By Howard Balzer
Friday, October 24, 2008

It's not necessary to revisit the level of decimation the Rams experienced last season. Needless to say, it was endless during the first eight weeks of the season, when multiple offensive line combinations were the order of the day, and it seemed every week another key player went down.

Still, even with those issues, the Rams had opportunities to win some games in the first half of the season, especially at home. But they found ways to lose, rather than figuring out how to win.

Now, things are different. There certainly were injuries at the beginning of the season that contributed to the team's 0-4 start. And, while Jim Haslett's seemingly magic potion is being hailed, there are significant personnel issues that have this group of players being able to respond to Haslett's believable approach.

Defensive end Leonard Little was injured on the first possession of the season and then missed another two games. His return against Buffalo began the defensive resurgence. Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe missed all of training camp, along with cornerback Fakhir Brown, and both weren't at the top of their games when the season started. Brown was then released by Scott Linehan before the Buffalo game and brought back last week. Rookie defensive end Chris Long is a better player today than he was when the season started.

On offense, wide receiver Donnie Avery wasn't available at the start of the season, and running back Steven Jackson was rusty from his 27-day holdout.

Still, the most noteworthy development from the victory over Dallas was that it was accomplished without left tackle Orlando Pace. Last season, the air went out of the Rams when Pace was injured at the end of the first half of the season opener. This season, it just feels different, and Haslett's leadership is a big part of it.

Speaking of how the team played with Adam Goldberg replacing Pace, Haslett said, "I thought Adam did a nice job in his spot, so it makes you as a coach have some confidence that guys can step in and fulfill their role and do a good job."

Now, Haslett and the Rams are preparing for Sunday's game against New England with the possibility that Jackson won't play and it doesn't seem to faze them. Sure, everyone to a man hopes Jackson can play because they are obviously a better team with him. But there is also a quiet confidence that victory is possible even without him. It would simply be expected that a combination of Antonio Pittman, Travis Minor and Kenneth Darby will get the job done.

The same is true at defensive tackle to a lesser degree, where Adam Carriker might not be able to play. If that happens, La'Roi Glover will get more snaps, while ends James Hall and Victor Adeyanju would see some time inside.

Asked about a team having a mindset that injuries can't bring them down, Haslett said, “Well, it should be; that’s how this league works. You’re going to play guys, people get hurt, other guys have to step in and step up and play. I said before, it doesn’t really make a difference. I mean it does make a difference, but that’s why you have 53 guys on your team. If you don’t think they’re good enough then they shouldn’t be here.

"Guys will step in if for some reason Jack (Steven Jackson) can’t go, Pittman will step in and do a great job with Travis and Ken so that’s just how it is. If Adam can’t go Victor will get work inside and Glover will go back to starting and we’ll be fine.”

All coaches say those words, but some coaches can't prevent negative thoughts from emerging. Haslett has them believing him, and that's most of the battle.

Still, Haslett also understands that sometimes it's better to hold a player out, rather than risk losing them for even longer.

“Me personally, I’m going to err on the side of caution to do what is best for him and do what is best for the team in the long run," Haslett said. "That’s what I did with Derek Stanley and all of these other guys. Being an ex-player and being in those shoes, I understand exactly what everyone is going through, so I think I can shed a little light on that from that standpoint.”

Haslett believes this is a winnable game, even without Jackson. It's clear his players believe it, too.


*Jackson did limited work in individual drills, and did nothing in team segments during practice Thursday. Said Haslett, "We'll see how he is tomorrow (Friday) and if he can do some things tomorrow, we’ll just take it day-to-day here. You ask him, he’ll tell you, but he looks better to me."

*Carriker missed practice Thursday because of an ankle injury. Haslett said Carriker is "iffy" to play in Sunday's game against New England. Added Haslett, “He wants to play. I know it’s a lot better today, but I don’t know if it will be good enough.”

*Stanley, who suffered a concussion against Dallas, was cleared to practice and play Thursday, and did some work with the first unit. Said Haslett, “We’ll see how he is tomorrow and decide on what we’re going to do with him in the game.”

*Pace had another practice without problems and is expected to start Sunday after missing the Dallas game because of a quadriceps injury. "Last week it was not looking so good, but this week it feels better," he said. "I can move it around a lot better, so I will be in there on Sunday.”

*Yes, equipment manager Todd Hewitt changed the 2 to a 3, so the sign in the locker room now says, "503 wins and counting." That is the total number of wins in franchise history. Said the confident Hewitt, "I left a tip on the 3 so it can be pulled off easier."

*Former Rams tight end Dominique Byrd recently completed a three-game suspension from the league for violating the personal conduct policy. The suspension was served even though Byrd was not on a team roster at the time.

*The decision by Linehan to release cornerback Fakhir Brown has left the Rams with three potential unrestricted free agents in the secondary. Brown had two more full years (2009 and 2010) left on his contract when he was released, and returned on a contract for the rest of this season. Other potential free agents are Atogwe and cornerback Ron Bartell.