Rams sign safety from Miami

2013-04-30T00:05:00Z 2013-08-23T08:04:02Z Rams sign safety from MiamiBy Jim Thomas jthomas@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8197 stltoday.com

Twenty percent of the NFL’s starters entered the league as undrafted free agents. Last season, eight players on the Rams’ roster were rookie free agents— including punter Johnny Hekker.

So as the Rams continue to add to their list of 2013 rookie free agents, who knows when the next Kurt Warner, London Fletcher or D’Marco Farr will show up? All were unwanted on draft day, and all ended up making the Pro Bowl for the Rams.

As the Rams build their offseason roster to the 90-man limit, they have either signed or agreed to terms with 21 rookie free agents. Five more players are known to have signed on a tryout-only basis for the Rams’ rookie minicamp May 10-12.

One of the most intriguing names on this year’s list of undrafted rookies is Miami safety Ray-Ray Armstrong. Following his sophomore season in 2010, he was considered a future NFL pro, perhaps a Day 2 pick in the draft.

He had 79 tackles, 4½ tackles for loss and three interceptions for the Hurricanes in 2010. Then the troubles began in conjunction with the NCAA’s investigation into wrongdoing at Miami.

He was suspended for the first four games of 2011 for accepting improper benefits while being recruited. Later in the season, Armstrong was suspended for the Florida State game after tweeting about having dinner with members of a PR firm that represented athletes.

And that was just the beginning. The hammer came down in July 2012, when he was dismissed from Miami for unspecified reasons, but reasons believed to be related to the NCAA investigation. He then enrolled at Faulkner University, an NAIA school in Montgomery, Ala., but was denied eligibility to play.

When he worked out at Miami’s pro day less than two months ago, he hadn’t played in a college football game since 2011. Armstrong has good size, at 6 feet 3, 216 pounds. His 40 times weren’t great at the pro day (4.69 and 4.72), but he’ll at least get another chance with the Rams.

This year’s list of rookie free agents includes three players apiece at linebacker, safety, and cornerback — positions where the Rams are in search of depth.

The most interesting name at linebacker is Houston’s Phillip Steward. He was an All-Conference USA first-team selection last season, recording 128 tackles, 19½ tackles for loss and 11 sacks. He also had three interceptions and a league-leading five forced fumbles. At 6-1, 233, he runs in the low 4.6s, so all in all it’s surprising that he wasn’t drafted.

Another linebacker prospect from the Lone Star state, Jonathan Stewart, had 81 tackles and 2½ sacks last season at Texas A&M and has excellent size at 6-4, 242.

In the secondary, the Rams have doubled up at Memphis and Texas-El Paso.

At Memphis, cornerback Robert Steeples and safety Cannon Smith will get a chance with the Rams. Steeples is from De Smet High and played his first three seasons at Mizzou before transferring.

Steeples, who had only one start at Missouri, started 10 times at Memphis last season, finishing with 42 tackles, five pass breakups and three fumble recoveries. Steeples returned one of the fumble recoveries 27 yards for a touchdown, against Central Florida.

Smith, a Miami transfer, is the son of FedEx chief executive officer Frederick W. Smith. A converted quarterback, Smith played in seven games at QB for Memphis in 2010, including two starts. He completed 23 of 44 passes for 248 yards with one TD that season.

After switching to defense, Smith started 21 games in 2011 and 2012. He recorded 50 tackles, with two pass breakups and two fumble recoveries last season.

From Texas-El Paso, the Rams have added cornerbacks Drew Thomas and Darren Woodard. A two-year starter at right corner, Thomas had 82 tackles, seven pass breakups and one interception last year. Woodard, a junior-college transfer, didn’t become a full-time starter until last season when he registered 44 tackles, six breakups and two INTs.

Rams special teams weren’t denied in the rookie free-agent signings. Punter and kicker Brett Baer of Louisiana-Lafayette made 42 of 47 field goals over his college career and last season averaged 42.0 yards on 52 punts.

Also, the Rams have added a long snapper — from Canada. That would be Jorgen Hus of the University of Regina. He is trying to be the first native of Saskatoon to suit up in an NFL game. He may be far from home in St. Louis, but at least he’ll have a familiar mascot, having played for the Regina Rams.

And if you think long-snapping is boring, check out Hus’ YouTube video. He’s seen snapping into a moving car (driver’s side window), snapping from his garage into a trash can in the middle of the street and also knocking what looks like a large paper cup off the head of a kneeling “holder.”

So far, the Rams have yet to sign a rookie free agent quarterback, or camp arm. Perhaps Smith from Memphis can loosen up his arm.

Follow Jim Thomas on twitter @jthom1

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