10 questions revisited

By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch


At the start of training camp on July 28, we posed 10 questions concerning the 2005 Rams. One month later, we revisit those questions.

1. What challenges does first-round draft pick Alex Barron face at right tackle?

Barron didn't exactly get off on the right foot by missing the first two weeks of training camp, plus the preseason opener against Chicago. There's no doubt he has the physical attributes to play the position, but he's way behind on learning the offense and fine-tuning his technique. It's just a matter of time before he's starting, but that timetable has been pushed back.

2. Can Steven Jackson handle the load as the starting running back?

The answer remains the same: Absolutely, provided he stays healthy. The Rams purposely have limited his workload in the first two preseason games, but Jackson has looked strong with 14 carries for 98 yards, including a 33-yard gain against Chicago. His right knee has held up fine, and he should find the new FieldTurf at the Edward Jones Dome agreeable.

3. How much does Marshall Faulk have left?

Faulk reported to training camp lighter and quicker and has flashed some of his former elusiveness during the preseason. For the first time in several years, he didn't need offseason surgery and has yet to sit out a practice session because of puffiness or swelling in his right knee. It's early, obviously, but these are all encouraging signs.

4. Have the Rams solved their safety problems?

The situation appears as muddled as ever. Adam Archuleta was moved back to strong safety from free safety following the San Diego preseason game. He will be backed up by rookie Jerome Carter. At free safety, former Green Bay Packer Michael Hawthorne has the inside track. But rookie Oshiomogho Atogwe should compete for the job, and converted wide receiver Mike Furrey has been a pleasant surprise.

5. Have the Rams solved their nickel back woes?

Jerametrius Butler's season-ending knee injury, coupled with the surprise release of Dwight Anderson, has complicated matters. DeJuan Groce, who entered camp as the leading candidate at nickel back, will replace Butler in the starting lineup. Newcomer Corey Ivy, who continues to play well on the practice field and in preseason games, is the front-runner. Rookie Ron Bartell or veteran Terry Fair still could work into the mix.

6. Is Rex Tucker the answer at left guard?

Early in the camp, the question was changed to: Is Rex Tucker the answer at right tackle? With Barron absent from camp and rookie Claude Terrell surprisingly effective at left guard, Tucker was moved to tackle for the first time in his pro career. Tucker has size, strength and toughness, but he has struggled with technique and speed rushers at tackle. Tucker could end up back at guard before all is said and done.

7. Do the Rams have enough up front on defense?

DE Anthony Hargrove and DTs Damione Lewis and Jimmy Kennedy have been very impressive on the practice field, but that has yet to translate into game-day production during the preseason. DT Ryan Pickett has been slowed by a back injury, but it's not believed to be serious. New LBs Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley have shown flashes of good play, but the team's porous run defense against San Diego looked an awful lot like the 2004 Rams.

8. Can Jamie Martin cut it as the No. 2 quarterback?

So far, so good. Martin was impressive in the preseason opener against Chicago, throwing for 143 yards and two TDs, and had decent zip on the ball. He was held out of the San Diego game because of a nagging groin injury. Martin has a better grasp of the offense thanks to nearly a full offseason and preseason in the Rams' system.

9. Will there be anything special about special teams?

It looks like the acquisition of players such as Ivy, Hawthorne and Michael Stone in free agency, and Madison Hedgecock in the draft, will help the coverage units be respectable at least. But the return game remains lackluster, with Fair the most impressive on kickoff returns. The Rams' longest return of the preseason - by Fair against San Diego - was called back on a penalty. They have yet to advance the ball beyond the 35 on a kickoff return.

10. Are the Rams really going with a rookie punter?

With two preseason games to go, it looks as if sixth-round draft pick Reggie Hodges is capable of holding off veteran Bryan Barker. Barker was brought into camp just before the Chicago game. Hodges hasn't been spectacular, but Barker had a net of only 25 yards in two punts against San Diego.

Reporter Jim Thomas
E-mail: jthomas@post-dispatch.com

Phone: 314-340-8197