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Thread: Inside Slant

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    Inside Slant

    Defense, defense, defense.

    For the Rams, it's the same old song. As first-year coach Scott Linehan looks ahead after his team was 8-8, he knows the focus has to be on defense, especially stopping the run.

    "We've certainly got an area we're prioritizing, and that's to improve our run defense," Linehan said. "Wherever that is, whether it's in our front or our linebackers, we're going to scour the league and see if there's somebody there that fits what we lack."

    Linehan hired Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator last year, and the team added defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, linebacker Will Witherspoon, strong safety Corey Chavous and cornerback Fakhir Brown in free agency. They also selected cornerback Tye Hill in the first round of the draft.

    Despite another season-ending suffered by cornerback Travis Fisher, the pass defense held up well. The defense forced more takeaways than it had the previous two seasons. But the run defense still left a lot to be desired.

    Road graders are what the Rams need inside to keep blockers away from their linebackers. Witherspoon played well, but will probably be better after spending his first season in the middle. Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa played injured for most of the 11 games he played, and his tackling suffered.

    But on the inside, nose tackle Jimmy Kennedy struggled in his first season at the position. His backup, Jason Fisk, is undersized, and will probably retire. The departure of Ryan Pickett to Green Bay in the off-season couldn't be overcome.

    Now, the Rams will be searching for someone on the nose that can be at least as good as Pickett.

    The question is whether they can find that in free agency. The Rams have the cap space, but so do a lot of teams. More clubs will likely be able to keep their own free agents or be competitive in the open market.

    "Every team's probably got the ability to go out and spend the money if they need to get an improvement for their team," Linehan said.

    Help is also needed at the defensive end spot opposite Leonard Little, who led the team with 13 sacks. Brandon Green, who ended the year as the starter on the right side, had just 1.5 sacks.

    The good news is that the pass defense was solid. Hill established himself as a starter, and free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe showed steady improvement throughout the season. Ron Bartell was showing he belonged by the end of the season.

    "I think we have a pretty good secondary returning next year," Bartell said, "You've got the veteran guys like Corey and Fakhir Brown. And I think it's really good that us young guys were able to get some experience this year."

    Said Hill, "The important thing is, I kept growing every game, and I started to make a few plays here and there. This year was really a building process for me. This was my foundation year. I'm looking to build off this year to next year."

    Atogwe said, "We're only getting better from here. We're not the type of individuals who are going to rest on what we've done this year. We're going to continue to push each other, challenge each other, and grow from this. So, when we come back next year, our goal is going to be the best secondary in the league."

    Concluded Chavous, "I think this group of young defensive backs is outstanding. And then when you have a guy like Fakhir Brown ... it's something that might go unnoticed, but it's not unnoticed by anybody in this locker room. He's one of the best corners in the league."

    NOTES, QUOTES

    —Coach Scott Linehan decided to make a change in special teams coaches when the contract of Bob Ligashesky was not renewed and Al Roberts was hired.

    Roberts last coached in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2002, and has been coaching an inner-city team in Seattle at Garfield High School.

    Linehan was an assistant coach at the University of Washington in 1996 when Roberts was also on that staff.

    Said Linehan, "I learned more about special teams in my one year with Al than in any of the other years I've been in coaching. This obviously is an area in which we need improvement and I am certain that Al Roberts is the right man for the job."

    Roberts will be the Rams' sixth special teams coach in nine seasons, dating back to 1999.

    Linehan also hired Mike Cox as a defensive quality control coach, replacing Joe Baker, who was hired to be the Denver Broncos' linebackers coach. Cox coached the linebackers at Michigan State the last four seasons.

    —WR Torry Holt will undergo minor knee surgery and miss the Pro Bowl in Hawaii Feb. 3. Detroit Lions receiver Roy Williams replaced him.

    Holt experienced some knee problems in 2005, but did not have surgery in the ensuing off-season. The knee began bothering him again during the Rams' Dec. 3 game against Arizona. He played the final four games of the season, catching 23 passes for 278 yards.

    —Although RB Stephen Davis had just 40 carries for 177 yards during the 2006 season, he wants to be back with the Rams in 2007. Davis signed a one-year contract on Sept. 1, and will be a free agent in March

    Asked if he wants to return to the Rams, Davis said, "Of course. I've just got to sit back and see what happens. This worked out very well. Great, actually."

    —The toughest player for the Rams to re-sign could be WR Kevin Curtis. He is stuck behind Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce on the depth chart, and it's possible other teams will offer him No. 2 receiver money. If that happens, Curtis could be gone, because the Rams likely won't go too high to keep him.

    "I love being here," Curtis said after the final game of the season. "It's been an unbelievable experience. I've loved every minute of it. ... We'll see where it goes. I didn't even have an agent until this week. So to tell you the truth, I haven't looked ahead to that at all yet."

    The agent he hired is Tom Condon, who ironically represents Rams QB Marc Bulger.

    As for his desire to play more, Curtis said, "I think any player wants to be on the field as much as he can. Obviously, there's lots of variables. ... You want to win games. But I don't think there's any doubt I'd like to be on the field more."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a no-brainer that we want Marc to be our quarterback — as long as Marc wants to play quarterback in this league. But we're doing it in logical phases, and we're going to be getting to that here, it sounds like pretty quick." — Coach Scott Linehan, when asked if signing QB Marc Bulger to a contract extension in the off-season is a priority. Bulger's contract expires after the 2007 season.

    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    UNIT-BY-UNIT ANLAYSIS

    QUARTERBACK: Starter — Marc Bulger. Backups — Gus Frerotte, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

    Bulger re-established himself as one of the league's top passers and most accurate by completing 62.9 percent of his throws for 4,301 yards, while throwing just eight interceptions. After a rocky start, Bulger managed the team's new offense well, avoiding turnovers, and played all 16 games, the first time that has happened in his career. Frerotte was valuable, helping Bulger adapt to the offense, and attempted just three passes all season. Fitzpatrick beat out Dave Ragone in training camp, and never played until the season finale against Minnesota when he took the last few snaps of the game.

    RUNNING BACKS: Starters — HB Steven Jackson, FB Madison Hedgecock. Backups: HB Stephen Davis, HB Kay-Jay Harris, HB Rich Alexis, FB Paul Smith. Injured reserve: HB Tony Fisher.

    Jackson talked throughout the off-season about wanting the ball more, and he got it, to the tune of 346 rushing attempts for 1,528 yards. Most important was the signing of Davis, who not only spelled Jackson, but helped him run at the right pad level, minimizing runs for minus yardage. Jackson also set a club record for pass receptions by a running with 90 and led the 2,334 combined yards from scrimmage. Hedgecock did a solid job blocking, and became the fulltime starter because of a succession of injuries suffered by Smith, who missed six games, including the last three of the season. Harris played seven games, mostly on special teams, while Alexis was on the roster for three games and was inactive for each.

    TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Joe Klopfenstein. Backups — Aaron Walker, Dominique Byrd.

    The rookie Klopfenstein's integration into the passing game was deliberate as coaches wanted him up to speed on blocking and pass protection. It is expected he'll take a big jump in 2007 from the 20 catches for 226 yards he totaled this past season, while starting all 16 games. Byrd played in just five games, but he had a 27-yard touchdown catch against Washington in the next to last game of the season. How hard he works in the off-season will likely determine how much progress he makes from his rookie year. Walker was solid as a blocker, but nothing more.

    WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce. Backups — Kevin Curtis, Shaun McDonald, Dane Looker, Willie Ponder.

    It's strange to talk about Holt having an off year when he still totaled 93 receptions for 1,188 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was hampered by a knee injury over the last month of the season, and didn't reach 1,300 yards receiving for the first time since his rookie season of 1999. Still, considering the fact that the offense struggled at times with the new system, he was still a Pro Bowl performer. Bruce slows no signs of slowing down at the age of 34 and gained 1,098 yards on 74 receptions. Curtis had just 40 receptions, and will be an unrestricted free agent. The Rams could have problems re-signing him if another team is willing to pay No. 2 receiver money. McDonald will also be a free agent, and his contributions were reduced because the offense didn't employ four receivers as it had previously under Mike Martz. Looker didn't catch a pass all season, but he is reliable depth and is also the holder for kicker Jeff Wilkins. Ponder was the best of the kickoff returners, but nothing spectacular.

    OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LT Todd Steussie, LG Mark Setterstrom, C Brett Romberg, RG Richie Incognito, RT Alex Barron. Backups — G Adam Timmerman, G/T Adam Goldberg, C/G Larry Turner, T Jeremy Parquet. Injured reserve: LT Orlando Pace, C Andy McCollum, G Claude Terrell.

    The line experienced consistent shuffling all season, beginning with the season-ending knee injury suffered by McCollum in the first game. There were seven different starting combinations, with three different left tackles, four left guards, three centers and two right guards. Only Barron started all 16 games at the same position, and he led the league with 14 false starts. Still, the interior line that finished the season after Timmerman was sidelined by rib problems, was outstanding in the run game and showed improvement in pass blocking. Setterstrom and Incognito, at the least, will be difficult to get out of the lineup. It very well could be the group that enters 2007 as the starters, leaving up in the air the futures of McCollum and Timmerman. Pace will return from a torn triceps that cost him the final seven games of the season. Steussie is a free agent, and the Rams would like him to return as insurance, but he would leave if a starting job somewhere is offered. Goldberg is also a solid swingman. Terrell's Rams future is in doubt because of a wrist injury.

    DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LE Leonard Little, T La'Roi Glover, NT Jimmy Kennedy, RE Brandon Green. Backups — E Victor Adeyanju, E Eric Moore, T Claude Wroten, NT Jason Fisk.

    This is the area that needs the most attention in the off-season. Little had 13 sacks from the left side, but the right side had problems. Green should be no more than a backup, and he started after Adeyanju suffered a broken bone in his forearm. Adeyanju is OK against the run, but not a threat as a pass rusher. Glover had 5.5 sacks, but was on the field too much. Wroten has to step up, so Glover can be at his best for 25-30 plays a game. Kennedy struggled with consistency on the nose, and it's unknown what his role will be in 2007, the final year of his contract. Fisk is expected to retire.

    LINEBACKERS: Starters — WLB Dexter Coakley, MLB Will Witherspoon, SLB Brandon Chillar. Backups — OLB Raonall Smith, MLB Isaiah Kacyvenski, MLB Jamal Brooks, OLB Jon Alston. Injured reserve — WLB Pisa Tinoisamoa.

    Witherspoon spent the season adapting to his new position in the middle, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is convinced he will be potentially dominating in 2007. Tinoisamoa played just 11 games, and most of them came with an assortment of injuries to his elbow and hands. Coakley was solid in his stead, and could be brought back as insurance. Chillar was also solid on the strong side. Smith contributed as a hybrid linebacker/"buck" end in passing situations. Alston played in the last three games of the season, and coaches have high hopes for him to take a big step in his second season. Kacyvenski did a strong job on special teams.

    DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Tye Hill, RCB Fakhir Brown, SS Corey Chavous, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe. Backups — CB Ron Bartell, CB Jerametrius Butler, SS Jerome Carter, FS Dwaine Carpenter. Injured reserve: Travis Fisher.

    Hill, the team's first-round pick, started 10 games, and showed steady improvement throughout the season. He tied for the team lead with three interceptions. Brown was solid in coverage and was fifth on the team in tackle with 76. Bartell, who shuttled between cornerback, safety and in the slot in the nickel defense, took a big step in the second half of the season, and returned an interception for a touchdown in the season finale against the Vikings. Butler hardly played all season, and will be released if there are no takers in a possible trade. Chavous was the leader on defense, and was second on the team in tackles with 118. He was beneficial in the improvement of Atogwe, who tied Little for the team lead with six forced fumbles, and began excelling in pass coverage and against the run in his second season. Carter often played safety in the nickel defense and shows promise. Fisher missed the final nine games of the season, and will likely leave as a free agent.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jeff Wilkins, P Matt Turk, LS Chris Massey, KOR Willie Ponder, PR Shaun McDonald.

    Wilkins was "money" again, missing just five of 37 field-goal attempts, while being perfect on three attempts of 50 or more yards. Turk's punting helped the coverage improve, as his net was 38.3 and he dropped 26 punts inside the 20 with just five touchbacks. Massey was as consistent as ever, although he did roll a snap on an extra point in a Monday night game against the Bears. The Rams will continue to try and get better in the return game.


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    Varg6's Avatar
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    Re: Inside Slant

    "I love being here," Curtis said after the final game of the season. "It's been an unbelievable experience. I've loved every minute of it. ... We'll see where it goes. I didn't even have an agent until this week. So to tell you the truth, I haven't looked ahead to that at all yet."

    We shall see, we shall see...

    And damn you front office, just get Bulger a contract extension already!!!


    Always and Forever a fan of the St. Louis Rams

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    Re: Inside Slant

    Quote Originally Posted by Varg6 View Post
    "I love being here," Curtis said after the final game of the season. "It's been an unbelievable experience. I've loved every minute of it. ... We'll see where it goes. I didn't even have an agent until this week. So to tell you the truth, I haven't looked ahead to that at all yet."

    We shall see, we shall see...

    And damn you front office, just get Bulger a contract extension already!!!
    Well, maybe Bulger can coax Curtis to resign seeing as they share the same Agent.
    JUST WIN ONE FOR THE FANS


    "HIT HARD, HIT FAST, AND HIT OFTEN"
    Adm. William "Bull" Halsey

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