The guy with the big belly, no hair and Jayhawk tattoo made it, but the Rams cut 13 players, among them newly acquired wide receiver Sam Graddy and tight end Damone Johnson.
Keith Loneker, a longshot rookie free-agent guard from Kansas who was a quivering 346 pounds at the outset of training camp, emerged Monday as this year’s happy ending story after surviving the final cut to 47.
“I thought I was going to get cut today,” Loneker said. “I started walking around the locker room, looking for the guy who was going to tell us. He told me I was all right, but I felt like they were lying to me. I was waiting for somebody else to come in and tell me. For 22 years it seemed like this is what I’ve been wanting to do, and then they tell me I did it. It was like, no, there’s got to be a catch here.”
Ted Tollner, the Ram quarterback coach, had to tell players that they were wanted in Coach Chuck Knox’s office Monday.
“Most of the guys were walking around with their heads down, trying to avoid me,” Tollner said. “But Loneker came right up to me, looked me right in the eyes with his chest out and said he wanted it right on the chin.”
Said Loneker: “As soon as they told me, I ran in and used the weightlifting coach’s phone. I called my mom, my dad and my wife. Mom and Dad, like usual, started crying and told me how proud they were.”
Loneker reported to camp out of shape and took a beating in early drills. However, he dropped 18 pounds in the next few weeks and caught the attention of offensive line coach Jim Erkenbeck. Erkenbeck kept Loneker at the expense of Chuck Belin, a fifth-round draft pick, and Brad Fichtel, a seventh-round choice.
Belin and Fichtel are expected to rejoin the team today as part of the Rams’ five-man practice squad.
The Rams gave the Raiders a late-round draft pick for Graddy last week, but the deal was contingent on Graddy making the Ram roster.
The Rams appear to still have problems at the wide receiver position, and Seattle on Monday released wide receiver Tommy Kane, a third-round pick of the Seahawks in 1988 while Knox was coaching there.
The Dallas Cowboys, meanwhile, have expressed an interest in Johnson, an eight-year Ram veteran, but he has been bothered by a sore knee in training camp. Johnson was due to earn $600,000 this season and said, “I don’t foresee coming back to the Rams.”
The Rams also released wide receiver Jeff Chadwick, linebacker Tom Homco, defensive end Bill Hawkins, safety R.J. Kors, cornerback Courtney Griffin, wide receivers Tony Hargain and Richard Buchanan, defensive end Warren Powers and punter Jeff Buffaloe.
The Rams had cut last year’s starting punter, Don Bracken, a week ago, and it appeared that Buffaloe was set. He didn’t get a punting opportunity against the Raiders in the final exhibition Saturday and on Monday, Bracken was back at Rams Park. The team said, however, that no decision had been made about Bracken.
Buffaloe averaged 41.9 yards per punt in exhibition play to Bracken’s 38.3.
“We’ll take a look to see what’s out there (on the waiver wire) and there’s a possibility we’ll bring Bracken back,” said Howard Tippett, special teams coach. “I know this, we’ll have somebody here ready to practice on Wednesday.”
Under the league’s new rules this year, the Rams will be allowed to add six more players to their roster today, and in addition establish a five-man practice squad.
“Coach Knox told me that if no one picks me up off waivers they will bring me back,” said Buchanan, who started at wide receiver in place of an injured Henry Ellard last week.
The Rams are also expected to bring back Hawkins, their former No. 1 draft choice who is coming off a serious knee injury and Kors, their prime backup at free safety.
“Chuck told me to be here tomorrow so that means something I guess,” Hawkins said.
Homco might be another prime candidate for recall because the team has no one backing up middle linebacker Shane Conlan, who has a groin strain and was unable to practice Monday. Outside linebacker Henry Rolling moved over to Conlan’s spot and Chris Martin played Rolling’s position.
“A lot of guys cut today might be brought back tomorrow,” Knox said.