it. Just living a dream."

    If it doesn't work out, Calahan might start pursuing another dream - as the
    next super agent, or the next Jay Zygmunt. He already has his degree in
    economics, sports management and business management.

    Clifford Dukes: Spartan spirit

    Five years ago, Dukes and Rams quarterback Jeff Smoker entered Michigan State

    "I redshirted, so he left school a year before me," Dukes said. "We were
    actually suite-mates. Freshman...
    -08-24-2005, 04:51 AM
  • RamWraith
    Smoker wants to compete for the No. 2 QB job
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    After a season spent watching and learning, Jeff Smoker wants to compete for the Rams' No. 2 quarterback job in 2005.

    "I'm going to give it a shot," Smoker said. "I feel like I learned a lot this year. I'm going to keep trying to improve my skills in the offseason. I'm going to work hard at it, because I don't really like to sit on the bench. This is the first time I had to do it, and I don't really enjoy it. So I'm going to work hard at getting that No. 2 spot if I can."

    Of course, being the top backup guarantees nothing in terms of playing time. Then again, the Rams had to do without starter Marc Bulger for 2 3/4 games in December after he suffered a bruised throwing shoulder.

    Smoker threw 42 passes in preseason play, or six more than Bulger. But once the regular season started, Smoker was relegated to No. 3 status and never appeared in a game.

    Now that his rookie season's over, Smoker plans to take a couple of weeks off, and then return to St. Louis to work out, study the playbook and begin preparing for next season.

    At the moment, the No. 2 job appears up for grabs. Chris Chandler isn't expected back, and Jamie Martin's contract is up.

    Torry's take

    Wide receiver Torry Holt believes most of the pieces are in place for the Rams' offense to regain its place among the league's elite in 2005.

    "If we continue to patch up our O-line - getting guys healthy is the main thing up front," Holt said. "With the receivers we've got coming back and with Steven (Jackson). ... I think we have an offense that can put up some good numbers, can be effective, and can help this ballclub win games."

    As for any concerns about defense and special teams, Holt said, "I'm going to let the people upstairs handle that. I'm going to let the coaches handle that. It's obvious that we have to improve in those areas."

    Anderson's year

    Dwight Anderson displayed speed, athletic ability and enthusiasm, but he also made a lot of mistakes in his rookie season. Which explains why he was a pregame inactive for four of the Rams' final seven regular-season games, as well as both postseason contests.

    "It was disappointing, but it's a learning curve, too," Anderson said. "I got a chance to really be out there and really see it. Now I kind of understand what (the NFL) is like."

    Anderson, a native of Jamaica, made the Rams roster as an undrafted cornerback from South Dakota. Even with that missed time in the regular season, Anderson finished tied for fifth in special teams tackles with 10.

    He saw spot duty on defense in a few early-season games, and returned kickoffs against Miami on Oct. 24. Rams coaches see promise in Anderson,...
    -01-19-2005, 05:13 AM