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  1. #1
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    Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    Aug. 8, 2008
    By Pete Prisco
    CBSSports.com Senior Writer

    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.

    There's a reason the St. Louis offense was once called the Greatest Show on Turf.

    What you won't see is visions of a stout defense, big hitters and nasty temperaments on that side of the ball. That's not saying there haven't been some good defenses since the Rams relocated to St. Louis; it's just that the offenses have been the focal point for most of those teams.

    "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."

    The Rams?

    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."

    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.


  2. #2
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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    I'll believe it when I see it.

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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    I believe it. The numbers speak for themselves. With a healthy offense this season, that better include SJ, those numbers will improve and surprise some people, maybe even moloch41.
    Semper Fi!

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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    Quote Originally Posted by Richbert88 View Post
    I believe it. The numbers speak for themselves. With a healthy offense this season, that better include SJ, those numbers will improve and surprise some people, maybe even moloch41.
    Not trying to be too sarcastic here- but which numbers? The ones that show us consistantly finishing in the bottom third of the league for the past 4 yrs? Even though we moved up a couple of spots in total defense last year- this was still a bad defense.

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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    "I believe!"

    The numbers do indicate an upward trend. And last year was a friggin disaster. It's not a very big leap. More pieces added, better luck and a sustaining offense.......Not a big leap at all.

    Will they be dominant? Maybe, maybe not. I won't and haven't said they would be. Is there reason to expect continued improvement? Certainly!

    I am a fan, but I am not a homer.
    Semper Fi!

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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    A very slow upward trend to say the least. If we keep going at this rate, we will have a dominant defense in about 22 years.

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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    Quote Originally Posted by moloch41 View Post
    A very slow upward trend to say the least. If we keep going at this rate, we will have a dominant defense in about 22 years.
    Well, aren't we Mr Glass-Half-Full!!! I dare you to be slightly optimistic about the defense. I think if the offense improves as it should i.e. the OL stays healthy, then the D won't be on the field as long and will improve drastically.

    To quote someone in the Clan:

    "You know me, I believe the glass is half full, even if it's poisonous."

  8. #8
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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    Any thoughts on re-signing Atogwe? If we try to draft someone, we'd be relying on a rookie, and neglecting other holes in the D. Little won't last forever, and the backup, Hall, is 31. Tye Hill is young, but what about the other corners. What if Wade or King don't step up. We'll be short a corner. Bulger (who I love) isn't young. How much longer can he play? My point is, it's Atogwe contract year, and I think the FO should be doing more to keep him here. It's one less hole to fill over the next 3-5 years.

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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    Quote Originally Posted by TheBritishRam View Post
    Well, aren't we Mr Glass-Half-Full!!! I dare you to be slightly optimistic about the defense. I think if the offense improves as it should i.e. the OL stays healthy, then the D won't be on the field as long and will improve drastically.

    To quote someone in the Clan:

    "You know me, I believe the glass is half full, even if it's poisonous."

    Nah, I've been hearing about how this is going the be the defense's years for ever. With all the high draft picks and free agent money we've wasted on defensive players over the past 8 yrs or so, you would have expected improvement, but we seemingly get worse year after year. I'm not going to let a slight upward trend the other way get me all excited. I'll believe it when I see it.

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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    Quote Originally Posted by moloch41 View Post
    Nah, I've been hearing about how this is going the be the defense's years for ever. With all the high draft picks and free agent money we've wasted on defensive players over the past 8 yrs or so, you would have expected improvement, but we seemingly get worse year after year. I'm not going to let a slight upward trend the other way get me all excited. I'll believe it when I see it.
    Yeah but all those years were played under a Mike Martz team, the last two Haslett years were trying to repair the damage. Any chance i could get you slightly optimistic about the D??

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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    Quote Originally Posted by TheBritishRam View Post
    Yeah but all those years were played under a Mike Martz team, the last two Haslett years were trying to repair the damage. Any chance i could get you slightly optimistic about the D??

    You know, I've always loved defenses that blitz and force teams to adjust to them instead of defenses that sit back and try to react to what the offense is doing. Under lovie and marmie, we unfortunately got the latter. I was optimistic when we hired Haslett because I thought that we were getting the guy that was the architect of "Blitzburg", but instead we seem to have gotten a guy that likes to rush 3 and drop everyone else back in a zone alot. Has he blitzed more than lovie or marmie? Yes, but most high school coaches do, so that's not saying much. I'm not sure what to make of Haslett- I don't think this defense has gotten an identity under him and that's because it's hard to get an identity when you're sitting back in a zone. Too many 3rd and longs have been converted against the Rams in his tenture and that's because when you're sitting back and giving receivers time enough to run the routes and QBs the time to find them, it's inevitable. I know people say it's because our front four can't get to the QB and that's true, but that's all the more reason to blitz consistantly. Buddy Ryan was one of my favorite DCs of all time and he had some of the greatest front fours in NFL history, but he rarely let plays go by that he didn't send extra rushers. That's what I want to see from Haslett. I want the 3 man rush to go away unless it's like 3rd and 50 and I also want the gloried prevent known as the Cover 2 to be stricken from the playbook. If you want to toughen up your team, then start hitting people- don't let guys catch the ball in front of you and then absorb the hit yourself.

  12. #12
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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    I thought we looked noticeably better last season. Not every game was good, but most of our opponents weren't finding any room to rush up the middle (Dallas would be a noteworthy exception). They did find room to run around the ends, and our pass rush was a problem, too, both symptoms of the weakness at defensive end. The secondary got burned on a number of occasions, but it's worth noting that the corners rarely had safety help. We often had both corners, and a nickelback or safety in man coverage because we were having to blitz six to get any pressure.

    It is my opinion that the defensive ends were the weak link in the chain last season, and if we see improvement there, the other components for a stalwart defense seemed to be in place.

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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    British Ram, I am sorry to report that my optimism has not grown since before the game yesterday...

  14. #14
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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    I hate to burst bubbles, but our slight incline and what we assume is improvement in our defense over the last few years, could also simply be the result of other teams defenses getting worse.

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    Re: Rams camp report: St. Louis will lean on solid defense

    Quote Originally Posted by Fortuninerhater View Post
    I hate to burst bubbles, but our slight incline and what we assume is improvement in our defense over the last few years, could also simply be the result of other teams defenses getting worse.
    Then again, just the opposite could be true. Defenses could be getting better and therefore the Rams defense would be improving more than an initial pessimistic view would indicate.

    Either way it should not be difficult for you to research the data and get back to us when you know for certain.



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