Martz reflects: Rams on the bubble may be in trouble
By Jim Thomas

Of the Post-Dispatch
08/14/2004




MACOMB, Ill. - Mike Martz looked downright sour after the game Thursday. He barely said anything to his team in the locker room. He answered only a handful of questions in his postgame news conference. And then he retired to the privacy of his locker room area at the Edward Jones Dome to stew over the Rams' 13-10 overtime loss to Chicago.

"Down deep inside, you can play marbles, and my blood's going to get going," Martz said Saturday. "I mean, you just compete."

For most of the first three quarters Thursday, the Rams did just that. It wasn't always pretty. But the Rams were winning 10-3, and when the Bears took over at their 12 late in the third quarter, St. Louis had a 248 to 161 edge in yards gained.

"I felt like we were in control," Martz said. "They had a couple big runs where we just overran things. Otherwise, I think we shut them down really good. And I know that first group in there on offense - I think they're ready to roll."

In a game that Chicago seemed to treat a lot more like a regular-season contest - with lots of blitzing on defense and some trick plays on offense - the Rams still appeared to be headed for victory.

But then it unraveled over the rest of regulation and the 17 seconds of overtime, when the Rams were mainly using players who either won't make the team or will be down on the depth chart.

"I knew what was going on out there, and it's hard to bite the bullet sometimes," Martz said. "But I just don't like to lose. ... But I also know that it's my responsibility as a head coach to make sure that we have an opportunity to evaluate all these (young) guys in these types of situations."

So Martz and new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie kept things basic - and watched.

"We've got to know about these guys," Martz said. "You can't trick things up. You've got to kind of keep it simple and just let 'em play and see what they do."

By early Saturday evening, after film review and with nearly two days to digest the game, the big picture was back in focus for Martz. And he felt much better about what transpired Thursday night.

"All in all, I was very pleased, particularly in the first half with both groups (offense and defense)," Martz said. "I'm happy with this football team. I'm happy with the first (units) that I know we're going to play with."

On the offensive line, he singled out the play of right guard Adam Timmerman and right tackle Scott Tercero for praise.

"Scotty Tercero has really come to the forefront," Martz said. "He has really, really done well in the last few weeks. I hate to admit this: I didn't know he'd play this well. But he did. He played exceptionally well."

In a crowded wide receiver picture behind starters Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, Martz said Shaun McDonald got his attention.

"I thought Mac was terrific," Martz said. "In every phase - from a blocker, to a receiver, punt returner, on special teams. He was quite remarkable."

Defensively, he liked the work of cornerback DeJuan Groce, several linemen, and especially middle linebacker Robert Thomas.

Martz praised Thomas' "leadership on the field. The calls - just taking charge of the entire defense to begin with before the ball's even snapped. His reads. Everything was impeccable. There wasn't any wasted motion. ... And once the ball's committed, he's there. I mean, he's there in a heartbeat."

When it came to discussing those who didn't play all that well, Martz declined to provide a critique. Except in the case of rookie cornerback Dwight Anderson, who committed a critical holding penalty on a Bears receiver - a penalty that kept Chicago's only touchdown drive alive.

"He grabbed his jersey," Martz said. "He definitely grabbed his jersey. You can see him reach his hands to the jersey. ... That's the right call."

As for Anderson's judgment ...

"It's third and 27," Martz said. "You just don't do that. I mean, you just don't do that. Those are the kinds of things that when these guys get their opportunity, sometimes they get exposed a little bit."

That play was a microcosm of the most disappointing aspect of Thursday's outcome for Martz: The game got away when the backups, the bubble players and the fringe guys were on the field.

"You want them to do well, and when they don't, you get frustrated," Martz said. "I want to see some of these guys step to the forefront and get excited. Like an Arlen Harris did last year, for instance."

For some of the younger players, Thursday's game may have been their last chance to make an impression on Martz, as he starts slowly honing in on the regular season.

"This was the biggest opportunity they'll have of all the (preseason) games," Martz said. "Playing time, exposure - the whole thing. From this point on, it will be lessened to a great extent."