Witherspoon's veteran leadership being counted on in his return to Rams

Will Witherspoon's return gave the St. Louis Rams veteran insurance at linebacker and a mentor for first-round pick Alec Ogletree.

It also put Witherspoon much closer to the farm where he's raising grass-fed beef.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Witherspoon signed July 18 with St. Louis to begin a second stint with the Rams.

"It's good to be back. The history I have with coach (Jeff) Fisher was a big reason I came back," Witherspoon said. "I have my farm in Owensville. I had a lot of reasons to come back. I like it here."

His main role will be to provide veteran experience behind Ogletree and younger veterans James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar at linebacker.

"He's going to bring a senior, veteran leadership," said Tim Walton, the Rams' defensive coordinator. "He's played the game for a long time, gives you depth at multiple positions. That leadership and experience is valuable in this thing."

Witherspoon, who will be entering his 13th season, said he is fine playing the leader.

"I see myself playing a blended role," Witherspoon said. "I'll be teaching guys, educating guys and helping out on the field when asked ... just being an all-around true vet."

That's what Fisher wanted when he added Witherspoon to the roster.

"Will is a vet. He understands what to do and how to do it," Fisher said. "He's acting like he's been here for a couple of seasons."

Witherspoon played in 54 games for the Rams from 2006-09. In his first season, he played in all 16 games and recorded a career-high 113 tackles and three sacks. In 2007, Witherspoon recorded 110 tackles and a career-best seven sacks and was chosen the team's MVP.

However, Witherspoon's tenure in St. Louis ended Oct. 20, 2009, when he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for wide receiver Brandon Gibson and a fifth-round draft pick in 2010. At the time, the Rams were in dire need of help at receiver.

"Part of it I knew was business, but part of it left me bitter," Witherspoon said about the trade. "At the same time, you know, time heals everything. I think now the trade only helped me in my career and gave me other opportunities. It's all come full circle."

Witherspoon turns 33 on Aug. 19. He is the oldest player on one of the youngest teams in the NFL.

"You know, they called me 'Pops' last year in Tennessee," Witherspoon said. "I'm fine with that. I find it hilarious."

Age does have its privileges.

"I got the first parking spot because of that," Witherspoon said. "That has definitely been the perk of being on a young team. I've got the shortest distance from my car into the building."

Witherspoon's experience is meant to be passed along to Ogletree, the 30th overall pick in the first round. Besides being linebackers, both also played at Georgia.

"When he first got here, he came up to me and said who he was and that he was looking forward to playing with me," Ogletree said. "We've had a lot of conversations. He talks to all the guys. He's a great veteran."

Witherspoon said he likes what he sees in Ogletree.

"I think mentoring him is a big part in my job here," Witherspoon said. "I talk with him about his skill set and what he can do better. We all can see he's got a lot of talent and a lot of great ability. He's just got to put it all in the right place. Raw is the best way to put it. College kids are always raw."

While Witherspoon wants to keep playing, he is looking ahead to a career after the NFL. He has a cattle operation about 90 minutes southwest of St. Louis called Shire Gate Farm.

"I started that in 2006 when I was here and bought the property and got in the cattle business," Witherspoon said. "It was about 180 acres and I've grown it 900 acres or so. I keep about 200 head of cattle. We produce grass-fed beef.

"We've got some products coming out. Hopefully, we'll see it on the shelves soon. In the last couple of offseasons, I've (gone to) food shows to understand what people want, what retailers want. I try to see the whole picture from hoof to plate."


Online: AP NFL site: http://pro32.ap.org/