Players vote Witherspoon Rams' MVP

Thursday, December 27, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- When Leonard Little was placed on injured reserve at midseason, the St. Louis Rams had to find another pass rusher. As it turned out, the answer was at middle linebacker.

Will Witherspoon is on track to lead the team in tackles for the second straight season heading into Sunday's finale at Arizona. He also has had a lot of chances to line up at end on third down in what essentially is a 3-4 alignment, producing a team-leading and career-high seven sacks.

Last week, Witherspoon was passed over in Pro Bowl balloting, with wide receiver Torry Holt the lone representative from the team. But teammates recognized Witherspoon's production and versatility on Wednesday, voting him the team MVP.

"For an inside backer to have seven sacks, that's unheard of," fellow linebacker Chris Draft said. "He's definitely had a great season."

The defense swept the season awards, with lineman Adam Carriker named the top rookie and safety Corey Chavous receiving the Carl Ekern Spirit of the Game award for the second straight season.

Witherspoon ended a streak of eight straight offensive players being picked for MVP. End Kevin Carter was the last Rams player to be named MVP in 1998, a 4-12 season, and over the last 22 seasons only three defensive players have been MVP.

Instead of a trip to Hawaii, at least Witherspoon knows how much he's appreciated.

"Hey, there's always next year, there's always that next chance, there's always another shot," Witherspoon said. "And this is more important to me at this point."

Coach Scott Linehan said Witherspoon showed his pass-rush ability at outside linebacker his first four years in the NFL with the Panthers and in his first year with the Rams, when he totaled three sacks. St. Louis moved Witherspoon to the middle last year after signing him to a free-agent deal.

"Basically, losing Leonard put us in a position where we had to create some pass rush from some other areas," Linehan said. "I just think it's a good way to utilize what he does best, and that's run."

Carriker had the inside track on rookie of the year after the Rams took him out of Nebraska with the 13th overall pick of the draft. He earned it with versatility, starting every game at nose tackle but lining up at all three spots on the defensive line with two sacks, 43 tackles and a fumble recovery.

Carriker, the first St. Louis rookie defensive lineman to start every game since Sean Gilbert in 1992, wouldn't mind if he had that role again next season.

"I actually kind of enjoy moving all over," Carriker said. "I get to do a lot of things other guys don't get the opportunity to do."

Carriker said his goal was to make weekly improvements as he grew accustomed to the NFL. Improving technique is his priority for the offseason.

Chavous is second on the team with 100 tackles despite missing two games with a pectoral injury.

"You've got a lot of good leaders on this team, but I think it's more just by the way you go about doing your stuff," Chavous said. "I don't think it's really anything I do necessarily as a leader that's spectacular, but the fact the guys are looking to you and how you go about your business and respecting that, that's the thing you're humble about."

Notes: LB Brandon Chillar (calf) and CB Fakhir Brown (stomach

virus) did not practice, but both are expected to be ready by Sunday. Chillar's injury had been diagnosed as a high ankle sprain. ... The Rams had the weekend off before returning on Monday with a light workout that was closed to media and are still shaking off rust from Thursday's 41-24 loss to the Steelers. "It seems like it's been forever," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "Monday's practice was a little sluggish and today was a little sluggish."

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