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Rams will open minicamp with first-round draft pick Smith at right tackle

ST. LOUIS -- Last weekend, Jason Smith was wearing a suit and tie and posing with a ceremonial No. 1 Rams jersey after being taken with the second overall pick of the NFL draft.

On Friday, the former Baylor offensive tackle will be on the field with the Rams in his first taste of the NFL. And he'll do it as St. Louis' starting right tackle.

Relaxed in St. Louis's Steve Wyche received exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to the Rams during draft weekend and noted a calm, cool and collected atmosphere.

New Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said he'll start Smith at right tackle and keep Alex Barron, a 2005 first-round pick, on the left side after moving him there for the team's first minicamp last month. Smith has been billed as the replacement for seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace, who was released by the Rams last month and later signed with the Chicago Bears.

"The way we begin is not always the way it kind of unwinds, but I think it will kind of be a more natural progression for him," Spagnuolo said of putting Smith at right tackle. "He's played both (tackle spots), Alex has played both, so it gives you a little bit of flexibility."

Smith said several times during draft weekend that he didn't care on which side he landed. He pointed out that he went to Baylor as a tight end.

"I'm a football player, and if it was tackle, tight end, defensive end, nose tackle, D-tackle, waterboy, I didn't mind doing what I'm asked to do," Smith said. "I do what needs to be done for us.

"I don't think about me, I think about we."

Spagnuolo said last week that second-round pick James Laurinaitis would work at middle linebacker. Veteran Chris Draft was at that spot in the Rams' first minicamp this offseason, with Will Witherspoon moving to the outside.

"To me, he is a middle linebacker, and that's where he'll line up," Spagnuolo said of Laurinaitis. "We'll see how it all shakes out."

Laurinaitis echoed Smith's sentiments on draft day, saying he'd do whatever the Rams asked. Laurinaitis also played some at weakside linebacker at Ohio State.

Spagnuolo said the Rams' three-day minicamp, which concludes Sunday, will offer a combination of re-teaching schemes to veterans and starting from scratch with the rookies.

"We fully expect to lose some of the rookies mentally, but if we can keep them on the base defense and base offense and at the same time advance the veterans within the camp, we'll be OK," Spagnuolo said. "Normally, you'd do it a little bit slower, but this is a different year."

Spagnuolo rejected a rookies-only minicamp in favor of involving the entire team. That's because when Spagnuolo was an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles, he recalled coach Andy Reid putting the veterans and rookies together.

"The makeup of the team starts to formulate a little bit clear," Spagnuolo said. "Unless something really strange happens between now and training camp or the opening game against Seattle, this is the team.

"Ninety-five percent of the team will come from this, and this is exciting."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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