Posted 7/18/2007 4:19 PM ET
Training camp goals
1. Solidify the inside of the defensive line.
The Rams are planning on first-round pick Adam Carriker being a starter at nose tackle from the first day of camp, or whenever he signs. His play will be instrumental in how much the Rams improve in run defense this season. But Carriker might not be used only on the nose. Throughout the summer, the defense will experiment with left and right tackles, and it is hoped Carriker can also provide a pass-rush presence inside. Two other rookies, Clifton Ryan and Keith Jackson, will compete for roster spots. Coaches want 33-year-old La'Roi Glover to be on the field only 25-30 snaps this season, and they are counting on Claude Wroten to ascend. But Wroten has to put behind him a recent arrest for misdemeanor property damage and get back on the good side of a coaching staff that has talked him up throughout the off-season.
2. Find out how much center Andy McCollum has left in the tank.
McCollum, who missed most of the 2006 season after injuring his knee in the season opener, made an amazing recovery, especially considering he's 37 years old. Richie Incognito played most of the season at center, but he moved to right guard and Brett Romberg was the center for the final three games. Romberg did a solid job, but it's unknown if he can hold up for an entire season. McCollum has the experience and smarts, and is expected to win the job from Romberg provided his knee withstands the rigors of contact. Romberg will also have to hold off rookie fifth-round pick Dustin Fry, who also has the versatility to play guard.
3. Establish Will Witherspoon as the unquestioned middle linebacker.
Only on the outside of the organization are there those that believe the Rams should have pursued a bigger middle linebacker and moved Witherspoon to an outside position. However, coupled with Pisa Tinoisamoa, having Witherspoon on the outside would result in the base defense featuring two weak-side linebackers. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, in his second season with the Rams, is adamant that Witherspoon will be even better in his second season in the system and as a fulltime middleman. Being in the middle allows Witherspoon to roam from sideline to sideline making plays, rather than being limited to one side of the field. He will need help from the team's defensive tackles to keep blockers away, as well as having a healthy Tinoisamoa, who missed the final five games last season and played injured in many of the games he did play.
CAMP CALENDAR: Players report July 26 to the Russell Athletic Training Center (formerly Rams Park), with the first day of practice July 27. As in 2006, there will be alternating days of two practices, then one, until camp officially breaks Aug. 19.
Starting CB Fakhir Brown has been suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season for violating the league's policy on drugs of abuse and alcohol.
Brown will be able to participate in training camp and preseason games, but his suspension will begin Aug. 31.
The numbers are in for contracts signed by third-round pick Jonathan Wade and seventh-round pick Keith Jackson.
A cornerback, Wade signed a three-year deal worth $1.63 million that includes a signing bonus of $516,375. Jackson, a nose tackle, received a signing bonus of $28,200 and his three-year deal totals $1.143 million.
Each contract has minimum base salaries for 2007, 2008 and 200 of $285,000; $370,000 and $460,000
The Rams are opening 17 practices to the public for the first three weeks of training camp. When the Rams' practice schedule has two practices, only the morning practice that begins at 9:20 will be open. On those days, they will also practice in the evening, but those are closed.
On one-practice days, when workouts being at 3 p.m., those will be open to the public. An intrasquad scrimmage at 10:05 a.m. on Sat. Aug. 4 will also be open to fans.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Thank God for James Hall. No more double teams." - Rams defensive end Leonard Little, laughing to reporters recently when he walked by a group talking to Hall, a defensive end acquired in the off-season from the Lions.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
QUARTERBACKS: Starter Marc Bulger. Backups Gus Frerotte, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brock Berlin.
The only question regarding Bulger is whether he will have a new contract by the start of training camp or the regular season. He is the unquestioned leader of the offense, and has ascended to be one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. Frerotte is the perfect veteran to have behind Bulger: someone who understands the system and his role. Fitzpatrick will see a lot of time in preseason games, and at some point the team has to decide if he will be a viable No. 2 behind Bulger. Berlin is likely just a camp arm, as are most fourth quarterbacks.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters HB Steven Jackson, FB Madison Hedgecock. Backups Brian Leonard, HB Travis Minor, HB Kay-Jay Harris, HB Rich Alexis, HB John David Washington, FB Brad Lau.
Jackson has set a goal of gaining 2,500 yards from scrimmage, but he'll need a lot of rushing yards to get it done because it's unlikely he'll catch 90 passes again. Still, Jackson is set to once again be the workhorse of the offense. The challenge from coaches will be to not overuse him. Leonard should be a versatile backup, who could spell Jackson when necessary and also be solid receiver. Minor and Harris are probably competing for the No. 3 job, and the decision will likely be determined on special teams. Alexis is a longshot, while Washington appears destined for another year on the practice squad. Hedgecock might be the only fullback retained on the roster, although long snapper Chris Massey could help in an emergency. Keeping one fullback could result in four tight ends making the roster.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce. Backups Drew Bennett, Dane Looker, Dante Hall, Dominique Thompson, Marques Hagans, Derek Stanley, Shaine Smith, Nate Morton, Markee White, Lamart Barrett.
This is a group as deep as any in the NFL, yet so few seem to notice. Bruce seems to be written off by someone in the national media every year, but just turns in another 1,000-yard season. Holt should be better than ever after off-season knee surgery. Bennett's size will help in the red zone and on sideline patterns. Looker is very dependable and is also the holder for kicker Jeff Wilkins. Hall could have some special plays designed for him, but coaches don't want to over-expose him, keeping him fresh for kick returns. On another team, Thompson might be able to contribute. But this is a tough group to crack. The same goes for Hagans, who is in his second year of the conversion from quarterback to receiver, and might also have potential as a punt returner. The latter five are probably hoping for a spot on the practice squad.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter Randy McMichael. Backups Joe Klopfenstein, Aaron Walker, Dominique Byrd, Mark Anelli, Steve Buches.
The arrival of McMichael should make the entire offense better. An accomplished receiver, McMichael should open things up for the rest of the receivers. The Rams still love the potential of Klopfenstein, and now he will be able to advance at a less pressurized pace, while learning from McMichael. Walker is a solid blocker, while Byrd has worlds of talent if he can ever put it together on a consistent basis. He also has two arrests in the last eight months hanging over his head. It's not out of the question the final roster will include four tight ends if only one true fullback makes the team. Anelli and Buches are longshots at best.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters LT Orlando Pace, LG Mark Setterstrom, C Andy McCollum, RG Richie Incognito, RT Alex Barron. Backups T Todd Steussie, G/T Adam Goldberg, G Claude Terrell, C Brett Romberg, T Jeremy Parquet, T Drew Strojny, T Ken Shackleford, C/G Dustin Fry, T Chris Messner, T Anthony James, C Donovan Raiola.
The return of Pace from a torn triceps will be huge for a line that played with numerous combinations last season because of injuries. Pace saw limited action in the off-season, but is cleared to participate fully at the start of camp. Barron needs to cut down on false starts, but he still has potential to be one of the better young tackles in the game. McCollum will be battling Romberg for the starting job at center, but as long as he stays healthy, it's difficult to imagine Romberg beating him out. Along with Romberg, Setterstrom and Incognito were the starters inside at the end of the season and played well. Now, the challenge will be to show they can maintain that level of play for an entire season. The competition for backup jobs will be intense. Terrell returns after missing last season because of a wrist injury. Goldberg has the versatility to play guard and tackle, while the rookie Fry is tough, and can play center or guard. Steussie is a lock for one backup spot. Parquet will be interesting to watch to see what he has left after playing for the NFL Europa champion Hamburg Sea Devils and being named to the league's All-Pro team.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters DLE Leonard Little, DT La'Roi Glover, NT Adam Carriker, DRE James Hall. Backups E Victor Adeyanju, E Eric Moore, E Trevor Johnson, E Alton Pettway, E Ryan Willis, T Claude Wroten, NT Clifton Ryan, T Tim Sandidge, NT Keith Jackson.
Coaches will experiment with several line combinations in training camp, and will also try alignments that feature right and left tackles, rather than having a true nose tackle. It's imperative the front office gets Carriker signed in time for most of camp, as he adjusts to playing inside and on the nose. Little should be more productive having Hall on the other side. Adeyanju is a solid third end, but he isn't much of a pass rusher. Moore has a chance to win the fourth end job, but that's a spot the club could be looking to fill by seeing who other teams cut during the summer unless someone unexpectedly emerges. The battles for jobs at tackle will be intriguing. Coaches don't want Glover playing more than 25-30 snaps a game, and they are hoping Wroten is the answer. However, there remain off-field concerns after he was involved in a dispute with a former girlfriend in late June. Sandidge is back after a stint in NFL Europa, where he injured his knee. Ryan and Jackson will get plenty of opportunities to show whether they are capable.
LINEBACKERS: Starters WLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, MLB Will Witherspoon, SLB Brandon Chillar. Backups Chris Draft, OLB Raonall Smith, OLB Jon Alston, MLB Tim McGarigle, Quinton Culberson, Kevin McLee.
Get used to it: Witherspoon will be the team's middle linebacker, and it won't be long before critics accept the fact it's a smart move. He'll be able to go sideline to sideline to make plays, rather than be limited to a side of the field if he was on the outside. The key to this unit will be Tinoisamoa staying healthy. He didn't do much during the off-season, and has to prove he can be consistent and stay on the field. Chillar is solid, and comes off the field in passing situations. The versatile Draft can play any position, and could challenge Chillar or be available at Tinoisamoa's spot if he has any injury issues. Wherever he's been, Draft has simply found a way to get on the field. Alston could challenge coaches to find a way to use his talents, but at the least will help the special teams. Smith is also a solid backup and special teams contributor.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters CB Fakhir Brown, CB Tye Hill, SS Corey Chavous, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe. Backups CB Ron Bartell, CB Jonathan Wade, CB Lenny Walls, CB Mike Rumph, CB Josh Lay, CB Darius Vinnett, S Jerome Carter, S Todd Johnson, S Andre Kirkland, S Jeffery Dukes.
Even with the departures of Travis Fisher and Jerametrius Butler, the cornerback depth is solid. Or it was until the Rams learned Brown will be unavailable for gthe first four games of the season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Brown and Hill were expected to be the clear-cut starters. Now, Bartell, Wade and Walls will vie for both the starting spot at the beginning of the season and the nickel spot. Bartell came on strong at the end of last season, while Walls has considerable NFL experience. Wade will face a rookie learning curve, but he has exceptional physical skills. Lay played in NFL Europa this spring, and will be watched closely, along with Vinnett, an undrafted free agent. Chavous provides leadership to the back line, and Atogwe should improve even more than he did from his first to second seasons. Depth isn't great at safety, after backups Johnson and Carter.
SPECIALISTS: K Jeff Wilkins, P Donnie Jones, LS Chris Massey, KR Dante Hall, K Kevin Lovell, P Fred Capshaw.
There's never a worry with Wilkins as the kicker, and now the punting situation appears solidified after the signing of Jones to a five-year contract. Their presence means Lovell and Capshaw will be hoping to do well so other teams see them in preseason games. Massey has had one bad snap in five seasons, while Wilkins loves having Dane Looker as his holder. Hall is being counted on to be a difference-maker in the return game, leading to better field position for the offense and defense.
Re: Inside Slant
Great slant, thanks RW.
Kinda wish I didn't read it. I've been chomping at the bit for the preseason/regular season to start. This article really gets the juices flowing....Can't wait...:r:l
Re: Inside Slant
Me too; I still can't believe camp is around the corner and Carriker is still unsigned. I just hope the D and O lines are solid this season.
Originally Posted by laram0
Re: Inside Slant
Carriker will be signed, I have faith and the feeling that he knows he needs to be in camp. I will not be surprised if we get news that he pressures his agent into getting him into camp, perhaps to get the amount they want through incentives as opposed to pure salary and bonuses.