May 13, 2007

Jim Thomas
For Sporting News

The quicker rookie Brian Leonard picks up the playbook, the wider his role will be in Rams offense. Leonard needs to learn both the running back and fullback positions. In order to maximize his pass-catching abilities, he needs to not only understand the team's passing game, but quickly earn the trust of QB Marc Bulger. Just as important, Leonard must gain a working knowledge of the team's pass-protection schemes and show his mettle as a blocker. . . .

Negotiations with Bulger's agent on a contract extension continue quietly behind the scenes. Ideally, the Rams would like a new contract before the start of the '07 season, after which Bulger is scheduled for to become an unrestricted free agent. In his first season as Rams head coach, Scott Linehan quickly learned to appreciate Bulger's accuracy, toughness and intelligence running his offense. Bulger made the difficult transition from the risk-taking offensive style of Mike Martz to Linehan's philosophy of taking care of the football and reducing interceptions.

SCOUTING REPORT: Tye Hill proved he could play in the NFL as a rookie last season. Now, he must take the next step and show he's one of the league's better cornerbacks. Hill's greatest asset is pure speed; he's fast enough to close quickly on receivers and recover if beaten on a move. He has tenacity, which helps him overcome his lack of size (5-10, 185). But Hill still needs to work on technique and footwork. The better position he puts himself in, the more his lack of height becomes a nonfactor. Hill needs to reduce his number of missed tackles and become an effective wrap-up tackler.

POSITION BATTLE: With the exception of the 2003 season, when he played left guard, Andy McCollum has begun each season this decade as the Rams starting center. But McCollum suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2006 season opener. Although the rehab is going well, McCollum turns 37 in June, and the Rams like what they saw from youngster Brett Romberg, who started the final three games of the season. The Rams won all three of those games and ran the ball extremely well. McCollum must show he's healthy to regain his job. If Romberg wins out, McCollum still has value as a backup center/guard swing player.

DEFENSIVE ENDS ANALYSIS: B- Leonard Little remains one of the NFL's best pass rushers, but he has routinely faced chip-blocking and double-teams over the past few years. James Hall was acquired from Detroit for a fifth-round draft pick in the hopes he can provide a much-needed complementary pass rush on the right side. Unexpectedly thrust into a starting role a year ago, Victor Adeyanju is a high-motor player whose strength is run defense. Rookie Adam Carriker will play end in certain situations. The team is still looking for a situational pass rusher, with Raonall Smith and Eric Moore currently the leading candidates.