Even prior to the 2013 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams were on a quest to shore up the weak side linebacker position. The team received stellar play from always awesome James Laurinaitis and last year’s free agent pick-up Jo-Lonn Dunbar, but the weak side was still lacking.
Then free agent Daryl Smith visited the team in early April, and there were high hopes that he would put his name on the dotted line with the club. That never came to pass as Smith has now signed on with the Baltimore Ravens.
Alec Ogletree was added to the picture in the draft, and his range and versatility will give the team plenty of flexibility in the coming year. Still, relying solely on a rookie to make an immediate impact can be a risky endeavor so the Rams have gone in search of some veteran depth just in case.
That veteran depth comes in the form of soon-to-be 33 year old Will Witherspoon who will not only join the linebacking corps, but he will also take over the title of oldest player on the NFL’s youngest roster. Harvey Dahl and Scott Wells are both 32, but Witherspoon’s birthday will arrive prior to the regular season getting underway.
This won’t be his first go-round with the Rams or head coach Jeff Fisher for that matter. In October of 2009, Witherspoon was dealt to the Philadelphia Eagles by then Rams general manager Billy Devaney for receiver Brandon Gibson (who just left in free agency this offseason) and a fifth round pick. He played with Fisher, assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, and new linebackers coach Frank Bush with the Tennessee Titans.
Adding Witherspoon isn’t a move that will get a lot of attention, but this is the type of signing that will help in the locker room and from a leadership standpoint when adversity hits. Obviously the lack of depth at the position with only Josh Hull having played an NFL snap aside from Laurinaitis and Dunbar at linebacker will be helped greatly as well.
Familiarity and necessity facilitated this signing, but the Rams could find another late free agency gem in Witherspoon as the year wears on. There’s no telling when an injury could hit, and having a veteran insurance policy is always a positive. Look for the linebacking crew to take yet another step forward in 2013 as the three veterans help groom the young Ogletree into a star as the year moves along.