With a combined eight seasons of NFL experience between them, free agent defensive linemen William Hayes and
Entering the free agent market, the Rams had a clearly defined need for help on the defensive line even if that need was more for rotational help than it was to fill starting positions.
But while Hayes and Laws have done enough to carve out solid niches for themselves in the league, both players believe that teaming up and learning from Rams coach Jeff Fisher and defensive line coach Mike Waufle will help them elevate their games to another level that will help people view them as more than just depth behind the likes of
“Yeah, definitely,” Laws said. “I am 26 years old. I feel like I am really coming into my prime. Coming down here to St. Louis, I feel like I am going to have an opportunity to shine and that’s really what I am looking for is an opportunity to shine and get out of this as much as I can.”
Hayes has also been in the league for only four years and has been hampered by some nagging injuries. He, too, believes he’s only scratching the surface on his potential.
“Oh yeah,” Hayes said. “That’s why I came here to St. Louis. I know Coach Waufle can bring something out of me that hasn’t been brought out of me yet. I am excited about that. I think he’s probably one of the top coaches in the NFL so it’s just a privilege to get to work with him.”
When Hayes and Laws hit the free agent market, they had plenty of interest from other teams. Hayes went so far as to cancel a visit to Denver after visiting St. Louis and Laws passed on opportunities to stay in Philadelphia or visit other teams.
The reasons for both players’ enthusiasm about St. Louis? There were two: Fisher and Waufle.
Hayes spent his first four seasons in Tennessee, including three playing under Fisher when he was the Titans head coach. As a fourth-round pick in 2008, Hayes had a solid 2009 season when he posted 51 tackles and four sacks in a backup role.
The past two seasons Hayes has been slowed by a number of injuries including a shoulder ailment that has limited him some during the Rams’ offseason training program and organized team activities.
Given a chance at a fresh start, Hayes banked on his prior relationship with Fisher and Waufle, whom he met when he was coming out of Winston-Salem State and Waufle was the defensive line coach of the Giants.
“Coach Fisher and Coach Waufle, it was pretty even,” Hayes said. “Waufle, I knew about him before I was even playing football when I was in college. He’s a great coach. Coach Fisher, I played with him my first three years and I think he’s a great guy. I told myself there were a couple places I wanted to go and I said if Coach Fisher takes a job, that would probably be one of the first places I’d want to go.”
For the Rams, Hayes figures to step in and become a valuable piece of the rotation on the edge, likely as the team’s third end behind Long and Quinn.
In his four seasons, Hayes has posted 112 tackles with eight sacks in 48 games. He doesn’t have a reputation as a dynamic pass rusher but believes he’s balanced enough to help on any down and will only continue to improve back under the guidance of Fisher and Waufle.
“I take pride in stopping the run and then getting after the passer,” Hayes said. “The last couple of years I have been injured so I have dedicated myself a little more to the weight room and training room so I can be out there to help my team get some wins.”
As for Laws, he comes to St. Louis with the intent to show that he was underutilized in his first five seasons with Philadelphia. A former second round pick out of Notre Dame in 2008, Laws had his best year in 2010 when he posted four sacks in a backup role.
Laws said it was difficult to get a rhythm for the Eagles because they were regularly asking him to do different things instead of allowing him to fill a specified role. While that made it hard on him, it also allowed Laws to add versatility to his game.
“My best attribute is I can do a lot of different things,” Laws said. “The last couple years I had different roles in Philadelphia. I played all third downs two years ago, I played all run downs last year so I think I am a three down player. That’s kind of unique for a lot of D tackles nowadays in a 4-3 defense. Hopefully I can get out there and play three downs.”
Although Laws doesn’t have the experience of playing for Fisher, he was impressed with the Rams’ coach upon meeting him on his visit.
“He definitely played into it,” Laws said. “I heard great things about Coach Fisher all the time but when I had a chance to come in and talk to him one on one when I had my visit out here, he’s impressive. The way he approaches the game, the way he approaches his job, his attitude, it’s attractive for a player. He had a large impact.”
Also unlike Hayes, Laws did not have a previous relationship with Waufle. What he did have, though, is a strong relationship with one of Waufle’s prize pupils from his days in New York.
“I came from Notre Dame with Justin Tuck and he played for Coach Waufle in New York so I got to talk to him a little bit about Coach and the way he approaches the game,” Laws said. “He’s kind of scientific methodology, I just like the way he approaches it. He comes at it in a way that I can really understand, talking about physics, talking about how the body works. It computes for me and I like it.”
The Rams signed Langford and spent their first-round pick on tackle
“I went through free agency, took a look at a few different teams that were interested in me and I thought I had a chance to shine here,” Laws said. “I thought they had a need at D tackle and Philadelphia I had a backup role. I just hope I can get some more quality playing time here.”