Rams Inside Slant
He might have been briefly in coach Mike Martz's doghouse before training camp started, but running back Steven Jackson has done everything in his power to win back the coach's good graces in training camp.
Martz had said Jackson was out of shape, didn't know the offense and wasn't in attendance at a precamp the team had before leaving for training camp. Jackson was unsigned at the time, but quickly signed a five-year contract and got to work.
He would routinely stay after practice getting pointers from running back Marshall Faulk, and was showing all the attributes the Rams believed he had when they traded up to pick him in the first round of April's draft.
In a scrimmage against the Bears Aug. 7, he showed good hands and pass-catching ability on a 22-yard play. Then, in the first exhibition game last Thursday, also against the Bears, Jackson rushed 15 times for 73 yards and added four receptions for 18 yards.
One reason given for the Cowboys passing on Jackson is that he had arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason. Martz acknowledged his knee is still not 100 percent.
"His leg, where he had his scope, is not quite as strong as it used to be," Martz said. "You can see that. He favors it a little bit."
Still, most important, is that he did a solid job picking up blitzes. Martz wasn't upset that the Bears blitzed in such an early game because it gave the offense an opportunity to work against it.
Said Martz of Jackson, "Offensively, Steven is learning the offense, he's getting better. He still doesn't have the leg strength back yet that he will have eventually. He's still learning our offense, but he did a terrific job in pass blocking, which for a rookie, is a big challenge. He did a great job in recognizing blitzes and getting over. Fortunately, they did blitz us, and that's good for us, because with him back there, he has to get tested before the season starts."
Asked about Jackson's prior experience in that phase of the game, Martz said, "He was tuned in and that's what's impressive about him. I was very impressed with that. That's very important. I'm pleased with him in his progress. I really am. He still has a long way to go. He's very talented. He's a little bit of a misguided missile right now. The hardest thing about a running back is, he's still not familiar with the angles we are trying to block and the anticipation, and setting guys up. He doesn't know this running game like he will. There's a lot to be said for that. It's just like a quarterback coming in and not knowing where the receivers are. You can kind of guess, but it affects you a little bit."
CAMP CALENDAR: Camp opened at Macomb, Ill., July 27, with the first practice the following day. The Chicago Bears traveled to Macomb for an afternoon practice Aug. 5, two practices Aug. 6 and a scrimmage Aug. 7. The Rams break camp on Aug. 20.
—Starting middle linebacker Robert Thomas was "exceptional" against the Bears Aug. 12, according to coach Mike Martz.
Asked what stood out about Thomas' game, Martz said, "I think that the leadership on the field, the calls, and just taking charge of the entire defense to begin with, before the ball is even snapped. Everything was impeccable, there wasn't any wasted motion. He tried to do everything exactly the way Joe (linebackers coach JoeVitt) has coached him to do it. Once the ball is committed he's there, great coverage. I think his was probably the best performance of the entire team."
—OG Chris Dishman lost about eight pounds in his first week with the team, but still has a long way to go to get down to his approximate normal playing weight of 339. Dishman weighed 375 after signing with the Rams. He had considered himself retired when May rolled around and he wasn't with a team. Dishman played for the Cardinals last season. But coach Mike Martz convinced him to play.
"He did not want to come back and play for a team he just felt like didn't have a chance to contend," Martz said. "He's got great passion for this game; he sounds like a coach when you talk to him. It's going to take him a little while to get some of that weight off and get into playing shape again.
"Our players and Larry (defensive coordinator Larry Marmie) gave him such a strong endorsement, from a character standpoint, as a professional, how he prepares to play and all those things. We felt like if we could just get him into this environment that he'd have some success. He's a good addition for us."
Marmie was an assistant coach at Arizona last year.
—Since Mike Martz took over as coach of the Rams in 2000, the team is 6-12 in exhibition games and the loss to the Bears was their eighth in the last nine games.
—The Rams have 11 days between the game against the Bears and the Aug. 23 game against Kansas City. However, that game begins a stretch where they play three games in 11 days, including games on Monday the 23rd and Friday the 27th.
"This gives us a terrific chance now where we can give the (first team) a little more reps, and get into things that you will be doing during the season, which we have stayed away from," Martz said. "As weeks go by, these young players are going to have less of a chance to make this team. This was the biggest opportunity they will have with the playing time and get noticed."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He was outstanding, probably really should have been nine for nine. He had complete control of everything. Very poised, as you would expect, a guy with his experience and success, and not just a veteran, a guy with a great deal of success is a veteran, that's the difference. He has bought into what we do whole-heartedly. He's allowed himself to reinvent himself in this system, which is very hard for a veteran to do, who's had success doing it in another way. For him to buy into everything, and try and do it just the way we want him to do, is truly remarkable. It's hard to find a quarterback who's played in the league for at least 10 years that will come in and buy into what you do completely, and not have his own take on things." - Coach Mike Martz on QB Chris Chandler.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: De Juan Groce vs. Kevin Garrett for nickel CB shot, if Aeneas Williams stays at safety in that defense. Both Groce and Garrett have had strong camps, and Martz singled out Groce for his play against the Bears. Garrett was outstanding on special teams.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Bernard Holsey vs. Brian Howard for third DT: Holsey is finally on the field after missing time recovering from offseason quad surgery. Howard, an undrafted free agent, is a somewhat undersized, but high-motor player that is vying for time especially after the broken foot suffered by Jimmy Kennedy.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Shaun McDonald. A fourth-round pick in 2003, McDonald was injured in the season opener and did little the rest of the season. He has added weight to his smallish frame and has been consistent throughout training camp. Then, against the Bears, he caught five passed for 78 yards, including a nifty 40-yard catch and run. He also returned punts, and had a 65-yard return for what would have been a touchdown, but it was called back because of an illegal block in the back.
ROOKIE REPORT: RB Steve Jackson (1st round) is finding his legs, running hard and showing skills as a blocker and receiver. ... DE Anthony Hargrove (3rd) worked his way back on the field after missing a few days with a knee injury. ... KB Brandon Chillar (4th) has fallen behind other backup linebackers that had the benefit of the entire offseason program. ... S Jason Shivers (5th) is still learning, but loves to hit and should have an impact on special teams. ... C Larry Turner (7th) is improving by the day and has coaches actually believing he could contribute of needed this season.
INJURY REPORT: RB Lamar Gordon under surgery Aug. 10 to remove a bone chip from his ankle and was to be sidelined for four weeks. ... RB Arlen Harris suffered a concussion against the Bears Aug. 12, but was not expected to miss any practice time. ... LB Pisa Tinoisamoa sprained an ankle against the Bears, and could have returned had it been a regular season game. ... WR Kevin Curtis will be limited somewhat in practice because of shin splints.