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Calm prevails at Rams Park as NFL draft approaches
By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
In the few months since the turmoil of last season ceased and Scott Linehan quietly settled into his role as the Rams' new coach, Rams Park has at least on the surface turned into a quiet and sensible place again. No open squabbles, no contentious public power struggles, no distracting soap opera dramas being played out in the full exposure of broad daylight.
The "new" Rams ceded into the background almost gleefully. But as any astute observer of this franchise knows, quiet does not always translate into tranquillity.
So now as the Rams emerge out of winter hibernation with the NFL draft approaching, I'm still waiting to see legitimate evidence that this really is a genuine calm I'm seeing, not some lull before another bit of predictable and caustic turbulence.
The destructive bickering within the Rams organization has always hit its peak around the days leading up to the draft. The needless muscle flexing, power grabbing, finger pointing and blame shifting that turned the organization into one big dysfunctional family usually rose to toxic levels whenever the subject of free-agent acquisitions and rookie talent evaluation took center stage.
In the entire time Mike Martz was the head coach, there were only two things that everyone in this organization could agree on:
-- No. 1: It wasn't my fault.
-- No. 2: He (fill in the appropriate enemy here) did it.
Yet the good news - at least on the surface - leading up to the draft this weekend is that there is only one voice emerging from Rams Park. Linehan has comfortably stepped up to the front of the line and declared that he will be the official face and voice of the Rams.
He's saying all the right things, crediting all the right people, but firmly, but not abrasively asserting his position as the man who will take full responsibility for the future course of this franchise. On Sunday, he talked up the important roles of general manager Charley Armey, vice president Jay Zygmunt, personnel director Lawrence McCutcheon and team President John Shaw as the collaborative effort. Yet when it comes down to decision-making time, "I'm sure the tie-breaker is going to go to me when it comes to our team," Linehan said.
Over the next few days, we'll find out just how well this collaborative effort works with Linehan inserted into the equation instead of Martz.
Martz constantly was cast as the disruptive force (and often deservedly so), but now we'll see if the talent evaluation improves without him around.
I'm eagerly awaiting the first critical steps of the Linehan era to see whether this organization will run any smoother than it did under Martz. Maybe the answer won't be as obvious as we'd like it to be, but everyone who knows anything about the inner workings of this franchise is going to learn something over the next few days.
The most important things we could learn about the "new" Rams is what kind of draft day shoppers they are. If the free-agent season can be used as a guide, the guess is that Linehan's approach is going to be aggressive and decisive.
I want to see someone on draft day who is an aggressive go-getter who will unabashedly make the moves necessary to land a prime-time player. In a draft that supposedly will produce only seven or eight "can't miss" first-round players who could be instant stars, the Rams shouldn't sit back and wait for things to fall to them in the No. 11 slot.
Linehan's reputation on Sundays is aggressive. He likes to attack on offense. As he sits in the war room Saturday, I hope that aggressiveness translates well. For a team that has as many obvious holes as the Rams do in their starting lineup and depth chart, is it worth it to try and trade up?
There are studs out there such as Maryland tight end Vernon Davis on the offensive side, and Mario Williams, Michael Huff and A.J. Hawk on the defensive side of the ball. Linehan joked about how this isn't fantasy football, where every shopper's whim can be satisfied.
No, this is the real deal we're talking here. So if the Rams stare at their draft board Saturday and the decision comes down to trading away a second- or third-round pick to move into the top five, reality should dictate that it's always a lot better to have one great one than two or three ordinary ones.