Linehan expects improvement from Leonard in second season

ST. LOUIS -- After offseason surgery on both shoulders, St. Louis Rams fullback Brian Leonard will be bigger, and expects to be better, in 2008.

The 2007 second-round draft pick gained 303 yards on 86 carries for a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry in his rookie season for the 3-13 Rams. Then again, he was playing with two bad shoulder that limited his ability to bulk up for the rigors of play in the NFL.

Leonard said surgeons "cleaned out" both shoulders and tightened the joints. Now able to push the weights harder, he's already increased his weight to 235 pounds from 226 pounds.

"I feel a lot stronger," he said Thursday after an organized team activity at Rams Park.

Coach Scott Linehan expects improvement. In fact, he he's seeing progress already, mentally and physically.

"He's still a young player," Linehan said. "Brian is handling a lot of things that I don't think we could have put on him a year ago."

Leonard acknowledges there was a lot to learn.

"It's like night and day," he said. "I feel sort of sorry for those rookies coming in now. It's such a tough year to get through and come out and perform at your best and live a different life."

Leonard split time between fullback and tailback last season, subbing for Steven Jackson when the starter missed four games with a partially torn groin muscle and when he left a game with a bulging disc.

Leonard's best showing was against Arizona when he gained 102 yards on 18 carries. He caught 30 passes for 103 yards last season.

Leonard was a tailback in his first three seasons at Rutgers before moving to fullback his senior year. He holds Rutgers team records for receptions (207), points (272) and all-purpose yards (5,921).

During last week's minicamp and now in the OTAs, Leonard is seeing double duty at both halfback and fullback in the offense being installed by new coordinator Al Saunders.

"He's going to play fullback for us in certain packages and he'll be the halfback in others," Linehan said. "He's got to know both. That's what makes his role so valuable. He's got to know both and he's got to be good at both."

It isn't easy. Saunders runs a complicated offense.

"They say it's one of the hardest offenses to learn," Leonard said. "It has been tough. I'm doing my studying to get it right."

Linehan also hopes to see Leonard become more productive on special teams.

"I think that will be something he can make a lot of strides in," Linehan said.

Leonard said, "Special teams is one of the big reasons they drafted me. They wanted me to come here and be versatile and do different things."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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