4/21/2006

By Jim Thomas
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

New coach Scott Linehan emphasized the basics at the first of three minicamps. Linehan appears to be detail oriented, so the team went over everything from how to line up in the huddle, to the snap count, to how plays are called, to how he wants players to shift and go in motion. Linehan wants a quick tempo in practice and a quick tempo in games. All of this will be stressed in the spring as the team gets to know its new coach and his staff. Linehan hopes one byproduct of getting the little things right will be better execution in games and, in turn, fewer busted assignments. . . .

The addition of free-agent OL Todd Steussie (from Tampa Bay) gives the Rams a veteran third offensive tackle, who even at this late stage of his career can step in for a few games should something happen to either RT Alex Barron or LT Orlando Pace. Steussie should be an upgrade over recent third tackles Rex Tucker, Matt Willig and Grant Williams. There is a familiarity factor because the Rams' new offensive line coach worked with Steussie at one time in Carolina. Steussie also could step in at guard in a pinch should injuries dip into the depth chart there. The Rams still must try to develop a young tackle for the fourth spot, but that's a need they now can attempt to fill either late in the draft or through a rookie free agent or two. . . .

LBs Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and Dexter Coakley (ankle, leg), C Andy McCollum (knee, shoulders), and G Adam Timmerman (knee) aren't yet ready to go full bore in a minicamp setting but still are getting mental reps in Linehan's system. TE Brandon Manumaleuna isn't off to a good start with his new head coach after choosing to stay at home on the West Coast -- as usual -- and missing the first month of the team's offseason conditioning program. RB Marshall Faulk still is expected back for his 13th season but was excused from the team's first minicamp because of a conflict. He still isn't cleared to practice anyway after undergoing offseason arthroscopic surgery on both knees. Faulk's durability is more questionable than ever because of his now-chronic knee problems, which is one reason why the team seems intent on drafting a running back even with the offseason pickup of third-down back Tony Fisher from Green Bay.

SCOUTING REPORT: Unless they come up with an impact defensive end in the draft, the Rams are counting on Anthony Hargrove to have a breakout season. Raw and unpolished, Hargrove looks like a beast in practice with his speed, strength, athleticism and aggressiveness. But those attributes haven't transferred over to game day on a consistent basis. Hargrove lacks the instincts to be an effective player from down to down. Too often he'll bite on the play fake or get sucked into the backfield on a screen pass to his side. He still is relatively new to the position, having gone to college as a quarterback, sat out a year because of academics, and then turned pro a year early. But his level of play improved noticeably late last season. The Rams need him to pick up where he left off.

STOCK RISING: The Rams were nervous for a while because WR Kevin Curtis was drawing interest from Seattle as a restricted free agent. But that interest proved fleeting, and Curtis now has a chance to make his mark for Linehan. Curtis always had defense-stretching speed. He has improved his overall route running and his ability to catch those 50-50 balls in traffic. Once Isaac Bruce returned from a dislocated toe last year, Curtis seemed to become an afterthought in the offense. Linehan needs to keep Curtis involved in the offense no matter what else is going on and find a way to get the ball to both Bruce and Curtis, even with Torry Holt firmly established as the No. 1 option in the passing game.