Steward Looks to Follow Familiar Blueprint

Posted May 15, 2013

Soon after the NFL Draft, the Rams signed a linebacker from the University of Houston with a rich history of production who once ranked among the nation’s leaders in a key defensive category.

Sound familiar? Well, if you followed the young career arc of Sammy Brown from 2012 then it should.

For the second-year in a row, the Rams dipped into the undrafted free agent pool for an accomplished linebacker who went undrafted despite impressive credentials.

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of Brown is Phillip Steward, a 6’1, 235-pounder who was a first-team All Conference USA selection in 2012.

Steward is good friends with Brown and said he spoke to his friend in the lead up to the draft after he’d been projected to be a late-round pick or go undrafted like Brown before him.

“I talked to him and he told me going through the process not to put my head down if I don’t get drafted because he didn’t get drafted and he still made it,” Steward said. “So he reminded me not to get down and just to be ready because someone is going to bring you and you have to be ready to work.”

Steward apparently didn’t lack in the willingness to work area for the Cougars where he played in 52 games throughout his four-year career and proved to be a versatile player capable of rushing the passer or dropping into coverage with equal aplomb.

In 2011, while Brown was busy racking up a nation leading 30 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks, Steward handled the coverage duties. As Brown attacked quarterbacks, Steward found himself creating turnovers on a regular basis as his six interceptions led all of the country’s linebackers and was 11th nationally regardless of position.

With Brown gone last year, Steward stepped into an expanded role and flashed his pass rushing skills from the strong side linebacker position, posting 128 tackles, 12 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, three interceptions and five forced fumbles on his way to earning Houston’s Defensive MVP award.

It would seem that Steward would have a lot to offer to a team in need of help at linebacker.

“I create turnovers,” Steward said. “My junior year I led the NCAA in interceptions so I can create turnovers, get the ball back to the offense and give them more chances to score. I’m loud and I like to talk so once I get to know what I’m doing I’ll be communicating a lot. And I can bring leadership. I can talk on and off the field. I bring a lot to the table so I’m just ready to show what I’ve got.”

Undeterred, he met with his agent and formulated a plan in the event he would hit free agency. When the draft ended, Steward wasn’t lacking for options.

“I wanted to get drafted but if I didn’t get drafted, we still had our options,” Steward said. “We wanted a team that we felt like gave me a chance to make the roster and we came up with the Rams. Me and my agent talked and decided to come here and be a St. Louis Ram.”

Considering the Rams’ dearth of linebackers on the roster, Steward saw the fit in St. Louis as a rather obvious one. Entering the draft, the Rams had just James Laurinaitis, Josh Hull, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Brown and Jabara Williams on the roster.

Most teams carry at least five or six linebackers and even after they used a first-round pick on Alec Ogletree; Steward saw an opportunity to go somewhere he could legitimately compete for a roster spot, even a place where he might be in direct competition with his friend Brown.

“I heard a lot from a lot of different teams,” Steward said. “I was sitting and waiting and then the draft ended and a lot of teams called me. Me and my agent talked it over and then at the end of the day, the Rams just had the best situation for me.”

Of course, the pull of the Rams was a bit stronger for Steward than just the chance to compete for a potential roster spot.

Growing up right in the sweet spot of the Greatest Show on Turf, the Missouri City, Tex. native found himself pulled to the Rams’ brand of high-octane football on both sides of the field.

Combining that with the ever-growing popularity of the Madden football video game series, Steward found himself becoming something of a Rams fan even in the middle of Texas.

“I used to follow the Rams,” Steward said. “They used to be my favorite team when they had Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk. I used to love them and play with them all the time on Madden.”

Upon arrival in St. Louis for last weekend’s rookie minicamp, Steward found himself a bit in awe of his new surroundings almost from the moment he walked into the building.

“When I first got here, I actually got in late, I walked in and I thought ‘Wow’ then I saw the Super Bowl trophy and I thought ‘This is for real,’” Steward said. “Then they gave me the helmet and I put it on and had to take some pictures for my mom so I thought ‘Man, I could really be a Ram.’ So that was exciting. Then you see the other guys taking pictures and stuff so you know everyone else is excited to be a Ram too. Hopefully I become a Ram.”

To do that, Steward is well aware of what he’s going to have to do over the next few months to accomplish what Brown did.

While Steward played on the outside almost exclusively at Houston, the Rams worked him at all three positions, including the inside, during his first weekend on the job.

For his part, Steward said the hardest part of the adjustment is learning the defense and being able to communicate it with confidence. He said there were times when he second-guessed himself and hesitated for fear of being wrong.

Brown didn’t offer much in the way of advice other than to tell Steward to go out and work hard, especially on special teams. As with most young linebackers trying to make their way in the league, Steward knows he’s going to have to make his name on special teams first.

“Coming in, you already know that,” Steward said. “You have to make sure you get in good with special teams. I heard that from a lot of people. I did that and I made sure I was first in every line so they can see me willing to help there.”