Posted on Tue, Jul. 25, 2006

Associated Press
ST. LOUIS - Scott Linehan begins his first stint as a head coach at any level on Thursday, and the man charged with reinvigorating the St. Louis Rams is sure he's ready for the challenge.

Linehan inherits a 6-10 team mired in chaos last season and with holes on both sides of the ball, byproducts from an unraveling process at the end of Mike Martz' six-year stay. He's confident the Rams aren't far away from returning to contender status, partly because he's surrounded himself with experienced coaches, the biggest hire being ex-Saints coach Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator, and because he's willing to listen to advice as he puts his stamp on the franchise.

"Everybody in this organization has helped me every step of the way," Linehan said Tuesday. "I'm no genius. If I have a trait that's worth a darn, one of them that I think is a positive is I let people do the job they're hired to do.

"If you don't do that, I think you're just going to drive yourself into a panic or a frenzy."

The biggest issue heading into training camp, which begins on Thursday, is rebuilding a defense that ranked 31st. The Rams emphasized that side of the ball in free agency, signing linebackers Will Witherspoon and Raonall Smith, defensive tackles La'Roi Glover and Jason Fisk, and defensive backs Corey Chavous and Fakhir Brown. Plus, they took cornerback Tye Hill, who has yet to sign a contract but is expected to not miss much camp time, in the first round of the draft.

On offense they're introducing competition to a line aging at center (Andy McCollum, 35) and guard (Adam Timmerman, 34), where guard Richie Incognito could push either or both players. More protection will help keep quarterback Marc Bulger, who missed significant time with a shoulder injury last season, on the field.

They've also got to find a backup running back to replace Marshall Faulk, who will undergo major knee surgery and miss the season and perhaps end his career. Linehan is less optimistic about finding a No. 2 back, although it won't be as difficult to replace an aging Faulk as it would have been were he in his prime.

Linehan said the team might have to do with a pair of third-down type players. They signed Tony Fisher in the offseason.

The Rams have made the playoffs four times in the past six years, which is impressive on the surface. Yet besides last year's failure they sneaked in at 8-8 in 2004, so they're on a two-year slide.

Much of the core remains, though, from the team's glory years from 1999-2001 when they won a Super Bowl and lost in another, including offensive tackle Orlando Pace, wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and defensive end Leonard Little.

"This team's not far removed from the greatest level in the game," Linehan said. "I've said it a number of times: With the veterans that are still here that have been there and the young players that are eager and the new players from other teams, we have the right ingredient to get back to that position of being a dominant-type team."

Training camp is where Linehan intends to set the tone. He promises more practice time in full pads in a schedule that will feature two-a-day workouts spread several hours apart one day and a single afternoon workout the next day. The team is hopeful the new practice format will give players more time to recover and prevent soft-tissue injuries such as muscle pulls.

"Basically, the time is here, it's time to get to work," Linehan said. "We've got a whole new clean slate, so to speak.

"It'll be a lot of fun to watch things get put together, watch the adjustments that everybody has to make, see how the team grows."