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Free agents bring needed experience to Rams' roster ..

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  • Free agents bring needed experience to Rams' roster ..



    When free agency began in March, the Rams had just one player on their roster with 10 or more years of NFL experience — defensive end James Hall, who is preparing for his 11th season.

    That number has jumped with the free-agent additions of linebacker Na'il Diggs, 31; quarterback A.J. Feeley, 33; center-guard Hank Fraley, 32; defensive tackle Chris Hovan, 32; and defensive tackle Fred Robbins, 33. Like Hall, all are 10-year veterans.

    A little seasoning never hurts, particularly for a team as young as the Rams, general manager Billy Devaney pointed out.

    "We had made a concerted effort to get younger," Devaney said. "We just thought to have some guys blend in wasn't a bad idea, to get a couple of veterans in, as long as it was the right guy. We weren't going to just bring in older guys."

    Diggs is the favorite to start at strongside linebacker. Feeley for now is working with the No. 1 offense. Hovan and Robbins figure to mix into the rotation on the defensive line.

    Fraley's versatility makes him a valuable backup, although he isn't conceding anything at this point.

    "Everybody in this game wants to play, wants to start, but if the role is to step behind and help out where it's needed, I can definitely do that," Fraley said after the Rams' three-day minicamp wrapped up Saturday. "It's all about the team and what's best."

    The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Fraley originally signed with Pittsburgh as an undrafted rookie out of Robert Morris in 2000. He never made the Steelers' roster, but he latched on with Philadelphia, where he started 71 of the 72 games he appeared in over six seasons.

    Fraley spent the last four years in Cleveland. He was a full-time starter the first three, then moved into a reserve role last season. "I was like a half-backup," he said. "But I ended up playing a lot because of injuries."

    The experience that he and the other veteran free agents provide is vital, Fraley said.

    "You're not just talking about football; all the life experiences, too: how to handle yourself as a pro outside of the game," he said. "The guys they brought in, they're a class act, not just on the football field but off the football field.

    "I think it's just that leadership and experience you bring. I know that's what you'll get out of me."

    Veterans have an obligation, Fraley added, to help bring along the younger players.

    "I definitely try to act like the veterans did when I came into the league," he said. "When I came in, Dermontti Dawson was the center in Pittsburgh. He treated me with respect. Dermontti said, 'Hey, if you need help, come to me. I'll teach you.'

    "I try to pass that along. I think that's one of the reasons I'm still around playing."


    The left-arm injury that offensive lineman Mark Setterstrom suffered Friday has been diagnosed as a torn triceps. No decision has been made on whether he will have surgery.

    "Mark's not sure what he wants to do with it," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "We're kind of weighing our options right now. ... I feel bad for Mark, all the rehabbing he's gone through. He's just a tough guy and a quality guy."

    Setterstrom has come back from major injuries to both knees. He tore the same triceps muscle near the end of last season and had surgery.


    Defensive end Chris Long missed a second day of practice because of a death in his family. ... Organized team activities resume Tuesday. ... The first full-squad training camp practice will be July 31 at Rams Park.

Related Topics


  • MauiRam
    Fraley Finding Niche Fast ..
    by MauiRam
    Tuesday, May 25, 2010
    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    For a 10-year NFL veteran, the idea of putting on the pads and trudging through another long practice in the burgeoning summer heat might be less favorable than a visit to the dentist.

    For newly added offensive lineman Hank Fraley, there’s nowhere he’d rather be.

    “It’s a dream come true for me every year,” Fraley said. “So each year I treat it like it’s my first and it could be my last. I just love football and being around the guys and playing so I just try to bring that energy and if I am down, I hope there are guys I can lean on to get me up. But I try to be positive every day. It’s a job but it’s fun.”

    Fraley says he has been playing football since he was 6 and now, at 32, he still plays with the same childlike enthusiasm that has carried him through an accomplished NFL career.

    When the Rams went searching for some depth on the interior of their offensive line during the free agent signing period, they had hoped to find someone with the versatility to play all three interior spots.

    It was considered a bonus if they could find someone who combined that versatility with the experience and leadership skills to help out their many young linemen.

    Enter Fraley, who fit the bill and then some. On March 12, the Rams signed Fraley to a three-year contract after he spent the previous four seasons with Cleveland. The idea was to bring in someone capable of backing up Jason Brown at center and compete for a possible starting job at guard.

    In just a couple of months and four organized team activities, Fraley has already done much more than that, according to coach Steve Spagnuolo.

    “Here he is a veteran guy and he’s working with the second and third (team) once in a while and doesn’t complain one bit,” Spagnuolo said. “I will watch him rallying those young guys together like in the two minute drill, pumping guys up. We need that.”

    Not that Spagnuolo or offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is even remotely surprised by what Fraley brings to the table.

    In fact, it was the presence of Spagnuolo and Shurmur in St. Louis that helped sway Fraley from some other potential landing spots when he embarked on free agency.

    Fraley spent the first six years of his career in Philadelphia where Spagnuolo was coaching defensive backs and linebackers and Shurmur was tutoring quarterbacks.

    Although neither Spagnuolo nor Shurmur coached Fraley’s position, they both formed a relationship with the young lineman.

    “I had a good relationship with those guys even though they didn’t coach my position,” Fraley said. “I liked their attitude and I always felt they were great and would go somewhere and do bigger things and that’s what they are doing here. When I got here it was just like seeing those guys again was like...
    -05-26-2010, 09:15 PM
  • evil disco man
    Ojinnaka hopes versatility works to his advantage
    by evil disco man
    By Kathleen Nelson

    Despite being one of the newest members of the Rams and not having a position to call his own, offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka feels right at home in St. Louis.

    He's surrounded by familiar faces.

    Though he appeared in eight games with the New England Patriots last season, Ojinnaka spent the first four years of his career in Atlanta, where he was drafted in 2006 by Rams general manager Billy Devaney. He played there with guard Harvey Dahl and running back Jerious Norwood, whom the Rams signed this summer, and worked with Ted Crews, the Rams' senior director of communications.

    "I had calls from other places, but this seemed like a good fit," he said. "They signed Harvey a couple days before me and he liked it here. I had so many connections it was easy to feel comfortable."

    Ojinnaka, 27, has played center, guard and tackle in the Rams' first three preseason games and said the coaches told him to be ready to play at tackle Thursday, when the Rams face the Jacksonville Jaguars in the preseason finale.

    "Football is the same. It just depends on what the offensive coordinator calls the plays. They are similar schemes," Ojinnaka said of the Falcons' and Rams' offenses. "I pride myself on being versatile. Whatever way to help the team, I'll do it. I hope it pays off."

    Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said versatility in a backup lineman could help his cause when trimming the roster to 53.

    "It adds value to the team when the backup offensive linemen can play more than one position. We need that," Spagnuolo said. "We need someone who can play guard and center, guard and tackle. Typically, we've activated seven offensive linemen on game days, so those two (backup) guys have to do a number of things."

    Officially listed as a tackle, Ojinnaka said he would be happy to make the Rams at any of the three positions, or any combination thereof. Until then, his wife, Ebony, and son, Emmanuel King, wait in Atlanta and hope to make the move here shortly.

    "I feel good. I felt like I played well enough in the first three games to make the team," he said. "But at the end of the day, I don't make the call. Billy and Coach Spags do. Hopefully they see versatility as a good thing."


    Tight end Demarco Cosby has been glad to get his shot at the NFL close to home. An undrafted rookie out of Central Missouri, Cosby joined the Rams on Aug. 9 but has yet to make a catch in a preseason game.

    Cosby earned his chance with the Rams because of a stellar career at Central Missouri State, where he caught 110 passes for 1,483 yards and 15 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons.

    "It was a fun offense, really high-powered," he said.

    He ran a...
    -08-31-2011, 01:48 AM
  • MauiRam
    New Rams defenders have a lot to learn ..
    by MauiRam
    New Rams defenders have a lot to learn

    Thursday, August 18, 2011 12:15 am

    As the Rams reeled in one free agent defender after another, defensive coordinator Ken Flajole was more than just an innocent bystander. He led the cheers.

    "I waved my pompons and said, 'Thanks a bunch!'" Flajole said, laughing. "I cheered Billy (Devaney) on and said, 'Let's go!' It was great."

    Then he added, perhaps only half-joking, "I think it helps that we have a defensive-minded head coach. He's going to make sure that he helps us on our side."

    As it turned out, seven of the 12 veteran free agents signed by the Rams were defenders. So were five of the eight draft picks. That's a lot of players to integrate into a complex defensive scheme, and integrate quickly, particularly because four of the veteran free agents probably will end up starting. To help speed the adjustment process, the Rams have changed their approach during the defensive installation period.

    "It's forced us to maybe, I won't say water it down, but spend a little bit more time with each call from practice to practice instead of getting real aggressive with our installation," Flajole said. "Because we do have some new guys with us (who) are coming from different systems."

    In that sense, having a walk-through session nearly every morning during training camp — a byproduct of no longer having traditional two-a-days — has helped. Flajole said it has allowed the defense to "maybe spend a little more mental time, kind of having a meeting on the field, so to speak."

    The core of Rams defenders who are entering their third season in the scheme, players such as Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, are helping the newcomers get it down.

    "Something about this game of football, the players seem to learn better when other players teach them," said Steve Spagnuolo, the "defensive-minded" head coach. "I don't know what it is. That's not to take anything away from the coaching, but I think that helps the new guys coming in meshing with the system that we've had for three years. Hopefully it'll be a good result."

    It has not always been an easy adjustment. For most of the veteran newcomers, Wednesday marked only their 10th practice with the Rams (plus, of course, the preseason opener against Indianapolis). Linebacker Zac Diles, who spent his first four seasons with Houston, said his head was spinning early on.

    "First couple days was a rough stretch," Diles said. "But it's expected a little bit coming to a new system and trying to learn it. It's been interesting.

    "It's a little different than what we ran down in Houston. But as more and more days go by, and I get more reps, it's definitely becoming easier. I'm learning...
    -08-18-2011, 10:11 AM
  • MauiRam
    Chris Hovan adds experience to Rams defense ..
    by MauiRam
    By Bill Coats

    Ten years in the trenches of the NFL have taken their toll, new Rams defensive tackle Chris Hovan conceded. "I'm not walking right anymore," he said.

    His enthusiasm hasn't suffered similarly, though. "I'm still blessed to be playing football," he said. "I do still have a passion for this game, and I have two or three years left in this old body."

    The 6-foot-2, 296-pound Hovan, 32, signed a free-agent deal with the Rams and reported to the practice field Thursday for the start of a three-day minicamp.

    Originally a first-round choice by Minnesota (No. 25 overall), Hovan spent the last five seasons with Tampa Bay. He became expendable when the Buccaneers took defensive tackles Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma and Brian Price of UCLA with their first two draft picks in April

    "That's just the nature of the business," Hovan said. "I didn't take any offense to it; it's not personal. One door closes, and I'm just grateful that another door opened here in St. Louis."

    Hovan joins a defensive line that now features a couple of more veterans to mix in with a group of youngsters. Earlier during free agency, the Rams brought in tackle Fred Robbins, 33. He also was drafted by the Vikings in 2000 (second round, No. 55 overall).

    "That has been a little bit by design," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "I think on most of these successful teams in this league, usually at every position they have somebody with some experience, a leader, a good example. We've got that kind of filtered in now."

    Hovan might have as big an impact in the locker room as he will on the field, Spagnuolo noted. "He's played a lot of football. He's a tough nut," Spagnuolo said.

    No matter what role the Rams carve out for him, Hovan vowed that he'd embrace it.

    "Whatever Coach Spagnuolo asks of me, I'm there to do," he said. "If it's a role player, that's fine. How many reps doesn't really matter to me. Whatever situation that he calls upon, I'll be there for Coach."

    Hovan, a former Boston College All-American who has started 149 of 156 games in the NFL, had opportunities with other teams after his release. He called the Rams "the best fit for me," largely because of their approach on defense.

    "Last year I didn't have my best year," he acknowledged. "I played a two-gap defense, and I played a little bit heavier. That's not my style. I'm a 300- to 305-pound guy, and I get up the field.

    "I think this defense suits me a little bit better. It's an attacking defense, relentless pursuit. I think once I get acclimated to what we're doing, I'll be more comfortable and ready to make some plays."

    The Rams will...
    -06-11-2010, 10:02 AM
  • MauiRam
    Long shots are working hard to earn a job with Rams
    by MauiRam

    With the current 90-man roster limit, there are nearly 2,900 players working in the NFL right now. Even if you include practice squad players, that number shrinks by more than 900 when the final roster cuts are made in three weeks.

    That's tough math for the young and the unproven, particularly those who weren't drafted. But there's always hope of beating the odds. It happens every year all around the NFL.

    There may be no greater example than the 1999 Rams. They won Super Bowl XXXIV over Tennessee with a 53-man roster that included 18 undrafted players — or one in every three. Among the undrafted were linebackers Mike Jones and London Fletcher, defensive tackle D'Marco Farr and some guy named Kurt Warner.

    As the Rams close in on their 2012 preseason opener, here's our annual look at a few roster long shots chasing that dream.

    DT Matthew Conrath

    It may be a stretch to say Conrath idolizes defensive end Chris Long, but he certainly looks up to him. Conrath was in his first year at the University of Virginia when Long was a star senior for the Cavaliers.

    "Basically, I'd just be watching him during the games," said Conrath, who played the same position as Long at the time. "He had a great senior year, and he's continued it here."

    The relationship continued after the Rams made Long the No. 2 overall selection in the 2008 draft.

    "He's had a place out in Charlottesville, so he would come back during the summers and stuff," Conrath said. "So I've always kept in contact with him. I was always able to bounce questions I had off him. He's always been a mentor for me."

    And now, here they are on the same roster once again after the Rams signed Conrath as an undrafted free agent 3˝ months ago. Conrath has opened some eyes the first couple weeks of camp, getting reps with the starting defensive line — particularly in the nickel.

    "He's an interesting guy," said one member of the coaching staff.

    Another team official was asked if Conrath's early play was surprising.

    "No," came the reply. "We targeted him."

    The Rams went after rookie free agents this year with the kind of gusto not seen in these parts for a while. Not only did the team invest $75,000 in signing bonus money on undrafted rookies — the maximum amount allowed by the league that doesn't count against the rookie pool — the team committed an additional $27,500 in guaranteed money on rookie free agents.

    There was a time several years ago when the Rams didn't spend a cent on signing bonuses for undrafted rookies. A $5,000 or $10,000 bonus may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but it can be the difference between a player signing with your team or another.

    Conrath, who said...
    -08-09-2012, 02:16 AM