Searching for Alexander's safety spot

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After the St. Louis Rams used a fourth-round pick on Maurice Alexander, the initial wave of discussion centered on his interesting path from Edward Jones Dome janitor to NFL safety.

Were it not for the team's seventh-round choice of defensive end Michael Sam, Alexander's story might have been the best story of the draft's final day. Perhaps lost in that conversation was figuring out where, exactly, Alexander fits in with the Rams' defense.

Since the team selected Alexander, details have emerged of just how much Rams coach Jeff Fisher coveted his services. Although he doesn't come with the cache of any of the four players the Rams chose before him, Alexander does bring the type of potential Fisher and his veteran coaching staff enjoy trying to develop.

Make no mistake, Alexander is far from a finished product. Alexander played defensive end at a local (Eureka) high school and Arizona Western Junior College. Upon arrival at Utah State, Alexander switched to linebacker where he spent the 2011 season before he was dismissed from the team for his role in a fight with a teammate.

That was the year Alexander spent working as a janitor back home in St. Louis before earning his way back on the team. When he returned to Logan, Utah, the coaching staff asked the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder to move to safety. He'd never played the position before and in a span of four years had officially played at each level of the defense.

The results were better than anyone could reasonably expect. He posted 11 tackles in his first start at the position and finished with 80 tackles, nine for loss and 3.5 sacks.

“It was his first time playing safety, but he’s aggressive, big, athletic, and will hit," general manager Les Snead said. "If you look at the numbers, sacks, caused fumbles, tackles for losses. I’ll let coach tell you a little bit about. ...I won’t get into our new scheme, but there’s definitely a role for this type of player in our defense.”

As the Rams begin organized team activities Tuesday, it will be interesting to see what that role is. In terms of physical appearance and stature, Alexander bears a resemblance to incumbent starter T.J. McDonald. Fisher has repeatedly said the Rams don't have traditional safety jobs defined by free and strong status and that safeties can be interchangeable.

On the surface, however, Alexander and McDonald would seem a bit repetitive with both appearing more suited to playing in the box in what would be considered more of a strong safety role. That's the role Alexander played at Utah State, though he says he did play a little bit of free safety on occasion.

At the NFL scouting combine in February, Alexander ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds, which is generally considered fast enough to cover on the back end.

If his ticket to playing time defensively is learning to be effective playing more of a centerfield role, Alexander says he'd be happy to do it.

“I love football, like I said. I’m willing to learn anything," Alexander said. "That year off, it taught me a lot. I know football could be over in a matter of time, like that it could be over quick. My IQ is pretty good in football. It was a hard switch, I’m not even going to lie. It’s a hard switch going from linebacker to safety, but I’m easy to coach. Coach (Todd) Orlando believed in me up there at Utah State and he taught me very well.”

For the time being, it seems likely Rodney McLeod will get another opportunity to work in tandem with McDonald while Alexander learns his new position. Over the long haul, though, it's not out of the question that the Rams will look to pair Alexander with McDonald.

"He’s a very, very talented player and has huge upside," Fisher said. "The drills, the combine drills in the building, the football knowledge and instincts are outstanding and we’re very excited to have him. We’ll plug him in packages and he’s one of those guys that most likely is active on Sundays as a special teamer as well, immediately.”