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  1. #1
    RamWraith's Avatar
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    Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    By Jim Corbett, USA TODAY

    St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson is surveying an NFC West landscape that has been dominated by the Seattle Seahawks the last three seasons. Then the man called "Action" Jackson hits his point as hard as a hole opening before him.

    "The NFC West is up for grabs," he says. "Seattle doesn't have a cushion anymore.

    "With us acquiring Dante Hall to help our return game, that's going to help us with field position. … Our offense is as potent as always. And our defense is catching up. I expect great things out of us this year."

    Looking for that surprise NFC team that could rise up? Then take a closer look at coach Scott Linehan's Rams.

    TABLE: Additions, subtractions in St. Louis

    Jackson and quarterback Marc Bulger epitomize the under-the-radar Rams as two of last season's most underappreciated Pro Bowl playmakers.


    NFL'S BEST: You grade the players by position

    With a league-best 2,334 total yards from scrimmage, the all-purpose Jackson outgained MVP LaDainian Tomlinson's 2,323 yards. Jackson's 90 receptions were three fewer than the total of team leader and perennial Pro Bowler Torry Holt and eight shy of the total of NFC leader Mike Furrey, a former Ram who now plays for the Detroit Lions.

    Bulger threw 24 touchdown passes and eight interceptions and completed 62.9% of his passes last season. With a career-best 4,301 passing yards, he was third behind Drew Brees (4,418) and Peyton Manning (4,397).

    "I'd rather be flying under the radar this time of year," Linehan says. "But I still like our chances."

    St. Louis started 4-1 but stalled for an 8-8 finish fueled by two last-second losses to Seattle. The Rams, San Francisco ***** and Arizona Cardinals spent the offseason doing everything possible to close the ever-narrowing gap on the Seahawks.

    The Rams added more weapons for Bulger, whose 64.4% career completion percentage is higher than Manning's 64% career mark. With his uncanny accuracy, Bulger proved an ideal fit for Linehan's balanced offensive system, which places a premium on ball security, power running and play-action passes that set up big-play chances.

    "All Marc's numbers speak for themselves," Linehan says. "The great thing about Marc, he's just a team player who does exactly what you ask the quarterback to do.

    "As we keep surrounding him with players who can help him, he'll get the credit he deserves. He wants to win, and he's really, really stepped up his game big time."

    Now that Bulger has had a season to acclimate to Linehan's playbook, the quarterback could be more dangerous.

    "Last year could have been a tough year for him learning a new system," Linehan says. "But he embraced it and had a great year."

    The Rams signed free agent wide receiver Drew Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael and traded for return specialist Hall in the offseason to aid Bulger's cause.

    At 6-5, Bennett is a big receiver with a knack for big plays, and he brings a new element to the field behind smaller, quicker starters Holt and Isaac Bruce.

    "Drew adds a little different dimension with his size," Linehan says. "He fits our offensive philosophy for making big plays. This guy has always found ways to be a big-play guy."

    Linehan jumped at the chance to sign McMichael, whom he coached in 2005 as the Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator.

    "Randy wasn't even on our minds," Linehan says. "Then Miami let him go for salary-cap reasons. How many times do you get a chance to add one of the top 10 tight ends?

    "Plus, Randy knew our offense and brings a lot of experience and toughness to our team."

    On top of those newfound riches, Linehan drafted Rutgers' multifaceted Brian Leonard— who possesses sure hands and the versatility to be a lead blocker for Jackson and the ability to spell him at tailback — in the second round.

    Linehan envisions a sudden impact from Leonard, who unselfishly transitioned to fullback during his senior season when his blocking and receiving were big reasons the Scarlet Knights went 11-2.

    "Brian is an all-purpose player — a backup to Steven — who can be a fullback, a tailback, can play third-down back and help us on special teams," Linehan says. "He has great hands. At the combine, he didn't drop a ball, and there were some top receivers drafted who dropped some balls."

    Defensively, Linehan believes he plugged a leaky, 31st-ranked run defense with versatile, 6-6, 300-pound Nebraska defensive lineman Adam Carriker, whom the Rams drafted 13th overall.

    Realistic hopes for a Rams title run start with stopping the run. Carriker is a high-motor space eater with 4.7 speed and strong hands to keep blockers off linebackers Will Witherspoon, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Brandon Chillar. Carriker is penciled in at nose tackle, with veteran La'Roi Glover set at the other tackle.

    "La'Roi is starting at our 3-technique tackle," Linehan says. "Carriker is playing nose and can play 3-technique. He's going to find his way into our opening-day starting lineup. He's very strong and has probably the best hands of any D-lineman in the draft, which helps him play the run and shed blocks. He understands he has to occupy people, take on two blockers and has the ability to run down the line and make the tackle."

    And this all gives Linehan reason for optimism as he echoes Jackson's assessment that the NFC West is anybody's ballgame.

    "We have a very competitive division," Linehan says. "We lost to Seattle on two last-second field goals. We split with San Francisco and Arizona."

    With that type of parity, it should be a wide-open race.

    "I hate to be so simple," Linehan adds, "but the team that makes the least amount of mistakes is going to win this division."

    AROUND THE FIELD IN ST. LOUIS

    Quarterback: Marc Bulger is as accurate as they come, a master at parachuting 25-yard throws into windows in zone coverage. He is entering the final year of his contract, but coach Scott Linehan says the Rams have every intention of locking Bulger up long term. Gus Frerotte is an experienced insurance policy.

    Running back: They don't come much better than Steven Jackson, who rushed for 1,528 yards in 2006. Second-round pick Brian Leonard provides another check-down option for Bulger and can occasionally spell Jackson.

    Wide receiver: Torry Holt is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery and turns 31 next month but remains arguably the league's most fluid route runner. Isaac Bruce turns 35 in November. Still, the pair show no signs of slowing down. Former Tennessee Titan Drew Bennett, at 6-5, affords Bulger a nice third-down and red-zone target.

    Tight end: Randy McMichael averaged 57 catches over five seasons with the Miami Dolphins. Joe Klopfenstein should be better in a complementary role.

    Offensive line: Guards Mark Setterstrom and Richie Incognito finished the season strong. Orlando Pace and Alex Barron are a very good tackle tandem when healthy, though Pace is coming off a triceps injury. Andy McCollum, back from a knee injury, will try to reclaim the center job from undersized Brett Romberg. Rookie Dustin Fry can back up at center and guard.

    Defensive line: A lot depends on first-round pick Adam Carriker patching the pothole in the middle, though he can play anywhere on the defensive front. La'Roi Glover, Claude Wroten and Jimmy Kennedy could form quite an inside rotation along with Carriker. The trade for veteran end James Hall should help take double-team pressure off left end Leonard Little, last season's sacks leader with 13.

    Linebacker: Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett values speed over size. With Carriker tying up blockers, linebackers Brandon Chillar, Will Witherspoon and Pisa Tinoisamoa should have more freedom to run and hit. Free agent addition Chris Draft led the Carolina Panthers with 111 tackles.

    Secondary: Tye Hill, Fakhir Brown and Ronald Bartell are a solid trio of young corners. Third-round selection Jonathan Wade's 4.36 speed will be accentuated on the Rams' fast track, and he figures to push for playing time. Free safety O.J. Atogwe and veteran strong safety Corey Chavous are solid.

    Special teams: Jeff Wilkins made 32 of 37 field goals in 2006 and is still going strong entering his 14th season. Punter Donnie Jones led the NFL with a 39.5-yard net average in 2005 before falling off somewhat last year with Miami. Still, he's an upgrade over Matt Turk. Dante Hall brings breakaway potential to return teams that disappointed last season.

    Coaching staff: Linehan has given Bulger more weapons to make the Rams more potent in the red zone. Linehan ceded play-calling to offensive coordinator Greg Olson, a move that panned out. Haslett should craft a better pass rush with the multidimensional Carriker on board.

    Outlook: The Rams potentially upgraded a 10th-ranked scoring offense that averaged 22.9 points. But how improved a 31st-ranked run defense is remains the key in a division featuring Shaun Alexander, Frank Gore and Edgerrin James.

    BREAKING DOWN THE RAMS
    Last season: 8-8, second place in the NFC West, missed playoffs


  2. #2
    itsguud's Avatar
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    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    Good to see a story like this come from out-side STL for once. I'm glad to see they finally are catching on to the 08 Superbowl Rams

  3. #3
    IzzyHigh1212 Guest

    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    Is it just me, but doe Steven seem like our most vocal player?
    Ahh..I love him haha

  4. #4
    RealRam's Avatar
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    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    Good read! I hope the local crowd at the EJD is also preparing to make NOISE big time! :r

  5. #5
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    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    I liked it also the only notable thing I saw was he forgot the biggest sleeper of all Claude Terrell he could push Setterstrom for a starting spot or if both play well enough they may entertain the idea of moving Incognito back to the center position to get the three best OL on the the field. I know it would be a long shot that they move Cogs back to C with Fry, Romberg, and McCollum all battling to start there already. This OL battle is going to be interesting we have some talented players. I also liked the way Steussie played last year and he was not mentioned either as a backup to OT or OG. I can't wait to see this OL in action. IMO if we remain healthy this OL has the potential to rival the OL we had during our Super Bowl runs.
    Last edited by RamsSB99; -06-08-2007 at 11:52 PM.

  6. #6
    Keenum's Avatar
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    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    Great read! And we still have... like 2 months before football

  7. #7
    Rexi Guest

    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    Quote Originally Posted by Keenum View Post
    Great read! And we still have... like 2 months before football
    Not cool..........

  8. #8
    RamOfDenmark Guest

    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    How the hell do you stop our offense this year? My first idea would be to blitz and bring a lot of heat in Bulger's face fast, but with McMichael and Steven Jackson (and Brian Leonard in some packages) as safety valves in the passing game I don't think it's going to work. Obviously you can't stand back in a nickel or dime package and wait for it, Holt & Bruce will burn you for sure, and then you add Bennett to the equation, wow.

    Guys call me cocky if you must, but we're unstoppable on offense this year

  9. #9
    RamsSB99's Avatar
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    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    Quote Originally Posted by RamOfDenmark View Post
    How the hell do you stop our offense this year? My first idea would be to blitz and bring a lot of heat in Bulger's face fast, but with McMichael and Steven Jackson (and Brian Leonard in some packages) as safety valves in the passing game I don't think it's going to work. Obviously you can't stand back in a nickel or dime package and wait for it, Holt & Bruce will burn you for sure, and then you add Bennett to the equation, wow.

    Guys call me cocky if you must, but we're unstoppable on offense this year
    I agree with you. The running game will only get better this year since we have Pace and McCollum back healthy, all the young OL guys are coming along great, we added another FB and TE that can help out blocking, and Bennett is more of a blocking WR. That don't even include the FB, TE, and WR add another dimension to our passing game.

  10. #10
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    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    We have two "Bergs", the other being Adam Goldberg who came along nicely late in lieu of Orlando. Gotta love the alliteration.

    Adam's as big as Pace and younger than Stusse
    Last edited by live4ramin; -06-09-2007 at 03:34 PM. Reason: I thought what the hell.
    "The horror"

  11. #11
    THEFIELDGOAL Guest

    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    Let's get it straight. The 2008 Rams are pure fire power on paper. But we all know that once the games are played the teams are a different story. Last years hype the Arizona Cardinals were no different. It did not matter on the new QB.
    So for the Rams. Yes we do have lots of proven veteran players that are explosive. But defensively Haslett must improve it to a top 15 or 20 this year in order for us to make a huge playoff push.
    Overall i am happy with front office work with quality acquisitions. And the overall strategy of Coach Linehan's draft work.
    So i guess last years frustrations from the fans has been heard in the organization.

  12. #12
    blood85 Guest

    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    Offensively we are set. I think the question most of us will continue to ask is, can the defense improve? I agree, unless the defense improves to somewhere in the middle of the pack (like 14,15 or 16) we are not going to make any noise in the 2007 season. First things first, our defense has to be able to stop the offenses in our division, the NFC WEST. After that, I really like our chances.

  13. #13
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    Re: Rams set to make noise again in the NFC West

    The offense can help the defense improve. If the Rams O put points on the board early, the pressure falls on the opposition offense to score, and not on our defense to stop them. That leads to mistakes for the opposition and turnovers for our defense.

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