Hargrove among candidates to replace Wistrom on defense

Sunday, August 1, 2004

MACOMB, Ill. -- At this time last year, Anthony Hargrove was pushing airplanes around instead of offensive tackles.

After being declared academically ineligible at Georgia Tech, the St. Louis Rams' rookie defensive end got a taste of life in the real world. He worked as a ramp agent at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, squeezing himself into undersized work clothes, wheeling around in carts, toting baggage and supervising the parking.

Now, he's in a mix of players vying to replace Grant Wistrom at right defensive end. It's the only position vacancy on a team that went 12-4 and won the NFC West last year.

"I couldn't ask for anything better," Hargrove said. "It's a free battle on the right side and we've got a lot of guys competing, and I'm right in the mix."

There's an immediate opening for Hargrove, a third-round pick in this year's draft, after Wistrom was bowled over by a six-year, $33 million contract from the Seahawks that included a $14 million signing bonus. Bryce Fisher, a 1999 seventh-round pick of the Bills, entered camp first on the depth chart.

Other candidates in the group are Sean Moran and Erik Flowers. Coach Mike Martz said the Rams will be just fine with a no-name rotation opposite Leonard Little, who was among the league leaders with 12.5 sacks last year and went to his first Pro Bowl.

Veteran Tyoka Jackson is another backup end, but on the left side behind Little.

Martz thought Wistrom, a 1997 first-round pick of the Rams, would be with St. Louis his entire career. But he's moved on.

"There's six guys on the left and right side that you'd be happy with lining up and playing, I can safely say that," Martz said. "Whoever lines up on the right end, that's who he is, and I'm sure whoever that is will play very well."

The players also are confident.

"We'll line up and play, that's the way it works," Jackson said. "Grant was a great player and a great friend, and he's always going to be a friend, but he's on the wrong side of the ball now.

"We've got some guys; people may not know who they are, but we've got some guys."

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