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  1. #1
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    Thumbs down Excitement guaranteed

    Excitement guaranteed


    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    08/28/2005


    The potential is there, bubbling just below the surface. A maturing Marc Bulger cut down on his interceptions and improved on the long ball a year ago. He needs only to improve in the red zone to truly become one of the league's elite quarterbacks.

    After a year of seasoning, Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald are poised to become the kind of complementary receivers the Rams have been missing since Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl.

    In the backfield, Steven Jackson, aka "The Train," is ready to leave the station as the team's feature back, with Marshall Faulk still in the picture in an important supporting role.




    Take it from Mad Mike himself: "We'll be real exciting this year," Mike Martz said. "We'll be really good on offense, I think."

    No less an authority than wide receiver Isaac Bruce feels this Rams offense has Greatest Show on Turf potential.

    "I think it does," Bruce said. "I think there's a lot of weapons on this offense. I put most of the focus on what we have right now on Steven Jackson being the running back. He's a big, powerful guy. He can get out between the tackles, go around the tackles, and get the ball up field.

    "In this league, if you don't have a running game and you're more of a passing team, you tend to face a lot more zone. Cover 2 is something that we've seen a lot around here. But once Steven gets rolling, that makes that safety come down and it puts a lot more pressure on the defensive backs - the cornerbacks and free safety - it makes it a little bit easier to run routes."

    But will the pass-happy Rams actually make the commitment to run the football more often in 2005?

    "I believe so," Bruce said. "I think so. All you have to do is call it. The offensive linemen love to run block."

    And running the football more often this season is OK with the wide receiver corps?

    "I'm all about winning championships," Bruce said. "Whatever works. So let's get it done."

    But for each exclamation point surrounding the Rams roster in 2005, there also seems to be a question mark. Martz looks around at all his offensive weapons and concludes: "It's nice. It really is. But the biggest issue is the offensive line. Those things don't mean anything unless you can block 'em.

    "If a quarterback can't throw it, it doesn't make any difference who's out there. If you're not blocking them, it doesn't make any difference who the runner is. ... It all starts in the offensive line."

    The Rams made a concerted effort in the offseason to upgrade their offensive line. They drafted a tackle (Alex Barron) in the first round, and added guards in the third round (Richie Incognito) and fourth round (Claude Terrell). In free agency, they added veterans Rex Tucker and Matt Willig.

    But other than Orlando Pace at left tackle and Andy McCollum at center, none of the other pieces has been put firmly in place. After a slow start at left guard, Tucker has been moved to right tackle, where he currently is competing with Willig for the starting job.

    Barron, after missing the first two weeks of training camp in a contract impasse, is playing catch-up on technique and the playbook. He doesn't appear close to starting at right tackle as had once been hoped.

    Terrell, the rookie, has been a big surprise so far, but there's no guarantee he'll be able to hold on to the job. At right guard, two-time Pro Bowler Adam Timmerman is still working his way back from multiple offseason operations, and has yet to play in the preseason because his surgically repaired foot remains sore.

    "I don't have any preconceived notions on how that offensive line's going to work out," Martz said earlier in camp. "I just want the best guys up there playing, to make us better."

    But with only two weeks remaining before the regular-season opener in San Francisco, it's time to settle in on the offensive line. Even if that takes place, there are still questions to be answered on defense and special teams.

    In order to be a bona fide NFC contender, the Rams must shore up their run defense and dramatically increase their takeaways from a year ago. They must also be at least respectable on special teams after an abysmal showing in '04.

    The major offseason emphasis on defense was upgrading the linebacker corps, and adding quality and quantity in the secondary. At linebacker, the Rams signed veterans Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley to nearly $25 million of free-agent contracts.

    "I felt that we played pretty well in the defensive line last year," Martz said. "I felt like our linebacker play wasn't what it needed to be. We made the personnel changes."

    The Rams are hoping Coakley, at age 32, brings the kind of intensity and leadership that was lacking at the outside linebacker spot last season from Tommy Polley. Claiborne, meanwhile, is being counted on to be a run-stuffing force at middle linebacker.

    "It's not a hope and prayer," Martz says. "We're counting on him to have that presence inside. We put all our marbles in his pocket."

    In the secondary, the Rams drafted a cornerback (Ron Bartell) and two safeties (Oshiomogho Atogwe and Jerome Carter). They also signed a host of low-priced free agents in Michael Hawthorne, Michael Stone, Corey Ivy and Terry Fair. If that weren't enough, Mike Furrey was switched from wide receiver to safety. The Rams don't need all of them to click, but they do need to get a starting safety out of the group, as well as a nickel and dime back.

    "I've got to tell you, this is the best secondary we've ever had," Martz gushed during training camp. "It's not even close. The front-line guys, depth, everything."

    But that was before Jerametrius Butler decided on season-ending knee surgery, and Dwight Anderson was released after missing a curfew.

    Beyond the personnel changes, simply having a year in defensive coordinator Larry Marmie's system will help.

    "Not only will it help the players, I think it's going to help the coaches," safety Adam Archuleta said. "They're settled down a little bit, and I think they have more of an idea of what they want to get accomplished instead of trying to mix two philosophies, or whatever was going on last year.

    "I think now we have just a better understanding of what's expected. Definitely, I feel like we should improve. If we don't, there's something seriously wrong."

    Special teams is almost certain to improve, if only because it's hard to imagine them being worse than a year ago. The improved depth throughout the roster should result in better special teams play. The addition of young Bob Ligashesky as special teams coach has brought a high-energy approach, yet one that appears to be stressing technique.

    "They know what's expected out of them," Martz said. "He's only going to coach them one way. And there's no leeway in this thing. This is the way it's going to be.

    "He knows what he's doing, and he's got energy and passion for what he's doing. And it's catching. It infuses the entire group and then they become like that. And that's what we're looking for."

    If that's really the case. ... If the defense stiffens up. ...If the offensive line is solidified. ... Then, some of those question marks will turn to exclamation points. And that offensive potential just won't bubble over, it will erupt.

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


    Phone: 314-340-8197



  2. #2
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    Re: Excitement guaranteed

    I do like the direction that MM looks to be headed ! Now if he'll just stop making some of those bonehead mistakes well be fine!

  3. #3
    STLRAMSFAN Guest

    Re: Excitement guaranteed

    I don’t know of a big game that MM cost us in the playoffs. The only one that comes close is the one where he went for the tie to send it into overtime instead of go for the win. That was somewhat conservative for MM so he is damn if he does and damn if he doesn’t. I think with the possibility of losing the game on an interception or turnover it was not that bad of a call. If we take the ball in overtime drive down the field and get a field goal we win. The score is Zero to Zero in overtime and you do have a fighting chance. I don’t want to debate the Martz issue anymore butt it’s easy for anyone to say it’s the coach. It’s the people that constantly bash the coach instead of discuss real issues like the players. MM has no athletic ability and I prefer to talk about the ones that do. People that always bash the coach is what is wrong with alot of sports today no one respects their coaches like the old days. You almost need a Psychologist to figure out how to pamper them, not hurt their feelings, and get them to bust their but. If there family’s lives depended on their paychecks like many of our families do then maybe they would be more eager to put in all the hard work (off season, learning, game time). Most of them make more in one season then the old school guys did in a career. I am not saying this about all players and I think our team is somewhat better then others but coach bashing seems to breed this. So If we have differences with the coach can we check the bashing at the entrance of this website and bring up the new issues and not the past. Discussing the firing of the coach and he is a bonehead does not describe your current problems. Lets try to be more positive about the coach and save the bashing for the next off-season because we have games to play now and better issues to discuss. No response needed we do not need to start another 60 some posts about the coach.
    Last edited by STLRAMSFAN; -08-28-2005 at 05:55 PM.

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