Another ex-Bruin bids for job at LB

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Rookie Brandon Chillar has made his presence felt during the preseason.

By Jim Suhr ~ The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Brandon Chillar is proof that you can take the Rams out of California, but you can't take the Golden State out of the defending NFC West champs.

As a rookie, Chillar has shined in St. Louis' preseason, rising to the top of the depth chart at outside linebacker with prospects that he'll be a bookend of a starting, California-born linebacking corps of friends and former foes.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Chillar, who'll get his second straight start of the preseason Thursday at Oakland, played two seasons of college ball at UCLA with 2002 first-round pick Robert Thomas, the Rams' middle linebacker.

And his time with starting outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa -- the Rams' second-round pick last year out of Hawaii -- dates to their high school days just miles apart in San Diego County, Calif., where Chillar played linebacker and Tinoisamoa ran the ball.

Though Chillar smiled when he said he never had to take down Tinoisamoa, by many accounts there hasn't been much Chillar hasn't tackled since arriving with the Rams.

"The thing that's very noticeable about him is his ability to pick up what we do defensively and not have hesitation you normally would have of a rookie linebacker," Rams coach Mike Martz said.

Beyond that, Martz said "the quickness and the speed is very evident" from the rookie who in high school raced the 100 and 200 meters in track.

In a 28-3 preseason victory Friday over Washington, Chillar had two solo tackles -- to Martz, "outstanding tackles in that game, sure tackles" as a starting strong-side linebacker.

"He didn't look like a rookie," Martz said of Chillar, bidding to supplant Tommy Polley as a starter when the Rams open the regular season Sept. 12 at home against Arizona. "He's really playing well."

The Rams expected big things out of Chillar when they drafted him in April in the fourth round. At UCLA, he took part in 255 tackles and recovered five fumbles, intercepted three passes, had 12 sacks and blocked two kicks in 49 games, including 35 starts. His 133 tackles as a senior were the most for a UCLA defender since 1989.

In the East-West Shrine game in January, Chillar returned an interception 56 yards for a score in the West's 28-7 victory, earning him the nod as the game's outstanding defensive player.

Come draft time, Rams linebacker coach Joe Vitt liked Chillar so much he wanted the team to take him the first day of the draft, pressing that "every game he played in there are stretches where he's dominated."

"This is a guy that from the third round on I was just praying we would get," Vitt said then. "This guys is going to fit, I'm telling you.

"He can run, he can change directions, and he's violent."

Chillar said he's making the adjustments to the NFL -- "the speed of the game is a lot more intense" than college -- and to St. Louis in general. In June, Chillar talked of learning about the slower Midwestern pace, the Gateway City's steamy humidity -- even the way folks here talk.

"I called a couple of guys 'dude' and everyone laughed," Chillar told a sports columnist from his hometown North County Times. "They just figure I'm a typical surfer guy."

Thomas and Tinoisamoa have offered tutelage that "makes things a little more comfortable," the rookie said. When the Rams had camp in Macomb, Ill., Chillar reportedly rode with Thomas and relentlessly quizzed the fellow former Bruin about all things linebacking.

"I've been working hard in camp, trying to get better," Chillar said. "I've been OK, but I need to get better, definitely. I need to improve."

After all, he has something to fall back on.

"I'm just a rookie."

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