Defense, special teams are looking improved

BY STEVE KORTE

News-Democrat

ST. LOUIS - Defense and special teams, the two areas targeted for improvement during the offseason, showed signs of progress during the St. Louis Rams' 17-13 preseason win over the Chicago Bears on Friday night.
"We've played one quarter of football with our (first string), what can you say," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "I'm happy with it. Who knows where it is going to go from here, but it's a good start."
The Rams' defense forced three turnovers -- two interceptions and a fumble recovery -- and registered two sacks. It also knocked Bears starting quarterback Rex Grossman out for 3-4 months with a broken ankle that will require surgery.
The Rams' starting defense allowed only one first down and 25 total yards in the first quarter.
"I think going into this game, the defense was way ahead of (the offense)," Martz said. "I was excited and anxious to see them play."
Martz said new linebackers Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley made a strong first impression, while rookie safeties Jerome Carter and Oshiomogho Atgowe also performed well.
"I think think the linebackers made a significant difference," Martz said. "I think Claiborne made his presence felt. I watched Dexter Coakley run to the sideline and get the ballcarrier after a 2-yard gain on a play that could have been a big gain.
"The two young safeties, I thought they did an exceptional job. I was very pleased with that group overall."
On special teams, the Rams' coverage units were solid as the Bears' longest kickoff return was 23 yards and their longest punt return was 14 yards.
First-year kicker Remy Hamilton, brought into training camp to keep veteran kicker Jeff Wilkins' leg fresh, booted a 33-yard field goal and two extra-points.
Rookie punter Reggie Hodges continued to be plagued by inconsistency. He had two line-drive punts.
"Special teams did OK," Martz said. "The biggest issue for me is our punter right now. We have to make sure we get that consistent. He's such a talented young man. We had to get him in this type of pressure.
"He didn't do as well as I hoped, but he is very talented, and I think ultimately he will be a plus for us."
The Rams signed veteran punter Bryan Barker last week, but he didn't play against Chicago.
The Rams' first-string offense moved the ball, but couldn't put any points on the scoreboard.
Quarterback Marc Bulger looked rusty. He completed three of his five pass attempts for 38 yards, but was sacked twice and intercepted deep in Bears territory on a badly overthrown pass intended for Isaac Bruce.
"I'm not happy," Bulger said. "I know I rushed things a little bit. It's the first game. I was real anxious. I wanted to make things happen too quick.
"You try to pick up where you left off last season. It's something we do in practice, but then there's game speed."
Martz said Bulger simply needs playing time.
"When Marc hasn't played, things go a little fast for him," Martz said. "He always starts off like this. We'll play him about a half next week and get him going."
Bulger said he could sympathize for Grossman, who ruptured a ligament in his right knee in Week 3 last season.
"You feel real bad for him," Bulger said. "You know, we feel real fortunate with how we came out of the game. Nobody got hurt.
"They lost their starting quarterback for the second year in a row. That's tough. That's football."