Burwell: Rams Showing Their Personality
Burwell: Rams showing their personality
13 hours ago • BY BRYAN BURWELL, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist
The pro football preseason is curious and confusing place to be, full of distracting misdirections, but also layered deep in fascinating and useful information. Twelve months ago, the Rams were on their way to an undefeated preseason that would prove to be the brightest highlight of an otherwise completely dismal football season. The 2011 season was a dramatic example of the dangers of attempting to evaluate the potential of a team by the won-loss column in August.
The most valuable lessons that are learned in August heat and carry over into the cool autumn — and perhaps survive deep into a winter playoff pursuit — are a bit tricky to discern. You can't necessarily see how good you're going to be, but you can determine what sort of competitive personality is being created. "You look at the (New England) Patriots," coach Jeff Fisher said on Thursday afternoon. "The Patriots are obviously, they're (always) a very, very good football team. They don't play their starters very much... They look at (the games) probably as another practice where we're trying to evaluate all kinds of young players and things. We all take different approaches. But from a personality standpoint I think you can draw some conclusions from their energy level and the chemistry that's starting to form."
So here we are a year later, with a new coaching staff and front office in place at Rams Park and while it might be a bit premature to definitively determine just how good Fisher's Rams might be in 2012, his first preseason here has provided more than enough opportunity to envision just how bad his players want to be.
Bad, as in nasty. Bad, as in the toughest guys on the block. Bad, as in hard-nosed, full of swagger, and definitely, definitely without a smidgen of finesse.
In a city that spent a decade worshiping at the shrine of the NFL's ultimate finesse offensive powerhouse, Mike Martz's "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams, it might take a while to cozy up to the muscle-flexing aggressiveness of Fisher's football personality. But give it time, his style is going to rub off on you.
"Our goal," said quarterback Sam Bradford, "is after we've played a game we want the defense that we've played to think or know that they just played a team that was extremely tough and was in their face all game."
Bradford knows exactly where Fisher wants this to go, how he wants his team's offensive and defensive personality to manifest itself. Forget about the Rams' video-game football. Even in a modern NFL that believes 400- and 500-yard passing games ought to be the gold standard for offensive football, the Rams offense you will see this year is going to be more along the blue-collar and brutish lines of the Steelers and Ravens than the Saints and Packers.
"I think (the team personality) is something that will come as the season begins," Bradford said. "But I think it's going to be a tough-minded, pound-the-ball-at-you offense."
And the man who benefits most from this offensive personality transplant is going to be tailback Steven Jackson, who has spent the off-season whipping his already rock-solid body into the sort of shape to sustain the heavy lifting required of a Pro Bowl-type tailback in a Fisher offense. "I've done a great job of keeping myself in shape," Jackson said. "Year-in and year-out, I prepare myself to be the bell cow and that's all I can continue to do. What philosophy and how coach decides to use me is up to him. It's his team and his personnel but I'm always going to — until I hang up my cleats — be able to take the workload. ... Right now it's shaping up to be a team that is very confident in running the ball. I think we're going to have the opportunity to take advantage when teams put eight in the box we'll take our shots with Sam, and our receivers are more than capable of getting open on the outside. I think we're going to be aggressive and downhill, kind of an in-your-face kind of offense."
For far too long, Jackson has labored behind an offensive line whose personality has not exactly been considered tough. They were pushed around, considered soft and not the least bit physical. When wild man Richie Incognito left a few years ago, there wasn't a true, walk-on-the-wild-side tough guy on that offensive line who would bust you in the chops if you looked so much as sideways at Jackson during a game until guard Harvey Dahl showed up last year.
It didn't take much time evaluating game tape for Fisher and general manager Les Snead to see that whatever personality transplant this team needed had to begin with the offensive line. Now they have infused this team with a rough-and-tumble attitude that you can see in the preseason games. I don't know how much better they'll be this season, but I do know no one is going to snicker at them and call a Fisher football team soft.
The Rams will run the football. They will try to push you around.
All Jackson needs is for his offensive line to be the sort of head-bangers that characterize most Jeff Fisher teams, and for Bradford's receivers to be able to loosen up defenses. So whoever and whatever this year's Rams hope to be, these final two preseason games will show us more than enough of their competitive personality. If Jackson is still the toughest guy in the room, still the only guy in the middle of the scrum pushing and shoving and acting like the offense's enforcer, then it's going to be a long season. But if the only heavy lifting he's doing is running the football 30 times a game through gaping holes, and when a skirmish does break out, he's the last guy when push comes to shove, consider that the first sure sign that the Rams have transformed for the better.
Re: Burwell: Rams Showing Their Personality
Who besides Dahl on our o-line would be considered "wild"?