By Jim Thomas
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

With a defense that could feature six or more new starters on opening day, the Rams are hoping to develop team chemistry starting with the offseason conditioning program. One of the reasons the team signed SS Corey Chavous and DT La'Roi Glover is their leadership skills. Both veterans could help a rebuilt defense come together under new coordinator Jim Haslett. Besides athletic skills and production, head coach Scott Linehan searched for intangibles such as work ethic, intelligence and leadership in signing free agents. He felt the defense, in particular, needed leadership. Chavous, Glover and LB Will Witherspoon should fill that bill. . . . RB Tony Fisher is an instant upgrade over the departed Arlen Harris as the team's No. 3 running back. Fisher has served as the Packers' third-down back for most of his four NFL seasons, and he has been a steady, reliable performer. Fisher lacks the explosiveness of some third-down specialists--he simply isn't that fast. But he is a very good blocker, which is important on blitz pickup in passing situations, and he is a good receiver. He has good size (6-1, 222) and is considered a very good special teams player, an area where Harris was so-so at best. . . . QB Marc Bulger has begun throwing and reports no discomfort in his throwing shoulder after two injuries in the AC joint cost him eight games last season. With the team in the midst of its offseason conditioning program, Bulger is placing extra emphasis on strengthening the muscles in the shoulder area during weight training. Because he sat out the final six games of the 2005 season, Bulger is further along than he was a year ago at this time, when he finished out the '04 season--including two playoff games--with a similar injury. . . . With C Andy McCollum and G Adam Timmerman both in their mid 30s, the Rams need production from Richie Incognito, a third-round draft pick a year ago who missed the entire '05 season coming off kneecap surgery. Incognito wants to compete for playing time at either guard or center, but he has plenty of rust to knock off. His weight is down to 295 pounds--more than 10 pounds lighter than his weight a year ago. Incognito feels this will create less stress on the knee, which is close to 100 percent, without costing him any strength.

HARD TRUTH: The Rams don't believe in putting much money into punters, and it has cost them in recent years. In the days of the Greatest Show on Turf, it didn't matter, because the offense was so prolific. That's no longer the case, and the Rams are losing valuable field position in the punting game. After passing on free-agent P Jason Baker, who at 27 is coming off the best year of his career, the team opted instead for a cheaper alternative in Matt Turk. Turk, 37, missed the entire 2005 season with a groin injury. He has had a long and distinguished career, but his recent track record shows that his best days are behind him. Nothing against Turk, but for a team that has given plenty of lip service to improving its special teams play, it seems like an uninspired choice.