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Newcomers provide Rams' offense with more air time
By Tom Weir, USA TODAY
ST. LOUIS ó As if St. Louis weren't already dedicated to the pass, this season the Rams have added two players who will bring two new dimensions to one of the NFL's most explosive offenses.
Free agents Drew Bennett and Randy McMichael, both shunned by their previous clubs, figure to get the catchphrase of "Greatest Show on Turf" echoing inside the Edward Jones Dome again.
The 6-5 Bennett gives Marc Bulger his first jump-ball target in the red zone, and McMichael figures to become the Rams' most productive tight end since they moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis.
Technically, Bennett is the Rams' No. 3 wideout, behind Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, but offensive coordinator Greg Olson acknowledges he'll be more of a 2 1/2. Bennett can line up in the slot in triple-wideout sets or spell Bruce, who turns 35 this season.
"That was a big part of it," Olson says of Bennett's height. "He's a different type of receiver than they've had around here. He's in a different mold."
Says Bennett: "I think the whole reason they brought me in is to put three wide receivers on the field and create mismatches. I think with the three of us out there and Steven Jackson in the backfield, there's going to be a lot of those created."
Last season, St. Louis had the NFL's fourth-rated passing attack, with Holt catching 93 passes and Jackson hauling in a remarkable 90 at running back. Bruce was good for 74 receptions and an eighth 1,000-yard year.
Holt has set a goal this season of 1,300 receiving yards, a plateau he reached every season from 2000-2005.
Jackson has announced he's aiming for 2,500 yards from scrimmage after totaling 2,334 last season. But neither new Ram is concerned there will be an ego clash over who gets the ball most often.
"I know there will be enough balls to go around," Bennett says. "This is exactly the kind of offense I wanted to step into."
Says McMichael: "I feel I'll get my fair share. I don't have any lack of confidence that I'll get my touches."
Although the Rams ranked second in the NFC in red-zone touchdowns, Olson points out they were only 10th overall in the league.
"We'd like to see that number go up. We need to be in the top five," Olson says. "With the addition of Drew Bennett, we should get there this year."
McMichael, who averaged 65 catches a season the last three years in Miami, also figures to be a red-zone target.
In 12 seasons in St. Louis, the only Rams tight end to have more than 40 catches in a season is Troy Drayton, with 47 in 1995.
Bennett had just 46 receptions last season with Tennessee, as the run-oriented Titans brought rookie quarterback Vince Young's passing game along slowly. But Bennett demonstrated his potential in 2004, with 80 catches and 1,247 yards.
Both receivers are glad to move into an attacking, established offense.
"In Tennessee I was frustrated in the games when we weren't moving the football and I still wasn't getting the looks," Bennett says. "It wasn't, 'OK, let's try to go to Drew here.' That was never the picture."
McMichael is reunited with Rams coach Scott Linehan, his 2005 offensive coordinator in Miami. But he's even more pleased with be his new quarterback.
"I really wanted to have an opportunity to play with a quarterback who was a legitimately elite quarterback," McMichael says of Bulger. "In Miami, I played with nine quarterbacks in five years."
Bennett's contract is for six years and $30 million. Being courted so heavily by St. Louis was a new experience for Bennett, who was a walk-on in college at UCLA, and then signed with Tennessee as an undrafted free agent in 2001.
"When I came here, it was the first time I got to sit down with the head coach, on any level," Bennett says.
"It was the first time people wanted me, and it was a strange feeling."
All hands on deck for Rams
With the additions of wideout Drew Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael, the St. Louis Rams have five players who caught at least 46 passes last season. How that production compares with the top five in receptions on the 1999 Rams, who won the Super Bowl and led the NFL in scoring:
2006 Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Torry Holt 93 1,188 10
Steven Jackson 90 806 3
Isaac Bruce 74 1,098 3
Randy McMichael (Miami) 62 640 3
Drew Bennett (Tennessee) 46 737 3
Total 365 4,469 22
Marshall Faulk 87 1,048 5
Isaac Bruce 77 1,165 12
Torry Holt 52 788 6
Az-zahir Hakim 36 677 8
Ricky Proehl 33 349 0
Total 285 4,027 31
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