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Rams are hoping they end up with defensive line answers (Post Dispatch)
Rams are hoping they end up with defensive line answers
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Any coach well-versed in football-speak will insist that all starting positions are open heading into training camp. But realistically, only two spots will be up for grabs when the Rams assemble next week in Macomb, Ill.
Both are on the defensive line: End Grant Wistrom, the team's first-round draft pick in 1998 and a five-year starter, snatched up Seattle's six-year, $33 million free-agent offer in the offseason. Brian Young, another free agent who was emerging as a top-flight tackle, accepted a four-year deal with New Orleans that included a $4 million signing bonus.
Those losses are significant for a once-porous defense that had improved into a respectable unit. Last year, the Rams ranked 16th among the 32 NFL teams in total defense, and sixth in the 16-team NFC. They led the league in takeaways with 46 - 24 interceptions and 22 fumble recoveries.
Wistrom, 28, piled up 108 tackles, fourth-best on the team and No. 1 among linemen, and had 7 1/2 sacks, a total exceeded only by All-Pro left end Leonard Little (12 1/2). Young, 27, had 102 tackles, No. 6 in team totals, including 2 1/2 sacks.
Defensive line coach Bill Kollar acknowledged that the challenge of filling those holes effectively has him fretting just a bit. "When you end up losing two guys that really played good for you and really set a good effort tone, it makes it tough," Kollar said. "It'll be a pretty interesting task, and we'll just see what we're able to get out of these (other) guys."
Despite his legal difficulties, Little is expected to report to Western Illinois University on Tuesday with the rest of his teammates, and to be available for the season. Meanwhile, Ryan Pickett started 13 games at nose tackle last year and should fill that role again this season, although he could wind up sliding over to Young's spot. Pickett's performance last season was hampered by a nagging ankle injury.
The leading candidates to take over for Wistrom at right end are Bryce Fisher, a fifth-year pro who has started just once in 20 games with the Rams; Sean Moran, a former Ram who recently returned as a free agent; and Erik Flowers, a six-year veteran who played in only three games in his first season with the Rams.
"Fisher will start out as the No. 1 guy," Kollar said. "Now, that's not saying that he is the starter. But right now, he's the guy that we've got in there, and it'll just depend on how it goes during training camp and the preseason games."
Kollar also indicated that newcomer Anthony Hargrove, a third-round draft selection from Georgia Tech, could figure into the mix. Hargrove stood out at the team's rookie minicamp and was solid in the full-squad minicamp that followed.
"We're hoping he can give us a little boost also this year," Kollar said. "Really, all four of those guys are trying to get playing time and seeing who can wrestle away the starting position."
Kollar said veteran Tyoka Jackson is more suited to the left side, where he will back up Little.
Although a rotation system is a possibility at right end, coach Mike Martz said he expected that "somebody will evolve over there eventually. It's kind of how we started off on the left side when Leonard was over there. He was making a transition (from linebacker), and we didn't know how that would work out. But Leonard got better and better.
"I suspect something will happen like that. One of those guys is going to come to the top; we'll just see how it goes. The good news is, we feel real good about who's there. We're not scrambling around for bodies."
The same can't be said about tackle, where Kollar conceded "we're a little short."
Damione Lewis, a first-round pick in 2001, probably has the inside track - if he can stay healthy. Foot and ankle injuries have sidelined him for 11 games over three seasons. Other contenders are Jimmy Kennedy, a disappointment last year as the team's top draft choice; free-agent rookie Brian Howard from Idaho; and Bernard Holsey, who started all 16 games last season for the Washington Redskins and recently came aboard as a free agent. Kollar said Kennedy "had a pretty good offseason - he's gotten his upper body quite a big stronger - and we're hoping that he can come on and really help us out this year."
Kollar added that Holsey "really hasn't been in yet. We've got to see how he is."
"Right now, that's all we even have on the roster. So, we'll have to see how things end up working out."
-07-23-2004 #2sbramfan Guest
Re: Rams are hoping they end up with defensive line answers (Post Dispatch)
So are biggest concerns are one spot (DE) where we have 3 veterans, each of whom have 5+ years in the league. And another where our top 2 options are each a first round draft pick? I think we'll be OK on D-line.
Re: Rams are hoping they end up with defensive line answers (Post Dispatch)Originally Posted by sbramfan
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