Rams making prudent decisions among free agents
BY JEFF GORDON
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
Jeff Gordon 155px image for left column
Online Columnist Jeff Gordon
Here at STLtoday.com, our free-agent wish list for the Rams was admittedly grandiose. We zeroed in on the linebackers and offensive linemen that NFL insiders really loved.
But the Rams took a more pragmatic approach to free agency. Mike Martz, Charley Armey and Co. identified solid players they believed they could immediately sign at the right price -– and then they went after them.
So Dexter Coakley is a Ram. The good news is his resume', which features durability, consistent productivity and three Pro Bowl invitations. The bad news is his age, 32, and the fact he lost playing time last season in Dallas.
Can he plug a defensive hole for at least a year or two? Perhaps, but only if the defense overall improves. Coakley, by himself, cannot be a difference-maker.
Our friends at Football Scouts Inc. and ESPN.com rate him as a “good starter,” which is four notches below “elite player,” “outstanding player” and “solid starter.” But that is several notches above “Casper the Ghost,” the rating we gave several Rams defenders last season.
Coakley is a speedy and aggressive player, but at 5-foot-10 and 231 pounds, he faces many of the same challenges Pisa Tinoisamoa faced last season.
“All of Coakley’s problems come in the area of simply not being physical enough to match up,” NFL Scouts Inc. tells us. “Coakley will make a lot of tackles in the open field, and he is at his protective best when he is protected by a defensive line that gives him a clear path to the ball.”
Tinoisamoa didn’t see so many of those last season; he repeatedly got squashed by 325-pound tackles and guards, suffering many shoulder separations along the way. Now he will try to move back to safety, where he should have an easier time avoiding lineman blocks on running plays.
The Rams also zeroed in on former Vikings middle linebacker Chris Claiborne, who ranks as another “solid starter.” At 26 Claiborne is still in his athletic prime, but, as he moves on to his third team, he still carries the label of underachiever.
“Claiborne isn’t dominant in any one area and isn’t a difference-maker despite his abundance of talent,” Football Scouts Inc. reports. “He lacks ideal ball skills, he doesn’t explode to the ball when it’s in the air and he doesn’t make enough big plays.”
But, like Coakley, he does manage to get in the way of some plays. So he could be a nice upgrade over young Robert Thomas, who inexplicably vanished during the latter part of last season.
With other holes to fill -– and the uncertainty over tackle Orlando Pace’s contract still in the air -– the Rams set realistic goals as they wooed free agents. This team was NOT a player or two away from Super Bowl contention.
The Rams still need to land a pass-defending safety, a left guard (Mike Wahle of the Packers?), a right offensive tackle (old friend Fred Miller?) and perhaps a defensive end. Some of those commodities will be available in the draft, but this team needs immediate help at many positions.
Given their spotty track record in the draft and with player development, the Rams needed to add proven commodities to their mix. And they appear well on the way to reaching that objective.
Re: Rams making prudent decisions among free agents
I would love Miller to come HOME