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    New-look Rams usher in a new era

    By Jim Thomas

    After the debacle that was 2005 -- on and off the field -- the buzzword among Rams management was "clean sweep." In other words, there would be sweeping changes in the offseason. So welcome to the new, and in theory, improved St. Louis Rams.

    There's a new head coach. A new defensive coordinator. Four new defensive starters acquired via free agency. Even more new faces at tight end, left guard and free safety. A new head of the personnel department. And no Marshall Faulk.

    "It's got to be a new era," wide receiver Isaac Bruce said. "A new coaching staff. I guess Coach (Scott) Linehan is beginning to start his legacy here. So it's going to be interesting to see how it goes."

    With Faulk out for the season and basically retired, Bruce is one of the few remaining vestiges of the Greatest Show on Turf. Bruce, wide receiver Torry Holt, offensive tackle Orlando Pace, offensive guard Adam Timmerman, center Andy McCollum, defensive end Leonard Little and kicker Jeff Wilkins are the only remaining players from the 1999 Super Bowl championship club.
    Those seven players, plus quarterback Marc Bulger and cornerback Jerametrius Butler, are all that's left from the 2001 NFC champions.

    But despite all the new faces, the goal is basically the same for the Rams.

    "First and foremost, to win this division," Bruce said. "If and when -- and I'll say when we win the division -- we'll know that we've ultimately come out on top against a team that represented the NFC in the Super Bowl last year."

    Namely, Seattle. Few outside of Rams Park expect this to actually happen. Not after a season in which:

    — Then head coach Mike Martz fell ill.

    — Martz's ongoing feud with the front office, particularly president of football operations Jay Zygmunt, boiled over into public view.

    — The team stumbled to a 6-10 mark, its worst record since 1998.

    The team made more than its fair share of moves in the offseason. But Operation Clean Sweep didn't include any blockbuster moves. The addition of defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, linebacker Will Witherspoon, strong safety Corey Chavous and cornerback Fakhir Brown were all substantial moves. But it's not as if the Rams traded for an Edgerrin James or brought in a Terrell Owens.

    Similarly, the hiring of Linehan -- a bright guy, a nice person, but with an edge to him -- didn't create nearly the buzz that the Dick Vermeil or Martz hirings did in past years. The biggest stir actually was the hiring of Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator.

    Also consider the fact that the Rams raised ticket prices for the seventh year in a row despite having only one winning season in the past four.

    It all goes a long way toward explaining why there have been thousands of empty seats for the Rams' two preseason games at the Edward Jones Dome, including a television blackout against Indianapolis. Crowds were also noticeably smaller at the open practices during training camp in Earth City.

    Rams fans appear to be in the "show me" mode, something that hasn't happened since 1998.

    "I think they're going to sit back and wait," Linehan said. "It's human nature. Our focus isn't about that right now. . . . But we understand that sometimes it takes time to show that we're getting back on the right track."

    For now, however, the Rams enter the new season undetected by radar, creating little national attention and projected to finish somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7.

    "I feel like last year we really weren't far (off)," Bruce said. "There was a lot of chaos going around, but we competed pretty well. Right now, you can only judge our talent and our ability on the field with Seattle. And I think we played them very well when they were here (last season).

    "We may be flying under the radar just a tad bit, but I think the addition of Coach Haslett and the talent that we have on offense, guys will know."

    The Rams' offense is still respected around the league. Holt is among the game's top five receivers; Bruce has more tread left on the tires than people think; Kevin Curtis, Shaun McDonald and Dane Looker provide impressive depth.

    The underrated Bulger has matured into one of the league's top quarterbacks -- when healthy.

    "He's more patient," Bruce said. "He's always been a very accurate guy to me. You pretty much know it's his huddle. He knows every route, every protection, and he's a complete leader."

    At running back, it's not as if Steven Jackson was an abject failure in 2005. He did, after all, top 1,000 yards. Nonetheless, even Jackson concedes, "there's no more excuses."

    Simply stated, it's time for him to have a breakout year.

    As for the notion of Faulk leaving a huge void behind, Bulger astutely notes: "I don't think it's as huge as four or five years ago when he was playing every down. But I think the things we'll miss are the practice time and sideline time, and just knowing as much as he did, helping Steven."

    Linehan likes to involve his tight ends in the offense, so rookies Joe Klopfenstein and Dominque Byrd, as well as training camp surprise Aaron Walker, could see their share of passes. Paul Smith, if healthy, will be the new fullback. Left guard Richie Incognito is the only new starter on a veteran offensive line.

    "This offense still has the potential to be very, very explosive," Holt said. "And I think Coach (Linehan), he's aware of that, and he's going to put us in situations to continue to have success offensively."

    Linehan promises a more balanced offensive approach. More of a commitment to the running game; less emphasis on the deep passing game; some no-huddle sprinkled in. But until the real deal starts Sept. 10 against Denver, it's hard to know for sure.

    "I have to really see it in the flow of a four-quarter game," Bruce said. "So it's going to be interesting to see the balance between running and passing."

    The most dramatic changes have taken place on defense, where there will be five new starters (compared to opening day '05), and a radically different approach under Haslett.

    "It's a different attitude altogether on the defense," Looker said. "They seem to be more attacking. A lot of blitzing. A lot of different looks. We've seen some exotic defenses in practice, where we'll stop in the middle of the receiver meeting room and say, 'Now what coverage is this? We've never even seen it.' Coach Haslett has a unique style of calling defenses."

    The Rams are counting on Glover to provide an inside push that has been lacking almost since the days of D'Marco Farr. After showing flashes in the past, is this the year where performance meets potential for right end Anthony Hargrove? At nose tackle, Jimmy Kennedy absolutely, positively must anchor the middle of the run defense. There are no realistic alternatives.

    At linebacker, the speedy, savvy Witherspoon will be a centerpiece. "I think he's got a chance to be a Pro Bowler, and be there for a long time," Haslett said.

    In the secondary, Brown provides a physical presence at corner, while Chavous has playmaking and leadership skills at safety.

    "I think people are really going to see a different Rams defense than they have in years past," Witherspoon said. "We're going to show people."

    No doubt, Rams fans are eagerly waiting to be shown.

  2. #2
    LA Rammer's Avatar
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    Re: New-look Rams usher in a new era

    Nice article. Shows that we are still a force to be reckoned with. Now with defense hopefully we can shut down Seattle's offense. They are minus Jurevicius. He was clutch for them against us.

    Hopefully what Bruce was saying, "we’d come out ontop of NFC West" will be 2006!

    Go Rams!

    It's Jim not Chris

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    Re: New-look Rams usher in a new era

    I am a realist and the 7-9 and 9-7 prediction may be in line. However, after reading this article it's hard to not get fired up and say; 11-5 or 12-4 that's were we'll be. Take the 7-9 and 9-7 and stick where the sun don't shine...

    Let's GO RAMS !

  4. #4
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    Re: New-look Rams usher in a new era

    I'm thinking you're going to see some good things from this team.

    The offense is still by and large the same as it's been over the last couple of seasons with Jackson now being the main feature back.

    The defense however is going to be marketably better. The best move the Rams did this post-season was hiring Haslett. He's a defensive minded guru which will be a huge plus to have in a division with Seattle and Arizona in it.

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    Re: New-look Rams usher in a new era

    It's hard to say at this point. But I think we're going to see some very very amazing things this season, not in every game though. Some games I think we'll be off, but other games could be like shutouts. We really have these types of players to really dominate the game. But I think some things (unknown things) are just going to plague us here and there, I still think we can have a good record this year though, without a doubt.
    Always and Forever a fan of the St. Louis Rams

  6. #6

    Re: New-look Rams usher in a new era

    Reality is this-This team is a mystery as the first game approaches. It's like a Scooby Doo mystery. The monsters have not come out. And Daphne is not scared yet.
    But overall from what i am seeing. We fans are still not all convinced of all the changes and the so called Clean Sweep season to come.
    Denver will be the real test on Sept 10th.
    The Field Goal

  7. #7
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    Re: New-look Rams usher in a new era

    In this era of changing defensive schemes, i think Haslette and Linehan have the ingredients to introduce something effectively new. All three phases of our starting defensive unit has difference makers which were key pickups in the offseason. We've had 2 sneak peaks of this unit and they have yeilded almost nothing on the ground. Haslette has been a head coach for a few seasons and had to be a part timer on offense and defense. I can't even emagine to think about the system he is waiting to unleash this year.This is only the pre season, yes i know. But if the other teams are holding back for the regular season..........SO ARE WE

  8. #8
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    Thumbs up Re: New-look Rams usher in a new era

    Let me say I am glad Martz is gone. He was a great Offensive Coordinator, but made way too many bad decisions to deserve a head coaching job. We have a long season ahead of us, and Scott Linehan has a lot to prove, but I am confident in their game plan, the defense of Jim Haslett, and the running game of Stephen Jackson to go along with our always amazing passing game. It may not gel perfectly this year, but we are definitely headed in the right direction. I'm expecting a 10-6 year but hoping for 12-4 or better.

    A few key things are essential for the Rams to win more, and sadly Martz could never get these points into his thick, stubborn skull:

    1) More running plays. If everyone is expecting the pass, they will defend it more often, which leads to fewer completions and more sacks/interceptions. Nothing helps a passing game more than consistently softening up the defense with your running game. You HAVE to keep a defense on its toes, so it doesn't know what to expect. The Rams became so predictable offensively that it made me want to puke. I know if I, from my living room, can predict what play the rams are running next, you can sure as heck bet the defensive coordinators and captains of the opposing defense can too.

    2) Defense. Defense always was a second thought to Martz, because he thought he could outsmart and outscore any defense; which he obviously could not. Offense was always the first thought in drafting and trades, while defense played second fiddle. It is obvious the new staff is trying to change this, but until we can establish that we are serious about defense, big name players will not want to come to St Louis and waste away their talent. This will take time. Haslett has his work cut out for him, but I'm confident he can turn things around.

    3) Special Teams. An article I just read ranked the Rams at 31 out of 32 teams. This is unacceptable. "The secret ingredient is commitment. Some teams commit money and resources to developing their special teams, some don't. Coaches like Andy Reid and Joe Gibbs carve out adequate practice time for the kicking units and devote roster spots and money to return or coverage specialists. Other coaches, like Mike Martz when he was in St. Louis, handle special teams on a catch-as-catch-can basis, sometimes with hilarious results"..."Special teams were an afterthought during the Mike Martz era. Jeff Wilkins was good, the coverage units were dreadful, and well-regarded coaches like Mike Stock and Bobby April took the fall when things went wrong. Wilkins is still pretty good, but the other units are in shambles after a season of confusion. The new coaching staff retained coordinator Bob Ligashesky, who should now have the roster authority he needs to staff the coverage and return units. Veteran punter Matt Turk doesn't have a great leg but is consistent, angles the ball well, and gets rid of it in a hurry. Andy Groom is pushing him in camp. Adequate return men should emerge from a crowded field that includes Brad Pyatt, Dane Looker, Antoine Bagwell, and rookie Marques Hagans, one of those converted college quarterbacks you've heard so much about. Hagans holds the early edge in camp. Looker doubles as a kick holder."

    I see from the Rams depth chart that Curtis is listed as the #1 man for Kick Returns and McDonald #1 for Punt Returns. I hope this stays this way, because one, they are play makers and will make it exciting to watch, and two I am sick of seeing the Rams put up 2nd rate return men that can barely get past the 20 on KR's and call for a fair catch more often than not on PR's. Our ST defense has more holes than Swiss cheese and needs a huge overhaul. Winning the battle of field position means alot in the NFL, especially in tougher games.

    4) Not as much Scripted Offense. Superbowl XXXVI could have and should have been ours, if only Martz would've pulled his stubborn head out of his butt and switched things up a bit. He was way too big on scripting out his offense and sticking to it no matter how well the defense had it figured out. His amazing talent to draw up creative passing schemes and formations was lost in his overall lack of understanding the game as a whole (Field Position, calling timeouts, making challenges effectively, etc).

    5) Protect Bulger Better. Between an improved offensive line, and shorter passing routes, Bulger should be on his back less, which means being injured less. With Jackson in fulltime, pounding away at defensive lines and keeping the linebackers up close, Bulger should see less blitzing and it should really open up the middle of the field for the Ram receiving core to do some serious damage. Holt, Bruce, and Curtis can do some amazing things after the catch, which should make for some exciting football.

    I am super excited about this season, yet I know there is a lot of work to be done. Remember when we won the Superbowl in '99, we came out of nowhere to do it. Anything is possible in the NFL at anytime. The teams that make the playoffs are never the same teams that are picked in preseason to win. There are always the "Cinderella" teams. The Rams do have the talent to win it all THIS year if they can manage to bring it all together at once. I know that's asking for a lot, but I'm looking forward to watching them try.


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