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Thread: Inside Slant
Posted 4/2/2007 8:57 PM ET
As preparation for the draft intensifies, and free-agent movement slows, the Rams know what everyone is thinking about their goals: Improve the defense, especially against the run.
In the first month of the new league year, the Rams have added eight players with three on defense. But a defensive tackle hasn't been in that group, which results in many wondering what the team will do to improve the run defense.
Asked about that, coach Scott Linehan said, "The first thing I can say is we're three weeks into free agency. So it's hard to say we've stopped. We've still got a draft coming up. And you've got to remember we added five new starters to our defense a year ago. Unless for some reason it isn't the right player at the right time, we will be able to address some of the needs we feel on defense in this draft. The biggest thing is, I was very encouraged with the way we played at the end of the year. Regardless of what our average was over 16 games, two of the last three games I think defensively we played as good as we did all year.
"And we started off the year very well. I think fans remember the first five games; it was a pretty hot item that we were much improved defensively. And then as a team — not just defense or anything else — the team didn't play as well in the middle. But there's a lot more involved in improving the defense than just adding so-called position players to your team. I think we've improved some things we're going to do schematically. We're working on that very hard as well. And we believe we can add a player that's going to be pretty effective for our defense in the draft as well.
"If you don't have this great run defense, everybody's always going to look and say, 'Who's playing d-line?' Well, all of a sudden Indianapolis became one heck of a run defense when Bob Sanders came back for the playoffs. He's an undersized safety. It's amazing how well they did in the playoffs with a little bit of a lead and kind of an emotional leader to their defense. They played pretty darn good in the playoffs against arguably three of the best rushing offenses. We've still got a draft. And you could always add that player via free agency for a year or something short-term, too. You never know, a trade could pop up that we can't refuse, too.
Linehan admitted he gets asked often about improving the defense.
"I've been asked that question here for about three weeks at different times about addressing the defense," he said. "I think people will be very, very happy with the addition of (defensive end) James (Hall) and hopefully with the addition of somebody if things work out right in this upcoming draft, whether it be the first round or (later). Somebody else is going to be in that mix that's going to make us better. But I really think the players that we have are going to be that much more improved.
"If we can just maintain a level of consistency, and playing good defense — there's more to it than rush defense. Obviously, you've got to stop the run, you've got to run the ball to win. We know all that. There's a lot of things we need to build on. We did a nice job of getting turnovers last year. If we can just improve our ability to stop those teams from consistently running the ball on us, we're going to be in good shape. And if we can create a lead for our defense consistently, then that's going to be another thing that helps."
Linehan also reiterated that a big part of the Rams' "off-season" was the signing during the 2006 season of defensive end Leonard Little and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, which kept them from becoming free agents.
Concluded the head coach, "The one thing that I don't think has been credited is our first two free agents we signed in free agency were our own guys. We didn't let our 13-sack player go to another team. Had (Little) gone to free agency, I don't know what would've happened. But it would have been off the chart."
—Despite rarely being active in 2006, cornerback Jerametrius Butler is supposedly still in the team's plans, according to coach Scott Linehan.
However, Butler has not been participating in the off-season program that began March 19.
Said Linehan, "I have not talked to him since the end of the season. You know he's unhappy with the way the season went — not playing. I'd like to see him recharged and refocused, and hope he gives it a run to get back on the field for us."
In the first four weeks of free agency, the Rams signed cornerbacks Lenny Walls and Mike Rumph to one-year contracts.
—The addition of Walls adds a taller (6-4) cornerback to the roster. Walls started two games for the Chiefs last season after starting 20 in four years with the Broncos. He started 16 games in 2003, but injuries limited him to a total of 14 games played in 2004-05.
Said coach Scott Linehan, "We're trying to match up against those big guys in our division. We're like five inches shorter. It'd be nice to be able to look those guys in the eye."
—Although running back Marshall Faulk announced his retirement March 26, he won't submit his official papers until after June 1. That will enable the Rams to split the remaining $4 million in signing bonus proration on his contract over 2007 and 2008.
Faulk currently counts $3.045 million against the cap, and he was paid a $225,000 roster bonus recently. After June 1, he will count $2.225 this year and $2 million in '08.
—Club president John Shaw thinks the Rams will receive about $5 million this year under terms of the league revenue sharing agreement, which was ratified at the league meeting in Phoenix March 26.
Shaw told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the team was second or third in revenue when they moved to St. Louis from Anaheim in 2005. But numerous new stadiums built since then have pushed the Rams down to the lower third (between 22nd and 24th) of the league.
"I thought the resolution was a compromise," Shaw told the Post-Dispatch. "We were happy with it."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have some fantasy football in us, too. We'd like to have all those guys. But both of them are 3-4 outside linebackers. Will Witherspoon's a younger version of what we think Joey might have been at that point in his career as far as an impact linebacker, whether he played outside or not. Adalius Thomas is truly a 3-4 outside linebacker. Kind of a stand-up, rush end. So it's hard to say in a 4-3 how he's going to play. If you've got a player like that, you're going to probably change your scheme and make a pretty good commitment to do that. But the problem is that you have 10 other positions you've got to take into account to do that. If you go that way, you're going to have to basically go to a 3-4 defense. Now you've got to basically address what you're doing with your whole group. Now you've got to get 3-4 ends, a 3-4 nose." — Coach Scott Linehan, when asked about fans engaged in "fantasy football" and wanting the Rams to sign linebackers Joey Porter or Adalius Thomas.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
—LB Jamal Brooks made the roster, was cut and then brought back because of injuries. He can contribute on special teams.
—RB Stephen Davis helped the development of Steven Jackson but bad knees make his return unlikely.
—RB Tony Fisher will be coming off a knee injury, but if healthy can provide solid special teams play and a receiving threat on third down.
—DE Brandon Green is a high-motor player who just doesn't have great ability. Might be back if the contract is reasonable.
—LB Isaiah Kacyvenski helped improve special teams coverage, but will probably be looking for more than a one-year, minimum-value contract.
—WR/KR Willie Ponder didn't upgrade the kickoff return game as the team hoped. Still, it might make sense to bring him back unless the Rams know they have someone better.
—LB Raonall Smith proved himself to be a versatile player in situational defenses and on special teams.
—P Matt Turk was consistent all season, and the Rams should ensure that he's back for another year at least.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
—S Dwaine Carpenter (not tendered as RFA) did a decent job on special teams, and could return for lower salary than tender.
—C/G Larry Turner (not tendered as RFA) is a competitor, and might be back at lower salary than tender.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
—LB Brandon Chillar (tendered at $850,000 with 4th-round pick as compensation) was solid as the strong-side starter, and played better than has been given credit for.
—G/T Adam Goldberg (tendered at $850,000 with no compensation) is an excellent swingman to have around, with the ability to play every position on the line.
—TE Aaron Walker (tendered at $850,000 with 5th-round pick as compensation) showed decent blocking ability and will return to compete for backup job again.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
—T/G Todd Steussie: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
—WR Drew Bennett: UFA Titans; $30M/6 yrs, $7.5M SB/$10M guaranteed.
—LB Chris Draft: UFA Panthers; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
—DE James Hall (trade Lions).
—S Todd Johnson: UFA Bears; $4M/4 yrs, $700,000 SB.
—DE Trevor Johnson: Waivers Saints.
—TE Randy McMichael: FA Dolphins; $11M/3 yrs, $3M SB; 2007 cap: $2.5M.
—RB Travis Minor: UFA Dolphins; 1 yr, terms unknown.
—CB Mike Rumph: FA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
—P B.J. Sander: FA; $435,000/1 yr.
—DT Tim Sandidge: Waivers Chiefs.
—CB Lenny Walls: UFA Chiefs; 1 yr, term unknown.
—LB Dexter Coakley (released).
—WR Kevin Curtis: UFA Eagles; $30M/6 yrs, $2.5M SB/$5M RB '07; $1.5M RB '08.
—RB Marshall Faulk (retired).
—CB Travis Fisher: UFA Lions; $2.25M/1 yr, $1.25M SB.
—NT Jason Fisk: UFA; retired.
—WR Shaun McDonald: UFA Lions; $2.8M/2 yrs, $1.5M guaranteed.
—FB Paul Smith: UFA Broncos; $2.55M/3 yrs, $300,000 SB.
—OG Adam Timmerman (released).