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Players like Linehan's offense
Players like Linehan's offense By John Clayton
ST. LOUIS -- Earlier this summer, Kurt Warner stood around Arizona Cardinals camp reminiscing about his happy days with Mike Martz and the St. Louis Rams.
He admitted he went through Post-Martz Syndrome when he left St. Louis. Most do. Warner went to Tom Coughlin's basic system of execution with the Giants and it was tough for him. Creativity was replaced by simple execution. Warner struggled because intellectually no system can compare to the one Martz runs. He's a coach who'd install 400 plays in a blink of an eye and then would retreat to his office to create some more.
The de-Martzification of the Rams is underway in St. Louis. New head coach Scott Linehan brings a complex, well-thought out offense, but it's still roughly half of what the Rams practiced under Martz.
"Coach Martz threw a lot at us on a daily and weekly basis," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "It was incredible the amount of memory you needed. Coach was never satisfied just giving us something. He was always putting more and more on top of you."
Now, less is more as the Rams adjust to a new era of offensive football. Linehan brings an exciting offensive game plan to the Edward Jones Dome. He's had a lot of success with quarterbacks. In Minnesota in 2004, Daunte Culpepper threw for a career-high 39 touchdowns with Linehan as his offensive coordinator. Linehan coached Gus Frerotte to career best numbers in Miami last season. Linehan's system offers a lot. He has some no-huddle. He'll stretch the depths of a defense.
Scott Linehan was the offensive coordinator in Miami last season.But how do smart offensive players say goodbye to a playbook that exceeded their wildest dreams? Martz' system turned the Rams into a show.
"You'd get your plays and he was always looking to create more and more and more and more," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "Now, all I can think about is once you get a play what you can do after it. We'll see once the games come around what it's like. This is more of a break than anything else."
But the break has been a refreshing one for the Rams. Linehan's offensive plan and demeanor is going over well. Halfback Steven Jackson likes Linehan's plan to run the ball more. Defensive players are thrilled with the aggressive schemes of former Saints coach Jim Haslett, the Rams defensive coordinator.
"I think there is that school of thought it's hard to change to a different system," Linehan said. "They embraced that system and they were able to have a lot of success with it. But go back over the last three or four years. That was back then. There was a level of inconsistencies that had started to become an issue -- the pass protections, productivity. The bottom line is wins and losses."
And, say what you want about the high-flying nature of the Rams on offense, but they had three losing seasons in the past four years. Now, Martz is in Detroit, and though it might be a culture shock to the remaining offensive players here, the Rams are moving on.
"What coach Martz threw at us on a daily and weekly basis was incredible," Holt said. "The amount of memory you needed to store from game-to-game was amazing. For players under him, though, if you go someplace else, you are much better prepared."
Linehan is winning over his new players so far. First, the offense is quarterback friendly. Frerotte learned it quickly in Miami last year and had a career high 18 touchdown passes. When the Rams called to sign him in free agency, he didn't blink. He felt as though he was signing with a friend.
What's noticeable in practice is how good Bulger looks in Linehan's offense. During minicamps, Bulger, like a lot of the holdovers from the Martz system, struggled some with the playbook. But in training camp, Bulger is throwing laser beams aimed directly at receivers.
Linehan's scheme is more protection-based than the one Martz ran. When Martz was coaching he often sent everyone out on pass plays and left only the five linemen in to block. The plan this year is to run the ball and use more play-action. Plus, Bulger will have a little more freedom. He can audible out of plays that look bad when he sees the defensive alignment. Once or twice a game, Bulger can go no-huddle to shake up a defense's timing.
"Everything doesn't have to be a seven-step drop," Bulger said. "I'm going to deliver the ball quicker. And we are going to run the ball. Steven is anxious to get the ball. Hopefully, we can get the ball to him 25 times a game."
Said Holt, "It's not a simple offense, but you know exactly what it is. There is not as much thinking. Coach Linehan wants you to go out and just play football."
Linehan knows he inherited a good group of core players. Bulger is an accurate quarterback with Pro Bowl talent. Jackson can be one of the conference's top rushers. Holt and Isaac Bruce are two of the game's best game-breaking receivers, and Kevin Curtis is ready to step into a more prominent role.
"I like the aggressiveness of our guys on offense," Linehan said. "I think the only change is that we will aggressively take what defenses give us. There is going to be a certain level of commitment to the running game, and that could get defenses in single coverage. Torry runs certain routes like no one else. Isaac comes off the ball and is at full speed in five yards like nobody else. We're going to accentuate that by tiering back some stuff."
"It's not a simple offense, but you know exactly what it is. There is not as much thinking. Coach Linehan wants you to go out and just play football."
Torry Holt, Rams WR
Also notable in practice is a renewed emphasis on having an aggressive defense. Jim Haslett was a successful head coach in New Orleans, but he was a very good defensive coordinator with the Steelers before that. Together, Linehan and Haslett mapped out plans to upgrade the athleticism of the defense. As many as six new starters could be there by opening day.
"We're a fast team, and I think we've made our speed on defense that much better," Linehan said. "We're not real big on defense, so we need to show we can handle the run against big, physical teams. But I know we will be able to run sideline to sideline with everybody."
The speed of the defense is at linebacker. The Rams might not have a pure middle linebacker. In fact, they basically have three or four weakside linebackers and one pure strongside guy, but they are all adjustable. Will Witherspoon, a weakside linebacker with the Panthers, will handle the middle linebacker spot allowing Pisa Tinoisamoa to remain a play-maker on the weakside away from the tight end.
"This defense is fast and aggressive," defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "The most important thing for the defensive players is to be smart."
The Rams are an interesting team. They are clearly more talented than their 6-10 record of a year ago. It's not out of the question for them to challenge for a playoff spot in the NFC if Bulger can stay healthy.
"We've got to stay healthy at a couple of key positions," Linehan said. "There are some players we can't lose. But we can compete with anyone on our schedule. We don't play any cold weather games. That helps. The perception is there is a changing of the guard in our division, but we're in a good spot. People think we are in transition and Seattle and Arizona are battling it out for the NFC West and the ***** and us are in transition. What we've got to do is get off to a good start."
As far as winning over Rams players who miss Martz, Linehan is off to a good start himself.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.