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Linehan can't wait to start work on '07
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
After Sunday's 41-21 victory over Minnesota, Scott Linehan didn't want the season to end. Now, he can't wait for the offseason to begin.
Most NFL head coaches give their staffs a week off following the conclusion of the season. But Linehan wants to rechannel some of the momentum and energy built up over the final month of 2006 by getting a jump on 2007.
"At some point, we're going to have to recharge the battery, take a little time off," he said. "But like I told you (reporters) after the game, it's the first time in a long time I felt like I just wanted to keep going. I don't care when that vacation is. You want that vacation to be after the Super Bowl, and that's how we felt."
Well, not this year. There will be no playoffs for the 8-8 Rams. As it is, Linehan won't give himself or his staff a respite until after the Senior Bowl college all-star game practices the last week in January. Senior Bowl week will be when Linehan and his staff begin looking at possible additions to the 2007 squad.
Until then, the focus will be on evaluating the 2006 Rams. In the next two to three weeks, Linehan and his coaching staff will review each player on tape and make statistical evaluations of the current roster.
"A lot of stats don't lie," he said. "You can have positive stats that confirm you're doing something well, and have some negative stats that say this is an area that needs to be improved."
The review process won't be limited to players.
"You've got to look and see what you're doing schematically and ask, 'Are we giving our guys the best chance to be successful here?'" Linehan said. "And if we are, and if this is what we're going to do, do we have the right personnel for it?"
Certainly, Linehan already has an idea of the team's strengths and weaknesses, and a general idea of which players he wants back and which ones he doesn't want back. But as the dust settles on the 2006 season, this period of self-evaluation gives him and the organization an opportunity to make sure.
For example, do the Rams feel that Richie Incognito showed enough at right guard over the final three games to be the starter over veteran Adam Timmerman? At center, did Brett Romberg show enough in the final three games to start ahead of veteran Andy McCollum? Those are the kinds of questions that must be answered in formulating an offseason game plan.
"That's what this month's for," Linehan said. "We'll take a little vacation once we get that done at the end of the month. But we've got to get to that right away. We met as an entire staff, and then offensively, defensively and special teams on the timeline for making those decisions."
Not all the decisions will be up to the Rams exclusively. Players such as wide receiver Kevin Curtis, cornerback Travis Fisher, punter Matt Turk and offensive lineman Todd Steussie are scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Some will play elsewhere.
Linehan did say he met with Timmerman on Tuesday, but he said the conversation was more about what happened this season than what might happen next season.
"It was more just to talk about the year," Linehan said. "I know at the end, it was hard for him. It was hard for all of us to not have him in there. But those (young) guys that stepped in took advantage of that opportunity, too."
Too much shouldn't be read into the face-to-face meeting with Timmerman anyway. Starting Tuesday and concluding today, Linehan planned to meet with every player.
"I want to meet with each player individually before they go, so they kind of have an idea of the evaluation we have of them," Linehan said. "And also to thank them for the effort this year, and kind of get an idea of what their plans are. If you don't have that meeting, I think you can leave some things unsaid that probably need to be said right away."
Linehan also met with the squad as a whole Tuesday at Rams Park to summarize the season, outline expectations for the program and to give the players an idea of the offseason calendar. (The offseason conditioning program begins in late March; the players will scatter until then.)
In stating the obvious, Linehan said that shoring up the team's porous run defense will be one of the top goals of the offseason.
"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 said that may be easier said than done in free agency, given the additional money pushed into the salary cap under the new collective bargaining agreement.
"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.
Which may lead to more players re-signing with their teams before the start of the free agency period in March, thinning the talent pool. It also puts more teams in a competitive position to bid on players in free agency.
Linehan said he doesn't expect changes in his coaching staff. In fact, he named one "starter" there for 2007: Offensive coordinator Greg Olson will continue to call the plays as he did for the final six games in 2006.