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Rams Scramble At Linebacker

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  • Rams Scramble At Linebacker

    Rams scramble at linebacker

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    The Rams have had a revolving door at the weakside linebacker position since the Carolina game on Halloween. Beginning with that 20-10 victory over the Panthers, four Rams players started at the position over a five-game span.

    Bryan Kehl started against Carolina, followed by Chris Chamberlain the next two games, then back to Larry Grant (who had started the first seven games of the season), and then David Vobora this past Sunday in Arizona.

    That chaos was partly an indication of good competition but mainly a reflection of the fact that coach Steve Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole were searching for answers at the position.

    Now there could be double the chaos. Following the season-ending torn pectoral muscle suffered by strongside linebacker Na'il Diggs against Arizona, the Rams must find starters at both outside linebacker positions. Only the middle linebacker spot, manned by James Laurinaitis, remains a rock of stability.

    In Diggs, the Rams are not only losing a starter, they're losing experience. Lots of it. Diggs, who's scheduled to undergo surgery Friday, is a veteran of 139 NFL starts.

    "It's real hard to recover from losing a guy like Diggs," Grant said. " 'Diggsy' meant a lot to us in our linebacker room. He was basically our heart and soul. Him being the crafty vet that he is, he knows all the right things to tell us to get us ready for the game.

    "During pregame and preparing for the game, when everybody needs something to talk about or needs some help doing anything, they just go to 'Diggsy' because he always had the answer."

    In Chamberlain, Grant, Kehl, and Vobora — plus David Nixon, who was promoted from the practice squad to fill Diggs' roster spot — the Rams have five outside linebackers with a combined 24 NFL starts.

    All are young in the league, and none has much pedigree. Kehl was a fourth-round draft pick, but Chamberlain, Grant and Vobora were seventh-rounders, and Nixon was undrafted. Nixon entered the league in 2009; the four others came in in 2008.

    They must grow up in a hurry. The Rams are 6-6, in the middle of a playoff race, and travel to New Orleans this week to face the defending Super Bowl champions and their high-octane offense.

    "We don't have any time to feel sorry for ourselves or anything," Vobora said. "We've got to keep going and pick it up where (Diggs) left off and not miss a beat. So that's what I'm concentrating on."

    So are the rest of the outside linebackers.

    "We're all competitors," Grant said. "And we know that every day we come out here you've got to compete if you want to play. With Diggs going down everybody knows if you want to be out there on the field, you've got to step it up even more than what you've been doing."

    Rams coaches have two more practice days to sort through their options at the strongside and weakside positions. But at face value, the most logical starting combination would be Vobora at strongside linebacker — where he started 10 times in '09 — and either Chamberlain or Grant at the weakside position.

    Chamberlain has better coverage skills than Grant, so he makes more sense against a pass-happy team such as the Saints. But complicating matters is the fact that Chamberlain suffered a right hand injury against Arizona.

    "He's got a little small fracture in there," Spagnuolo said. "It's painful for him, but he's got it casted. I asked him during practice (Wednesday); he seemed to be OK. He said every day it gets a little bit better."

    The hand injury came just as Chamberlain was knocking the rust off following a five-game absence because of a fractured toe.

    "It's different once you're back out there, getting your eyes right, your feet, just getting the reads back down, and being able to play at the speed you need to," Chamberlain said. "So when I first got back out there in practice, I could definitely tell I had missed some time."

    A bit undersized at 6-1, 230, Chamberlain nonetheless is a dependable player who doesn't make a lot of mistakes.

    Vobora doesn't wow you with athletic ability, but he's a smart, physical player. After losing his starting job to Diggs this season, he has another opportunity.

    "It absolutely is a perfect opportunity," Vobora said. "This game is all about just taking each opportunity and making the most of it. That's what I was able to do in my first two years and I'm going to continue to do it this year."

    Opportunity also could be knocking for Grant and Kehl. Grant is an aggressive, physical player but needs to work on being assignment sound and being consistent in his play. Kehl has gone from being a starter against Carolina to being inactive against Arizona. But with Diggs out, Kehl could at least have a special teams role against the Saints.

Related Topics


  • r8rh8rmike
    Linebackers Look To Fill Void
    by r8rh8rmike
    Linebackers Look to Fill Void
    By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer

    As they prepared to take their places with the first team defense at the strong and weak side linebacker positions in Wednesday’s practice, David Vobora and Chris Chamberlain couldn’t help but think about how far they’d come since they entered the league as seventh round draft choices nearly three seasons ago.

    “We actually got a laugh in pre-practice about that today,” Vobora said. “We came in as seventh rounders together and we both have focused on working and making the most of our opportunities. That’s what we will try to continue to do.”

    After placing injured starting strong side linebacker Na’il Diggs on injured reserve Tuesday, the Rams promoted David Nixon from the practice squad to fill the void.

    In the process, the Rams are now searching for a replacement for Diggs and someone to step in on the side opposite him as well. While no final decision has been made, Vobora and Chamberlain got the first crack at filling those roles with Vobora sliding over from the weak side to the strong side and Chamberlain jumping back in on the weak side.

    Diggs was present at Wednesday’s practice and there’s little doubt the Rams would like to have his knowledge and experience available as a resource for their young linebackers the rest of the season. He’s scheduled to have surgery on torn pectoral Friday.

    “He’s a veteran,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “He wants to be a part of it. He doesn’t want to all of a sudden check out. He’s a pro.”

    Vobora and Chamberlain are also pros, pros who have almost three full years in the league, a proud accomplishment for guys who entered the league as seventh-round picks in the 2008 NFL Draft.

    And while both Vobora and Chamberlain have been given opportunities to play in the defense, both have been able to stick around behind strong performances on special teams and providing depth at the three linebacker spots.

    For Vobora, the chance to fill in for Diggs on the strong side shouldn’t provide too many tricks along the way.

    In two full seasons and 12 games this season, Vobora has started 12 of 32 career games. He got his first start of the season and the first of his career on the weak side last week, giving him starts at each of the three linebacker positions.

    This week, it appears Vobora will be going back to the spot where he has made the majority (10) of those starts, the strong side.

    In his 12 games last year, Vobora posted 41 tackles, a pass defended and a forced fumble. Because of that experience, Vobora says he does feel a bit more relaxed back on the strong side.

    “I have probably done it more so I maybe feel a little more comfortable,” Vobora said. “Both are pretty similar. They both have their same things on the outside so you hear coach say if you know the SAM...
    -12-08-2010, 07:41 PM
  • MauiRam
    Vobora works to regain spot, clear name ..
    by MauiRam

    To say the Rams' David Vobora has had an eventful year would be akin to saying the Gulf of Mexico has a small oil problem. Since training camp last year, Vobora:

    — Earned a starting job at strongside linebacker to begin his second NFL season.

    — Was suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, costing him $90,588 in salary.

    — Regained his first-team assignment after being reinstated.
    Click here to find out more!

    — Filed a suit in federal court against the company that provided the tainted workout supplement.

    — Was demoted after the Rams signed free-agent linebacker Na'il Diggs and assigned him to the top strongside spot.

    Throughout it all, Vobora has remained resolutely philosophical.

    "My whole football career, from high school on into the pros, I kind of feel like I've sort of been behind the 8-ball. It's been an uphill battle," he said. "But I wouldn't want it any other way. That's what I'm all about, proving people wrong. And that's what I've got to do again."

    In the courtroom, Vobora wants to prove that he wasn't at fault. His agent said that before taking the tainted supplement, Vobora called an NFL hot line, read off the ingredients, and was told that none would produce a positive test.

    Although he's seeking compensation for the salary he forfeited, Vobora stressed that money isn't the motivating factor. Clearing his name is.

    "Vindication's the No. 1 thing," he said. "Lost wages is lost wages."

    On the field, Vobora wants to prove that he's still worthy of a starting role, regardless of the competition from Diggs or anyone else. "My approach stays the same: no matter who that guy is, beat him," he said.

    Vobora has overcome long odds before. He was the 2008 draft's "Mr. Irrelevant" — the last player among 252 selected. The University of Idaho product stuck with the club, on the practice squad at first.

    He moved up to the 53-man active roster in October and wound up playing in eight games, with one start. He won a first-team spot in training camp last year and was among the Rams' leaders in tackles after the first three games.

    Then came the suspension, keeping him out of action until mid-November. Now, he's battling again to carve out a role for himself. He's been working mostly at middle linebacker this spring, behind James Laurinaitis.

    "He's settled in and kind of concentrated just at 'mike' linebacker," coach Steve Spagnuolo noted. "But I think any of the so-called backup linebackers have to be able to play more than one (position). So somewhere along the way you'll see him play some outside linebacker, too."...
    -06-17-2010, 08:32 AM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Vobora Steps Into Starting Role
    by r8rh8rmike
    Vobora Steps Into Starting Role
    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    Officially, linebacker David Vobora’s reign as Mr. Irrelevant ended this year when the Kansas City Chiefs selected kicker Ryan Succop with the final pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.

    Vobora probably erased any doubt when he made the start at middle linebacker on Nov. 30 of last season against Miami. But any lingering suspicion was erased Thursday afternoon when Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo named Vobora the team’s starting strong side linebacker for this week’s opener in Seattle.

    “We hope this year in 2009, he’s Mr. Relevant,” defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. “Only time will tell but again he’s done a good job. I am pleased he is getting an opportunity to show what he can do. I’m sure he is too. Hopefully he will just take it and run.”

    Vobora’s promotion comes on the same day the Rams parted ways with incumbent Chris Draft. The Rams released Draft earlier on Thursday morning but the opportunity for Vobora to make his impression has long since been in the making.

    Way back in the organized team activities and minicamps in the spring, Vobora was part of a combination with fellow linebacker Larry Grant working at the strong side position.

    As rookie James Laurinaitis got acclimated with the NFL game and worked with the second team in the middle, Draft worked with the starters and Vobora took turns with Grant on the outside, literally trading days working with the first team.

    While Laurinaitis earned the starting job early in camp, Vobora continued to make a strong impression on the coaches.

    “David has really been doing a heck of a job,” Spagnuolo said. “He had stepped up there; there was a chance that would happen anyway. David will step right in there and hopefully we won’t skip a beat.”

    Upon his arrival as head coach in St. Louis, Spagnuolo had talked about how there were plenty of opportunities for young players to prove themselves.

    And one way to catch the coach’s eye was evident from the very beginning. Any player with the versatility to play multiple positions would be given a long look by the coaching staff.

    “He’s one of those guys and I have said this about a lot of guys with the versatility, he’s played some MIC and he’s been out there playing outside linebacker,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s picked both up pretty good, he’s understanding the system and he’s made plays. So you slide him over there to SAM and hopefully he’ll continue to make plays.”

    Vobora spent most of his time at the University of Idaho playing weak side linebacker but also made starts in the middle. When he arrived in St. Louis last year, Vobora spent his time bouncing among the three positions.

    When injuries struck during the season, Vobora’s role on special...
    -09-10-2009, 07:56 PM
  • RamFan_Til_I_Die
    Vobora now seen as relevant for Rams
    by RamFan_Til_I_Die
    By Bill Coats

    A year ago at this time, Rams linebacker David Vobora was irrelevant, as in "Mr. Irrelevant," the last player taken in the draft. On the afternoon of April 26, Vobora relinquished that title to former South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop, a Kansas City Chiefs selection in the final spot this year.

    Vobora acknowledged experiencing mixed feelings: He's not unhappy to jettison what some might regard as an ignominious label, but he conceded that he "had a blast" during the Irrelevant Week festivities last June in Newport Beach, Calif.

    "And you know what? (The distinction helped) get me here," Vobora said. "So, I'm proud to have been Mr. Irrelevant."

    Vobora and Chris Chamberlain came to town last year under nearly identical circumstances: Both were linebackers, both were seventh-round draft picks (Chamberlain at No. 228 overall, Vobora at No. 252), both were assigned to the same room at the team hotel during spring workouts, and both faced stiff odds of landing roster spots.

    "We definitely got close through that, helping each other learn the defense and sticking together as seventh-rounders," Vobora said this week during organized team activities at Rams Park.

    "It was fun, helping each other study, quizzing each other, asking each other questions," Chamberlain added. "It was pretty special for us both to be able to make the team and contribute last year."

    Chamberlain, a 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from the University of Tulsa, and Vobora, a 6-1, 238-pound Idaho product, no longer room together — Chamberlain married Amy Wilcox, his high school sweetheart from tiny Bethany, Okla., in March. "But I still try to sneak over there and get some dinner at their house — when she's cooking," Vobora quipped.

    And yet their circumstances haven't changed all that much: Both of them are battling to keep the jobs they earned last year.

    "This year, it's a whole new deal. I'm out here fighting for my spot, like everyone else is," Chamberlain said. "Whether it be on special teams or being able to help on defense, I just want to contribute and hopefully earn one of those 53 jobs."

    During the offseason, the Rams lost two linebackers — Pisa Tinoisamoa was released and Gary Stills wasn't re-signed — and gained second-round draft pick James Laurinaitis. They also brought in undrafted rookies Dominic Douglas and K.C. Asiodu.

    Will Witherspoon moves to weakside linebacker, with Laurinaitis expected to take over in the middle, at Witherspoon's former spot. Versatile veteran Chris Draft is penciled in on the strong side, but the Rams like having him available to back up all three positions.

    So the competition for the third starting job "is a wide-open...
    -05-29-2009, 08:05 AM
  • RamWraith
    Young LBs Making Progress
    by RamWraith
    Tuesday, August 12, 2008
    By Brett Grassmuck
    Staff Writer

    As their first training camp winds to a close, rookie linebackers Chris Chamberlain and David Vobora are starting to settle in to life in the NFL.

    While they’re not superstars by any means, both Chamberlain and Vobora have an opportunity to land on the Rams final 53-man roster when it’s all said and done.

    “It’s going well,” Vobora said. “Both Chamberlain and myself have had a lot of opportunities to step in and get a lot of reps at linebacker. Things are starting to slow down a little bit and we’re getting a feel for things.”

    The Rams used the seventh round of this year’s NFL Draft to bolster their depth at linebacker. They selected Chamberlain at 228th overall and Vobora at 252nd overall, the final selection of the draft.

    Their timing couldn’t have been better in terms of landing a final roster spot. As it stands, they are two of nine players vying for six, maybe seven linebacker positions on the final roster.

    The nine linebackers includes starters Will Witherspoon, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Chris Draft and Quinton Culberson who has split starting time with Draft. Those four are all but assured roster spots, so that leaves at maximum three spots open for Chamberlain, Vobora, second-year linebacker Tim McGarigle and rookies Marc Magro, out of West Virginia, and Marcus Riley, out of Fresno State.

    “It’s a perfect opportunity,” Vobora said. “You couldn’t ask for a better fit whether you were drafted in the second round or the seventh round.”

    Chamberlain’s play has been noticed by the coaching staff more than once during training camp, most recently during the Rams preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans.

    Rams coach Scott Linehan noted Chamberlains pass coverage skills and ability to play in space, comparing him to Tinoisamoa.

    “I feel like that is one of my strong points is that I’m athletic enough to cover the backs out and those slot receivers and do stuff like that,” Chamberlain said. “It’s great for me and the defense we run is essentially man to man so I feel like that has really helped me.”

    Chamberlain has primarily been playing the weakside, or WIL, linebacker position, which is a good fit for the rookie. The WIL linebacker does a lot of things similar to the safety position, which will allow Chamberlain to utilize his pass coverage skills.

    “He’s getting to be a pretty good space player,” Linehan said. “He matches up well in those regular personnel groupings that teams like (the Titans) do, where you have to get a linebacker out (to cover) a tight end or (receiver).”

    The 4-3 defensive scheme that the Rams run is completely new to Chamberlain as Tulsa ran a 3-3-5 defense. The Rams 4-3 scheme utilizes four defensive lineman and four defensive backs, where the 3-3-5 uses an extra defensive...
    -08-13-2008, 01:03 PM