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Players depart with mixed emotions
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
In late July, the Rams arrived in Macomb, Ill., lugging items in jumbo trash bags, boxes and small luggage.
Six months later, they carried some of those same items out of their locker stalls at Rams Park and into the offseason. Some are facing offseason surgery. Some are facing uncertainty about where they'll play next season.
All were left pondering whether the glass was half full or half empty in a just-completed season in which the team finished 8-8 in the regular season and then split two postseason games.
"It wasn't a happy (season)," defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy said Monday. "It wasn't a great one. We finished at .500. I'm happy with the character, though. Watching the guys fight when they had to fight. Watching the guys come together as a unit.
"It ended bad, but you know what, a lot of good things came out of this season. Hopefully, we can continue building from the effort that we had at the end of the year, and go forward for next year."
Wide receiver Torry Holt expressed similar ambivalence about a season in which the Rams dug themselves out of a 6-8 hole but got embarrassed two steps short of the Super Bowl in Saturday's 47-17 playoff loss in Atlanta.
"That was a very disappointing way to go out after what we've been through the last three weeks and how we fought to get in (the playoffs)," Holt said. "To have an opportunity to get into the playoffs and win a playoff game - it's good for us. I'm not going to say it's great. But it's good for us.
"For the younger guys, that was their first time getting a taste of what the playoffs are about. Now they know what it's about. So they know what to expect going into next year, and how important it is to play hard every single snap in order to move on."
Even though he was a designated pregame inactive for many late-season games, undrafted rookie Dwight Anderson said the 2004 season was a fun experience.
"We went deep in the playoffs," said Anderson, a cornerback. "A lot of people didn't expect us to go that far."
Chalk those sentiments up to the inexperience of youth. Because for a franchise that has gone 70-36 over the last six seasons, including two Super Bowl appearances, two games does not qualify as a deep playoff run. The talent level may not be what it was a few years ago, but the expectations at Rams Park remain high.
"That's the great thing about this organization," safety Rich Coady said. "Every year our ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl. That's what we talked about in training camp, and we didn't achieve that. So obviously, everyone's pretty disappointed. And to lose, especially the way we did (in Atlanta), makes you feel worse."
Coady is one of 14 Rams players scheduled for unrestricted free agency in March, and the list includes offensive tackle Orlando Pace, linebacker Tommy Polley and defensive end Bryce Fisher.
Coady could have been speaking for many of those 14 when asked about what happens next.
"Obviously, this is a good organization, and I'll always consider this my home," said Coady, who has spent five of his six NFL seasons in St. Louis. "I've made an effort to come back every year, and every time, I could. But we'll see. You never know how it's going to work out. You never know what they're thinking. So I guess I'll find out in March."
"They" being team management and the Rams' coaching staff.
Wide receiver Dane Looker is a restricted free agent, meaning the Rams can exercise matching rights on any contract offer he receives in free agency. After catching 47 passes in 2003 as the team's No. 3 wide receiver, Looker finished this season as the No. 5 receiver with a greatly reduced role.
"I'm going to go talk to Coach (Mike Martz) and see where he feels I stand with the team," Looker said. "Being restricted, your options are pretty limited. So it's pretty much up to the Rams to decide what they want to do with me."
Rams players had a mandatory team meeting and physicals Monday. They also met with their position coaches and then were free to clean out their lockers and go home. The official offseason conditioning program won't start for about 2 1/2 months, but many players will return much sooner.
Kennedy plans to return shortly after the Super Bowl to begin conditioning and weight training.
In his remarks to the team, Martz stressed what Coady termed "determination for next year. We're on a mission to accomplish a lot of things that we didn't accomplish this year."
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Re: Players depart with mixed emotionsKennedy plans to return shortly after the Super Bowl to begin conditioning and weight training.