Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the Rams' offseason came when the team matched an offer made by the Carolina Panthers to tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.

A restricted free agent, Manumaleuna signed an offer sheet worth $8.3 million over five years that included a $2 million signing bonus. After much deliberation and some disagreement from within the Rams' front office, the offer was matched.

Manumaleuna started for the first time last season following the departure of Ernie Conwell, but didn't play only tight end. He moved around consistently, often playing fullback or H-back. That led to inconsistency and mistakes.

"When you're jumping here and there, here and there, sometimes it makes it hard," tight ends coach Frank Falks said. "As a human being and a football player, you don't like to say it, but it does."

Falks knew Manumaleuna was struggling last season and at times confused. He said, "When you're around someone, you know their moods. And I always talk to him, so I could tell something was bothering him."

The fact the Panthers made the offer they did showed that Manumaleuna has value.

"They didn't offer him that because his name's Brandon," Falks said. "They did it because he fit what they needed."

Now, the Rams hope Manumaleuna will fit what they need: solid blocking at the position. Any contributions in the passing offense is gravy.

Said Manumaleuna, "I'm just trying to get better."

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

—The Rams are continuing to tweak their roster in preparation for the start of training camp on July 27. The latest additions are tackle Jeff Hatch, safety Nijrell Eason and wide receiver Brian Sump.

Hatch was released by the Giants on March 22 after being drafted on the third round (78th overall) in 2002. He missed his entire rookie season because of a back injury, and then started four games last season. Those four games, the final ones of the season, were the only ones in which he played.

The Rams need depth at tackle in training camp because of the expected absence of Orlando Pace and Kyle Turley's return from offseason back surgery. Grant Williams is the most experienced backup, and coaches want Andy King to work mostly at guard.

Eason was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Arizona Cardinals in 2001. He was released on Aug. 28 and went to camp the following year with the Steelers. Released by Pittsburgh on Sept. 2, he was added to the Cardinals' roster for the final game of the '02 season and played in that game. Eason injured his shoulder last summer, and spent the entire year on injured reserve. At the start of free agency in March, the Cardinals elected not to tender him as an exclusive rights free agent.

Sump joined the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2003, and was released on Aug. 27. He ended the 2004 Arena Football season on the Los Angeles Avengers reserve list, and did not have any stats during the season. Sump is 5-11, 185, and could challenge for a job as a kick returner. In his college career at the Colorado College of Mines, Sump returned five kickoffs for touchdowns and one punt for a touchdown.

For his career, he averaged 29.4 yards on 81 kickoff returns and 14.3 yards on 47 punt returns. In 2001, he tied an NCAA record with four kickoff returns for touchdowns. As receiver, in his final two seasons in college, Sump combined for 105 receptions for 2,024 yards (19.3-yard average) and 19 touchdowns.

—The Rams waited patiently since June 3 after putting in a waiver claim for defensive tackle Marcus Bell, who had been placed on waivers two days before by the Arizona Cardinals.

Through last Thursday (June 10), no other teams had put in a claim. But that changed the following day, the deadline for claims. Five teams claimed Bell, and he was awarded to the Detroit Lions by virtue of them having the worst 2003 record of any of the claiming teams.

The four other teams that claimed Bell were Houston, Jacksonville, Miami and San Francisco. All had priority over the Rams.

The Rams will likely continue looking for more defensive tackle depth, especially after placing rookie Jeff Ruffin on waivers. It's possible the Rams could take another look at Rick Lyle, who visited Rams Park in May.

Lyle could provide depth a tackle and end, mainly against the run.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You had to come out and kind of set the tone for the rest of the season, for myself personally. Going hard, doing the right things, make sure you know your assignments and show the coaches you're not only working hard, but you're willing to go after it, too." - Guard Andy King on the improvement he believes he's shown during the offseason.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Rams contracts signed in the last week by tight end Cam Cleeland and safety Justin Lucas are for the league minimum base salary of $535,000 for players with 4-to-6 accrued seasons. Cleeland has played six seasons in the NFL, while Lucas has played four.

Lucas did not receive a signing bonus and will count $455,000 against the Rams' salary cap. Cleeland also was not paid a signing bonus, but he received a $25,000 roster bonus, payable if he's on the opening-day roster. That makes his current cap figure $480,000, but if he were released before the season opener, nothing would count against the cap.

—The Rams signed a punter to compete with Sean Landeta in training camp or at least allow Landeta to rest his leg. Jesse Nicassio, who punted the last two seasons at Eastern Washington University after two years at Citrus Community College in California, is the new punter. The 6-1, 190-pound Nicassio punted 65 times last season for a 44.4-yard average and dropped 12 punts inside the 20-yard line.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: OT Orlando Pace (tendered at $7.021M).

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): QB Scott Covington; S Jason Sehorn; CB Fred Weary.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: QB Marc Bulger; CB Jerametrius Butler; TE Cam Cleeland; S Rich Coady; C Andy Eby; DE Bryce Fisher; P Sean Landeta; WR Dane Looker; LB Jeremy Loyd; TE Brandon Manumaleuna; OG Adam Timmerman.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: QB Chris Chandler; S Justin Lucas; DE Sean Moran.

PLAYERS LOST: LB Jamie Duncan; S Kim Herring; OG David Loverne; OL John St. Clair; QB Kurt Warner; DE Grant Wistrom; DT Brian Young.

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED: S Jason Shivers.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.