ST. LOUIS — Linebacker Mario Haggan is the St. Louis Rams' elder statesmen -- at age 32.
Haggan is the oldest player on the Rams' roster. He's a couple of months older than fullback Ovie Mughelli and almost six months older than safety Quintin Mikell.
"I take that as a blessing," Haggan said with a chuckle. "Anytime you've been around long enough that they start calling you the old guy, that means you've done some good things. That means God has given you the opportunity to play a game that so many people are not blessed to play."
If being the old guy means he also has a responsibility to be a leader, Haggan is willing to embrace it.
"I like to try to do that by my actions," Haggan said. "Leading is not rah-rah. You can do more things as a leader by showing them. I think people follow you more than they listen to you. I try to work hard, and those that watch what you do will follow."
The 6-foot-3, 274-pound Haggan is getting most of the reps with the first-string defense at strong-side linebacker. Another veteran, Rocky McIntosh, is expected to challenge Haggan for the starting job.
"I'm enjoying another opportunity to play football," Haggan said. "It's been fun, and I'm getting ready to get out there on Sunday."
Though he's known for his run defense, Haggan feels like he can hold his own against the pass, too.
"I don't mind getting physical at all," Haggan said. "It's a linebacking mentality, and it's what I have been doing most of my career. With my body type, that's what they call on me to do. Most people say that I'm not a pass guy, but if you check film, there is not a lot of passes caught in my area."
Haggan certainly had to earn his way in the NFL.
Haggan was a seventh-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2003 out of Mississippi State.
Haggan played in every game for the Bills from 2004 to 2007, but he never started a game.
"I spent some time doing the grunt work, earning my way in the NFL," Haggan said. "I played special teams for three or four years and finally the opportunity came for me to be a starter, and I took it and ran with it."
Haggan said he's willing to return to special teams roots to help the Rams.
"Special teams are in my heart," Haggan said. "I live for it, I got out there and work for it."
Haggan started all 16 games in 2009 for the Denver Broncos, becoming the first NFL player to start every game in a season after not having a single start for 73 or more games.
Haggan's best season came in 2010 when he racked up 87 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles for the Broncos.
Haggan started only one game last season as he played behind linebacker Von Miller, who was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
As a free agent this spring, Haggan took his time picking a team. He signed with the Rams on May 15.
Haggan said getting the chance to play under coach Jeff Fisher weighed heavily in his decision to join the Rams.
"I've talked to a lot of guys about Coach Fisher and I've gotten nothing but A-plus grades," Haggan said. "When you get that kind of feedback about a guy, why wouldn't you want to come play for him? It has proven to be true."
Haggan believes the Rams' linebackers corps with James Laurinaitis in the middle could be solid this season.
"We work hard," Haggan said. "Most people don't see the work we put in the film room, and how much James knows, how much (Jo-Lonn) Dunbar knows, how far Josh Hull has come along, and Justin Cole. With Rocky McIntosh and myself coming in, and the rookies, there is a lot of competition. I feel real good about it. (Linebackers Coach) Blake (Williams) is hard on us, we're hard on ourselves. The people that doubt us, we don't worry about. We worry about the guys in that room and what we can do on Sundays."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.