Rocky McIntosh looks for fresh start with Rams

For a guy with 68 career starts and four 100-plus tackle seasons, veteran linebacker Rocky McIntosh arrived in St. Louis about as under the radar as you can get. McIntosh, who played his six previous seasons with the Washington Redskins, was signed by the Rams on June 14 — or the last day of the spring practice period before the team scattered for the next month and a half.

So these first practices of training camp mark his first practices as a Ram. (He did do some work with the team on a tryout basis in June.) McIntosh has some catching up to do, but eventually could figure into the mix for a starting job at outside linebacker — either on the weak side or the strong side.

"Right now, we're asking him to learn both the outside positions," coach Jeff Fisher said. "We want some depth, and we want to improve the competition at the outside linebacker spot. Rocky has some familiarity with the system in Washington.

"He's a talented player. He's athletic and he's got very good strength. He's a smart player, and we felt like he would have a chance to fit into this system. He also has been a very productive special teams guy. ... So it felt like a perfect fit for us."

Picking up the system shouldn't be a problem for McIntosh, who played for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in Washington in 2006 and '07. Williams was hired as Rams defensive coordinator this offseason but is out for at least 2012 as he serves an indefinite suspension.

Williams may be in exile, but the Rams are still running his defense.

"The terminology's changed a little bit, but the scheme is the same," McIntosh said.

Like many players drafted in 2005 and '06, McIntosh was trapped in the uncapped year (2010), followed by the lockout. All of which made it tougher to test the market in free agency. He played on one-year deals for a couple of years, and when he finally reached the market this year, McIntosh was coming off a season in which he lost his starting job in midseason (to second-year pro Perry Riley, a draft choice of coach Mike Shanahan).

"There's a lot of stuff that happened CBA-wise," McIntosh said. "Being restricted, then tendered. Trying to hit the market when I was doing very well. But it is what it is. I can't complain. I just want to come out here, put my best foot forward and try to help this team."

McIntosh, who was drafted under Joe Gibbs and also played for Jim Zorn in Washington, averaged 109 tackles his first three years as a starter (2007 through '09), playing outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.

"When I was playing outside it was a little bit more fun, a little bit more reckless, aggressive," McIntosh said.

When Shanahan took over in 2010 and brought in Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator, the Redskins switched to a 3-4 and McIntosh moved inside playing alongside former Ram London Fletcher.

"Once we switched over to the other system, I was just like, 'Oh, man, I'm getting more tackles,' " McIntosh said.

McIntosh established a career high by far with 155 tackles in 2010, his first year playing inside in the 3-4. That topped his previous career best (119) by three dozen. But things didn't go so well in 2011, particularly after Riley took over eight games into the season.

McIntosh, whose given name is Roger, was given the nickname Rocky by his grandmother as a youngster.

"She said I was going to be hard-headed," he said. "I don't know if that's true or not, but that's what she said."

Perhaps that hard-headedness was on display the second half of last season, because some Redskins observers felt McIntosh didn't take his benching well. Things degenerated to the point where he missed the team curfew for the Redskins' regular-season finale and subsequently was placed on the pregame inactive list the next day by Shanahan.

So a change of scenery was needed by McIntosh, and what better place than St. Louis, since his initials are R.A.M. for Roger A. McIntosh.

"Hey, it's a fresh new start," McIntosh said. "New face. New team."

And new jersey number. Justin Cole already has McIntosh's old Redskins number (52) here in St. Louis, so McIntosh has switched to No. 59, which has a great pedigree in St. Louis since it belonged to Fletcher here more than a decade ago.

"He's the man," said McIntosh, who was Fletcher's teammate for five seasons in Washington. "I hope I can uphold the standards here. He won't tell you, but that's a superstar. It was a great pleasure to play besides that guy. He did wonderful things and still doesn't get the respect that he deserves."

As for McIntosh, he's trying to get his career back on track after the inauspicious ending in Washington. Not to mention a 3½-month wait in free agency before finding a job in St. Louis — on a one-year deal that pays him a base salary of $700,000.

He had visits with Minnesota and Miami before signing with the Rams, in what was a sluggish linebacker market. McIntosh said his career was "just at a standstill" for a while as the offseason progressed. During his period of unemployment, McIntosh ran drills in his backyard to stay in shape.

"Threw some cones out there and stuff like that," he said. "Had some of my teammates who were out of work come out there and practice with me."

Now his backyard is needed only for barbecuing. He's practicing with linebackers he has gotten to know through the business in James Laurinaitis, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Mario Haggan. And is trying to settle in at Rams Park.

"It just feels comfortable," McIntosh said.

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