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Rams Season Awards: The Wagonerians
Tuesday, January 9, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
It was a season of many ups and downs for the Rams that, fittingly, ended with an 8-8 record. But there were plenty of bright spots along the way that bode well for the future.
So, with the selected few teams around the league preparing for postseason play we present The Wagonerians, our awards to the best and brightest that Rams football had to offer in the 2006 season.
MVP: RB Steven Jackson – Who else? This was the year the offense officially transitioned from being a pass happy, vertically inclined attack to a balanced offense featuring a power back. Jackson was up to the task of becoming the centerpiece of the offense, putting together one of the finest seasons a Rams running back has ever had.
By the time it was all said and done, Jackson became the first running back not named Dickerson to rush for more than 1,500 yards. He finished the season with 2,334 yards from scrimmage to lead the league, even besting likely MVP LaDainian Tomlinson.
Jackson posted 1,528 rushing yards (fifth in the NFL), 16 touchdowns (tied for third), 90 receptions (tied for seventh) and 105 first downs (second).
Perhaps more important, Jackson finished the season without missing a game for the first time in his young career which led to his first Pro Bowl berth. For a guy who has talked the talk since his arrival in St. Louis, Jackson walked the walk and answered any lingering questions about who the franchise is heading into the future.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Marc Bulger – While Jackson was busy establishing himself as one of the dominant forces in the NFL, Bulger was quietly putting together his best season.
Bulger also was healthy for a full season, which helped him start every game for the first time in his career. He capitalized on that opportunity to land his second Pro Bowl berth.
Bulger finished seventh in quarterback rating at 92.9 with 4,301 yards and 24 touchdowns. The most impressive statistic, though, was Bulger’s eight interceptions on 588 attempts.
For a player who was brought up in an offense that encouraged risk taking and accepted turnovers, Bulger adjusted to new coach Scott Linehan’s system and began to take checkdowns. That helped Jackson get more involved in the passing game and boosted the passing game.
Oh, by the way, Bulger became a vocal leader this year too. After a home loss to Arizona, Bulger let his teammates know that the mistakes plaguing the team were unacceptable. It’s no coincidence the team finished strong after Bulger’s comments.
Defensive Player of the Year: DE Leonard Little – You could make a strong case for linebacker Will Witherspoon, but Little was the one constant force making a difference defensively this season. Little posted 13 sacks, the second best total of his career. He also forced seven fumbles and made big plays at big times such as his knocking the ball away from Green Bay’s Brett Favre to preserve a win at the beginning of the season.
All of that despite the fact that Little was a constant source of attention from opposing offenses. With little pass rush being generated from any other position, Little often faced double and triple teams.
The fact that Little didn’t get a Pro Bowl bid was a bit of a disappointment, but he belongs in the same breath as the best pass rushers the league has to offer. The Rams re-signed him during the season, a big move to keep one of the defense’s building blocks for the long term.
Special Teams Player of the Year: P Matt Turk – Apologies to kicker Jeff Wilkins who is consistently excellent and had another big season, but he loses points for being so good on a yearly basis. But Turk gets this award for a number of reasons.
Punter has been a position of consistent inconsistency since the team arrived in St. Louis. This season, Turk seemed to finally bring the stability the team has long needed to the spot.
He finished with a net average of 38.3 yards per punt, but his hang time and angle kicking has been particularly good. He pinned 26 punts inside the 20 and even made an impressive first down run on fourth and long against Oakland in late December.
Turk is an unrestricted free agent this season, but expect the Rams to do their best to keep him in St. Louis.
Rookie of the Year: CB Tye Hill – In a close call against guard Mark Setterstrom, Hill wins because of his extended playing time. Hill started the season as the team’s nickel back, but moved into the starting spot opposite Fakhir Brown when Travis Fisher was lost for the season with a broken arm.
Hill struggled a bit at the beginning as most rookies do, but there was no doubt that he laid the foundation for a bright future in the NFL with his performance down the stretch.
Although he missed a few tackles, Hill is more than willing to stick his nose in and lay a hit and his coverage improved as the year went on. He should be penciled in as one of the starters going into 2007.
Most Improved: S Oshiomogho Atogwe – Atogwe’s rookie season amounted to little more than a redshirt year as he didn’t get much playing time on defense until the season’s final game.
This offseason, Atogwe prided himself on preparing for taking over the starting free safety spot. He hit some rough patches early with some missed coverages and poor pursuit angles, but by the end of the season Atogwe was a legitimate ball hawking safety with a chance to make a difference for a long time.
Atogwe finished with 91 tackles which was third on the team, added six forced fumbles, three interceptions, a sack and a fumble recovery. His propensity for knocking the ball loose helped the Rams to one of the best turnover totals in the league.
If Atogwe continues to improve at this rate, he has Pro Bowl potential.
Best Play: WR Torry Holt’s 67-yard touchdown catch against Seattle – There were plenty of big plays and amazing performances from Rams this season including Will Witherspoon’s pass deflections to preserve games or Leonard Little’s forced fumble to beat Green Bay or any number of impressive runs by Jackson.
But there was nary a play that at the time it was made and in the fashion it was made that would surpass what Holt did on that October day against Seattle.
Trailing late in the game, coach Scott Linehan called Crush X7 Pump, a play designed to isolate receivers on safeties. In this case, it was Holt on Seattle free safety Michael Boulware. Bulger pump faked and Holt made a quick jab move that he would say later wasn’t one of his best. The offensive line gave Bulger plenty of time to throw and he floated a deep pass over Holt’s left shoulder with Boulware close behind. Holt reached back and grabbed at the ball, but couldn’t haul it in directly.
Holt’s momentum carried him forward and the ball went backward as Holt reached back with his right hand and hauled it in. Boulware fell to the ground and Holt raced in for an astonishing 67-yard touchdown. The Rams couldn’t hold on to that lead, but Holt’s play will be remembered for a long time.
Best Mentor: RB Stephen Davis – Apologies to Corey Chavous, who was a steadying and excellent influence on all of the young defensive backs, but Davis’ work with Jackson was the most influential and important work done by any veteran on the roster.
Davis filled the role as Jackson’s backup this season, but more than that served as a mentor capable of showing Jackson how to elevate his game from good to great. Clearly, Jackson was the MVP of the team, but Davis was the man behind the man.
Jackson credits Davis with showing him how to get his pad level down and run “behind his pads” (squaring up to the line and running north and south). Along the way, Davis never took credit for anything and was a positive locker room influence. He even contributed as a solid short yardage back.
Although Davis doesn’t have the ability to carry the load anymore, his presence was no less important.
Re: Rams Season Awards: The WagoneriansJackson credits Davis with showing him how to get his pad level down and run “behind his pads” (squaring up to the line and running north and south). Along the way, Davis never took credit for anything and was a positive locker room influence. He even contributed as a solid short yardage back.