If the Shoe Fits
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
By Nick Wagoner
The improvement on the Rams' defensive line in the first pair of games could be attributed to any number of things, but as Mars Blackman (aka Spike Lee from the old Michael Jordan Nike commercials), would say, 'It’s gotta be the shoes.'
For a group that has had its development slowed by a number of injuries, particularly to defensive tackles Ryan Pickett, Damione Lewis and Jimmy Kennedy, the solution to keeping the defensive line healthy and productive might have been in their feet this whole time.
“The first two years they were here, injuries were always an issue,” coach Mike Martz said. “We took care of a lot of that just with the shoes. We started looking at their shoes and they were wearing a pair because they felt light and they looked pretty. Here’s this guy that’s 325 pounds with a pair of slippers with cleats on. He puts his foot on the ground and there’s no support. No wonder he fractures his feet. We made a big deal out of it with the league and Nike and Reebok were kind enough to come out with charts with weight limits on shoes.”
Those charts had a correlation between the weight of the player and the size and amount of cushioning of the shoe. Mainly, though, the shoes were wider than the ones the group used before, which inherently provided more comfort and cushioning to the players using them.
Martz even took the results from a study to the competition committee and told them about the problems the narrow shoes were causing to the bigger players.
“We’ve asked all our linemen to wear hightops and they’ve expanded the shoes,” Martz said. “It’s made all the difference in the world. We haven’t had an ankle injury or, knock on wood, a foot injury since then.”
The debilitating injuries along the defensive line have made it nearly impossible for the group to find its groove as a unit. You could almost set your watch to one guy getting healthy followed by someone else getting injured.
Coincidentally, most of those injuries were foot or toe or ankle injuries that might have been prevented by having a better, wider, more-cushioned shoe.
Perhaps none of the defensive linemen have been as affected as tackle Damione Lewis. Lewis was the team’s 12th pick in the 2001 NFL Draft out of Miami and was known for his quick burst off the line.
But his progress has been slowed by a number of injuries, most of them in the feet and ankle. He broke his right foot in his rookie year after nine games and missed the rest of the season on injured reserve. He made it through 2002 without a problem, but suffered an ankle sprain that caused him to miss four more games in 2003.
Lewis recovered to play in every game last season, but Lewis says the change of shoes has made him more comfortable.
“All of the shoes that we used to get were so narrow it was like they were made for DB’s and receivers,” Lewis said. “You end up with a lot of ankle problems being a big guy because our game is more pushing and shoving more than cutting and running routes.
“I would never want to put on screw ins again. I like wide, molded shoes and once you put them on you say ‘(Man) where have these been?”
The differences the shoes have made aren’t limited to injuries involving the ankle or feet, though Kennedy suffered an injury of that variety. Kennedy suffered a broken foot last year and missed the first seven games of the season.
Fellow lineman Tyoka Jackson, who plays end and tackle, has battled turf toe problems for awhile and has noticed a serious difference caused by the change in shoes.
“I have got some turf toe issues that I have been battling off and on for 10 years,” Jackson said. “It’s a lot more comfortable and takes a lot of pressure off my toe.”
The wider shoes might not be as aesthetically pleasing as the old black Nike screw in shoes that most players wear. But just because they are wider doesn’t mean they are heavier or more cumbersome.
“I haven’t felt that,” Jackson said. “It is wider, but I don’t think it’s necessarily heavier. At least nothing that I can notice. I have not seen or felt a difference.”
The difference that has been seen and felt is in the performance of the defensive line. Although it’s only two games into the year and the group hasn’t been able to prove itself over the course of a season, the changes are noticeable.
The Rams are allowing just 58 yards per game on the ground, which ranks them fourth in the NFL. That performance is largely due to the performance of the offensive line.
The fact that the same players are getting into a rhythm in a rotation for the first time since they have been together has allowed for more defensive continuity than in recent seasons.
“I don’t think that we have,” Lewis said. “We might have started out all healthy, but over the course of the season, something might have happened or we might have started out with something wrong with somebody then during the course of the season everybody started to get back into health. I don’t know if you are ever going to have it where everyone is going to be completely healthy all through the year.”
But the alteration in footwear would seem to be a step in the right direction (pun intended).
“If it keeps you out of the training room that’s the way to go,” Lewis said.
Re: If the Shoe Fits
Done deal then! Let's get GELLIN'! :angryram:
:D Are you gellin'?
Re: If the Shoe Fits
RealRam I'm Gellin, are you Gellin? ... good stuff
Re: If the Shoe Fits
Oh, I'm gellin, Rambos! :D
It would be very interesting to see if the shoes really do make a difference for our DLmen. High-tops make sense in protecting the ankle, but we'll see.
High Tech should be able to come up with some podiatry innovation by now!
I like the look of these shoes -- high tops, BLACK -- on some players. Like the legendary NFL image of Johnny Unitas.
Good Going Martz
I get on Martz as much as the next guy, but I like that he is proactive and willing to push for things he believes in.