Solution at last?

Wednesday, August 9, 2006
The Rams' Will Witherspoon (51) led the linebackers in a drill with assistant head coach Rick Venturi during training camp last week in St. Louis. (Associated Press)

Rams are counting on Will Witherspoon to fill a troubling void at middle linebacker.

ST. LOUIS -- Will Witherspoon is the latest to go into the Bermuda Triangle that is the middle linebacker position for the St. Louis Rams.

Since London Fletcher left for Buffalo after the 2001 season, several players have tried, and mostly failed, at the position in St. Louis. First Jamie Duncan, then Robert Thomas and Chris Claiborne and others like Brandon Chillar stepped up but ultimately did not get the job done.

First-year coach Scott Linehan said he believes the club has solved its woes with the free-agent signing of Witherspoon.

"He's an 'everybody gets on his back' type of guy," Linehan said. "That's what I think separates him from a lot of players in this league right now."

Being the center of the defense sits fine with Witherspoon.

"I take a lot of pride in being an every-down linebacker," he said. "That means you're going to be out there in every situation, every scenario. That leaves that much more in the game for you. There's going to be some constants out there for the defense."

In his fifth season, the 6-1, 234-pound Witherspoon signed a five-year contract with St. Louis in the offseason.

Carolina drafted Witherspoon in the third round of the 2002 draft. With the Panthers, he showed he can play the middle or weakside linebacking spots. Last year, he led Carolina in tackles for the second consecutive season and returned an interception for a career-long 35-yard touchdown.

That's what Linehan wants out the middle linebacker -- someone who can make plays. He believes he has that in Witherspoon.

"He does his job and makes the plays he's asked to make. He has great range," Linehan said. "He's missed one game the last four years and it was against us in Miami last year. I told him there was a reason I thought we beat them and it's because he wasn't in there."

Witherspoon is looking forward to helping improve the Rams defense that has ranked near the bottom of most statistical categories for the past two seasons.

"I think people are really going to see a different Rams defense than they have in years past," Witherspoon said. "We're not going to be those guys where everybody says they know the offense is going to score 50 so as long as we hold them to 48, we're good.

"That's not our mentality. We've got to prove a point, even in the preseason, and set a statement."

The Rams open preseason play Thursday with a home game against Indianapolis.

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