Rams Add Defensive Depth on Day Three

Posted Apr 30, 2011

After spending Friday night adding more pass catchers to the offensive arsenal, the Rams continued to follow that path early on the draft’s final day but went strictly defense after the fourth round.

In hopes of adding another tough, physical receiver, the Rams used their fourth-round choice on Hawaii receiver Greg Salas.

With Salas in the fold, the Rams added another big, physical wideout with a reputation for his intensity and competitiveness on the field.

“I would say I’m just a tough receiver with great hands, and physical and can run routes, and just a tough competitor,” Salas said.

Salas, like third-round choice Austin Pettis, comes from a West Coast school with eye-popping statistics.

In his career with the Warriors, Salas set nearly every record possible, racking up 285 receptions, a school record 4,345 yards and 26 touchdowns. Last year, Salas dominated in setting school season records with 119 catches for 1,889 yards.

If that looks a lot like Pettis’ resume, it’s because they were both extremely productive in college.

“They are both smart guys and they are both tough guys,” Devaney said. “That’s the thing that jumps out. And they’ve got great hands. That will be fun to watch those two guys work with Sam and get into the flow of the offense. I think they are both what you would describe as winners also.”

With Salas in the fold, Devaney began to wheel and deal, making his first trade of the draft in moving back 13 spots in the fifth round in order to pick up an additional seventh round choice in a trade with Atlanta.

When the Rams made their selection at No. 158, Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo made it clear that an outside influence might have swayed their decision to draft Ohio State safety Jermale Hines.

“I was going to get in trouble with Laurinaitis if I didn’t take an Ohio State guy,” Spagnuolo said, laughing.

“We started panicking a little bit,” Devaney said, a sly smile creeping across his face. “We realized it was getting a little late in the day and we hadn’t added a Buckeye to the defense so we better not waste anymore time.”

Kidding aside, Devaney and Spagnuolo said Hines is yet another player that fits the bill of smart, passionate and productive players that they look for during the draft.

“He’s a physical, tough guy,” Devaney said. “That will be seen early because of the way he plays defense and the way he plays special teams. He carries himself like a pro. He loves football, he’s a smart player and he cares about this stuff. All those things we talk about; smart, passionate, productive traits that we look for in a player this guy fit all three.”

For the Buckeyes, Hines started 28 games with 155 tackles. At 6’1, 219 pounds, Hines earned a reputation as a fierce, physical hitter who loves contact.

“I’m a physical guy,” Hines said. “I like to impose my will on the opponent and hit as much as I can.”

Another aspect of Hines’ game the Rams like is his versatility. While Hines projects as a strong safety in the NFL, he got some college experience at linebacker and could work in the weakside linebacker role for the Rams when they go to nickel packages.

“He has certain skills, just like a lot of players in this league there’s thing they do better than others,” Spagnuolo said.

Like any late-round pick, Hines will also be asked to contribute on special teams right away, an area in which he excelled for the Buckeyes.

With their trio of seventh-round choices, the Rams continued to add depth and competition to the defense with hopes that each could eventually develop into contributors.

“Most of these guys are developmental guys,” Devaney said. “That’s what you look for. You certainly don’t want to take a guy here that is maxed on and there’s no upside. Here you are looking a little bit this year but down the road after they are in the program and in the NFL for a year, too.”

The first of the three was Baylor defensive back Mikail Baker, a big, speedy athlete who is best known for his return ability.

Baker comes with some health risk after being in Waco for six years because of two medical redshirts. In 2007, he suffered a broken collarbone and then had a season-ending ACL injury in 2009 that got him a medical hardship from the NCAA.

Still, at that point in the draft, Baker combination of size (6 foot, 200 pounds) and speed (4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash) made him intriguing.

“He was a receiver and returner early in his career and this year he kind of blossomed coming off a knee injury as a corner and a little of safety,” Spagnuolo said.  “I think it’s all ahead of him, in front of him. Hopefully there’s a lot of potential there and we’ll tap into it and get a good player.”

With back to back picks at No. 228 and 229, the Rams grabbed Stephen F. Austin linebacker Jabara Williams and Oklahoma safety Jonathan Nelson.

Believe it or not Williams is not the first player or even linebacker Spagnuolo has coached. Most recently, it was Jeremiah Trotter, an undervalued linebacker who turned into a very productive player in the league.

Williams is listed at 6’3, 210 pounds and though he played middle linebacker in college will work at both outside positions and on special teams for the Rams. He was a two-time All American and the 2010 Southland Conference Defensive Player of the year.

“He played mostly inside linebacker but we’ll play him outside,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s a big kid that can run, Tom McMahon is excited about him as a special teams player so again we think can help us out.”

Nelson, meanwhile, comes from a more established football pedigree with the Sooners. Injuries slowed him early in his career but he became a full-time starter as a senior and had a terrific year.

In 2010, Nelson posted 102 tackles with a pair of interceptions and seven pass breakups. Unlike Hines, Nelson projects more as a free safety who has a knack for playing in coverage.

Devaney even drew a comparison to another former Rams safety.

“Nelson is kind of an OJ (Atogwe) type of safety if you will,” Devaney said. “He’s athletic, he’s instinctive, he can run the back end pretty good. He’s got good instincts and ball skills. Obviously there’s a void back there, we’ve got some good players here now but we’ll throw this guy in and see if he can compete.”

Normally, this is the time when the Rams would turn to undrafted free agents, burning up the phone lines. But with the lockout back on for now, there will be none of that.

Devaney says that is a little bit different feeling this year but one he and his staff will just have to deal with.

“It’s weird,” Devaney said. “Usually at this time you are scrambling and lining up your free agents for tomorrow. That’s not the case this year. As soon as that last pick goes in, that’s it we are done for the time being until we are told otherwise.”