Spagnuolo’s four pillars and the Rams’ draft board

How much influence does Spagnuolo and his pillars have on Billy Devaney’s draft board?

In Marvin Austin, you might see a defensive lineman with immense physical gifts, ferocity, and untapped skills who, in the right scheme and with the right coach, could explode as one of the best players of the draft. Or, you might see a greedy, self-absorbed idiot who knowingly broke NCAA rules by taking money from agents or boosters or both, and tweeted about how he planned to spend it, losing a full year of eligibility. 

In Jonathan Baldwin you might see a long, lean and well-muscled receiver who can go up and get the ball with the best of them, and could be a huge weapon in the red zone, perhaps the next Brandon Marshall. Or you might see a player with continuing self-control and maturity issues who faced indecent assault charges in college, and who lashed out at a scout for delivering a poor Pro Day assessment.

In fact, you might see only the positives of one and only the negatives of the other. But the question is, do either of these players pass Steve Spagnuolo’s “Four Pillars” test? At this point in the Rams’ growth, do they have to?

This was the subject of a long talk Saturday evening between myself and @Sheilds3L, who was strongly considering both players in the second round of the National Football Post’s ongoing twitter mock draft.    

@RamsHerd I don’t think devaney would take Austin or Baldwin, but I have to admit both are extremely tempting. I’ve been pro-Baldwin 4 a yr

When Spagnuolo inherited this roster, much was made of his announcement that “faith, character, core values, and ‘team first’ ” would be the pillars that this team would be rebuilt on. In fact, it was one of the first topics I wrote about here at RamsHerd. So far, Spags and Devaney have stuck to that plan and after a gruesome first season, we are seeing positive results.

But as we debated when Randy Moss became a potential target for the Rams, the coach’s demeanor itself goes a long way with these players. In other words, Spagnuolo doesn’t expect a field full of saints. What he demands is a field full of guys who will put their baggage behind them and get on the field and take pride in their work. But what makes this work is that he demands the same commitment from himself and his coaches as he does from his players.

The character issue was deeply scrutinized for the team’s top picks in recent years. Converting Jason Smith from tight end to stud offensive tackle was (and still is) a project. Was he willing to put in the work to maximize his talent? Drafting a quarterback #1 overall and committing the largest ever rookie guarantee was an enormous commitment to make. Would Sam Bradford make equal commitment back to the team to earn that money? The Rams had to make sure on both fronts, or both draft choices could have capsized this team. (Consider the alternatives: the Rams could have drafted Andre Smith and Jimmy Clausen.)

When so-called “questionable characters” like Randy Moss and Vincent Jackson were in the wind, veteran NFC West beat man Mike Sando was very open to considering them on the Rams, saying (and I’m paraphrasing here, because I don’t have a link handy) that the core of Spagnuolo’s team was now strong enough to handle a so-called “diva” or two. In fact, several Rams players tweeted to defend players like these from our media name-calling.

Look at the roster’s core now. The locker room is built around Steven Jackson’s immense magnetism and his newfound commitment to leadership. It has trustworthy veteran voices in Jason Brown and Fred Robbins. And it has young anchors in Bradford, Chris Long and James Laurinaitis. There is no posturing here, no faded glory cashing a paycheck on the virtue of a stentorian voice, no agenda other than to make the Rams as good as they can be.

@Shields3L ended up going with Jonathan Baldwin, and I like the pick. (Edited: Nice writeup on the pick and internal war room debate.)  

I’d have to think that, unless a player has just given up (see: Albert Haynesworth) or has no inner drive (see: Jamarcus Russell), it’s officially time to make “talent” the official fifth pillar.