March 18, 2007

Jim Thomas
For Sporting News



PERSONNEL ANALYSIS

With the team's offseason conditioning program underway, several Rams will be limited in their work because of surgery, including WR Torry Holt (knee), C Andy McCollum (knee), LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (shoulder) and DE James Hall (shoulder). McCollum, for one, is progressing well and remains back in the picture at center even though Brett Romberg played well late in the season. McCollum is progressing well and will have at least have a chance to compete for the starting job he has held most of the past seven seasons.

Even with the addition of Drew Bennett, the departures of free agents Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald mean there will be an opening for a fourth wide receiver. The No. 4 WR has a lesser role in Scott Linehan's offense, as compared to the "Air Martz" attack under Mike Martz. Nonetheless, it's an opening for veteran Dane Looker to have a greater role next season, or for youngsters Marques Hagans and Dominique Thompson to earn a roster spot. Looker caught 47 passes as a slot receiver on the Rams' last division championship squad (in 2003). But he has caught only 36 passes in three seasons since then and none last season. Hagans and Thompson spent the '06 season on the practice squad. Hagans, a fifth-round draft pick a year ago, is a converted college quarterback who has made strides learning the receiver spot under position coach Henry Ellard. Hagans also has some return skills, but he lacks breakaway speed. Thompson has spent most of the past two seasons on the practice squad, but has decent size and has shown flashes of promise on the practice field.

DRAFT BUZZ

The Rams are almost locked into taking a defensive lineman--especially a defensive tackle--in the first round, or at least early in the draft. Other than trade a fifth-round pick to Detroit for DE James Hall, the Rams have done nothing to shore up a run defense that finished 31st in the league last season. Coach Scott Linehan has attended campus pro days to watch Nebraska DE Adam Carriker, Arkansas DE Jamaal Anderson and Michigan DT Alan Branch. Carriker and Anderson are arguably the best every-down DEs in the draft, so even though they would not help the Rams' most pressing need--nose tackle--they would help shore up the run defense. Carriker is big enough and strong enough to play inside at times. Branch isn't expected to be there at No. 13. But there is some concern about him being an underachiever in college, which could cause him to slide on draft day.