St. Louis Rams overloaded with Linebacker logjam

Rams deep at position

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Heading into the preseason opener, the St. Louis Rams are almost overloaded with linebackers.

They signed three in free agency, adding Zac Diles, Brady Poppinga and Ben Leber to compete for outside spots. Also on the training camp roster are veteran linebackers Chris Chamberlain, Na’il Diggs, Brian Kehl, Jabara Williams and rookie free-agent Pete Fleps.

St. Louis wants to upgrade the outside linebackers to play around veteran middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who has led the Rams in tackles in both of his NFL seasons. Laurinaitis won’t play tonight in the preseason opener against Indianapolis. He has a strained pectoral muscle.

Second-year pro Josh Hull will play in the middle, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. Hull missed his rookie season because of a knee injury.

“James won’t play, so guys will have a chance to show us what they can do,” Spagnuolo said. “There’s a lot of competition there. It takes a little while to pick that stuff up. The whole group of them, I think, have been performing pretty good.”

St. Louis released David Vobora earlier Friday to ease some of the logjam. Vobora was the last player taken in the 2008 draft and earned the Mr. Irrevelant tag that goes with that honor.

The 25-year-old Vobora was awarded $5.4 million in his lawsuit against a Florida supplements maker in late June. Vobora said he used the company’s “Ultimate Sports Spray” in June 2009 without knowing it contained methyltestosterone, a banned substance that showed up in an NFL drug test and led to his suspension.

His lawsuit accused the company of intentionally misleading him and hurting his image besides lost income. The judge’s order includes $2 million for damaging Vobora’s reputation and another $3 million in lost “future income.” Vobora also lost $90,588 in game checks, plus the court ruled he lost $170,000 in performance bonuses and $100,000 in marketing endorsements.

“Those aren’t easy. The longer you’re at a place, the closer you get to these guys,” Spagnuolo said about Vobora. “He was terrific. He’s a class guy, a character guy. I’ll be very surprised if somebody doesn’t pick him up.”

The 32-year-old Leber made 23 starts for the Minnesota Vikings over the last two seasons.

“I’ve always admired the way he plays,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s coming from a good system in Minnesota.”

After waiting for two weeks, Leber said it was good to be on a team again.

“When you’re hanging by your phone for every text and phone call, it’s a long time,” Leber said. “Just to be here is such a good feeling. Now, it’s about learning the system and getting back to work.

“I pride myself on being versatile. I’ll learn all three positions and wherever they need me, I’ll be ready. I like what they have going on here.”

Leber, who was signed Thursday, will not be playing against the Colts.

“I think right now, the plan for me is to get some popcorn and hot dogs,” Leber laughed.

Poppinga was released by the Green Bay Packers before agreeing to terms with St. Louis on a one-year contract. The 31-year-old Poppinga is coming off a knee injury that limited him to six games last season.

“I’m always up for great competition,” Poppinga said. “I’m looking forward a nice, smooth transition. I think I’m in a better situation. The Rams are a team I like because of Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. It’s always been an aggressive, attacking, physical downhill style of defense and I think those words exactly describe my play.”

Which side of Laurinaitis he will play on doesn’t matter to Poppinga.

“I pride myself on being versatile,” Poppinga said. “At the end of the day, I understand what my position is. I’m a hammer. I’m a physical guy. Wherever they need a guy to be a hammerhead at the point of attack is where I’ll be needed and used.”

Diles signed a one-year contract. The 245-pound outside linebacker made 10 starts last year for the Houston Texans, stepping in after middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans was sidelined with an Achilles’ injury. He was third on the team in tackles. Diles was a seventh-round pick out of Kansas State in 2007.

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