Rams defense looks to take another step forward ..
BY BILL COATS
Thursday, July 28, 2011 12:10 am
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was surrounded by cameras and microphones as coach Steve Spagnuolo's top assistants met with reporters Wednesday at Rams Park. Defensive coordinator Ken Flajole sat at a nearby table, virtually ignored.
McDaniels, the former Denver head coach who is considered one of the brighter offensive minds in the NFL, is bringing a brand-new scheme to a club that finished 26th among the league's 32 teams in total yards last year. So the interest in his thoughts was understandable.
Still, Flajole already has made his mark with the Rams. Last year, in his second season on the job, significant improvement from 2009 was achieved in every significant defensive category.
The Rams vaulted to 19th from 29th in total defense; to 17th from 27th vs. the run; to 19th from 25th vs. the pass; and to 12th from 31st in scoring defense.
"It's where we want to head, but we've still got a ways to go," Flajole said.
Perhaps the key component was an enhanced pass rush. The 2010 Rams recorded 43 sacks, the seventh-best mark in the league. They had just 25 sacks, No. 30, in '09.
"That's very important," Flajole said. "Believe it or not, there wasn't as many sacks generated off called pressures as people would think. We certainly pressured our fair share last year, but there were a lot of sacks off of four-man rushes, which was encouraging.
"That means that the front's doing a nice job and that the coverage was good enough early in the down to force the quarterback to hold the ball to give the rush a chance. All good things to build on."
But nothing to rest on, Flajole stressed.
"We can't stay where we're at right now. If we're going to go to where we want to go, we've got to improve on defense," he said. "That's where our focus and our energy will be. We just can't stay the same. I'll give the guys credit; we made some progress. But there's a lot more progress we need to make."
Another year in the system makes that goal more feasible, Flajole acknowledged.
"I think our guys in year three, I would assume that they're going to be better at it," he said. "We're not doing anything different. … They'll have a better understanding of what we're doing. So, it's exciting. I'm looking forward to it."
Wise move on quarterback Sam Bradford's part to enter the NFL draft after his junior year at Oklahoma. As the No. 1 overall pick last year, Bradford received a six-year, $78 million deal from the Rams that included $50 million guaranteed.
Under the rookie wage guidelines that are part of the new collective bargaining agreement, this year's top choice — Carolina quarterback Cam Newton — would make about $22 million over four years, plus about $14 million if the Panthers pick up his option for a fifth season.
Bradford is well aware of his good timing.
"Yeah, obviously, no doubt," he said. "Even though the money is a little bit different, Cam Newton, to be selected No. 1 in the NFL draft, that's a tremendous honor. If the rookie salary cap would've happened last year, I would've been extremely excited to be here.
"You're still playing for a lot of money and still have the opportunity to play football for a living, which is awesome."
Undrafted free agents
The Post-Dispatch has confirmed eight more undrafted rookies who have agreed to terms with the Rams: Ohio State guard Bryant Browning, Villanova safety John Dempsey, Fort Valley State cornerback Dionte Dinkins, Southern Methodist linebacker Pete Fleps, Illinois guard Randall Hunt, Lock Haven tackle Karri Kuuttila, Northern Illinois cornerback Chris Smith and North Carolina Central defensive tackle Teryl White.
Also, former Missouri kicker Jeff Wolfert has signed with the Cleveland Browns.