ST. LOUIS — Two traits highlight the playing style of Rams sixth-round draft pick Cody Wichmann: He plays with an edge, and he thrives as an underdog.
The offensive lineman estimates there are about 600 students at Mariposa High School in California, where he played football before attending Fresno State and becoming the 215th overall selection in this year’s NFL Draft.
"I like to think (I’m) somewhat of an underdog, coming from the small schools," he says.
Consider it a natural byproduct of living in a small town, although by the time Wichmann graduated from high school, Mariposa had already sent one offensive lineman to the NFL — Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Logan Mankins, who also attended Fresno State.
"Even at Fresno they had his picture in the main hallway that we had to our meeting rooms, and (I’d) just glance up there every once in a while and tell myself, ‘Gosh, he did it from a small town, why can’t I?’" Wichmann remembers.
That said, any doubters were smart enough to keep their mouths shut in his vicinity.
"No one’s ever said it to my face," says the 6-foot-6, 315-pound lineman. "I’m sure there were people saying I was from such a small school and whatnot, and they’re probably saying I shouldn’t have made it to college, shouldn’t have made it to pro. So I’ve kind of used that — I imagine that there was that, and then I used it to get me going."
Meanwhile, his ability to play with an edge — "If you’re somewhere in the vicinity, he’s going to hit you," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said after drafting Wichmann — was honed by watching NFL players and playing at Fresno, which preached adding bite to the Bulldogs’ game.
Wichmann started 50 games in his career for the Bulldogs, including a run of 43 in a row.
"We called it ‘ribs,’ getting ribs," Wichmann says.
The team even had a board for it — players accumulated points for such play throughout the year, and at its conclusion, the winner received a hammer adorned with Bulldog stickers and his name.
"I won it twice," Wichmann notes. "I think (the last hammer is) in the trunk of my car right now. … They might both be in there."
Wichmann also proved durable during his time at Fresno, starting 50 games — 43 of which were in a row — after redshirting his freshman year.
All that size, edge and durability got the small-town lineman all the way to Rams Park this past weekend, where players assembled for the start of rookie orientation camp. Wichmann ran through the technique exercises at guard and at one point switched over to center — a position he’d never played before in-game. And while he didn’t actually snap the ball during orientation, he’d practiced the skill between the end of his season at Fresno State and the draft, in case a situation like that occurred. With St. Louis selecting three offensive linemen before taking Wichmann, the versatility can only help his case.
Wichmann also must relearn a pro-style offense, since Fresno worked out of the spread during his last two and a half years in college. Earlier in his college career, however, the program ran a pro-style offense under former coach Pat Hill, and Wichmann says many of the run-blocking terms in Hill’s system and what he’s learning now are the same. Before coming to camp, he pulled out an old playbook from that era to brush up on terms, and even worked plays on the board with the San Diego Chargers’ Kenny Wiggins, with whom Wichmann played as a freshman at Fresno.
He’s also tabbed the speed and the strength of the NFL game as two more adjustments he’ll have to make going from college to professional football.
"We’re just dealing with fresh-out-of-college guys, and it still seems faster, because these are all top-notch players," Wichmann said Saturday. "So I can only imagine when the big dogs come in here."
If his underdog past is any indication, however, Wichmann should be more than capable of learning to run with them.