After reading Tackle Box's review of the Rams middle linebacker situation, I got thinking about how the MLB was typecast in Steve Spagnuolo's last job as defensive coordinator with the Giants. Spagnuolo said that he'll be involved in shaping the defense, particularly early on. Past experience informs future decision making, so we might get a sense of what the Rams are looking for in an MLB.
With the Giants, Spagnuolo entrusted the middle of the field to Antonio Pierce. Besides being famous as the guy who took Plaxico Burress to the hospital after a notorious self-inflicted injury, the eight year veteran is an intelligent player with an ability to find the ball. He has range and an explosive style and a real leader for the defensive unit. Pierce is 6'1", 238 lbs, about the same size as Will Witherspoon. So Pierce's size may not fit the prototype, but he has the results. During the playoffs, he was the main factor in holding long-time nemesis Brian Westbrook to less than 40 rushing yards. If only he could have helped the G-Men score...
Coaching LBs with the Eagles from 2004-2006, Spagnuolo had a fan favorite, Jeremiah Trotter, in the middle. Trotter was the big guy you think of as a MLB, 260 lbs+. Trotter played second fiddle to start the '04 season, until an ugly loss that put Trotter back starting in the middle and helping lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl that season. Trotter's a hitter's hitter, with instincts that brought him to the ball. He could get around blockers with his physicality or instincts.
The commonality between Pierce and Trotter is the instinct and tackling/pursuit ability commonly desired in a 4-3 middle linebacker. Trotter's style of play got him to four Pro Bowls, but didn't do anything to prolong his career. Pierce's style of play doesn't get him noticed in a defense marked by high sack totals, but his work made those sacks possible by taking away the run. Still plenty physical, his career is still going, though probably on the downhill side.
So which is it for the Rams? That kind of depends on what players are available, and for that, I'll refer you back to this post from Tackle Box where we have a list of candidates. Vilma or Barton seem to be more along the lines of Pierce, while Crowder has little of both. From the draft prospects, there's a mix of both, but if the Rams pursue a LB later than the first round or two, guys like Scott McKillop (best football name ever?), Derry Beckwith or Worrell Williams, none of those guys tip the scales at more than 240 lbs but profile similar to Pierce. Like Tackle Box said, the Rams are going to have to get creative to fill this need.
Related to the search for a MLB is the search for help at SS. Giants starting SS James Butler has been mentioned here before as a FA candidate. The Giants would like to sign him, at the right price, since he likely would be replaced as a starter by Kenny Phillips, but things don't seem to be going well on that front. From the NY Daily News Blue Screen blog:
Butler, meanwhile, didn’t sound happy at the end of the season that the Giants had made absolutely no effort to reach out to him on a long-term deal. He played on his $1.417 million tender last year, and with Kenny Phillips ready for a starting role the Giants aren’t expected to go much higher. His return may depend on his asking price, too, and on whether he finds a market for himself in free agency.
Surely, Spagnuolo could lure him over to the Rams with the promise of a starting role? Butler turns 27 in September, leaving him plenty of miles on his wheels. With so much of the free agent market filled with question marks and hefty price tags for the Rams, Butler directly addresses a key need the Rams have, probably at a fairly reasonable price.