With the Rams' first preseason game only days away, I thought it a good time to take a look at what the Rams put on the table this season - from two perspectives. Feel free to add your opinions and even new categories while trying to include both the possible positive and negative aspects of each.
GOOD: Marc Bulger can relax now, knowing that the job is his. He's had a full offseason to prepare with the team as the sure-fire starter, and will therefore show more confidence and production with the team behind him. Chris Chandler is the perfect backup; not durable enough to challenge for the starting job, but is an accurate, smart, veteran passer. Jeff Smoker is young, talented, is over his past troubles and could be the quarterback of the future.
BAD: Marc Bulger was too inconsistent last year to prove he is really worthy of leading the Rams' passing attack. His decision-making and read progressions are questionable, and his long ball is awful. The team is on his shoulders now, and it will be too much for him to handle. Chris Chandler is old and entering a new offense, and he's known for being a statue in the pocket - something that isn't encouraging knowing that he's been severely injury-prone. Jeff Smoker is too young and unproven right now, and with his legal history in mind, he could only have a negative impact.
GOOD: Doctors found something previously undiscovered in Marshall Faulk's knee, fixed it, and he'll now be able to play like the old Marshall instead of an old Marshall. He provides the team with great leadership and knowledge and can carry this offense. Steven Jackson was considered the best back in the NFL Draft. He can run over, around, and through would-be tacklers and is a great receiver. He will be a workhorse in the near future for the Rams, and will be able to give Faulk a rest every now and then this season. Lamar Gordon and Arlen Harris provide great depth, as both are experienced in this offense. Joey Goodspeed emerged from the plethora of fullbacks the Rams brought in last season and will be a dependable lead blocker. Arlen Harris could even see time at fullback as the Robert Holcombe-type.
BAD: Marshall Faulk isn't getting any younger, and he showed that last season. He had to have surgery on that knee again and could be even more prone to injuries after losing weight this offseason. Steven Jackson is too young to step into this offense right now as an unproven rookie, and his head will be swimming trying to learn Martz's playbook. Lamar Gordon is injury prone and inconsistent as a backup; there's no way the team could rely on him if injuries occur. The only thing Arlen Harris can give the team is three yards and a cloud of dust. Martz as usual ignores the fullbacks, and as a result the Rams really have none worth noting.
GOOD: Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt are the best tandem at wide receiver in the league. Bruce is a seasoned veteran and is great at running routes, meaning he can always find a way to get open. Torry Holt is the go-to guy and showed great chemistry with Marc Bulger. Dane Looker filled Ricky Proehl's shoes easily, proving to be a dependable third-down receiver who makes plays when they're most needed. Kevin Curtis is back to full speed and catches everything in sight. He'll make Rams fans forget about Az Hakim. Shaun McDonald has tons of potential as well, and Mike Furrey cemented his spot on the team, stepping up when injuries occured and had a solid season. Brandon Manumaleuna is a huge tight end with soft hands who can use his size as an advantage in the blocking game.
BAD: Isaac Bruce is getting older and slower as the years go by. Torry Holt will find it hard to get open as he'll be double- and triple-teamed. You can't depend on a receiver to carry an offense. Kevin Curtis is coming off injury and has yet to live up to the hype. Shaun McDonald disappointed many with his average play last season. Dane Looker is a boring receiver who cannot break a big play. Ditto Mike Furrey. Brandon Manumaleuna was vastly overpaid by the front office to stay on the team, especially after a season of missed blocks and below-average production as a receiver.
GOOD: Orlando Pace is a perennial Pro Bowler and one of the best left tackles in the NFL. Kyle Turley had a good season at right tackle and will improve with more time in the Rams offense, as will Dave Wohlabaugh, who was near Pro Bowl level with Cleveland. Adam Timmerman was re-signed in the offseason and is a rock on the right side of the line. Andy McCollum is a hard-nosed, blue collar lineman who, as their former center, has knowledge and experience in the Rams offense. Grant Williams could start for many teams in the league and has experience starting for the Rams during training camp for two straight years. He's great insurance in case of injury. Andy King has stood out during practices and gives great depth for the Rams at guard.
BAD: Orlando Pace has yet to sign a long-term deal, and his chemistry with the team is in jeopardy. Kyle Turley has gone AWOL after injuring his back - leading some to fear that it's career-threatening. The middle of the line last season played horribly considering the experience at the positions. Andy McCollum, Adam Timmerman, and Dave Wohlabaugh are all getting old and obviously getting worse. They couldn't run block at all and provided shaky pass blocking at best. This is a transplanted group who haven't gelled and don't look like they're going to.
GOOD: Leonard Little is a great playmaker at left end. He's in the quarterback's face nearly every passing play, forces fumbles, and always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. Damione Lewis is finally healthy and will be able to showcase his first-round talent. Ryan Pickett can plug the gaps and will stuff the run. Bryce Fisher showed good potential last year despite having limited playing time and will step up at right end. Anthony Hargrove is an exciting rookie with tenacity and pass-rushing skills who is developing quickly. Tyoka Jackson is a team captain for a reason. He gives good leadership and can play both end and tackle, as can Sean Moran.
BAD: Leonard Little is in trouble with the law again and his future status with the team is shaky. This will hinder his production on the field, and the Rams will be left with no pass rush. Damione Lewis and Ryan Pickett have not lived up to their potential and continue to disappoint season after season, for one excuse or another. The Rams' only playmaker in the middle last season, Brian Young, left in the offseason, and Jimmy Kennedy will be out with an injury for quite some time. Tyoka Jackson is getting older and is not a full-time player. There are only question marks at the right defensive end spot with Grant Wistrom's departure, leaving unproven Bryce Fisher, rookie Anthony Hargrove, and bust Erik Flowers to try to fill his shoes.
GOOD: The group known as T3 (Tommy, Thomas, and Tinoisamoa) are returning intact for a second season together. They're fast, quick to the gaps, and fiery. Tommy Polley, the veteran of this young group, is always around the ball and excels in both pass and run coverage. Robert Thomas switched to the middle last year, his natural position, and will only get better. Pisa Tinoisamoa is a fireball on the field, lighting up runners and receivers and showing up to play on every down. He'll bring his energy and enthusiasm to the Rams' defense for years to come. Justin Smith, Trev Faulk, and Brandon Chillar inject even more youth into this group and will fight it out with others during training camp to provide the depth.
BAD: Injuries, injuries, injuries. The Rams' linebackers are too small by NFL standards and, because of that, are often injured. Tommy Polley and Robert Thomas have already shown they're injury prone in their short careers, and Tinoisamoa is just as risky. Their small size also allows opposing offensive lines to dominate. The injuries only pose a bigger problem when it's revealed that the Rams have no depth. The Rams brought in a bunch of new and inexperienced linebackers for depth, which will only lead to chaos if - or, when - injuries occur.
GOOD: Aeneas Williams is the unquestionable leader of this defense. He hasn't shown signs of slowing down at all, and will be given even more opportunities to make plays being at free safety for another year. Adam Archuleta is counting down the days to his first Pro Bowl. He's a crushing run-stopper and has gotten better each year at defending the pass. Jerametrius Butler and Travis Fisher are both young, lightning-quick cornerbacks who surprised some with their dependability last season. Kevin Garrett is in a similar mold and is coming back from injury. His play on special teams was outstanding, and he'll get more playing time as a possible nickel cornerback. DeJuan Groce could also step into that role after a solid showing in 2003. Jason Shivers is a great late-round talent, and Justin Lucas has impressed many coaches and players during training camp.
BAD: Aeneas Williams is getting closer and closer to retirement as the days go by. Adam Archuleta cannot defend the pass. Jerametrius Butler and Travis Fisher are too small at cornerback, especially with the NFL starting to lean toward bigger, stronger receivers. Rich Coady has been injured yet again, and the Rams' depth is once again unproven and inexperienced. There is still no player who has stepped up into the role of nickel cornerback, and Williams often had to cover that hole last season.
GOOD: Jeff Wilkins bailed this team out of many situations last year and showed he can be consistent. Sean Landeta is a proven veteran as a punter. Chris Massey is as reliable as long-snappers can get. DeJuan Groce has shown electrifying moves as a returner in college, and will be able to step up into that role for the Rams after settling down in his second year.
BAD: Jeff Wilkins is on one year, off the next. You can never guess what you're going to get. Sean Landeta is the oldest player in the NFL - enough said. The Rams' return situation has been in pieces since the departures of Az Hakim and Tony Horne. Nobody has stepped up, and they're still not sure who will be used. Don't expect much.