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    NFL 2005: Rams rebuild defense in hopes of another playoff run

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?...nfl&id=2152916


    NFL 2005: Rams rebuild defense in hopes of another playoff run
    Associated Press
    National Football League News Wire

    ST. LOUIS -- During their glory days from 1999-2001, the St. Louis Rams had more than enough offense to compensate for any deficiencies on the other side of the ball.

    Now, balance might be the calling card as the Rams, somehow a playoff team last season despite a .500 record, retool for another run. The offense has sunk to the middle of the pack, and most of the team's high-profile offseason moves came on a defense that will have five new starters.

    A pair of linebackers, Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley, were the big free-agent pickups for a unit that trailed the NFL with a minus-24 takeaway differential. Claiborne gives the team an inside presence missing for several seasons and the duo, along with mobile outside holdover Pisa Tinoisamoa, should take some of the heat off a defensive line packed with three first-rounders.

    "We played pretty well on the defensive line last year and I felt like our linebacker play wasn't what it needed to be," coach Mike Martz said. "We've made the personnel changes, and it was significant. This is as excited as I've been about a defense here."

    So excited that the Rams traded linebacker Robert Thomas, their first-round pick in 2002, to the Packers for a backup cornerback Sunday.

    The difference?

    "Probably experience, toughness and leadership," Martz said. "Other than that, not much."

    Anthony Hargrove, in his second season, is expected to step in for the departed Bryce Fisher at right end opposite pass-rushing terror Leonard Little. Hargrove gets a nice practice challenge every day from tackle Orlando Pace and he was pushed throughout camp by street free agent Brandon Green, who started a preseason game and made at least one impact play in every game.

    "If we rotate in and out and stay fresh and keep pushing guys, somebody's going to break through whether it's me or him," Green said. "It's going to help the team either way."

    Question marks remain in the secondary. Cornerback Jerametrius Butler, who led the team in interceptions the last two seasons, is out for the year with a torn knee ligament sustained on the first day of training camp. Adam Archuleta, hampered all last season by a herniated disk in his back, tried moving to free safety before going back to the strong side late in camp.

    Overall, the team seemed to have a much better grasp of coordinator Larry Marmie's system in the preseason. That contrasted with a horrid playoff loss in which the defense was gouged for 327 yards rushing by the Falcons.

    "You compare us to last year and we're much farther along," Archuleta said. "Guys are playing pretty confident."

    Offensively, the point potential remains if a rebuilt line can protect Marc Bulger. Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk present a nice 1-2 punch at running back in a changing of the guard that casts Faulk as a backup for the first time in his career. Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are one of the best wide receiver tandems in the NFL, and there's speedy depth at the position with Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald.

    "I don't think there's a limit to it," offensive tackle Ryan Tucker said. "The talent at the skill positions is the best there's ever been in the NFL, I think."

    Jackson, a first-round pick last year, gives the Rams a combination of speed and strength Faulk lacked in his waning years.

    "When he has that adrenaline going, he's tough to bring down," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "You give him a little bit of a crease, his legs are so big and he's so strong that he's tough to bring down."

    As for Faulk, Martz said he's noticeably quicker than in recent seasons.

    "He looks like the old Marshall," Martz said. "Now, can he go in there and take the load throughout the season? No, we've already determined that. That's why we're doing what we're doing."

    The line has three holdovers: Pace, center Andy McCollum and right guard Adam Timmerman. A two-week training camp holdout held back Alex Barron, the team's first-round pick, who had already lost the starting right tackle job Martz bestowed on him shortly after the draft. Tucker moved to right tackle while Barron begins his career as a backup behind Pace.

    Special teams were emphasized in training camp after Rams units finished at the bottom of the NFL in every significant category. New coach Bob Ligashesky at least gets points for enthusiasm with his upbeat sessions.

    Plus, for whatever it's worth, the Rams enter the season with a measure of confidence after going 3-1 in the preseason. Three of their first four games, including the opener Sunday at San Francisco, are on the road.

    "A lot of times, the preseason gets discredited by the fans and media," wide receiver Dane Looker said after making the winning catch in a victory over the Chiefs in the final tuneup. "It helps so much to get that momentum going into the season."



    This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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    sbramfan is offline Registered User
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    Re: NFL 2005: Rams rebuild defense in hopes of another playoff run

    "I don't think there's a limit to it," offensive tackle Ryan Tucker said. "The talent at the skill positions is the best there's ever been in the NFL, I think."
    Not sure why one of the Brown's offensive lineman would be commenting on the Rams offense?


    ...uhhh, you mean REX???

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