Nick's Mailbag: May 1
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Nick, after a well-deserved rest from your trip to New York to cover the draft... questions, please! What is the Rams' current thinking/hope with respect to their tailback & fullback positions? First, do the Rams BELIEVE in the use of Fullbacks, "H Backs," or what?
NW: You ask and you shall receive. Great questions. As it stands, this is how it looks at fullback. You have Brian Leonard, who is adding some weight to make himself more stout as a blocker, and Richard Owens on the roster. Owens didnít bring much to the table last season in terms of playing fullback and his impact was limited on special teams when he got the opportunity. The team added Brandon McAnderson and Russ Weil as undrafted free agents. McAnderson has some chops as a runner and if he proves to be a capable blocker, heís got a real shot to make it. Weil is more of a blocker but has some decent hands and could also be in the mix. The Rams usually use more of an H-Back as opposed to a true lead blocker. Joe Klopfenstein has done some of this in the past and Anthony Becht is also capable. Leonard will be considered the top ďfullbackĒ on the depth chart but he will be used in a variety of ways.
The Rams believe that finding a true backup for Jackson is a priority, but they chose not to address it in the NFL Draft because of other needs. They did grab Yvenson Bernard as an undrafted free agent and heíll get a chance to compete. But Scott Linehan and Billy Devaney believe in Antonio Pittman and think Leonard and Travis Minor can complement him. Expect Pittman to get every opportunity to earn the No. 2 job in training camp.
Did the Rams draft based on need rather than best player available? Case in point, why was John Greco selected third round before Roy Schuening fifth round. Secondly, Linebacker Dan Connor was available when Donnie Avery was selected. Many NFL draft analyst feel Avery would have been available in the third round. Overall, I like what the Rams did. I just would like to hear what you think.
NW: First, Iím not sure why anyone would complain about getting a guy they think is third round worthy in the fifth round. But to your question, John Greco is currently projected as a tackle (though he could end up as a guard). I donít know if you noticed, but tackles were a hot commodity in this draft. Duane Brown and Sam Baker were borderline second or third round tackles and both went in round one. I know the Rams had Greco rated above at least one of the tackles that went in round one. I also know that I saw Greco play at the Senior Bowl and was more impressed with him than some of the others there, including Baker and Gosder Cherilus. Schuening was the steal of the draft for the Rams, in my mind, though we need to wait and see on every player taken.
As for the Connor/Avery thing, well the Rams could have had Connor in round three also and passed on him. At this point, the Penn State linebacker thing is a little blown out of proportion. Heís more of a weak side guy and doesnít necessarily fit what the team is trying to do. And while Connor lasted until round three, I have been told by multiple people that Donnie Avery would not have. Put it this way, the Rams werenít the only team that had Avery as the top receiver on their board.
PREDICTION: VINCE HALL WILL BECOME A VERY VALUABLE RAM. HE WAS THE BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO COME OUT OF VIRGINIA TECH SINCE BRUCE SMITH!
NW: You are clearly a believer in Vince Hall otherwise you wouldnít be yelling it from a mountain top! I think Hall is one of the guys the Rams signed after the draft that has the best chance at sticking. I saw him at the Senior Bowl as well and he was extremely productive in college. Heís a bit small and a little stiff but he has a good shot to make it because he seems to be around the ball a lot and quite frankly the Rams donít have much depth at his position.
Over the last couple of years Ron Bartell has developed into a very good and versatile player. I know you can never have too many corners, as the Rams proved last year. But, my question is with the other needs the Rams had like strong-side line backer, was Justin King just too good to pass up or were the Rams not satisfied with their corner situation? Also could Bartell be used as a back up safety or were the Rams hoping for Chamberlain to contribute as a reserve safety? Thank you for reading my e-mail.
NW: Bartell is a very underrated and valuable piece on this defense; I think you are right on with that, Sean. As for the drafting of Justin King, it comes from a variety of angles. One, King would have been a borderline first round pick in 2009 had he stayed in school. That means he was great value in the fourth round. Two, Fakhir Brown is still only one off the field mistake from a year-long vacation, meaning the Rams needed to add some more depth to the position. So to directly answer your question, it was a combination of being too good to pass up and searching for more help at a position of need.
Bartell did play some emergency safety last season and it stands to reason he could do that again if needed. The Rams are viewing Chamberlain strictly as a linebacker for now. That could change because of injuries or versatility or whatever, but it likely wouldnít happen until training camp.
I just want to know Longís jersey number will be with the team so I can buy it.... from a very long time Ram fan
NW: Raul, you and others expressed this sentiment. Long has not been given a number yet but we will know one by the time minicamp rolls around. I would say this, though. If you check out the Pro Shop here on stlouisrams.com, you can pre-order a Chris Long jersey and it will be sent to you soon after his number is finalized. One number that wonít make the cut, though, is 75. And not because they are preserving the memory of Claude Terrell. Chris Long does not want to have any additional pressure in following his dad Howie Long (who wore 75). Expect something in the 90ís.
Why did the rams pick Donnie Avery instead of possibly the best receivers still left in the draft, I know that they want more speed on offense but how can you pass up on Malcolm Kelly, Limas Sweed and DeSean Jackson?
NW: This was a popular question, but I can say with absolute certainty that there not a consensus around the league on whom the best receiver in this yearís draft was. There was no Calvin Johnson or Braylon Edwards to be found. So, the Rams did their due diligence and found a wide out who fits their system and has the physical attributes they are looking for. In addition, there were serious question marks about all of the other top wide receivers. Hereís what it boils down to: Kelly has injury issues and isnít terribly fast. Sweed is a good player but has a wrist injury that makes him a question mark. The Rams did like Jackson, but heís on the small side and will probably never be more than a return specialist and slot receiver.
The real debate might have been between Avery and Devin Thomas. But Thomas doesnít have the speed the Rams are searching for. Avery was the perfect fit for this offense both now and in the future. It remains to be seen what he will do on this level, but the tools are there and heís in the right system. Heís more than just a speed guy; he was extremely productive at Houston.
On a personal perspective note, I saw Avery at the Senior Bowl. I was impressed with his speed and route running. He dropped some balls and thatís something heíll have to clean up, but I thought he was easily one of the top two or three receivers there.
I can see why a lot of people aren't happy with Donnie Avery but with some time with the WR coach and even T. Holt on route running and learning disciplined receiving, he can be a great asset. Few can keep with his speed. Why do people not think this alone is worth the pick but he also can get yards after the catch, too. I don't think he would have made it to rd. 2.Good enough for me. You?
NW: I personally think you hit the nail on the head. There has to be an understanding of how people fit in a system rather than simply their measurables. Avery is the right fit for what this offense needs. The receiving corps needed an influx of speed and a player who can make someone miss after the catch. Avery and Keenan Burton fit the prototype.
With the Rams defensive needs and the team looking to play more 3-4 why do you think the Rams passed on a player like DE/LB Q. Groves from Auburn? He was ranked as the 32nd best player on many draft boards and would be a great fit as a backup DE and pass rushing LB.
NW: Arthur, I think itís a bit of a misconception that the Rams are looking to play more 3-4. They use elements of it in the defensive concept but it doesnít mean they are looking to switch to it on a permanent basis.
To your question about Groves, though, it comes down to a few things. No. 1, there was concern about a heart condition that has plagued him. No. 2 and more important was the fact that the Rams had more pressing needs than an edge rusher who would be used in limited duty. They drafted Long with the first pick to bolster the pass rush but finding a wide receiver with speed and a young offensive lineman were more pressing needs in the middle round. Groves would have been a luxury. The Rams arenít in a position to make luxury picks right now. If they were, Darren McFadden probably would have been a Ram.
Hello, I'm a Ram fan from Argentina. My question is, why didn't we draft a LB?? We had the opportunity to do it in round 3, like Dan Connor or Tavares Gooden or anyone else. We drafted 2 WRs and no LBs, why??
NW: Juan, I too was a bit surprised the Rams didnít grab a linebacker earlier in the draft. I figured by round five, they would have at least one more in the stable. Hereís why it didnít go down. The Rams biggest need at linebacker is a strong side guy capable of rushing the passer and stopping the run as usually in third down the strong side linebacker isnít on the field. Connor is smaller than Will Witherspoon and doesnít really fit. Many of the linebackers in the draft fit that deScription.
Now, the Rams grabbed a second wide out because they realized they needed to get younger there. They did find a couple of intriguing linebackers in round seven. From everything Iíve been told and seen, both David Vobora and Chris Chamberlain have a realistic shot at making the squad out of camp.
It also speaks to how comfortable the team is with Quinton Culbersonís progress. Devaney and Linehan said as much on Sunday night.
With the schedule having just come out, what are some of your favorite places to eat at on the road with the team that you can now make plans to dine at?
NW: For anyone traveling with the Rams or a Rams fan in a city the Rams play this season, here are some of my favorites. Keeping in mind that this will by my first trip to New England, Washington and Philadelphia since I began covering the team four years ago.
In San Francisco, I enjoy the Crab House on the Pier. There are fancier places to go and maybe better places, but to sit at the window enjoying crab legs and garlic fries with an Anchor Steam beer and looking out at the bay, well itís pretty great.
In Arizona I donít necessarily have an established spot that I frequent. But there are a number of good spots, especially Mexican joints and Don and Charlieís Steakhouse.
In Kansas City, you will find me at Stroudís. They have outstanding fried chicken but I dream about the cinnamon rolls they serve you for dessert.
In New York, where I just spent the past four days, I found a number of great places. At the top of the list is a steakhouse called Del Friscoís. A filet that will change your life. There is also a quick hamburger spot called Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Iíve had plenty of restaurant burgers in my time but this place served the best burger of any place Iíve ever been (apologies to Boocheís in Columbia, MO, where you must stop if you ever go through my old college town). Five Guys has a few locations up the East Coast, including I believe one in Washington D.C. Iíll be stopping there if thatís true when the Rams play the Redskins.
And last, but not least is perhaps my favorite restaurant in the country. In Seattle, thereís a sushi place tucked away in downtown that you probably couldnít find unless you are looking for it. Shiroís Sushi bar is by far the best sushi place I have ever been. Special recommendation if you arenít in a large group: Go to Shiroís, sit at the sushi bar and ask for Shiro. Heís almost always there. When he comes over, tell him to make whatever is fresh and he recommends. A good friend of mine and I did that when the Rams played Seattle in the playoffs in 2004 and it was one of the finest meals Iíve ever had.
For any fans in Philly, D.C. or New England, letís hear some suggestions.
Why did the Rams not draft one of the bigger more physical receivers this year? I know Bennett is big, but it seems that the Rams need an Eric Moulds type physical receiver. The Rams want to be known for being physical and running with Jackson, but they still have these small 'precise route running' receivers. Your thoughts on their selection?
NW: See the above responses for explanations on this. The Rams would like to get more physical at the position but speed takes precedent this season. Being big and physical isnít as important as running routes and getting separation. I like the Avery pick and I think the Burton pick could turn out to be outstanding if he can avoid some of the nagging injuries that have plagued him.
I see the Rams remained true to themselves and haven't gone for an offensive line to protect the QB...how much more must Bugler have to be knocked around for another great QB to want to be traded?
NW: Iím not sure what you wanted them to do, Terry. Jake Long was off the board when they picked and he would have been the choice had he been there at No. 2. There wasnít another tackle worth taking in round one or even at any point in round two. So, the team waited until round three and grabbed John Greco, a player they had rated above at least one of those tackles that went in the first round and someone who has plenty of potential. He can play any of the guard spots or right tackle and should be a starter in the next couple of years. Then, they traded up to grab guard Roy Schuening. Schuening was widely regarded as one of the best interior linemen in the draft and could be an absolute steal when all is said and done. Combine that with the addition of Jacob Bell and the return to health of many injured linemen and I personally think you have the foundation for a very solid offensive line.
Hi Nick! Love your mailbag been reading for a few months. I have become a big fan. My question is, do you feel that Avery was a good value for #2?
I mean couldn't they have picked one of the 9 other better choices at WR or even Hardy who has great speed size and RAC, and the thought they were almost for certain to get this guy 3rd or even probably 4th round.
NW: As I wrote above, people who think he would be there in the third round are off base and if you think he would have been there in round four, you are delusional. Avery was the top receiver on some other teamsí boards. Remember that Jordy Nelson was the third receiver taken and he was the top rated wide out on Green Bayís board. Every team evaluated this crop of receivers different based on off the field issues, on field production, physical attributes and the way they fit in the system. Again, we wonít know until a few years from now, but I didnít see a wide out that fits the mold of what the Rams were looking for based on the above factors better than Avery.
I am a lifelong Rams fan while living my whole life in Upstate Central New York, how would you rate the Rams second round draft pick, Donnie Avery? Do you think he was a better choice than Thomas from Michigan St., Kelly from Oklahoma, or Jackson from Cal?
Thank you for your response.
NW: See the above answers. Some of those guys might turn out better than Avery but would they have made more sense for the need and the system of the Rams? It remains to be seen.
We needed a big DE. Chris Long is the best fit! What you think?
NW: As any of you loyal readers probably know, I was in favor of drafting Chris Long with the No. 2 pick from the NFL Combine in February on up until April. I laugh when I hear people criticize him for his perceived lack of production and pass rush ability. This guy played as a two-gap defensive end in a 3-4 defense. In other words, he is taking on a minimum of two blockers on every play. Someone show me a 3-4 end who racks up sacks like a 4-3 end. I think that had a lot to do with the lack of sacks before his senior season. And on top of that, it makes the fact that he put up 14 sacks as a senior even more impressive. For frame of reference, Richard Seymour is widely regarded as one of the best defensive ends in a 3-4 set for New England. In his NFL career, he has never had more than eight sacks, which he reached in 2003. How about another example? The Chargers run a 3-4 and Luis Castillo is supposed to be one of the best defensive ends in that scheme. He is very good, but heís never had more than seven sacks.
The bottom line is, a 3-4 defensive end is supposed to take on blockers well enough to create openings for rush linebackers. Castillo is the reason Shawne Merriman is such a dominant pass rusher. Seymour has paved the way for the likes of Mike Vrabel to have so much success. Chris Canty makes DeMarcus Wareís life easier and on and on.
Now, the question is how well Long will adjust to playing 4-3. Well, common sense tells me that someone with Longís outstanding athletic ability (he tested better in many areas than Mario Williams who was drafted first overall two years ago) combined with his non stop intensity will make him not just a good, but a dominant pass rusher in the NFL along the lines of a Michael Strahan. There have been many comparisons to Grant Wistrom but I think Wistrom is a worst case scenario and thatís saying something considering Wistrom was a darn good player for many years.
Of course, weíll have to wait and see how it pans out. I would have though highly of drafting Glenn Dorsey too, but I think itís funny that people say Long = Wistrom as Dorsey = Warren Sapp. Why canít both have tremendous upside with a solid comparison as a jumping off point?
That was probably more than you were looking for, Denny, but thatís just the way I see it. Thanks for the question.
And thanks to everyone for the questions. The minicamp is in a couple of weeks so keep those questions coming and weíll get to them as we can.