MACOMB, Ill. — Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy would have rather learned on the job his rookie season with the St. Louis Rams, the way he did throughout his college career.
Last year’s No. 1 pick played so little last season, he felt like he was barely on the team.
“You want to be out there, you want to help the team win,” Kennedy said Tuesday. “If we would have won the Super Bowl, I would have felt like I got a ring but I really didn’t earn it.”
It was natural for Kennedy to be frustrated, considering he broke into the lineup at Penn State as a redshirt freshman. He appeared sparingly in 13 games and finished with 10 tackles, one quarterback pressure and one pass defensed his rookie year.
The Rams’ tendency to ease defensive tackles into the lineup was tough to deal with. They had the same strategy with fellow No. 1s Damione Lewis, who got three starts as a rookie in 2001, and Ryan Pickett, who had none that same year.
“I believe if I would have been drafted somewhere else, maybe they would have thrown me right in the fire from day one because they believed that me being on the field, I’m going to learn,” Kennedy said. “The Rams say ‘Let’s develop you technique-wise and everything else.”’
Of course, Kennedy was to blame, too. He showed up out of shape for the first minicamp, where he immediately injured his knee, and struggled to play catchup much of the time.
This year, coach Mike Martz has used Kennedy’s rookie experience to motivate running back Steven Jackson, this year’s first-round pick.
“He had to start from square one and build,” Martz said. “He’s not where he needs to be, but he’s made terrific progress.
“By a long shot, he’s got a lot of development to go.”
So far this year, it has been a different Kennedy. He has acquired a nickname, “Bear,” from defensive line coach Bill Kollar and a bruising inside game to match.
Plus, he has been allowed to play at a weight that is more comfortable. Last year’s defensive coordinator, Lovie Smith, wanted Kennedy at 305 pounds, 30 pounds lighter than his college weight, but Martz is allowing the interior linemen to bulk up more.
“We lost Brian Young and Grant Wistrom, so these guys are counting on me,” Kennedy said. “But I believe even if we didn’t lose those guys they still would have been counting on me a lot this year.
“You can’t stay the same, you have to get better.”
In that regard, Kennedy had a lot of room for improvement. After one season, the word was out he was being thrown around.
He arrived at training camp ready to go after a full offseason of working out. Kennedy hit the weights the day after the Super Bowl.
“The attention is nothing that I can’t handle,” Kennedy said. “You guys have to get used to me being here in the offseason working out, it’s a year-round thing. I’ve been going at it non-stop.”
So far, this year he has taken much less abuse from the always-vocal Kollar. Part of that, though, is the coach has moved on to a new target, rookie third-round pick Anthony Hargrove.
“It’s just better this year,” Kennedy said. “I know I don’t have Kollar screaming at me, but he’s still very intense and he still expects a lot, and I don’t want him to start yelling and screaming at me.”
SECONDARY HELP: Tom Knight was a first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 1997 when Larry Marmie was that team’s defensive coordinator, and he is hooking up with the coach again in an attempt to resurrect his career with the St. Louis Rams.
Knight signed a one-year contract and made his practice debut Tuesday. The Rams are short in the secondary because of safety Rich Coady’s persistent back problems, and Knight will be used at that position though he has been primarily a cornerback.
Coach Mike Martz said, though, that the Rams have been looking for more defensive backfield help for several months. This could allow safety Aeneas Williams to also play some cornerback.
“He can play all four positions back there and that’s one of the things that makes his value so significant,” Martz said of Knight. “Larry was extremely high about him and we’ve got great respect for him.”
Tampa Bay released Knight on the eve of training camp last week.
“All I know is we were reporting to camp on Friday and I got a call about 3:30 Thursday evening, and they told me to come down, that they had something to tell me,” Knight said. “You wish they would have done it sooner, but at the same time things happen for a reason and you move forward.”
Knight said the Buccaneers gave him the usual reason, that they were going in a different direction.
“That’s the P.C. (politically correct) way you go about it now,” Knight said. “I don’t know what means. I’ve asked several people.”
Marmie, the Rams’ new defensive coordinator, was the Cardinals’ secondary coach from 1996-2000 and defensive coordinator from 2000-03.
“The biggest thing for me is I respect coach Marmie tremendously,” Knight said. “I’m here in large part because it was coach Marmie who was requesting I come in.”
BREAK TIME: At the end of Tuesday’s second workout, and the end of the Rams’ seventh day of training camp, Martz gave players the night off and gave them a midnight curfew, an hour later than usual. The team will have a light workout today, then practice under the lights tonight in preparation for a scrimmage with the Chicago Bears Thursday through Saturday.
“We need to let them recover,” Martz said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do, as hard as they can go.
“I love the attitude of this team, but we’ve got to get them back physically a little bit.”
FAMILIAR TERRITORY: Training camp has been a case of deja vu for former Western Illinois quarterback Russ Michna, who’s battling for a backup spot. Michna stayed at Thompson Hall, the Rams’ headquarters, his freshman and sophomore years in college.
“How weird is that?” Michna said. “It’s even weird just walking around seeing the same people in the dorms, seeing the same security people and janitors.”
LEARNING FAST: Martz said new offensive tackle Greg Randall, who has been with the team for two days, has been a quick study.
“The thing that has been impressive is he’s got a very small amount of mental errors for all the things we’ve thrown at him, and he’s in better shape than I would have anticipated,” Martz said.
INJURIES: Tight end Erik Jensen, the team’s seventh-round pick, sprained a knee in the first practice Tuesday and could be out 10 days to two weeks.
Defensive end Anthony Hargrove skipped both practices Tuesday with a minor injury to his left knee.
“We’ll get him back in short order,” Martz said.