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Two Bruins Go Separate Ways

Football: Thomas is drafted by powerhouse Rams in first round. Three picks later, Foster goes to lowly Panthers.

April 21, 2002|CHRISTINA TELLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

St. Louis and Charlotte, N.C., are separated by about 700 miles, but on the football map, they're worlds apart.

The Rams, last season's NFC champions, are one of the best teams in the NFL, while the Panthers won all of two games in 2001.

The teams gained some common ground Saturday when St. Louis selected UCLA linebacker Robert Thomas in the first round and the Panthers took UCLA running back DeShaun Foster in the second round.

Thomas was the 31st pick overall; Foster was the 34th.

"I knew that St. Louis was interested in me and if I was going to go in the first round, that St. Louis was my hope," Thomas said. "[With] three minutes left on the clock, they called me and said, 'Are you ready to be a Ram?' I said 'Yes I am.'"

The 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker joins a young defense that made vast improvement in 2001. The Rams expect Thomas to fit into their system after the departure of linebacker London Fletcher, who signed with the Buffalo Bills.

"They have a fast defense, and I'll fit in well because I'm a fast player myself," Thomas said. "My success comes from my quickness and from reading the offense."

Along with first-round selection comes pressure to perform. But Thomas, whose older brother Stan was a first-round pick of Chicago in 1991, said he is ready.

"They've paid a lot money for me, and I've got to go in and make something happen," Thomas said. "I'm going to go out there and help the team as much as I can."

Foster joins a Carolina backfield that already includes Lamar Smith, a former 1,000-yard rusher signed by the Panthers in the off-season.

Foster's tendency to fumble may have hurt his draft stock and he wants to use the criticism to his advantage.

"It might have hurt me a little bit, but I still got drafted," Foster said. "I can still prove to teams that it's not an issue. I can use it as a motivation factor."

Foster, who was born in Charlotte and has relatives there, looks forward to this next chapter of his career.

"Carolina is kind of lacking in the run game, but I'm hoping to get it going," Foster said. "I'm going to go in, run hard and help take a little [pressure] off [quarterback Chris] Weinke."

Foster, 6 feet 1 and 215 pounds, was the third running back taken in the draft, with William Green going to Cleveland with the 16th pick and T.J. Duckett going to Atlanta with the 18th pick. Thomas was the second linebacker taken behind Northwestern's Napoleon Harris, who was selected 23rd by Oakland.

Thomas and Foster were the Bruins' cornerstones for most of the 2001 season. Thomas finished with 111 tackles, 26 for losses, and 61/2 sacks and was named Pacific 10 defensive player of the year.

Foster played only seven games but still gained 1,109 yards and averaged 5.1 yards a carry before being suspended for an NCAA extra-benefits violation in November.

"I'll think about it as long as I play football," Foster said. "I should have thought before I acted. It's a mistake that I'll have to live with for the rest of my life."

USC cornerback Kris Richard was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round, 85th overall. The 5-11, 190-pound cornerback hopes to see action in Seattle's nickel and dime pass-coverage schemes.

UCLA safety Marques Anderson was taken in the third round by Green Bay, 92nd overall.

Washington defensive tackle Larry Triplett was picked up in the second round, 42nd overall, by the Indianapolis Colts. Triplett, who graduated from Westchester High, joins one of the NFL's most porous defenses.

San Diego State lineman Chester Pitts, who attended California Academy of Math and Science in Carson but didn't play football there, was drafted by the Houston Texans in the second round, the 50th overall pick. Pitts, who played tackle for the Aztecs, will probably be moved to left guard.

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