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Thread: Inside Slant
Once the Rams made the decision to fire coach Mike Martz and hire Scott Linehan, a coach with an offensive pedigree, it was obvious the most important decision Linehan would make would be the hiring of a defensive coordinator. To be sure, Linehan came out smelling like a rose.
After Jim Bates rejected a Rams offer, Linehan turned to Jim Haslett. The former Saints coach was unsure at first, but after meeting Linehan and liking his approach, Haslett agreed to be the Rams' defensive coordinator.
It might be the move that means the most for the Rams as they attempt to rebound from a 6-10 season. Players never bought into the system former coordinator tried to install, and the result was disaster. Now, everyone is on the same page, and Haslett's attacking style should lead to more than the 42 takeaways combined the Rams had over the last two seasons.
On the player front, one of the first of many moves made to upgrade that defense was the signing of linebacker Will Witherspoon. Mostly an outside linebacker in Carolina, Witherspoon is ticketed for the middle of Haslett's defense.
While it could be argued he's somewhat undersized, Haslett believes Witherspoon's speed and athletic ability will make him a play-making force in the middle. As long as the defensive line can keep blockers away from him, Witherspoon should be able to roam the field and plug up a run defense that allowed numerous big plays last season.
Several other defensive signings could be included as the third impact change, but Linehan didn't ignore the offense. A pass-catching tight end has always been a staple of his offenses, and the draft brought two bright prospects: Joe Klopfenstein and Dominique Byrd. Their arrivals, on the second and third round, respectively, led to the trade of Brandon Manumaleuna, an under-achiever who refused to work out with the team in St. Louis.
The question will be whether Klopfenstein and Byrd can block at an NFL level, but their presence in the passing game should open up the field even more for receivers Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Kevin Curtis, while also creating a threat in the red zone.
—The Rams' depth chart at quarterback got larger when the team acquired Dave Ragone from the Cincinnati Bengals. The Rams will give a seventh-round pick in the 2007 draft to the Texans only if Ragone makes the roster.
The timing of the move is odd considering that Ragone, a former third-round pick of the Houston Texans, was waived by Houston in May and the Rams did not put in a waiver claim at the time. Ragone was claimed by Cincinnati and Indianapolis, and was awarded to the Bengals.
He has a connection with coach Scott Linehan when Linehan was a coach at the University of Louisville.
The addition of Ragone creates a crowded position with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jeff Smoker already competing for the team's No. 3 job behind Marc Bulger and Gus Frerotte. Rarely, if ever, do teams take five quarterbacks to training camp.
Ragone played in two games in his three seasons with the Texans. He started two games during his rookie season, and completed 20 of 40 passes for 135 yards, with one interception. He did run for 51 yards on six attempts.
The Texans sent him to NFL Europe in 2004 where he played for Berlin and was offensive MVP. He completed 158 of 251 passes for 1,746 yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. At one point, he threw 174 consecutive passes without an interception.
—Following the team's final practice at their recent minicamp, there was a barbecue for players, coaches and their families. The only negative was that the get-together had to be moves inside because of inclement weather.
"It doesn't seem like you ever take time to kind of say hello to your new teammates," coach Scott Linehan said. "Shoot, I've got coaches' families that I haven't gotten a chance to meet yet.
"I said from the onset, I want people to feel great about being here, and have a great sense of pride in where they work. And I want the families to feel welcome."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think this is going to be a great system. Guys are making strides every day. We are still installing and getting things in. Things are improving; guys are getting better and understanding of everything they need to do." - LB Will Witherspoon on the team's defense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: P Bryan Barker; RB Aveion Cason; CB Terry Fair; OG Tom Nutten; TE Roland Williams.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: CB Dwight Anderson; DT Jeremy Calahan; S Dwaine Carpenter; TE Jerome Collins; LB Mike Goolsby.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: WR Isaac Bruce; WR Kevin Curtis; DE Brandon Green; CB DeJuan Groce; LS Chris Massey; WR Shaun McDonald; OG Blaine Saipaia; QB Jeff Smoker; LB Drew Wahlroos.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: CB Fakhir Brown; S Corey Chavous; RB Tony Fisher; DT Jason Fisk; QB Gus Frerotte; DT La'Roi Glover; WR Brad Pyatt; QB Dave Ragone; FB Paul Smith; LB Raonall Smith; OT Todd Steussie; P Matt Turk; LB Will Witherspoon.
PLAYERS LOST: S Adam Archuleta; LB Chris Claiborne; S Mike Furrey; RB Arlen Harris; CB Corey Ivy; DE Tyoka Jackson; CB Chris Johnson; DT Damione Lewis; LB Jeremy Loyd; TE Brandon Manumaleuna; QB Jamie Martin; OT Matt Morgan; NT Ryan Pickett; OL Rex Tucker.