Rams get first look at draft picks in workouts

Saturday, April 27, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Rams rookies got their first taste of the NFL on Friday, and coach Mike Martz tried to be understanding.

"They found the line of scrimmage out of the huddle, so there's a start," Martz joked after the first of six weekend workouts. "They're understanding a little bit about our tempo. We tried to make it more of a teaching environment."

Rookies' heads were spinning just a bit.

"This is tough," said linebacker Robert Thomas, the team's first-round pick last Saturday. "It takes you to a whole different level and makes you work harder."

Defensive tackle Damione Lewis, one of three first-rounders in 2001, remembers the feeling.

"You see the frustration on their faces and you want to say 'Fellas, this is just football, relax,"' Lewis said. "But regardless of how much you tell them that, they've got to go through it. I kind of feel their pain right now."

The Rams have 52 players in the minicamp, virtually all of them either rookies or new to a position. Thus, defensive end Leonard Little, who had 14 1-2 sacks last year, was on hand. Fullback James Hodgins and center Frank Garcia also are participating partly because of shortages at those positions.

Martz also wants to experiment with Hodgins, who has a five-year, $5.5 year contract after the Rams matched the Denver Broncos' offer sheet a week ago, perhaps at tight end.

Plus, offseason pickups Jamie Duncan, who'll replace London Fletcher at middle linebacker, and Terrence Wilkins, the new third wide receiver, were in camp to learn the scheme.

Dealing with injuries

The Rams are holding out third-round pick Eric Crouch, who has a hamstring injury, and Lewis, who will undergo a bone graft on his injured right foot on Monday.

"Those things become chronic if you don't let them completely heal," Martz said. "That's what I'm concerned about."

The minicamp is a first chance to impress for third-round pick Lamar Gordon, a running back from North Dakota State. Martz said he could push Trung Canidate, a first-rounder in 2000, for the backup job behind Marshall Faulk.

"He's going to give Trung a run for his money," Martz said.

Canidate chuckled when he heard that.

"This is part of the business," he said. "Bottom line, I'm trying to get better at what I'm doing, and then I'll let the chips fall where they may."

The Rams also are getting their first look of the year at James St. Clair, slotted to replace the departed Ryan Tucker at right offensive tackle after getting zero playing time his first two years in the NFL. Martz is confident St. Clair can do the job, even though he's a virtual unknown.

"It's just like any comments about our draft or about the players," Martz said. "It's like when we went with Kurt (Warner). Who's this guy? We see him every day and obviously we feel very good about him."

Lewis, the 12th overall pick of the draft last year, fractured his right foot Nov. 18 and underwent season-ending surgery the following day. Tests showed the foot has not completely healed, so he'll be sidelined an additional 6-8 weeks, but he's expected to be at full strength by training camp.

The Rams also agreed to terms with defensive end John Burrough, who last played for the Vikings in 2000. Burrough, who was out of football last year, could back up at both end and tackle.

Elsewhere

  • TEXANS:David Carr isn't ready to claim leadership of his new team yet.

    The first player chosen in last weekend's NFL draft, got an eye-opener Friday as he led the Texans' rookie class through its first workout with the expansion team's veterans.

    Instead, the former Fresno State quarterback says the leaders of the expansion team are players who have been to the Pro Bowl with other teams. That includes defensive tackle Gary Walker.

    "Mr. Walker was barking and telling me what I was doing with my cadence was tipping off the other team," Carr said. "I haven't taken any snaps in the NFL and he's been to Hawaii so I think I'd better call him 'Mr. Walker."'

    BEARS:Coach Dick Jauron took a look at the team's new assortment of quarterbacks and offensive tackles Friday and came away intrigued after the first day of minicamp.

    Chris Chandler, signed two weeks ago to be the backup to starting quarterback Jim Miller, made his Bears debut. And so did Henry Burris, the team's new third-string quarterback. Miller estimated that he is about 85 percent recovered from shoulder separation he suffered during the team's playoff loss to Philadelphia in January.

    BUCCANEERS: Free agent safety Dexter Jackson signed a one-year contract to remain with Tampa Bay.

    -- From wire reports

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