He has been with the team for only two months, but Rams coach Mike Martz likes what he's seen from linebacker Dexter Coakley. So much so that Coakley has already been designated one of the team's defensive captains.
As the Rams began OTAs (organized team activities) after several weeks of weight and conditioning work, Coakley was already feeling comfortable in his new environment. The Rams quickly pursued Coakley after he was released by the Cowboys on March 1.

Not only for his production on the field, but for his enthusiasm and work habits, traits Martz wants to see rub off on a defense that is decidedly young, especially with safety Aeneas Williams not expected to return.

When asked about the captaincy, Coakley said, "Hopefully the guys won't ride me too hard for just coming aboard and already being a team captain. I want to show them my leadership, I want to show them my work ethic, I want to show them how to be a true professional. That's on the field, off the field, in all walks of life."

The Rams' defense struggled last season, ranking 29th against the run and allowing numerous big plays. The new system implemented by defensive coordinator Larry Marmie came under fire, but poor tackling was a large part of the problem. Coakley has been a consistent tackler during his eight seasons in Dallas. He believes it just comes down to production.

Asked about the difference in the systems in Dallas and St. Louis, Coakley said, "It's just terminology; X's and O's are going to be the same. The game of football, defensively, is just running and tackling the guy with the ball, stopping the opponent. Football is football ... I just want to help this defense get better."

NOTES, QUOTES

—Punter Kevin Stemke was said to have been shocked by the Rams' recent decision to place him on waivers, shortly after the team selected punter Reggie Hodges in the sixth round of the draft.

Stemke's agent, Chris Murray, said, "We're as dumbfounded as anybody." He added, "(The release) just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's the biggest hammer that's been thrown down with one of my clients."

Stemke was signed by the Rams on Nov. 26 after veteran Sean Landeta was released. Poor on punt coverage, the Rams were frustrated by Landeta often out-kicking the coverage, which led to long returns.

The strategy with Stemke, who does not have a strong leg, was to get good hang time, even if the kick was only 40 yards. For the six regular-season games in which he punted, consider it mission accomplished. His average for 28 punts was only 39.8, but the net was 36.1 with only 11 returned for a total of 44 yards.

However, in the team's playoff loss to Atlanta, Stemke had three punts that were either too low or too long, and Falcons punt returner Allen Rossum returned them 39, 45 and 68 yards, with the latter resulting in a touchdown. That score gave Atlanta a 28-14 lead late in the first half.

The Rams scored a late field goal and entered the second half down 28-17. After their first possession of the third quarter, Rossum's 39-yard return set the Falcons up at the St. Louis 32-yard line. Six plays later, a touchdown gave Atlanta a 35-17 lead, and they went on to win, 47-17.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You want to think you're going to finish your career with the team that drafts you, but unfortunately that's not the case. Football is a game, but obviously it's a business, too. They made a business decision, and I accept it. There weren't any hard feelings. They're moving in a new direction, and so am I." — LB Dexter Coakley on being released by the Cowboys and signing with the Rams.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Zack Bronson; TE Cam Cleeland; OG Chris Dishman; S Antuan Edwards; DE Erik Flowers; OG Tom Nutten; S Aeneas Williams.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED: S Jerome Carter (4/117).

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OG Darnell Alford; CB Dwight Anderson; LB Trev Faulk; WR Mike Furrey; FB Joey Goodspeed; RB Arlen Harris; WR Dane Looker; LB Jeremy Loyd; QB Jamie Martin; LS Chris Massey; OT Orlando Pace; OT Blaine Saipaia; P Kevin Stemke; OG Scott Tercero; LB Drew Wahlroos.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Chris Claiborne; LB Dexter Coakley; CB Terry Fair; DE Brandon Green; S Michael Hawthorne; CB Corey Ivy; S Michael Stone; OG Rex Tucker; DE Jay Williams; TE Roland Williams.

PLAYERS LOST: QB Chris Chandler; S Rich Coady; DE Bryce Fisher; OG Matt Lehr; LB Tommy Polley; P Kevin Stemke