Claiborne still waiting to make impact

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Rams free-agent pickup at middle linebacker has been on the sideline against multiple-receiver sets.

ST. LOUIS -- Chris Claiborne played so little the first half of the season, the St. Louis Rams' middle linebacker might not have needed the bye week.

Whenever teams go to multiple wide receiver sets, Claiborne comes off the field. That's happened all too frequently, diminishing the impact of who was supposed to be one of the team's key offseason pickups. He's fifth on the team in tackles.

"It's been weird," Claiborne said Wednesday. "But as long as we're winning and we get on track, I think it'll work itself out.

"Whatever may happen I'm going to be out there if I'm supposed to be out there, and when I'm not I'll cheer on the other guys."

The last two games Claiborne has gotten the opportunity to play a lot more because the Saints and Jaguars largely stayed with basic packages. He estimates perhaps his time on the field doubled.

Heading into Sunday's game at Seattle (6-2), Claiborne isn't worried about it. He counts on the coaching staff to find ways to utilize him, and interim coach Joe Vitt also is the linebackers coach.

"I think we'll be able to work that out as the season goes on," Claiborne said. "I think I've played solid, I've tried to help this team out and not just on the field. I think I've done all right."

Claiborne, a first-round pick in 1999, received a three-year, $10.5 million contract in March to help the Rams (4-4) address deficiencies against the run. He hesitated to discuss his coverage skills, although he did say Vitt "knows how I feel about it."

"I can't get into that because it's not really my job," Claiborne said. "That's the coaches' job to put me in when they feel it's right, and I'm just going to stick to that."

Vitt is highly complimentary of Claiborne's impact, judging him "one of the best" defensive players in the first Seahawks game. He expects the playing time will keep rising with more teams using more base offenses.

"I think he's really come on," Vitt said. "He's a good tackle-to-tackle player, and he gives us some physical presence in the middle."

Vitt added that Claiborne's coverage skills were "excellent," something of a surprise for a 255-pound player. Much of his career, though, Claiborne has been an outside linebacker.

The Rams edged closer to full strength with wide receivers Torry Holt (knee) and Isaac Bruce (turf toe), the only two players on the injury list, both catching passes from Marc Bulger (shoulder). Bulger and Holt both have missed two starts and Bruce has been out five games.

Bruce was questionable but Vitt said he "absolutely" had a chance to play.

"I thought Marc threw extremely well, I thought Torry ran better today than on Monday, and I thought Isaac -- this is the first time I've really seen him come out and run like he did," Vitt said.

The defense will get two starters back, defensive end Leonard Little and cornerback Travis Fisher. Little missed two starts while mourning the shooting death of a younger brother and Fisher missed a game with a groin injury.


* The Rams signed kick returner David Allen, who had been with Calgary of the Canadian Football League. Allen said it wasn't tough making the move even though Calgary is a contender for the Grey Cup. "For me, the opportunity here was greater than staying up there," Allen said. "Me wanting to get back down here and play in the NFL was the choice I had to make." The Rams made room for Allen by releasing quarterback Jeff Smoker.

* Tight end Jeff Robinson has left the team and is expected to retire.

* Vitt, with humor, refused to say whether he fined rookie offensive tackle Alex Barron for arriving late to practice on Monday. "You know what I did, I gave him a weekend pass, 'don't worry about it,'" Vitt said. "I put my arm around him, blew in his ear. Of course, I talked to him."

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