Published 2:15 am PDT Thursday, September 8, 2005var ppn='Page C9';if(ppv==1){ppn=''+ppn+'';}document.write('
Story appeared in Sports section, '+ppn);
Story appeared in Sports section, Page C9
SANTA CLARA - If, as the adage goes, a football team takes on the personality of its head coach, the 2005 St. Louis Rams might be more volatile, controversial and unconventional than ever.
During a Wednesday conference call, a moody Mike Martz answered questions like a man who just watched his shiny new Porsche be towed away and impounded. His answers were terse. His tone was snippy. And he was contemptuous - even about his team.
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Asked how he tried to improve on last year's 8-8 record, only the second non-winning season since he became the Rams' head coach in 2000, Martz didn't mince words.
"You just try to get better players," he said flatly after a slight pause.
The remark was a not-so-subtle swipe at his 2004 linebacking corps, most of which is playing elsewhere. The unit was largely blamed for giving up more than 136 rushing yards per game last season, 29th in the league.
Only Pisa Tinoisamoa remains from last year's starting group, and he will be joined this year by veteran newcomers Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley. Tommy Polley, meanwhile, was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens as an unrestricted free agent while Robert Thomas, a former first-round draft choice, was traded over the weekend.
"We had some personnel issues that we were trying to cover up," Martz said. "That was one of our problems on the road."
Perhaps the biggest question facing the Rams is whether the addition of big, bruising running back Steven Jackson to the starting lineup will turn the so-called "Greatest Show on Turf" into "Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust."
At 230 pounds, Jackson gives the Rams the ability to run a more conservative, ball-control offense St. Louis hasn't seen in years. Along those lines, the Rams ran the ball 74 times in their final two preseason games, and Jackson has been particularly effective against the *****.
A rookie last season, Jackson made his first career start Dec. 5 in a 16-6 win over the *****, rushing 26 times for 119 yards. He also made his mark in the team's first meeting when defensive back Mike Rumph tried to tackle him and ended up breaking his forearm, an injury that kept Rumph out for the rest of the season.
The *****, however, say they're not fooled by what they've seen from the Rams in the preseason.
When the teams meet Sunday, they expect to see a typical Martz offense - fast-paced, aggressive and willing to take chances.
St. Louis finished last season with a horrendous minus-24 turnover ratio (the ***** were second-worst at minus-19), but ***** coach Mike Nolan and Martz said turnovers weren't nearly as damaging to the Rams as they are to other teams because their offense can score so quickly.
"They're not a long-drive team; they're an explosive team," said Nolan, who coached alongside Martz with the Washington Redskins for two seasons. "They're not shy. And that's Mike's personality; that's his philosophy."
Injuries - The ***** enter the regular season with just two players on the injury list. Center Jeremy Newberry (knee) is probable; tight end Eric Johnson (foot) is doubtful. Entering their first game last year, the ***** had eight players, including four starters, on injured reserve. For the Rams, cornerback Terry Fair (neck) is doubtful, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett (back) is questionable, and running back Arlen Harris (shoulder), defensive tackle Damione Lewis (toe) and guard Claude Terrell (shin) are