Pete Prisco: Rams Top Ten Defense ?
Rams: Five things | Prisco
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Take a minute, close your eyes and think St. Louis Rams football, letting the visions dance in your head.
What you'll likely see is a track meet on a football field, featuring plenty of passing, plus runners ripping off big gains and pure joy for those who love offensive football.
"The tides are turning," Rams safety O.J. Atogwe said during a break from workouts here with the Tennessee Titans. "I'm a little biased because I play on the defense, but we're going to be more of a defensive team."
They finished 21st in the league in total defense in 2007, which was a step up from the 23rd ranking in 2006 and the No. 30 ranking in 2005. You see a pattern? The Rams are improving.
This year's group has a chance to be a top-10 unit. Watching them work out here with the Titans it's clear they have talent at a lot of positions. It's a nice mix of young and old, a unit that could allow them to compete for the NFC West title.
St. Louis hasn't had a top-10 defense since 2001, when that unit finished third in the league. That Rams team finished first in total offense, so even then that defense was overshadowed by the glitz of the offense. The 2001 team went to the Super Bowl, losing to the New England Patriots.
"It's been a while since people thought defense around here," Atogwe said.
They had better start.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, the fiery former head coach of the New Orleans Saints, has quietly put together a quality unit. Haslett's players love him and he's excited about this year's defense.
"We will be better," Haslett said. "I like what we have. We have veterans who can still play. The young guys compliment them well. It's a good group."
Safety O.J. Atogwe is a rising star on Jim Haslett's D. (US Presswire)
Outside St. Louis, they just aren't that well known. Atogwe is a perfect example. He's a fourth-year guy who played at a Pro Bowl level in 2007, yet didn't get the Hawaii call as undeserving players like Roy Williams of the Cowboys went in his spot.
Atogwe was second in the league in interceptions with eight, leading all safeties. He also had 12 passes defended, 75 tackles and one touchdown on a 52-yard interception return.
For those who don't know him, you should get to know the name. He's a good one. Here are a few things to know about him:
• He's from Canada and played his college ball at Stanford.
• His real name is Oshiomogho.
• He's playing for a one-year tender of $2.16 million, which means he will be one of the hottest players on the free-agent market next year. In other words, he's about to get paid.
"Big year for you," I told him. "Contract year."
"It is," Atogwe said. "I didn't know."
He was joking, of course. But if the Rams take steps forward this year, he will be a big reason why. Atogwe wasn't practicing during the work with the Titans because of a hamstring issue -- nothing major -- and he'll be back soon.
Even without him, the defense has talent. Up front, veteran end Leonard Little is healthy again after missing nine games last season with a toe injury. Little had just one sack in 2007 after getting 13 the year before. He had surgery to repair the toe and so far hasn't had any problems.
"Having him back gives us that speed we need off the corner," Haslett said. "He looks like he did two years ago."
Rookie Chris Long, the second overall pick in April, is at the other end. Long struggled early in camp, which is to be expected, but he has come on lately, according to Haslett and Atogwe.
"The more and more comfortable he's getting, the more and more you see the flashes of why he was taken with the second pick," Atogwe said.
The tackles are 2007 first-round pick Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan and depth comes from veteran La'Roi Glover. The linebackers should be good, too, with Will Witherspoon the best of the group.
Third-year corner Tye Hill is capable of playing at a Pro Bowl level and could be poised for his breakout season.
What's exciting to Haslett is that there are only three starters -- Little, safety Corey Chavous and corner Fakhir Brown -- at least 30 years old. Most of the group is made up of players in their mid-20s.
Now they have to change the reputation of the Rams being a finesse team. Some of that comes from being good on offense, but some also stems from the defense not really being as physical as other teams.
When the Titans defense got into it with the Rams offense during a Wednesday morning practice, somebody noted that was to be expected since the Titans are a rough-and-tumble defense, while the Rams are a finesse offense.
Would it have been a shock to see the Rams defense getting into it? Not anymore. A year ago, the Rams' defense actually had a better ranking than the Rams' offense.
"We have a lot of wisdom and experience with the old guys and you have a lot of energetic, wise younger guys," Atogwe said. "It's going to work well for us. We have a chance to be one of the best defenses in the league."
So go ahead. Close your eyes. Think Rams football. It's still offense for now, but in a year you just might be surprised at what you see.
Re: Pete Prisco: Rams Top Ten Defense ?
Re: Pete Prisco: Rams Top Ten Defense ?
Finally an article that talks about the personnel we have on D. I like what i'm hearing, hopefully Haslette can field a group that is more consistant and can last the full 4 Qtrs... RAMS D BABY!!!