Bulger excited about new targets
This was posted/(updated?) on ESPN.
Updated: August 3, 2007
ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Given the green light to spend in free agency, St. Louis Rams coach Scott Linehan worked on the red zone.
Even though the Rams were second in the NFC with 31 red-zone touchdowns in 2006, Linehan spent $41 million to upgrade red zone scoring. He gave former Tennessee Titans wide receiver Drew Bennett a six-year, $30 million deal to catch fades in the back of the end zone. Linehan also signed former Miami Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael to a three-year, $11 million contract to work the middle of the end zone for scores.
"It's an area we really improved on from the start of last season," Linehan said. "The addition of key players gives us some offense to deal with. The biggest thing is to finish off what you start. It's a great way to develop a team attitude to do our best in that area of the field."
Spending on offense might seem strange for a franchise known for its offensive prowess, but at times, particularly early in Linehan's first season as head coach, the Rams struggled in the red zone. Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce still form a dangerous receiving tandem, but they are getting older. The tight ends were rookies and the system was a little new. Whatever the reason, the Rams felt as though something was missing when they approached an opponent's goalline.
They felt as though the light was yellow instead of green. The additions of Bennett and McMichael put all systems on go.
"The defense thinks it's a win if they hold you to a field goal," said Bulger, who just signed a $65 million contract. "Adding Drew helps a lot. If it puts a team into the Cover 2, we got our guy in the backfield (Steven Jackson) and Cover 2 is a running back's dream. If they single up Drew, we will try to exploit that.''
Height is what the Rams hope to exploit. Bulger has invested a lot of time in early camp throwing high fades to Bennett (6-foot-5) in single coverage and waiting for McMichael (6-3) to work defenders until he can find a spot in the back of the end zone to catch a high pass.
Since the days of Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz, the personality of the Rams always has been about scoring. Bruce and Holt represented a legendary receiving duo and Marshall Faulk ignited the offense. Kurt Warner and Bulger kept the pedal to the floorboard with their accurate passing and execution.
But the offense is now in search of a spark. For the past three seasons, the Rams have averaged between 19.9 and 22.9 points a game, and won between six and eight games. Getting to the opponents' 20-yardline wasn't too much of a problem. The Rams still could move the ball, but Linehan figured McMichael and Bennett were the perfect weapons to add in order to get the team back to the playoffs.
"We know we can get to the red zone," Holt said. "It's a matter of what we do when we get there. If we score points, it makes things a lot easier for our defense. It allows them to get more aggressive and more confident when they take the field. We didn't score in the red zone the first four games last year, so we want to get off to a good start."
What's noticeable about former Dolphins star McMichael is how light he looks. He dropped 10 pounds from last season and showed up in camp at 247 pounds, helping his quickness. McMichael averaged 65 catches per year over the past three seasons, but even though then-Dolphins coach Nick Saban gave him a huge contract extension last season, McMichael was cut because he caused some friction with some things that happened off the field. McMichael welcomed the fresh start.
"It's very hard in this offense for people to key on one guy,'' McMichael said. "That's what is going to make it a lot of fun. If you try to stop Torry, some one else is open. The offense has so many weapons. Plus, in the red zone, Marc is so accurate and he does a great job of throwing the ball high."
Bennett still can't believe he's not in Tennessee, where he was the dependable possession receiver. In 2004, when then-Titans quarterback Steve McNair was behind center, Bennett caught 80 passes for 1,247 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's a tall receiver who has sneaky speed when matched in single coverage.
"This is a well-oiled machine," Bennett said. "I hope that it stays that way. It can only get better."
The Rams made it to the red zone 54 times last season and settled for only 19 field goals, but they still felt they didn't maximize the opportunities.
One positive will be Jackson's likely emergence as one of the league's elite offensive players. Jackson set the bold goal of 2,500 yards of combined offense this season, but he is not trying to be selfish with his statements. Last year, he had 2,334 total yards, including 1,528 rushing.
"I want to make people realize team goals are most important,'' Jackson said. "Getting to the playoffs and getting to the Super Bowl is goal number one. Short of the Super Bowl, I intend on putting up 2,500 yards from the line of scrimmage. How I put them up, I don't care. People ask me how I'm going to get there, whether it's 1,800 yards here. It doesn't matter as long as I get to that number."
He wants to maximize his presence. He figures a 10-percent improvement from 2006 is expected. The addition of Bennett and McMichael working the middle of the field from the slot and tight end position could pull a safety out of the run defense. If a defense goes Cover 2, Bulger could audible to a run.
Jackson caught 90 passes last year. His reception total might drop, but Jackson believes he can work on getting more yards after the catch. If that doesn't work, he'll try to improve on his 4.4 yards-per-carry average.
The final touch was adding Dante Hall as a return specialist. Though Hall's numbers have dropped the past couple years in Kansas City, Linehan thinks the Edward Jones Dome turf will re-energize him.
Hall could provide the field position that should increase scoring. The green light is on.