Nick's Mailbag: June 10
Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pedro Canjura

How does ďAnimal Jr.Ē look to you? Will he be ready to start from day 1? If you had to compare him to another MLB in the NFL today, who would it be? Tatupu?

NW: Havenít had a chance to see him with the pads on but best I can tell so far, heís everything heís been advertised. He has outstanding instincts and seems to be around the ball a lot. Thereís a good chance he will be the opening day starter in the middle. Interesting question on the comparison but if forced to compare him; Iíd say heís a bigger version of Zach Thomas. He has those type of read and react skills but heís not a terrific athlete or a huge hitter. He just finds the ball and makes the tackle.

Mark Mercurio

Is there any chance the Rams have interest in linebacker Brock Christopher from Mizzou who just got dropped by the Falcons.

NW: Suppose itís a possibility as the Rams are always looking to add to the roster but I havenít heard his name mentioned. He had a nice career for the Tigers; just not sure heíd be an upgrade over what is already on the roster.

Marvin Williams

Hi nick, Iíve been a ram fan for over 30 years. I am wondering do you think the ram defense will be aggressive and get after the QBs or will they play conservative style of defense?

NW: I can answer this with absolute certainty. This defense will be nowhere close to conservative unless the situation absolutely dictates it (preseason, big lead, etc.). Steve Spagnuoloís defenses in New York were always extremely aggressive and he believes in getting after the quarterback and putting the press on with his corners on the outside. This defense has other parts to it but thereís little doubt that it will be an aggressive scheme.

JM Black

Hey Nick, I have seen the plan of Spag's and BD come into play in our free agent pick up's and our draft! Get bigger, stronger, faster, younger and more athletic on both sides of the ball! Use the running game to keep the defense off the field and the defense can attack with a purpose to help keep the offense churning the ball! I think there is plenty of potential to turn the losses of the past into wins for the future!

We have probably the best punter/kicker combo in all of football! How do we turn around the poor play we have received from our special teams over the last five or more years? How does the new wedge rule help or hurt our return or coverage units? There is no way we can keep giving up the huge returns we have in the past and expect to compete! We need to also be able to establish great field position from the return teams to take pressure off the offense. Who are some of the players you see as special teams standouts? ~JMB

NW: The special teams showed signs of improvement last year and were consistently better in coverage. The problem was that for every three or four times those units did a good job in coverage, they would give one back with a long return to hurt the average. Youíre right, thatís an area that needs to be corrected. Hard to say how the new wedge rule will help or hurt though thatís something Iím looking into and would like to write about in the near future. As for guys on the team that have or could be special teams aces, Iíd say Todd Johnson, Eric Bassey, Chris Chamberlain and Larry Grant have showed the potential or performed very well on special teams in the past. No reason to believe that wonít continue into the future.

Eric B.

Last week I saw a question about WR. Get serious about signing any WR other than Burress. Any chance at all given Spags association with him? My last question is regarding Marc Bulger. How has he looked in practice and does he look like he has confidence to stand firm in the pocket he has lacked the past few years?

NW: No chance on Burress. Bulger seems to be grasping the offense well but itís way too early to make any judgments on how that might translate to the field. Heíd be the first to tell you that itís all about what happens on the field when the games start and not in practice.

Joseph Devito

Why is it that every time a player is speculated going to the Rams, the answer is always negative. We need an impact player. Michael Vick is clearly one, and a whole lot better than Bulger or Boller. Is this team clearly intent on winning or is saving money the priority?

NW: Maybe because a lot of times the players that are brought up have plenty of negatives attached to them. Michael Vick is an impact player? Really? Letís see, he hasnít played football in a couple of years and heís supposed to just step back in and start lighting it up? And if memory serves me correct, in his most recent season in the NFL he completed 52 percent of his passes. Vick was always a great athlete but far from a great quarterback. And oh yeah, any team signing Vick is going to have to deal with some fan backlash from his off the field actions. It has nothing to do with money.

Kevin Hong

Hey Nick. Thanks for taking the time in always keeping us true Rams fans updated. I actually have a couple of questions. First, from what you've seen so far this off-season, which of the following 3 WRs has impressed you the most: D. Avery, K. Burton, or L. Robinson? My second question is, how has CB Justin King been coming along and performing so far since his season-ending injury in 08? Do you think he'll see minutes in 09? Sorry...snuck that 3rd question in there. =) Thanks again for your dedication!

NW: Burton has missed quite a bit of time with a bad hamstring injury so itís been hard to evaluate him. Robinson has flashed outstanding potential but Avery has really embraced the opportunity to be the top target. Heís much crisper running his routes, heís catching most everything and he still has that blazing speed.

King is doing well and as recently as Tuesday, he was taking reps as the nickel back. He has a great chance to get a lot of playing time this season and could even compete for the starting job opposite Bartell if he continues to grow during camp.

Marcus Willis

Hey Nick, I saw the email you received a few weeks ago about seats in the dome and was curious about what kind of seats might be available? Are most of the lower bowl tickets still all bought up?

NW: Marcus, there are plenty of options in the currently being renovated Edward Jones Dome so that you can sit just about anywhere you choose. For ticket information, call my man Jon Kruse down at the ticket office at 314-342-5343 and when you do, tell him I sent you. Heíll take good care of you and any others out there reading and following the Rams in this here mailbag.

Nicolas Manteau

Hello,
Why didnít the RAMS coaching staff sign Sebastian Sejean the French DB? He played good last summer in games against the Chargers and Titans. Why does the new coaching staff not want to test Sebastian Sejean?
Thanks

NW: A slight blast from the recent past. For those that donít remember, Sejean was an international practice squad player for the Rams last year who came over from France. He seemed to have some physical tools but he clearly would have been a major project. Simply put, he just wasnít ready to play at the NFL level.

Steve

Nick - Looking back at the history of the NFL & The Rams teams in terms of number(Jerseys).I think Harold Jackson had #29.Most of the WR have been in the 80's.College numbers have been all over the map. The Rams starting lineup could have #17, #14, #11, with the power of #46(TE), #44(FB) & #39. It will have a different feel to it with the eyes.

NW: Interesting observation, Steve. This season will be a fresh start for the Rams in many ways.

Cian Luck

Hi Nick,

Hello from Ireland. As a European Rams fan these mailbags and blogs are a godsend, so thanks.

My question is this. Do you think the NFC West could lose its recent reputation as the worst division in the NFL? With the great offseason the Rams have had and Seattle looking strong again, not to mention the NFC champion Cardinals, I think the NFC West could be a much more competitive division come September. Your thoughts?

NW: If nothing else about the NFL is consistent, itís the inconsistency it regularly provides. This is a cyclical league and things go in circles. For a while, when the Rams were at their peak, San Francisco was good and Seattle was good, nobody would have argued that the NFC West was a weaker division. Things spiraled the other way but last yearís NFC Super Bowl representative was from the NFC West. San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis all changed coaching staffs and the future appears bright all the way around. Thereís no doubt in my mind that the division is going to be more competitive next year and well beyond.

Rudy Alconcher

Nick, dumb question. Are the Rams going to be a basic 4-3 defense or are they going 3-4? Obviously they could mix it up, but what is the base defense they will use? Looks like 4-3. Thanks for your input.

NW: The base defense will be a 4-3 look and Spagnuolo likes to be multiple but what he really likes to do is mix up looks with the personnel. For instance, one of the things he did in New York that threw teams off was in passing situations, he would send in a wave of four defensive ends on the line. Two would be in the middle but it would create havoc for the offensive line to try to handle all of that quickness. Expect plenty of wrinkles and things that weíve never seen before from this defense because it includes elements of a few different places including Philadelphia, New York and Carolina (where defensive coordinator Ken Flajole came from).

Oscar Herrera

Thanks for patiently answering our questions. On the injury front, how are Witherspoon and Carriker doing with their shoulders? How are Stanley and Hill doing with their knees? King with his foot? Thanks.

NW: Carriker and Witherspoon arenít quite 100 percent yet but they both have participated in everything and seem to be in good shape. They wonít miss a beat during training camp barring an unexpected setback before then. Hill is further along than Stanley and has been getting a lot of work as the top corner opposite Bartell. Stanley will not do any team work until training camp but has been participating in individual drills.

John Stamper

Hey Nick!
Being the 10th Anniversary of the Super Bowl XXXIV victory, I vote that the team should play this year in those "retro" 1999 uniforms. What do you think? Bring back the Rams horn on the sleeve with the players' number in it....those are and always will be my favorite uniforms the Rams wore.

NW: Your vote is unnecessary because the Rams will be wearing the throwback uniforms from the 1999 season on three occasions this year. Thatís all the league allows but the Rams will be taking advantage.

John Waller

Hey Nick,
I was wondering about the Atogwe situation. I know that they put a franchise tag on him but I'm concerned about him missing training camp over contract issues. What is taking him so long to sign that contract? Any news on the situation would be appreciated. Thanks.

NW: The two sides are still hoping to get a long term deal done and Atogwe is in no rush to sign the franchise tender offer. Atogwe maintains he wants to be a Ram and he will go about his business as usual. Heís been under no obligation to be at the Russell Training Center since heís technically not signed. But heís been here anyway. That should bode well into the summer though you never know what can happen in situations like these.

William Davidson

Hi Nick thanks for the updates! I have a question about the goodness of fit between the ram's new offensive and defensive styles and playing indoors versus outdoors. Sometimes, weather conditions (wind, rain, cold) favor teams with certain styles. Based on what you've seen so far' will the rams enjoy any competitive advantage by playing indoors or outdoors? I ask because run-oriented teams seem to do well in inclimate weather.

NW: From everything I can gather the new schemes on both offense and defense will be all-weather, all circumstance friendly. Teams that like to run the ball and get after it on defense generally donít care if they are indoors or outdoors, in the sun or the rain. They just go about doing their business and I expect the same of this team.

Shane Taylor

Did Victor Adeyanju and Richie incognito re-sign?

NW: Both have signed their restricted free agent one-year offer sheets.

Eric B.

Are there any plans on honoring the Rams 1999 Super bowl Winning Team this year? Any ceremonies or talk about getting some of the former team together to motivate this current group? If I may squeeze one last question in, what is Mike Jones doing these days?

NW: As mentioned above, the team will wear the 1999 throwback jerseys three times this season. There also are some other activities planned, some of which have not been finalized. Iíll have more on those as we get closer to the season.

Mike Jones is the head football coach at Hazelwood East High in St. Louis and in his first year at the helm, led the team to a state championship. He still is around the Rams on a regular basis, attending games, practices, etc.

Jim Johnson

One of the questions I never seen asked is about the Rams quarterback situation. Despite fairly good statistics over the years, Bulger has never shown that he is a winner. A "winner" (Warner, Favre, Jurgensen, etc) would have managed more wins over the past two seasons despite many weaknesses which have been repeatedly discussed.

NW: So a quarterback is supposed to single handedly overcome major deficiencies on a team? Heís supposed to sack the quarterback, get interceptions, run the ball and block all while still throwing the ball and reading defenses? Itís funny but winning quarterbacks in the NFL always seem to have a boatload of talent around them. I guess thatís what makes it a team sport because one person canít do it all alone. When Bulger had talented and healthy players around him, Iím relatively certain the team went 12-4 and won the division and he went to the Pro Bowl. The guys you named, the Warners, the Favres, etc, theyíve all had losing seasons and the common denominators are the same. Those teams didnít have a ton of talent and/or were hit hard by the injury bug. Thereís no doubting Bulger hasnít fared well the past two seasons. Heís the first to admit that but that doesnít mean he doesnít have it in him to win and win big in this league. Itís happened before.

Jerome Riddick

Nick I ask this question once before. I never got an answer here goes. How is all the jersey numbers assigned to players? What happens to Holt, Bruce and Pace numbers. Will another player wear them?

NW: Numbers assigned based on position. Certain positions can only wear certain numbers. For example, an offensive lineman canít wear No. 6 because of his position grouping. As of now, nobody is wearing 80, 81 or 76. I would expect that to stay that way for a little while at least.

Pedro Canjura

Nick, the last couple seasons, the thing killing us is the fact that we can't stay healthy. With that stated, I think the Rams are going to have a HUGE turn around, I'm leaning towards the Dolphin's record breaking +10 (1 win in 07, 11 in 08) win turnaround. I think we can realistically win every game in our division if SJax is healthy, and I know we can beat the 'Skins as we did last season. Lions, Jags, Texans are also very winnable games. The Pack, Colts and Saints run defenses were HORRIBLE last season (bottom 8, with only the Packers doing something by drafting Raji) and a healthy running game I think those 3 games are very winnable games also. Of course it's the NFL and things happen and winnable games are lost, and games that you're supposed to win you don't, I don't think we really have a tough schedule. Do you agree?

NW: I like the enthusiasm, Pedro. The beautiful thing about the NFL is that you just never know whatís going to happen from year to year. Last yearís record and statistics mean absolutely nothing as it pertains to this year. Rams fans should know that better than anyone after the magical turnaround of 1999. I donít know how difficult the schedule is based on what I just wrote. You believe the Rams could have another big turnaround. Well, so could the Lions or Jags or Texans. Just as likely, some of the better teams could have a big drop off. Thereís no way to know how a team will come together. The only thing I can say is the Rams appear headed in the right direction and weíll have to wait and see what that means in terms of wins and losses.

Arturo Hernandez

Hey Nick, Thanks for your reports, they are really valuable for us here in Mexico where we can not get much information about the Rams. My question; what do you think of Rams Salary Cap? I have read that we are not very tight but not enough money either even when we released very important players from last year. I wonder how we can pay so much for a team that has not won many games.

NW: The salary cap situation is pretty tight though the Rams still have some wiggle room should they choose to make a tweak or two in the coming months. The Rams did release their share of salary but replaced that with some free agents and there are always increases in salaries for players already on the roster with which to deal. Keep in mind; most teams around the league spend to or at least near the cap. Thatís where parity comes in. This isnít Major League Baseball where a high payroll can equate to winning games.

Mark Sokol

Nick,

Different type of question for you here. After reading your updates on the minicamps it appears unsigned draft class may be participating. If this is the case on one of them has a career ending injury their football career is over before it ever started. It doesn't seem wise from a player standpoint to participate without a contract. Is there something I have missed?

NW: Mark, I took some time to read through the NFL collective bargaining agreement to get you a more specific answer. Hereís some of what I found, hope it helpsÖ

ďA club that drafts a player shall be deemed to have automatically tendered the player a one-year NFL player contract for the minimum active/inactive list salary then applicable to the player pursuant to the terms of this agreement.Ē

While players arenít technically under contract, they have essentially been ďtenderedĒ by the drafting teams. That means any negotiation beyond that for the long term deals they all eventually sign will be done in good faith. These players also sign waivers and things of that nature that cover them should an injury happen during the minicamps. That is the best I understand how it works, anyway. Rest assured, these players are covered even though they technically have not signed contracts yet.

Dennis Rufus

Hey Nick, thanks for keeping us rams fans informed every week. Who looks like the front runner for kickoff return duties? Or is it still too early to tell?

NW: Still too early to tell, especially because Derek Stanley is still injured. He would likely be the leader but hard to say how he will bounce back from that knee injury. Kenneth Darby, Jonathan Wade and a host of others are taking reps there. Itís definitely something weíll keep an eye on as training camp kicks into gear.

Scott

Hi Nick.
Great job with keeping us informed. I love the moves the Rams have made this year and think we are headed in the right direction. We keep hearing from "experts" that the secondary is an issue. We have recently drafted some corners with supposedly tons of potential but raw, so I was wondering with the extra experience they have had, what are the coaches saying and what have you seen from Jonathan Wade and Justin King?
Keep up the great work!

NW: Nobody is placing anybody on the depth chart yet because the coaching staff wants to get a good look at these guys when the pads are on during training camp. From my observations, it appears Wade is getting better in coverage every day. He just seems more fluid which is natural considering his limited experience at the position when he came out of college. King is recovering well from injury and has been taking turns with Wade working at the nickel position. Should be an interesting competition for the cornerback jobs behind Bartell.

Thatís all for this week. Thanks for all the questions, as usual.