As he watched his team struggle together from afar for the entire 2011 NFL season, Rams defensive tackle
Only a year removed from becoming one of the team’s Cinderella stars, who had gone from training camp long shot from tiny Central Oklahoma to a contributor on a NFL roster as a rookie, Cudjo was feeling the weight of the world on his surgically repaired back and, by extension, his mind.
Cudjo had undergone surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back, a surgery that left him essentially immobile for six weeks and led to a six month rehab.
“That was my first surgery ever and it was serious,” Cudjo said. “I was way down. I had to deal with it. I prayed a lot about it, went to church, changed my life around and did the best to become a person that can show the Rams I can help this organization.”
With one preseason game to go, Cudjo has done plenty to help the organization but also to help his chances of again making the roster.
In the first three preseason games, Cudjo has consistently provided a pass rush from his three-technique position (though he wasn’t thrilled with his effort against Dallas) and his efforts have not gone overlooked by coach Jeff Fisher and his staff.
“’Cudj’ has done a nice job,” assistant head coach Dave McGinnis said. “You’ve seen him in practice and he’s been productive in the games, also. That’s a big, big plus for us because we need guys to be able to rotate in on that defensive line. ‘Cudj’ has been healthy and again, as I say, he’s taken to really the type of techniques and what Mike Waufle has brought to his game. Especially in the last couple of weeks, you’ve seen him kind of come up.”
Landing a spot on the Rams final 53-man roster would be quite a turnaround for Cudjo considering what he was going through last year at this time.
The back issue first grabbed Cudjo in last year’s training camp, derailing what to that point had been one of the team’s quiet surprises from the 2010 season after he earned a roster spot as an undrafted free agent.
Cudjo dealt with a lot of pain as the herniated disc led to a pinched nerve down his leg. Although he didn’t want to risk his chance to again make the roster, Cudjo had no choice but to undergo the surgery.
“I was pretty much out for six months,” Cudjo said. “No twisting, no bending, stuff like that. It was really hard mentally and physically. I could do everything myself but I had to be careful of what I did as far as bending over or twisting because the scar tissue had to heal right.”
After a six-week wait in which Cudjo couldn’t do much more than get plenty of bed rest, he finally was able to begin his rehabilitation. But getting back to work wasn’t as easy as it might have seemed.
Sure, Cudjo was eager to get back on the field but he also had a bit of a depression to snap out of before he could attack his workouts. He did what many in his position would do and turned to an unexplored spiritual side to help him get going.
“It was very frustrating,” Cudjo said. “I was in a little slump. I found God and he helped me get back to where I know best and I tried to stay around and help the team as much as I can.”
Upon getting back into rehab, Cudjo started slow, working mostly on leg exercises before he was able to start twisting and bending and working on core muscles. Slowly but surely, more and more exercises were added to Cudjo’s rehab and he took to the workouts well.
At 6’2, 311 pounds, Cudjo appears trimmer than he’s been at any point in his young career and has added some muscle to better hold up against the run.
Cudjo found himself recalibrating his outlook from where he was in 2011.
“I had big expectations last year,” Cudjo said. “I came in shape and was ready to play and then I got hurt and just crashed. It was hard. I tried to bounce back as quick as I could. I am blessed to be back in training camp and now I am doing good and trying to make this team.”
For a player like Cudjo who sneaked his way on to the roster as a rookie in 2010, the prospect of impressing a new coaching staff that has no loyalty or investment in him can be a daunting one.
But Fisher and Co. apparently liked Cudjo enough to re-sign him as an exclusive rights free agent and so far Cudjo has thoroughly enjoyed working with Fisher, McGinnis and defensive line coach Mike Waufle.
“I know we have got a new staff but just like my first year I have to prove to them I am hungry enough to make this team and help out,” Cudjo said. “I like the coaching staff here so I am glad they gave me an opportunity to showcase my skills.”
Cudjo said he’s developed a strong bond with Waufle, who is widely regarded as one of the league’s savviest defensive line coaches.
It’s also helped Cudjo’s cause that adjusting to the defensive scheme brought by Fisher and McGinnis isn’t one that is too complicated.
In the previous system, defensive tackles were often viewed as interchangeable but there’s a clear distinction between three technique and nose tackles in this scheme. But what’s not so difficult to understand is what’s being asked of them, regardless of where they line up.
“This defense is much easier for us actually,” Cudjo said. “It’s basically just attacking. There’s no reading, just get off the ball and react to whatever happens. It is fun. It’s either A gap or B gap and everything else is just attack and get to the ball.”
Cudjo has been doing plenty of that attacking in this training camp. With
Veteran addition Trevor Laws missed most of camp with a knee injury and was placed on injured reserve Monday and
In the preseason games, in particular Cudjo has jumped off the screen with the backups.
“The preseason games are important,” Cudjo said. “It’s not only the Rams but 31 other teams are looking at you so I just try to go as hard as I can every day and make plays when those games come.
“I feel like if I buy in, which I am doing, and take coaching like I should, I have a good chance to make this team.”