Tuesday, August 7, 2007

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

When Scott Linehan arrived in Miami before the 2005 season, he didn’t care much what any of his positional players had done before his arrival.

Included in that group of players asked to prove themselves all over again was tight end Randy McMichael. Coming off a season in which he posted 60 catches for 582 yards with five touchdowns, McMichael would seem to be one of the guys whose position was set.

But Linehan wanted more than he was getting from McMichael.

“(He) really made it a point that if I wanted to play, I was going to have to learn how to block better,” McMichael said recently. “I really worked hard on my blocking, and it’s come to a point now where I take real pride in it. As much as I love making catches, I love to make a game-breaking block. As much as I hate dropping balls, I hate missing blocks just as much.”

At that time, there was little doubt about McMichael’s ability to be a pass catcher, but his blocking was sufficiently suspect. Linehan prodded the Dolphins’ tight end to bring that part of his game up to the level of the rest of his game.

“Tight end is one of the old school positions,” Linehan said. “In some places, I guess, it’s considered more of a receiver than a blocker and I consider it both. I think it’s the ultimate offensive weapon because to have a great running game your tight end has to block and that’s where we start. We want to establish the run here and if you do that the passing game comes. He’s saying the right thing.”

Clearly, McMichael has done what it takes to get where Linehan had hoped. Otherwise, Linehan and the Rams wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to bring McMichael to St. Louis during the offseason.

In five years in Miami, McMichael proved to be one of the most consistent and athletic tight ends in the league. He posted 283 catches for 3,096 yards and 18 touchdowns in that time and never had a season with less than the 39 catches he made as a rookie.

Considering those numbers, it came as a bit of a surprise when the Dolphins released McMichael early in free agency. But McMichael knew exactly where he wanted to go once he hit the market.

McMichael’s previous relationship with Linehan was the first step toward bringing him to St. Louis. That meant McMichael already would have a grasp of the offense. On top of that, though, was the idea of becoming a part of an offense that is known around the league for its explosive scoring ability.

So McMichael wasted little time signing with St. Louis and getting re-acclimated to Linehan’s offense as well as getting in sync with his new quarterback, Marc Bulger.

“I think we’re really adjusting well,” McMichael said. “It’s really not that big of a learning curve. I’ve been in this offense for my whole career so it’s really just trying to get familiar with all of the guys and to see what Marc is looking for out there and it’s just so much fun being out here with so many play-makers.”

McMichael is the first to admit that it took a bit of time for he and Bulger to get on the same page. Before too long into this training camp, though, McMichael was clearly one of Bulger’s favorite new toys.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the red zone. In one practice early in camp, Bulger targeted McMichael on three consecutive plays in the red zone. Each time, the result was a touchdown.

“We are just trying to get it,” McMichael said. “The one thing I want Marc to understand is that he can trust me that I will be able to make a play for him. That’s one thing that you have to do is find a way to get comfortable with him.

“Some of the things we were just missing we are starting to make and I kind of know where he wants me to be on a certain play and he knows where I’m going to be on certain plays. By the end of camp, we should be hitting it off famously.”

McMichael calls Bulger one of the most accurate quarterbacks he has ever worked with and is noticeably excited about working with a Pro Bowl signal caller. For a guy who has worked with the likes of Jay Fiedler, Cleo Lemon and Joey Harrington, Bulger’s pinpoint accuracy is a welcome respite.

And while McMichael is excited about what the likes of Bulger can do to help him elevate his game, the enthusiasm for what McMichael can do is just as pronounced.

“Randy can do a lot,” receiver Torry Holt said. “Randy can open up a lot of things for me and Isaac (Bruce) on the outside. He can continue to open a lot for the running game. If teams want to play us in Cover Two, the ability he has to run routes and his catching ability is fantastic, so he can open up a lot. If you are hitting those holes in Cover Two, those teams are thinking they need to match up man to man all across the board. That is what we are itching for, to get man-to-man coverage. I think he can help us out a lot. He’s coming along very well and doing great.”