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10 Questions (and a few answers) about the Rams
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Friday, Aug. 27 2004
On the eve of training camp, the Post-Dispatch posed 10 questions concerning
the 2004 Rams. One month later, we reassess those questions:
1. Can Faulk still run (and catch)?
He was basically a spectator early in training camp. But Marshall Faulk has
gotten a lot of practice work over the past two weeks, and some exhibition-game
time as well. He is rounding into form, but even Faulk isn't sure what to
expect. The early results have been fairly encouraging. Nonetheless, it might
be a few weeks into the regular season before Faulk has a read on his right
knee and how it might hold up over a 16-game schedule.
At least the Rams appear to have an emerging alternative in rookie Steven
Jackson. Jackson has displayed surprising cutback ability for a 230-pounder,
with the power to drag tacklers for an extra yard or two. He has above-average
ability as a pass-catcher, and is a willing blocker on blitz pickup. He must
keep mistakes to a minimum, however.
2. How will Bulger fare as the man at quarterback?
Bulger seems to have the complete confidence of his teammates. With rare
exceptions he has thrown the ball well on the practice field - be it in Macomb
or back at Rams Park.
He misfired on a few passes against the Kansas City blitz in the second
preseason game. With the Rams' offensive line in a state of transition, rest
assured that Arizona (Sept. 12) and Atlanta (Sept. 19) took note. The
Cardinals, Falcons and other early-season Rams opponents are polishing up their
blitz packages as we speak.
A quick start by Bulger in September will keep the pressure off and the Kurt
Warner zealots quiet.
3. What's my line?
The early returns on Bryce Fisher and Erik Flowers at right defensive end have
been encouraging, fueling optimism that they can adequately replace Grant
Wistrom. Rookie Anthony Hargrove has shown flashes of his considerable athletic
talent on the practice field, but has yet to transfer that into games. He
remains raw and unpolished. His development was hampered by missed camp time
for a knee and ankle injury, plus a trip to Florida to tend to his family after
The foot injury to Jimmy Kennedy was unfortunate, given the amount of offseason
work he put in to prepare for this season. His absence makes the defensive
tackle depth very questionable at this point. Veteran Bernard Holsey is not yet
up to full speed following offseason surgery to repair a torn quadriceps
tendon. Brian Howard and Kevin Aldridge have had ups and downs as they contend
for a backup DT job. Starting DTs Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis have had good
camps to date. But Lewis, obviously, must transfer that to game day.
4. What's my line? (Part II)
Obviously, the offensive line situation has worsened as camp progressed,
largely because 2003 starters center Dave Wohlabaugh (hip) and right tackle
Kyle Turley (back) were unable to return following offseason surgery.
The Rams won't miss a beat with Andy McCollum moving back to center after
playing left guard last season. But left guard remains problematical. Chris
Dishman is rounding into shape, but at 350 pounds-plus, still needs to trim 20
pounds. Another possibility, Tom Nutten, is trying to build up his weight and
strength after sitting out last season. It's unlikely he'll be ready to play a
meaningful role by opening day.
Without Turley, Grant Williams will open the season at right tackle, assuming
Orlando Pace is ready to go at left tackle. Both Williams (ankle) and right
guard Adam Timmerman (shoulder) have been slowed by nagging injuries.
Impressive second-year player Scott Tercero could force his way into the
picture at either guard or tackle. It could be a few weeks into the regular
season before the o-line settles in.
5. Will the tight ends improve?
Brandon Manumaleuna is down to about 275 pounds and looks much more nimble on
pass routes. Even at the lighter weight - about 15 pounds lighter than last
season - he continues to show that he can be a load blocking on the line of
scrimmage. But Manumaleuna's botched blitz pickup in the preseason opener
against Chicago brought back bad memories of some of his miscues last season.
He was lined up in the backfield on that play. He still must show he can play
relatively mistake-free football.
Backup TE Cam Cleeland had a superb first week of camp, then was sidelined by a
hamstring injury. He took his first team reps in practice Wednesday, and
barring any setbacks should be up to speed in time for the opener.
At the moment, undrafted rookie Mike Brake is the frontrunner for the No. 3 TE
spot. Rookie Erik Jensen missed a couple weeks with a knee injury, has been
switched to fullback, and might not make the final roster.
6. Can the fullbacks block?
Finally, it appears that this position will be stabilized. Joey Goodspeed,
despite missing the better part of a week with a hamstring injury, has had a
good camp. He's a bright player, with good strength, and is a very willing
blocker. Although Arlen Harris has spent almost all of camp at running back, he
can help out at fullback in a pinch. So can deep snapper Chris Massey.
7. Can Chandler cut it at No. 2?
So far this preseason, Chris Chandler has absorbed a few hits and shown
surprising mobility escaping the pass rush. Chandler wasn't as consistently
accurate as Bulger in Macomb, but has a nice touch nonetheless and still has
enough arm strength to throw it deep.
His practice reps were reduced noticeably prior to the Kansas City game because
of a tired camp arm, but he's OK now. Chandler has picked up the offense fairly
quickly, but still has some work to do there.
8. Will there be anything special about special teams play in '04?
There have been way too many penalties. Sound familiar? But many of them have
been made by players who won't make the final roster. That Ahmad Merritt
kickoff return notwithstanding against Chicago, the coverage units have been
more solid than a year ago at this time. Shaun McDonald has a firm grip on the
punt returner job, displaying quickness and aggressiveness. Arlen Harris has
yet to display much spark on kickoff returns. P Sean Landeta and PK Jeff
Wilkins have been strong.
9. Who will play nickel and dime back?
Travis Fisher's fractured forearm has altered the picture. Kevin Garrett and
DeJuan Groce will battle for Fisher's starting spot, with Garrett currently
holding the edge while Groce recovers from a knee injury. Whoever doesn't take
over for Fisher will be the third corner, although veteran Tom Knight has been
working at corner - instead of safety - following Fisher's injury.
At the moment, steady safety Rich Coady is the fifth defensive back, with
Aeneas Williams moving up to cover the slot receiver in the nickel. In
six-defensive back packages, the Rams have used a variety of alignments,
including one where Coady and newcomer Justin Lucas are at safety; Williams is
covering the slot receiver; and SS Adam Archuleta moves up in a linebacker-like
10. Who's No. 3 and No. 4 at wide receiver?
Dane Looker lost a key fumble against Chicago, but it's a play where the
defender probably should have been flagged for grabbing Looker's helmet. Looker
has done nothing to lose the No. 3 job.
McDonald has emerged as the leading contender for the No. 4 spot, based in
large part on his game performance. He has displayed the quickness and
elusiveness that got the Rams interested in him in the first place in the 2003
draft. McDonald hasn't gotten worn down in camp, as was the case last summer.
Kevin Curtis isn't far behind McDonald. Among his highlights are a TD catch in
the Chicago scrimmage, and five catches for 86 yards against Kansas City. But
he could have fought better on 50-50 balls to prevent interceptions against the
Bears and Chiefs. Mike Furrey has had a good camp in his own right, but appears
to be trailing McDonald and Curtis at the moment.
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