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Rams: The defense and special teams
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
This unit has the potential to be the strength of the defense. At left end, Leonard Little appears completely recovered from his season-ending toe surgery of last year. Backups Victor Adeyanju and James Hall have had excellent camps, providing depth and the flexibility that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett loves. It has been a slow go for this year's first-rounder (Chris Long), and last year's first-rounder (Adam Carriker). Both need to step up their play in order for the line — and the defense — to reach its potential. Long starts at right end, Carriker at tackle. Veteran La'Roi Glover returns for his 13th NFL season as the other starting DT; he's an excellent leader and remains an effective interior pass rusher. Clifton Ryan, the only pure nose tackle on the roster, will see plenty of action on run downs.
The front-line talent here is good enough to win with, but the depth is suspect and durability could be an issue. After playing at a Pro Bowl level a year ago, middle linebacker Will Witherspoon is aiming to lead the team in tackles for the third consecutive year. Witherspoon has very good closing speed and developed into a highly effective blitzer a year ago. If weakside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa can stay healthy after a couple of injury-plagued seasons, this unit will be a team strength. Tinoisamoa also has very good speed. He doesn't shy away from contact and has developed into one of the defensive leaders. At strongside linebacker, it looks like unheralded Quinton Culberson has won the job over veteran Chris Draft. Culberson is an aggressive, physical tackler with good instincts. There is no proven depth behind the versatile Draft.
Injuries have made it tough to get a read on this unit. Cornerback Fakhir Brown (shoulder) and free safety Oshiomogho "O.J." Atogwe (hamstring) have missed most of camp and the preseason. Brown has above-average coverage skills and is solid in run support. Atogwe is a ball hawk who led the NFC in interceptions (eight) in '07. Veteran Corey Chavous, who has had a strong camp, returns at strong safety, with Tye Hill the other starting corner. Ron Bartell, a big corner at 6-1, 215 pounds, normally covers the slot receiver in the nickel package. But he has played well at corner this month in Brown's absence and also has gotten time at safety because of injuries at that position. Jonathan Wade and David Macklin are the front-runners for the No. 4 and 5 corner spots; Todd Johnson is a reliable third safety.
In punter Donnie Jones and place-kicker Josh Brown, the Rams have one of the league's best tandems. Brown, signed in free agency from Seattle, may not be as accurate as the now-retired Jeff Wilkins. But he has a reputation for clutch kicks, and his leg strength should help on kickoff coverage. Jones had a career year for the Rams in '07, setting a franchise mark for punting average (47.2 yards) and tying his career best for net (39.3). Dante Hall remains a dangerous return man on punts and kickoffs, although his role here may be lessened by what's expected to be a heavier workload at receiver. Rookie Donnie Avery may be worked in as a kickoff returner. Based on past struggles, the coverage units should be regarded as suspect until proven otherwise.
Re: Rams: The defense and special teams
the ony part that wporries me is the secondary chavous is over the hill and too slow to keep up with most recievers and our corners are average at best . . .Torry Holt Dont play that
Re: Rams: The defense and special teams
The big " IF " for me is Pisa staying healthy.
The other area of concern are the kick and punt coverage units. We need to stop giving up the big returns, period.
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