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Rookies Rise To The Challenge For Rams

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  • Rookies Rise To The Challenge For Rams

    Rookies rise to the challenge for Rams

    Posted: Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    As the Rams left the practice field late Saturday morning, with the deadline for roster cuts only hours away, running back Keith Toston was beyond nervous.

    "I was scared," Toston said. "My head was like on a swivel. You could see those guys."

    By "those guys," Toston meant the members of the Rams' scouting department who tell you that the boss wants to see you, and bring your playbook. In NFL lore, "those guys" are known as the Turk.

    "We know exactly what guys come in here and get players out," Toston said.

    And in a brief moment of fear Saturday, Toston said they were looking at him.

    "I looked at 'em back," Toston said. "But they didn't say nothing."

    Toston, a running back from Oklahoma State, never got that tap on the shoulder. For at least the immediate future, he's safe on the 53-man roster. After a slow start in training camp that included some lost time due to a concussion, Toston improved steadily as the preseason progressed.

    "I might have started out slow for the first couple preseason games, didn't feel like I did the best that I could," Toston said. "But I felt I got better every game."

    He scored a touchdown in the third preseason game against New England, and carried 10 times for 47 yards in the finale against Baltimore. He finished as the Rams' leading preseason rusher with 127 yards on 39 carries, albeit for a modest 3.3 yards a carry.

    Toston credits running backs coach Sylvester Croom for his improvement, "just by pushing me in practice."

    Of the three players competing for backup spots behind starter Steven Jackson, Toston looks like the most natural runner. He and Kenneth Darby performed well enough that they survived the weekend cuts, with Chris Ogbonnaya getting released.

    There's no doubt the Rams will continue to look for upgrades at running back. Which means there's no guarantee that Toston will have a lengthy stay in St. Louis. But as an undrafted rookie, the former all-Big 12 selection already has beaten the odds.

    "Any time a team or teams feel like you're not good enough to be drafted, most players take it as a challenge," Toston said. "There's only 53 spots on a team, and sometimes the best guy, or the guy that may be a little better, is not drafted. Because in the whole draft situation, you can't measure the size of a player's heart."

    In that sense, Toston has plenty of company on the Rams' roster. In a normal year, maybe one or two undrafted rookies make a team's roster. Some years none make it at all. But five undrafted rookies survived the weekend cuts at Rams Park: Toston, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, wide receiver Dominique Curry, defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo, and safety Dorian Stewart.

    On one level, it's an indication that the Rams have plenty of holes on their roster. But it also shows that the team's personnel department did their homework.

    "That's a credit to those guys, and all the work they do right after the draft is over," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "But those players earned it. That's not easy to do in this league, in this landscape, to come in undrafted and make it."

    Nine of the Rams' 11 draft picks from last April also survived the weekend cuts. So that means there are a whopping 14 rookies on the 53-man roster — or slightly more than one in four players.

    "You didn't tell Spags that, did you?" general manager Billy Devaney joked.

    Actually, yes.

    "Until you guys started throwing out these numbers, I hadn't even thought about it," Spagnuolo told reporters. "Honestly, I didn't put the roster together, look at it, and say, 'OK how many seniors, juniors, and freshman do we have?' I didn't do that. It is what it is. We kept what we felt were the best football players, both for now and for the future."

    Stewart, the safety from South Carolina, may not have made it if safety Kevin Payne had stayed healthy. But Payne, acquired in post-draft trade with Chicago, suffered a knee injury in the preseason finale and was placed on the injured reserve list.

    Like Toston, Stewart improved as camp progressed and flashed good tackling skill against the Ravens. Stewart may be on the game-day roster Sunday against Arizona, particularly with James Butler's availability questionable because of a knee injury.

    "My approach was to get better every day," Stewart said. "Everything happens so fast (in the NFL), I had to get caught up on the tempo a little bit. Everything's slowing down for me now."

    The only way Lewis will play this season is if disaster strikes, meaning both Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley are sidelined with injuries. But Lewis registered a noteworthy upset in the preseason, winning the No. 3 quarterback job from Keith Null, who started four games last season.

    Lewis knew something was up Saturday morning when Null was missing in the quarterbacks' meeting room. But he didn't rest easy until Spagnuolo came in and told the three remaining QBs they had made the club. "Since it came from the boss' mouth, I knew it was official," Lewis said.

  • #2
    Re: Rookies Rise To The Challenge For Rams

    nice post, thanks for this!


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    • Nick
      Darby remains Rams' No. 2 running back
      by Nick
      Darby remains Rams' No. 2 running back
      BY BILL COATS • Posted: Saturday, September 11, 2010 12:15 am

      The offseason buzz made its way to Kenneth Darby: The Rams must bring in a No. 2 running back. Either draft one or pick up a free agent. But get somebody.

      Darby, who filled that role behind Steven Jackson last year, was unperturbed by the pleas.

      "Naw, naw," he said, laughing. "If anything, it just gave me more of that hunger to work harder and prove people wrong, show people what I can do."

      The Rams made a push to sign free agent Brian Westbrook, but he wound up in San Francisco. Then they gave Chris Ogbonnaya, a seventh-round draft pick last year, the first opportunity to earn the job. After teams trimmed their rosters last weekend, the Rams scoured the waiver wire. They signed Allen Patrick but assigned him to the practice squad.

      So as the Rams head into Sunday's regular-season opener against Arizona, Darby is back in his familiar slot, where he gained 140 yards on 32 carries last season. Keith Toston, an undrafted rookie from Oklahoma State, is the other running back on the 53-man roster. Ogbonnaya was released after an unproductive preseason showing.

      A healthy Jackson will get a heavy workload. He had 375 touches — 324 carries and 51 receptions — last year in 15 games. But Jackson is coming off back surgery in April, and the Rams have to prepare for all possibilities.

      "We're fine there," coach Steve Spagnuolo. "You're not going to have at all 22 positions a 1 and a 1A; there's just not enough spots for that. But we've got two solid running backs there that we think can get it done should something happen to Steven."

      The 5-foot-10, 219-pound Darby, a fourth-year pro out of Alabama, had a sluggish start to the preseason, averaging just 3.1 yards a carry in the first two games. But in the last two, he picked up 74 yards on 19 attempts, a 3.9 average.

      Darby said that when he changed his thinking, he changed his production.

      "My mind-set coming into this preseason was getting the No. 2 spot. And I guess I was just thinking about that too much instead of playing my game," he said. "I just said, 'Forget it, just relax, Darby, play your game and let the game come to you.' And that's exactly what I did. I relaxed and started playing my game."

      Toston, 5-11 and 214, was the team's leading rusher in the preseason, with 127 yards on 39 carries, a 3.3 average.

      "Toston has really come on — showed he had a little burst," Spagnuolo said. "I like that he's a north-and-south runner."

      Beating the odds and making the team "is a dream," Toston said. Now he's eager to get into a regular-season game.

      "Any time you're in this business, you want to play," Toston...
      -09-11-2010, 12:24 AM
    • MauiRam
      Player Profile: Keith Toston ..
      by MauiRam
      By Nick Wagoner
      Senior Writer

      Heading in to April’s NFL Draft, running back Keith Toston had plenty of hope that he’d be drafted.

      While Toston wasn’t certain of his status, he’d been told he’d likely land somewhere in the middle rounds after a strong senior season at Oklahoma State.

      When that didn’t come to fruition, Toston began sifting through his options for the place that could potentially provide him the best chance to land on a roster. That search ended in St. Louis, as Toston signed a free agent contract with the Rams on April 25.

      “I was told I’d be a fifth round pick,” Toston said. “I had several teams talking to me while the draft was going on. It ended up not working out the way I wanted it to but I have a great chance here so I am trying to take it and run with it.”

      In what figures to be one of the more interesting position battles when training camp opens at the end of the month, Toston likely will be one of a handful of running backs competing for a presumed two spots behind starter Steven Jackson.

      The Rams were unable to add any other backs during the offseason and have Kenneth Darby and Chris Ogbonnaya in place already behind Jackson. With Jackson nursing a back injury during the offseason program, Toston was able to get plenty of opportunities to make an impression, though he was asked to do it without the use of pads.

      Still, by the time the offseason program was complete, Toston was certain that he had made the right choice for his career.

      “I had several (teams) that I felt like I would fit in real well with,” Toston said. “I spoke with coach (Sylvester) Croom several times on draft day and prior to that I had spoke with him a lot of times so I had a good feel for him. I felt this was my best opportunity to make the 53 man roster and try to help this ballclub out.”

      Adjusting to the rigors of the NFL isn’t easy for any rookie coming into a new situation. He must learn a new system and adjust to the speed of the game all while trying to fit into a new locker room.

      The hardest part of the process according to Toston is learning the nuances of a new offense.

      “It’s a learning experience,” Toston said. “Terminology is totally different and the competition is a little higher out here. You have to try to learn as much as you can but still move full speed when you are out there on the field. They have gone pretty good. It’s tough getting in and learning all the plays and everything but I feel that I am doing fairly well.”
      Toston estimated that he spent about 15 hours out of every day either in a meeting, on the practice field, in the weight room or studying in his room. That extra study time is divvied up between retaining the information that’s already been grasped and trying to embrace anything new that has been thrown out him.

      Of course, the real...
      -07-08-2010, 10:34 AM
    • r8rh8rmike
      End Is Near For 21 Players
      by r8rh8rmike
      End is near for 21


      In terms of roster moves, what took place Tuesday at Rams Park was mere appetizer. The main course is at hand, and it's never a pleasant time of year for players or coaches in the National Football League.

      Teams must be down to the regular-season roster limit of 53 players by 3 p.m. local time Saturday. In St. Louis, that means 21 of the 74 players currently on the Rams' roster will be out of jobs. For some, tonight's preseason finale against Kansas City at the Edward Jones Dome will be the last game of their careers.

      "Let's face it, you're talking about lives and jobs," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "It's not going to be a very enjoyable thing to do. But it's a necessary thing in the league."

      Spagnuolo hopes to personally inform every player who is being released.

      "Now sometimes, when there's a lot of guys rolling out there, you don't get to everybody," Spagnuolo said. "But I'd like to be able to do that. ... Or somebody from the organization. I think that's the right way to do it."

      The final say on the 53-man roster belongs to Spagnuolo. But he will get plenty of input from general manager Billy Devaney, the coaching staff and the scouting department.

      "We use all our resources," Spagnuolo said. "And then we'll sit down and make a hard decision on which ways we will go. If we get down to where we can't (decide), maybe we go back to the scouts and back to the coaches and say, 'Just give us a little bit more on this and that.' "

      Obviously, performance in preseason games is a major determining factor for less-established players competing for roster spots. But Spagnuolo says he's factoring in everything. How a player practices. Does he pay attention in the meeting room? Does he sneak out of the weight room early?

      All of that tells him something about a player, and could tip a close decision one way or another.

      With a new coaching staff, lots of new players, and a cleansing throughout the organization, Spagnuolo has told players that Rams Park is the land of opportunity. Jobs are there for the taking. But the window of opportunity is closing, making these tense times for players on the fringe of the roster.

      "I was talking to my roommate (Phil Trautwein), who is a rookie," running back Samkon Gado said. "And I just told him if you're going to play in this league, you've got to be prepared to be cut. I've been cut I think six or seven times in five years. It's just the nature of the beast.

      "You do the best that you can. And a lot of times, it's not really up to you. It's not really how well you played or how poorly you played. It's just there's not a need for you. So I think the best thing to do is just...
      -09-03-2009, 11:50 AM
    • MauiRam
      Rams Finish Preseason Practices ..
      by MauiRam
      Posted >Tue, August 31, 2010 01:00
      by Nick Wagoner

      - The Rams just finished their final practice of the preseason and preparation for Thursday night's game against Baltimore at the Edward Jones Dome.

      - The deadline was today to get down to 75 players and the Rams made their final roster move official in placing Phil Trautwein on the waived/injured list. Coach Steve Spagnuolo indicated that the move allows for some flexibility should the Rams want to bring Trautwein back later on.

      - For those that don't remember, Trautwein has a MCL injury that is expected to keep him out for another five to seven weeks.

      - On the injury front, receiver Keenan Burton has some knee swelling and was held out of practice.

      - End George Selvie returned to work on a limited basis. So, too, did linebacker David Vobora.

      - Spagnuolo said the starting unit would play "about" 15 snaps against the Ravens though he said that could change based on how things are going. He also said there would be some temptation to have rookie QB Sam Bradford go a bit longer than the rest of the 1's but that nothing was for certain yet.

      - RB Steven Jackson and Spagnuolo were scheduled to discuss whether he would player after the practice. Most indications point to Jackson sitting this one out.

      - While Ken Darby and Chris Ogbonnaya have both worked with the top offensive line, Keith Toston remains the only RB that hasn't. But Spagnuolo said Toston wouldn't likely get that chance against Baltimore. Still, he did indicate there'd be a heavy workload for Toston to plead his case one more time.

      - The Rams have a walk through tomorrow with Thursday night's preseason game ready to wrap up the exhibition slate.
      -08-31-2010, 02:15 PM
    • ZiaRam
      Sorting Out the 53
      by ZiaRam
      By Howard Balzer

      It's over now, the preseason that is. In a dizzying 35 days, the Rams signed 12 unrestricted free agents, installed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' system, and went undefeated in their four practice games.

      Thursday night's 24-17 victory over Jacksonville doesn't mean much in the scheme of things, but it's sure better to win than lose.

      Most important, this team escaped the summer without major injuries except for cornerback Jerome Murphy's broken ankle, and appears primed to open the season on Sept. 11 at home against the Philadelphia Eagles' self-proclaimed "Dream Team."

      Those Eagles are currently starting one offensive lineman that is the same from last season (left tackle Jason Peters), and they have only four starting defensive players from last season in the same spots, and they are playing a new defense.

      There is also a rookie kicker and rookie punter. We won't get ahead of ourselves too much here, because there will be plenty of time next week to devote to dissecting this tantalizing matchup, but this game looks far less daunting now than it did when the schedule was announced in April.

      This is a prime opportunity for the Rams to make a statement that they don't view the first seven games as difficult as most believe. Yes, there are four games against 2010 playoff teams - Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans and Baltimore - that had a combined record of 43-21 last season. And the 10-6 New York Giants will host the Rams on Monday Night Football in Week 2.

      But if there's one thing coach Steve Spagnuolo does consistently, it's have his team focused on one thing: the next game. And now, that game is against the Eagles, and it doesn't matter what follows. Of course, Spagnuolo has been planning for the opener for a while.

      Asked after Thursday night's game when he will start thinking about the Eagles, he said, "Two weeks ago." Truth be known, it was probably longer than that.

      However, before preparations truly begin on Monday, there is the matter of getting the roster down to 53 players, and signing an eight-player practice squad.

      This will be no easy task. By my count, there are 63 players anyone could make a case for being on the opening-day roster, and that doesn't include wide receiver Mark Clayton, who is expected to begin the season on reserve/physically unable to perform.

      For now, some of the decisions are easier because there aren't many injuries, and loading up at certain positions won't be necessary because of that. The difference in players that make it and those that don't will often be determined by how many players are retained at each position.

      Quarterback: Two or three? Thaddeus Lewis has earned a roster spot, but the third quarterback rarely plays. If he isn't on the roster, another position player can be kept. Let's stop the talk now...
      -09-02-2011, 11:34 AM