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Rams hope draft improves offensive line
Rams hope draft improves offensive line
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Draft day normally isn't the most exciting time of year for a Rams offensive line coach. Particularly Day 1.
"We sit around and eat," joked John Matsko, who coaches the offensive line along with John Benton.
Not this year. Much of the early action for the Rams centered on the offensive line:
The Rams took an offensive lineman in the first round for the first time since 1997.
The team took two offensive linemen on Day 1 for the first time since 1995, its inaugural season in St. Louis.
And for the first time in St. Louis, three of the team's first six picks were offensive linemen.
The addition of tackle Alex Barron, tackle-guard Richie Incognito and guard-tackle Claude Terrell helps the depth chart immeasurably. Along with returning players such as Larry Turner, Scott Tercero and Blaine Saipaia, it gives Matsko and Benton a stable of younger blockers with whom to work.
"You're always in the process of developing guys," Matsko said. "We meet with our guys at 7:30 in the morning on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday - our young guys - and we take them out to practice 20 minutes early (in season).
"And we still have some (other) young guys - Andy McCollum's a young guy, Adam Timmerman's a young guy."
Well, young at heart. Assuming Barron is ready to go at right tackle, the Rams' opening day lineup on the offensive line projects as follows: Orlando Pace at left tackle; newcomer Rex Tucker or Saipaia at left guard; McCollum at center; Timmerman at right guard; and Barron at right tackle.
Several other line permutations are possible, too. If Barron's not ready, Saipaia or Scott Tercero could be there. Tercero also could work into the mix at left guard. Assuming the young guys can play, depth shouldn't be a problem in 2005. And that certainly wasn't the case last season.
"I'm not going to get on the phone and call someplace in Nebraska, looking for an offensive lineman that's coaching high school football, and seeing if he can be here in two weeks," coach Mike Martz said.
That's exactly what happened last August when the Rams coaxed Chris Dishman out of retirement to help at left guard.
But the competition should be heated for the left guard spot and for various backup spots along the line. The same can now be said for the safety positions, and the backup cornerback spots on defense following the draft.
At fullback, seventh-round draft pick Madison Hedge**** could compete for the starting job with Joey Goodspeed. After a very productive career at Ball State, sixth-round pick Dante Ridgeway has a chance to earn the No. 5 or 6 wide receiver spot. At punter, Kevin Stemke and sixth-round pick Reggie Hodges will duel for the job.
Adding competition across the roster was one of the goals the Rams took into the offseason.
"It brings intensity," Martz said. "It's just very healthy. You've got to have competition within the team itself."
Competition also breeds depth, something the Rams found lacking at several positions a year ago, particularly when injuries hit. But the Rams apparently were looking for more than depth in their draft room this year.
The selections of Incognito and Terrell on the offensive line, as well as Oshiomogho "O.J." Atogwe and Jerome Carter at safety, was part of a conscious effort by the club to add players with attitude and toughness.
"Because that's the way the game's played in the NFL, obviously," Martz said. "Sometimes you get caught up in numbers in terms of measurables, and speed, and vertical jumps, and all that. But it really comes down to how productive they are, and really, how they play the game.
"These guys make an awful lot of plays. They get to the ballcarrier in a hurry and they get there in a bad mood - and that's what we're looking for. On the offensive line, that nastiness is evident, especially in Incognito. And of course, I think you can see it in Terrell. The guy's got power and brute force, and is nasty."
Two areas the Rams didn't address in the draft were running back and defensive end. At defensive end, the Rams are satisfied with the combo of starters Leonard Little and Anthony Hargrove, backed up by veterans Jay Williams and Tyoka Jackson. The Rams had a couple of pass rushing "diamonds in the rough" targeted as potential draft picks Sunday, but were unable to get Jeb Huckeba of Arkansas or Nick Speegle of New Mexico.
As for running back, Martz said, "The roster at running back, I'm very pleased with."
As the second day of the draft wore on, Martz studied what was still available there, and studied the Rams' current depth chart at the position. He decided to stand pat, with a roster that includes Steven Jackson, Marshall Faulk, Aveion Cason and Arlen Harris.
"I don't know that bringing somebody onto our roster was going to upgrade us at running back," Martz said.
"Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod
Re: Rams hope draft improves offensive lineThe Rams had a couple of pass rushing "diamonds in the rough" targeted as potential draft picks Sunday, but were unable to get Jeb Huckeba of Arkansas"Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod