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Linehan sees progress in Rams win
By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
In many ways, the Rams’ 7-6 preseason victory over the Chargers offered a haunting reprise of last season’s woes.
Mark Setterstrom, the potential starting right guard, suffered a broken kneecap that will end his season. Quarterback Marc Bulger threw two bad interceptions, got knocked out of the game by a vicious blind-side hit and heard boos rattling around the half-empty stands.
Receiver Drew Bennett muffed Bulger’s best throw of the day, a deep sideline pass delivered right on the money. Tight end Joe Klopfenstein failed to haul in a potential TD pass at the back edge of the end zone. Tackle Alex Barron contributed his first false-start penalty to the cause.
Cornerstone offensive players Steven Jackson (contract holdout) and Torry Holt (sore back) were missing -– and it showed.
“We’re definitely starting off slow on offense,” coach Scott Linehan admitted. “We have to get our timing down. I won’t want to go through the litany of reasons why. It doesn’t matter. Whoever is in the game has to play well and we’ve got to get meshed together as a unit.”
But, hey, it wasn’t all bad Saturday night at The Ed. The overall blocking and tackling was much better than in Tennessee, when the Titans walked all over the Rams in their preseason opener.
The Rams competed hard this time around. So Linehan was pretty fired up (by his standards) afterward, believing he had witnessed a nice step forward from his bunch.
“Our goal was to come back after last week,” Linehan said. “It was going to be a tough week, we were going to work hard and our goal was to improve and get a win. To be honest with you, we accomplished our goal. I’ll probably have a question about a number of things, but it doesn’t really matter to me because we got our first win in preseason and our first win at home. You can ask me anything you want and I’m a happy man.”
Some observations on the game:
-- Defensive Leonard Little reminded Rams fans what they missed last season when he played hurt . . . and didn’t play at all because of his foot injury. He was a disruptive force against San Diego.
-- Back-up quarterback Trent Green looked good filling in for Bulger, a development fans will note all week in our forums and live chats. He hit a couple of big throws at the end of the first half.
-- Back-up running back Antonio Pittman (67 yards on nine carries) excelled. He continues to benefit from extra work in Jackson’s absence.
“Pitt really came out running hard,” Linehan said. “He was getting nice chunks every time he carried the ball, making nice reads and cuts, running hard, dropping his pads -– which I thought he was a little high last week. I thought he really made a lot of progress there.”
-- Utility back Brian Leonard (38 yards on eight carries, 19 yards in three catches) also played well until suffering a shoulder injury. “It was enough to keep him out,” Linehan said. “We’ll see.”
-- The offense did a nice collective job with its run blocking. “I was really proud of our offensive line,” Linehan said. “We’ve made great strides with the offensive line from where we started in camp to where we are now, because that was the question I had from the very start of camp. Now we’re talking about a bright spot there.”
-- Offensive coordinator Al Saunders featured some deep throws to tight end Randy McMichael, who became a forgotten man in last year’s offense. He had three catches for 54 yards.
-- Linehan agreed that Klopfenstein threw a couple of big blocks in this game. To this point of his NFL career, this has not been his strong suit.
“I thought Joe had a good game,” Linehan said. “There were a couple of plays I saw Joe actually knock a guy back. I always thought Joe could do it. Joe has had a good camp real quietly. He was blocking with leverage, he was knocking guys off balls. He is really showing maturity, as far as I’m concerned.”
-- The first defensive unit stiffened twice in tough situations, forcing the Chargers to settle for field goals. “I thought the defense played outstanding,” Linehan said. “If you’re fragile, if you get deflated and you’re like ‘our offense just put us here,’ you tend to just let them score. You do it subconsciously.
“I really like the leadership of our guys. Guys were bouncing around, they were determined, they were running to the ball. Second-effort plays, guys getting to the ball carrier, keeping him out of the end zone. We’ve had a couple of game with our first unit stopping the other team down there in the red zone. I was really proud of our entire defense.”
-- Second-year defenders Clifton Ryan (at nose tackle) and Quinton Culberson (linebacker) earned sacks and played the run well too. The Rams are counting on both players making major strides this season.
-- Ron Bartell had another good game at cornerback, which was critical with Fakhir Brown still sidelined by his shoulder injury.
-- Bruce Gradkowski (6 for 9, 49 yards) moved the offense and strengthened his bid for the third quarterback job. In the preseason opener, Brock Berlin made a strong case. (Berlin was fine in this game, too, but he didn’t have much to work with. He completed all three of his short passes and showed good mobility)
-- Dante Hall still looked like the Rams’ best kick return option. Brandon Williams didn’t do anything spectacular with his opportunities.
-- Tackle Orlando Pace scraped some more rust off and managed not to hurt himself while trying to make a post-interception tackle.
“I have to watch it, but my feeling on the field was that Orlando was more like Orlando,” Linehan said. “He was one of the guys bound and determined to improve last week.”
-- Center Nick Leckey helped his cause, which was timely with Setterstrom’s injury depleting the team’s interior line depth. Center Brett Romberg has been sidelined with a hand injury.
-- Defensive lineman Victor Adeyanju, playing with his injured hand ensconced in a protective club, proved capable of moving inside and generating some pass pressure.
-- Rookie linebacker Chris Chamberlain solidified his job bid by making four tackles and breaking up a pass.
“We came back to training camp and we said we have some deficiencies,” Linehan said. “We’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror and we’ve got to work on them. We worked on those things in all phases. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t exactly as you planned the night before when you’re visualizing the game. The win was, in a way, perfect, in my opinion, because of the way guys just kept playing.”
Re: Linehan sees progress in Rams win
There is alot of defensive improvement this season. Even though some will argue that they didnt play their starters, its a significant difference from what we could've ever accomplished last year. We're a much better defensive squad.
The O-line played a tad bit better. I just hope that they improve a bit more. Stay healthy and improve. When Jackson comes back, he'll be happy. Hopefully.
We need our receiving corps and Bulger to step it up. It hurts watching this "all out system" fail week after week.
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