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  • Rams' Talent Upgrade Is Showing

    Rams' talent upgrade is showing

    BY JIM THOMAS
    Monday, September 5, 2011

    August 13, 2011 -- Rams quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is tackled by Indianapolis defensive tackle DeMario Pressley during a preseason game between the St. Louis Rams and the Indianapolis Colts. (Chris Lee / [email protected])
    It hasn't been the case for years, but suddenly Rams leftovers are appetizing to other NFL teams.

    Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis (Cleveland Browns), wide receiver Mardy Gilyard (New York Jets) and defensive end George Selvie (Carolina Panthers) were claimed on waivers by other teams Sunday after being released a day earlier by St. Louis.

    In addition, two veterans who were knocked out of the Rams' heated linebacker competition also found new homes. Na'il Diggs, who was released Aug. 29, signed Saturday with San Diego. Zac Diles, who was released Saturday, signed Sunday with Tampa Bay.

    Back in the days when the team was going 1-15, 2-14, etc., getting cut by the Rams might be a career dead-end. Apparently, times are changing and the talent level on the roster is increasing.

    "Well, yeah, that is a little bit different, isn't it?" general manager Billy Devaney said. "I guess that is kind of an indication (of better talent). We wish that wasn't the case on a couple of those guys."

    That was particularly true with Lewis, whom the Rams hoped to sneak onto their practice squad once he cleared waivers. But the Browns, coached by former Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, had other ideas.

    "We were hoping he wasn't claimed, but we fully understood that he played good enough in the preseason where I know he opened some people's eyes," Devaney said. "And Pat's certainly familiar with him in Cleveland."

    After completing 23 of 32 passes, Lewis finished the preseason with a better completion percentage than starter Sam Bradford (71.9 percent to 57.4) and was only slightly behind Bradford in passer rating (96.6 to 97.1). Granted, Lewis was facing second- and third-stringers, but he did rally the Rams to a last-second victory against Tennessee and put 17 points on the board in the second half against Jacksonville.

    The Browns liked Lewis enough that they decided to go with a third quarterback behind starter Colt McCoy and backup Seneca Wallace.

    "We probably weren't going to go in that direction," Browns general manager Tom Heckert told reporters in Cleveland. "We probably were going to stick with two. Pat coached him. We talked about him last year. He's a very talented kid. He's very accurate."

    It was never clear in St. Louis whether Lewis was competing with A.J. Feeley for the No. 2 spot or simply trying to convince the Rams through his play to keep three quarterbacks. But on a two-quarterback roster, Feeley's NFL experience obviously was a factor.

    "There's so many factors that go into any of these decisions, and that was obviously a big advantage that A.J. had," Devaney said.

    Granted, Feeley hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since 2007, but he has thrown 665 in his career and started 13 games. Meanwhile, Lewis' NFL résumé consists of only 60 preseason passes thrown over two preseasons.

    As a rookie a year ago, Lewis was on the Rams' opening-day roster against Arizona as the third quarterback. But he was released after that game, was out of work in Week 2, then signed to the Rams' practice squad for the rest of 2010.

    The new rule that allows a team to dress 46 players on game day— rather than 45 plus an emergency third quarterback — makes it even tougher to justify keeping a third QB.

    "I'll be curious to see how many teams actually wind up keeping three," Devaney said. "That 46th guy on game day is usually (going to be) a special teams ace, and is a factor and plays and contributes, as opposed to carrying a third quarterback that, chances are, is not going to touch the field."

    Overall, Devaney said this was the toughest roster cutdown he has experienced since joining the Rams in 2008.

    "In many respect it was, yes," Devaney said. "Not even close. I think you all saw it, especially at certain positions where the competition was really, really close. And that's what you want. You preach that before training camp.

    "You want competition at every position and we're getting to that point where we're putting a pretty good team together and I expect next year to be even tougher. I'd much rather have those decisions, those tough decisions, than be sitting there and say, 'What difference does it make? These guys aren't very good anyway.' At least now we have decisions to make on really good football players."

    The Rams continued in the decision-making mode Sunday. After scanning the waiver wire, the Rams bolstered their offensive line depth by signing Tony Wragge. Wragge, 32, had spent the last six seasons with San Francisco, where he played center and both guard positions, mainly as a backup.

    The ***** released Wragge after deciding to go with a couple of young backups on the interior, 2011 draft picks Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person. Wragge entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with Arizona in 2002 out of New Mexico State and has appeared in 67 games with 15 starts. A 6-4, 310, Wragge is known as more of a physical, mauler type of blocker. To make room for Wragge, the Rams released veteran center and guard Hank Fraley.

    Tight end and cornerback are other areas where the Rams are seeing what's out there. The Rams put in a waiver claim for rookie cornerback Josh Thomas after the fifth-round draft pick was released by Dallas. But Carolina also put in a claim and was awarded Thomas because it had a worse record in 2010 than St. Louis.

    "We're looking at corners," Devaney said. "The problem is there's a lot of teams looking at corners and they're not out there. But we will keep looking, I promise you."

    The Rams might consider signing cornerback Joselio Hanson, who was released by Philadelphia, if the price is right. But the team's interest in him isn't as high as some have portrayed.

    Meanwhile, wide receiver Donnie Avery went unclaimed after his release by the Rams, thus becoming a street free agent. As a result, the Rams have to pay his $638,000 base salary for 2011 because it was guaranteed. Had he been claimed, Avery's new club would've picked up the contract.

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  • r8rh8rmike
    Rookies Rise To The Challenge For Rams
    by r8rh8rmike
    Rookies rise to the challenge for Rams

    BY JIM THOMAS
    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...
    -09-08-2010, 09:45 AM
  • 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, 10:34 AM
  • MauiRam
    Free agents bring needed experience to Rams' roster ..
    by MauiRam
    !

    BY BILL COATS
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    06/13/2010

    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...
    -06-13-2010, 12:47 AM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Bernie Bytes: Quick Hits On Rams
    by r8rh8rmike
    Bernie Bytes: Quick hits on Rams

    BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist
    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    I'm happy to be back from vacation. (Well, actually I'm not.) But with so much going on these days, it's fun to dive right in with some quick-hit opinions on STL sports.

    For those who mewling over the Rams' decision to cut No. 3 quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, please permit me to run some names by you: Todd Bauman, Joey Harrington, Tyler Palko, Andre Woodson, Quinn Gray, Dan Orlovsky, Brett Ratliff, Ken Dorsey, Matt Flynn, Charlie Whitehurst, Stephen McGee, Luke McCown, J.T. O'Sullivan, Seneca Wallace, Jim Sorgi. What do the names on this list have in common? Answer: these are quarterbacks that finished among the top five annually in preseason passing since 2007. I like Lewis; he played very well this summer. But I also remember a lot of fans and media in our town swooning over Keith Null based on a few preseason games. Here's the deal: if Sam Bradford goes down with an injury, it won't matter. There's something to be said for having a veteran, coach-like backup to Bradford. And A.J. Feeley is that. But back to our list ... it tells us this: preseason games are frequently fool's gold.

    Yes, for those who asked ... I would have kept WR Donnie Avery. But seeing that (A) he wasn't claimed by another team, and (B) he indicated that he wanted a change in location, I'm not worked up about it. It's just not something that's causing a flare-up of my acid reflux.

    An observation on WRs and Rams GM Billy Devaney: he seems to be better at finding the hidden gems or trading for the wideouts than he is at drafting them. Devaney signed Danny Amendola off a practice squad, traded for Brandon Gibson, traded for Mark Clayton and took a chance on signing Danario Alexander. Devaney also signed street free agent WRDominique Curry, who has made the season-opening 53-man roster for the second consecutive season. Devaney (who was working for Jay Zygmunt and Scott Linehan at the time) invested a No. 2 draft choice in Avery. He spent a fourth-rounder on the Mardy Gilyard in 2010; Gilyard did little before getting released Saturday. And obviously it's too soon to know about the two WRs drafted this year, Austin Pettis and Greg Salas. But Pettis, a third-rounder, didn't do much in the four preseason games -- not that it mattered much. And it shouldn't. You don't draft a guy in the third round and then cut him after four preseason games -- especially in 2011, amid the chaos of a truncated offseason. Frankly I was surprised that so many people really believed that Pettis was in danger of getting cut.

    Drafting WRs isn't easy. It's become more and more of a crapshoot. Avery was the first wideout chosen in 2008. I really liked the pick at the time and won't pretend otherwise. It's easy to say now that the Rams screwed up by not takingDeSean Jackson, but in '08 Zygmunt and Linehan...
    -09-06-2011, 09:41 AM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Rams In Unfamiliar Spot: Middle Of Draft
    by r8rh8rmike
    Rams in unfamiliar spot: middle of draft

    BY JIM THOMAS
    Thursday, January 6, 2011 12:20 am

    No matter where the Rams finish in the standings, this always is a busy time and exciting time for general manager Billy Devaney and the personnel department. Even so, after coming so close to a division title and a playoff berth, the season's sudden end was a jolt to the system.

    "I sit up in my office and I look out on the practice field, and I'm thinking at this time last week we're geeked up, we're playing, we're practicing, guys are joking around," Devaney said Wednesday.

    And now?

    "It's awful coming in," he said. "It's quiet. The building's quiet. The silence is deafening."

    But with the Rams' offseason now underway, the good news is that at least Devaney doesn't have to worry about picking No. 1 or No. 2 as has been the case the past three drafts.

    "It's great, because you're not going to ask me every day who we're taking," Devaney teased. "Who we're thinking about. Because we don't have any idea."

    Actually, Devaney already has a little bit of an idea even this early in the pre-draft process. (Not that he's telling.) The Rams held their first round of draft meetings last month, well before the regular season ended.

    "About 3-4 weeks ago, we put our tentative (draft) board up and started the process," Devaney said. "We're lining up East-West and Senior Bowl (college all-star game) trips. I mean, it is full go. That is the beauty of this thing. There isn't any down time. You just go."

    That's true even with the uncertainty of the NFL labor situation. Those in the personnel department are proceeding full speed ahead; that's the only way they can approach it.

    "We go over every draftable player right now by position and what needs to be done (in evaluating that player) between now and the draft," Devaney said. "What concerns there are. We have all sorts of symbols. The guy may have a medical concern. Maybe a character concern. Maybe a learning concern. Work ethic.

    "Whatever questions that the scouts have picked up. 'Is this guy a bad character guy or did he just mess up a little bit? Is it something that we really need to dig into?' We started that process. Not necessarily putting grades on 'em, but it gives us a plan (as to) what we need to find out about these guys."

    Just like every other NFL team, the draft list isn't complete because underclassmen still have time to declare for the draft.

    "The juniors (and third-year sophomores) as they come out now, we have tapes being sent out to our scouts at home," Devaney said. "We haven't done a lot of work on the juniors until they declare."

    Devaney and the scouting staff also...
    -01-06-2011, 09:27 PM
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