Rams Add 23 Rookie Free Agents

Posted May 8, 2012

Southern Mississippi quarterback Austin Davis will get a shot to compete for the Rams' third-string quarterback job.

Well before the conclusion of the 2012 NFL Draft on Saturday night, the Rams, like many others began working the phones to talk to potential rookie free agents.

When round 7 finally ended, the floodgates opened and it was all hands on deck as scouts, coaches and really anyone with a cell phone in the vicinity of the team’s draft room began speed dialing the group of players the team had targeted.

By the time the hour or so flurry was done, the Rams had agreed to terms with 20 undrafted free agents, many at positions of pressing need, a yeoman’s effort according to coach Jeff Fisher.

“When you’ve got a roster, for example, you’ve got three safeties on your roster and you contact undrafted college free agents that play the position, you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting them,” Fisher said. “With the need positions and things, it was an extraordinary effort.”

Over the course of the following days, the Rams put the finishing touches on one of the largest classes on undrafted free agents in team history, bringing the total number of additions to 23 players.

Among that group, the Rams bolstered depth at nearly every position with three offensive linemen, three defensive linemen, three running backs, four linebackers, three safeties, two tight ends, a cornerback, a punter, a long snapper, a wide receiver and a quarterback.

To make room for the new additions the Rams released kicker Josh Brown, receiver Dominique Curry, defensive tackle John Henderson, cornerbacks Nate Ness, Chris Smith, Brian Jackson and Marquis Johnson, tight end DeMarco Cosby and running back Quinn Porter.

Headlining the incoming group is a handful of players seemingly poised to make a legitimate run at roster spots.

Perhaps no player in the class comes with more pedigree than Duke safety Matt Daniels, a player whom many teams had placed a draftable grade on. He earned first team All-ACC and second team All-America honors after leading the Blue Devils in tackles with 126 in 2001.

Daniels finished third in the balloting for ACC Defensive Player of the Year and posted 324 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, four interceptions, seven caused fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 27 pass breakups in his career.

UNLV’s Quinton Pointer and Virginia’s Rodney McLeod will compete with Daniels for what figures to be at least one opening for a safety in a backfield that right now has just three.

Another spot that figures to have an open competition is punter, where the Rams opted to sign Oregon State’s John Hekker. Following the departure of Donnie Jones as a free agent, the Rams have an opening and Hekker will probably compete with Tom Malone for the job.

Hekker was a four-year starter who finished his career as one of the most prolific punters in Oregon State history. Along the way, he logged the third-best career punt yardage average in school history 41.3 yards.

Openings also seem to be abound at outside linebacker, where the Rams drafted Hawaii’s Aaron Brown in the seventh round but need more than just one linebacker. In fact, the Rams had just four linebackers on the roster entering the draft and will likely keep six or seven.

That means there is a great opportunity for more than one of a group that includes Houston’s Sammy Brown, Washington State’s Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Ohio’s Noah Keller and Stephen F. Austin’s Derrick Choice could eventually land on the 53-man roster.

Highlighting that group is Brown, who posted some jaw-dropping numbers in his final season with the Cougars. In 2011, Brown led the nation in tackles for loss with 30, finishing with 13.5 sacks and 93 total tackles.

Brown will have to transition to the Rams’ 4-3 base defense from a 3-4 in college but his pass rush skills could make him an intriguing roster candidate.

Of course, Brown will get plenty of competition from his fellow undrafted rookies. Hoffman-Ellis led the Cougars in tackles with 88 last season and has good speed on the outside.

At quarterback, Southern Mississippi’s Austin Davis could push Tom Brandstater for a possible third quarterback job after he posted big numbers at Brett Favre’s alma mater. He passed for 3,496 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior after beginning his career as a walk-on and left as the school’s all-time leading passer with 10,727 yards, passing Favre’s previous record.

The Rams added competition at plenty of other spots as well.

On the offensive line, the Rams found some players with strong bloodlines including LSU guard T-Bob Hebert (son of former quarterback Bobby) and Wayne State tackle Joe Long (brother of current Dolphins tackle Jake). Syracuse guard Michael Hay also signed on.

At tight end, the Rams picked up a pair of intriguing prospects, including LSU’s DeAngelo Peterson, a player many believed would be drafted. Joining him is blocking specialist Cory Harkey of UCLA.

Along the defensive line, the Rams added Arizona State end Jamaar Jarrett, Texas Tech end Scott Smith and Virginia defensive tackle Matt Conrath.

In the backfield, the Rams brought in more reinforcements even after drafting a pair of backs over the weekend. Jacksonville State’s Calvin Middleton and Dartmouth’s Nick Schwieger will compete at running back after solid college careers. Schwieger is Dartmouth’s all time rushing leader.

Michigan State’s Todd Anderson is a big, powerful fullback at 267 pounds who could get a legit shot to compete for the job as Steven Jackson’s lead blocker. Anderson was a defensive lineman for the Spartans before changing jobs last year.

Eastern Kentucky cornerback Jeremy Caldwell was a four year starter who posted 15 career interceptions and brings return value to the Rams as well.

Henderson State wideout Nicholas Johnson was the only addition the team made at his position after the team drafted a pair of receivers over the weekend.

Finally, the Rams brought in a long snapper to compete with incumbent Jake McQuaide. Massachusetts’ Travis Tripuka is the son of long time NBA stalwart Kelly Tripuka and the grandson of former Denver quarterback Frank.

2012 Rams Rookie Free Agents
T. Bob Hebert                    G             LSU
Michael Hay                       G             Syracuse
Jamaar Jarrett                   DE           Arizona State
Scott Smith                         DE           Texas Tech
Joe Long                              T              Wayne State
Calvin Middleton              RB           Jacksonville State
Matt Conrath                     DT           Virginia
Todd Anderson                 FB           Michigan State
DeAngelo Peterson        TE           LSU
Sammy Brown                   LB           Houston
Alex Hoffman Ellis            LB           Washington State
Noah Keller                        LB           Ohio
Cory Harkey                       TE           UCLA
Jeremy Caldwell               CB           Eastern Kentucky
Quinton Pointer               S              UNLV
Derrick Choice                   LB           Stephen F Austin
Matt Daniels                      S              Duke
Rodney McLeod               S              Virginia
John Hekker                       P             Oregon State
Nick Schwieger                 RB           Dartmouth
Travis Tripuka                    LS           UMass
Nicholas Johnson             WR         Henderson State
Austin Davis                       QB          Southern Miss