Fox Sports on the Rams
When training camp opened in late July, with Scott Linehan presiding for the first time as a head coach, it was his goal to instill a physical style of play while eliminating the mistakes that led to the firing of Mike Martz after two seasons saw the Rams compile a 14-18 regular-season record.
Players had to learn a new offense with Linehan's imprint, as well as adapting to defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's attacking system.
Linehan believes his mission has been accomplished, but some spotty preseason play still leaves doubt as to the level where this team will finish.
However, to a man, the team is confident, with holdovers figuring there has to be improvement over last season's 6-10 record when everything that could go wrong went wrong. Despite winning only six games, the team battled amid the soap opera that played out on almost a daily basis.
"I feel like last year we really weren't far (off)," wide receiver Isaac Bruce said. "There was a lot of chaos going around, but we competed pretty well. Right now, you can only judge our talent and our ability on the field with Seattle. And I think we played them very well when they were here (last season). We may be flying under the radar just a tad, but I think the addition of coach Haslett and the talent that we have on offense, guys will know."
Defense was the team's Achilles heel the last two seasons, so that is where most of the personnel changes took place. With the season set to open, there are four new starters that arrived from other teams -- defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, middle linebacker Will Witherspoon, strong safety Corey Chavous and cornerback Fakhir Brown -- along with three new starters that were on the roster last season: nose tackle Jimmy Kennedy, strong-side linebacker Brandon Chillar and free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe.
"It's a different attitude altogether on the defense," wide receiver Dane Looker said. "They seem to be more attacking. A lot of blitzing. A lot of different looks. We've seen some exotic defenses in practice, where we'll stop in the middle of the receiver meeting room and say, 'Now what coverage is this? We've never even seen it.' Coach Haslett has a unique style of calling defenses."
Witherspoon is anxious for the season to begin.
"I think people are really going to see a different Rams defense than they have in years past," he said. "We're going to show people."
Offensively, most of the pieces of an effective unit remain. There were issues in the red zone last season, but quarterback Marc Bulger was on pace for a 4,000-yard season when a shoulder injury ended his year after eight games.
Despite a lot of chatter throughout the offseason about balancing the offense, Linehan will still throw a lot because of the receivers he has and the addition of rookie tight end Joe Klopfenstein.
"This offense still has the potential to be very, very explosive," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "And I think coach, he's aware of that, and he's going to put us in situations to continue to have success offensively."
Bruce has played with a lot of quarterbacks during his previous 12 seasons, and continues to be impressed with Bulger's capabilities.
"He's more patient," Bruce said. "He's always been a very accurate guy to me. You pretty much know it's his huddle. He knows every route, every protection, and he's a complete leader."
Fans weren't impressed during the first three preseason games when the first-unit offense failed to score a touchdown. Linehan knows everyone can talk all they want, but the proof will be in the pudding when the season opens Sept. 10 against Denver.
"I think they're going to sit back and wait," Linehan said of the fans. "It's human nature. Our focus isn't about that right now. ... But we understand that sometimes it takes time to show that we're getting back on the right track."
Concluded Bruce, "It's got to be a new era. A new coaching staff. I guess coach Linehan is beginning to start his legacy here. So it's going to be interesting to see how it goes."
Prediction: 2006 regular-season record: 8-8 (2nd in NFC West).
# It has been an offseason of frustration for guard Claude Terrell. After starting 10 games in his rookie season last year, Terrell underwent wrist surgery Jan. 9. He had issues throughout the offseason, but it appeared everything was fine when training camp opened.
However, Terrell believes he re-injured the wrist on the second day of training camp when he fell on it.
"It really started bothering me, but I tried to give it a go," Terrell said. "One arm in this league, that isn't going to get it done. It's disappointing, because I put in a lot of work, and I felt like 2006 would be my year to step to the forefront, make a name for myself and help this team be successful."
Terrell was placed on injured reserve Aug. 28, and was waiting to have another operation on his wrist.
# Coach Scott Linehan can only hope that he has a healthy fullback for the season opener against Denver. Madison Hedgecock missed two games with a high ankle sprain, while Paul Smith missed one game, then played gimpy against Kansas City with a calf injury.
"He's not 100 percent, that's one thing that was noticeable in the game the other night," coach Scott Linehan said of Smith. "We've got to work him as much as we can, but we certainly don't want to go into this next game, or the opener, with him feeling the way he felt Saturday night. We've got to take it a little slow with him. It's a little frustrating because we haven't been able to really work a fullback in our offense in the last two weeks."
By the numbers: 10. The number of new starters expected to begin the season against Denver on Sept. 10.