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Thread: Rams Team Report
Rams Team Report
As the regular season begins, and with the division-rival Seattle Seahawks on the horizon, coach Steve Spagnuolo knows the team's 3-1 preseason record doesn't count for much.
"I'm perfectly aware that all of this is a honeymoon period," he said. "The real challenge is upcoming.
"It's nice to be 3-1 after the preseason, but like I told the players, the score counted when we played the games. It doesn't matter now. We're moving on. We came in and did what we thought as a group were the right things to do. But the real test is the regular season, winning and losing."
Even though Spagnuolo realizes building this team's roster in his image is a work in progress, he does like the team's mindset so far.
He said, "I think we've got a bunch of hungry guys. I think it's good to be hungry. It's a hungry football team that wants to be a team. We've talked a lot about it and I think the guys have embraced it. At least their actions and the attitudes and what comes out verbally says that to me. So if we can rally around that, that would be good."
Asked what he expects from his team, Spagnuolo said, "In a nutshell, I want a focused, disciplined, tough football team. We have certain measurements that we have after games that measure that focus, discipline and toughness. I blurt them out after every game and let them know if we met them. I think the team is starting to embrace that, too. We talk about it all the time."
"If you're a physically tough team, you're able to run the ball and stop the run."
Said guard Richie Incognito, "That's the identity we're trying to create. Physical up front, and get the running game going ... The coaches are calling it up, dialing it up and they're keeping it coming. We're pumped up, we're excited."
Former Rams coach Dick Vermeil would often say a coach "has to be believed to be heard." Spagnuolo sees a team that is listening and accepting leadership.
"That means a great deal," he said. "I thanked them the other night (before the final preseason game). The night before the game for what they did. Back in the offseason program, right through training camp, it was a new training camp. It was a different hotel and we're here. New staff, new this or that, and they didn't skip a beat. They really bought into it."
How much will the team improve from a two-win season? While Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney know there is a lot of work to do, they aren't willing to accept just minimal improvement.
"I don't think anybody here is saying, 'Boy, if we just double our win total, we'll be happy about that,'" Devaney said. "If we win four games, then we still stink.
"We're thinking we have a pretty good team. How fast it meshes and comes together, we're about to find out."
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd meeting. Seahawks lead series, 12-9. Seattle has won eight consecutive games in the series since the Rams won all three games in 2004, including a playoff victory in Seattle. The Seahawks have won the last two games in Seattle by a combined score of 70-19.
When training camp started, Chris Draft was the Rams' starting middle linebacker. After rookie James Laurinaitis was elevated to the first unit a few weeks into camp at that position, Draft moved to the strong side. Coaches always talked about Draft's veteran savvy and ability to play all three positions.
However, as the Rams reduced their roster last weekend, Draft was asked to take a pay cut from his $1.225 million salary to the minimum for his years of service of $845,000. Draft refused.
Thursday, his contract was terminated, leaving David Vobora as the starter on the strong side and with four backup linebackers aside from Will Witherspoon that have played a total of 40 NFL games with 12 starts. Quinton Culberson, who had been released four days earlier and was re-signed after Draft was cut, accounts for 30 of those games and 11 starts.
Said Draft, "I just really could not look at myself in the mirror if I agreed to do that; if I freely gave up that money."
Draft, who is a tireless worker in the community, noted that much of the money he makes goes to his foundation.
"I felt I had to take a stand for what I've done, what I'm doing (in the community)," he said. "They said because of their current salary-cap situation, that down the line with the incentives they needed to pay to other players they'd end up being over the cap. It's a business decision; they feel like they have to do it.
"The unfortunate thing is when it's business for them, it is all too personal to me."
Vobora and Larry Grant had been sharing time on the strong side when Draft was in the middle. Grant is currently sidelined by a knee injury, so Vobora will get the start this week against Seattle.
Said defensive coordinator Ken Flajole, "Only time will tell, but he's done a good job. He has been a pleasant surprise. I'm pleased that he is getting an opportunity to show what he can do. I'm sure he is too. Hopefully, he'll just take it and run."
The final pick of the 2008 draft, Vobora was asked how much Draft has helped him over the last year-plus.
"He's helped me a ton," Vobora said. "I definitely credit a lot of what I know, how I approach the game, how I approach practice, to him. So this opportunity is definitely big for me. I thank him for a lot of the stuff that he's helped me with."
Said Culberson, who noted the irony of having a job because Draft rejected a pay cut, said of Draft, "If you needed help, he would go out on a limb for you. He was more than willing to do something for one of his teammates."
—One of the long shots that made the 53-man roster is CB Quincy Butler, who came to the team off waivers from Dallas near the end of the 2008 season.
Butler had two interceptions in the preseason for 96 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown.
"He's made plays, been very productive," said coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "I think he's picked up the scheme pretty well."
Butler was even able to laugh when asked if he noticed safety James Butler's picture on the home scoreboard following the touchdown play against Kansas City.
"I saw that," he said. "Hopefully, after I make a few more plays, they'll know who I am."
—QB Keith Null, the team's sixth-round pick, made the roster after playing his college football at West Texas A&M. Null showed good arm strength and the ability to run the offense during the preseason.
"I'm very excited and very blessed," he said. Asked his reaction after realizing he made the team, Null said, "I just sat there for a while and said ... 'What?'"
WR Derek Stanley said he and his teammates saw something in Null.
"Obviously with a young guy, he's still got to get that experience and time on the field," Stanley said. "But he's got great talent, great upside, and I think he's going to be a good ballplayer in the league."
—A few surprises on the roster included safety David Roach instead of veteran Todd Johnson, and tackle Eric Young, who bested Renardo Foster and Phil Trautwein. Trautwein was claimed on waivers by Cleveland. C.J. Ah You made the team as the fifth defensive end. In fact, the Rams have an unusually high number of linemen: 10 each on offense and defense.
Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "Hey, they stepped up. Obviously, they performed well enough and caught our eye. For right now they are on the football team and we know this thing is forever changing. They deserve to be here.
"I told the guys this morning (Monday); I congratulated everybody first of all, for being on an NFL football team. It is special - not everybody can do that and then I told them that they should feel proud of it and never take it for granted. Coaches, players, should never take this for granted. It can be taken away like that (snaps fingers) and hopefully the message got through."
Young understands that. Admitting he was "stunned" to make the roster, he added, "You still have to approach every day, go out there and work as hard as you can and keep fighting. That's my mindset."
Roach missed several tackles in preseason games and was also flagged for some penalties on special teams.
He admitted, "I had some rough moments, and I also had some good moments. You can't really focus on the bad things when you're out there on the field. You have to have short-term memory, go to the next play and try to make a play the next play."
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 — Number of players 30 years old or older on the opening-day roster. That includes three defensive linemen (Hollis Thomas, Leonard Little and James Hall), along with quarterback Marc Bulger, kicker Josh Brown, long snapper Chris Massey and tight end Randy McMichael. The Rams had as many as 20 players that age last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This youngster's got the temperament, and he's got the passion, and he's bright. This guy's got it all. ... He really wants to be good. When you have a youngster like that, the sky's the limit. I would love to have been (coaching) with him for a few years." — Former Rams OL coach Jim Hanifan, now with the team's radio network, on rookie OT Jason Smith.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Rams were set to open the season with just four wide receivers and three running backs on the roster. They also have just five healthy linebackers with Larry Grant sidelined by a knee injury.
After the cut to 53, the Rams were awarded DT LaJuan Ramsey and S Anthony Smith on waivers from Tennessee and Green Bay, respectively. Ramsey was originally a sixth-round of the Eagles in 2006 when coach Steve Spagnuolo was Philadelphia's linebackers coach.
Said Spagnuolo, "I was fortunate enough to have been with LaJuan in Philadelphia his first year. It was his rookie year and one of the first things that did impress me was as a rookie defensive linemen he played both tackle and defensive end. I thought he did a nice job in the games at Tennessee this year and hopefully knowing a little bit of the system, of course I say that and it's been a little while since he's been in it, but we'll see how he goes."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
—LB Chris Draft's contract was terminated Thursday when he refused to take a $380,000 pay cut to the minimum for his years of service of $845,000. Draft opened training camp as the starting middle linebacker, and was then starting on the strong side when rookie James Laurinaitis became the starter in the middle.
—LB David Vobora, the last selection in the 2008 draft, will start at strong-side linebacker in the season opener against Seattle Sunday following the release of Chris Draft.
—LB Quinton Culberson, who originally made the 53-man roster, but was then waived the next day along with WR Nate Jones when the Rams added two players on waivers, was re-signed Thursday following the release of Chris Draft.
—LB Larry Grant, who was declared out Monday by coach Steve Spagnuolo because of a knee injury, had limited participation in practice Thursday and has not been totally ruled out for Sunday's game. Grant was competing with LB David Vobora on the strong side early in camp when Chris Draft was starting at middle linebacker.
—QB Marc Bulger took most of the first-team reps in practice Thursday and barring any setbacks will start Sunday against Seattle. Bulger has not played since the first preseason game because of a chip fracture of a bone in his right pinky.
—S Craig Dahl remains sidelined by a hamstring injury and appears to be questionable for Sunday's game against the Seahawks.
—RB Samkon Gado, the main backup to Steven Jackson, had full participation in practice Thursday after being limited the day before because of an injury to his ribs.
GAME PLAN: This one is fairly simple for the Rams. Feed the ball to RB Steven Jackson and keep feeding it. For the Rams to have a chance, they have to avoid long-yardage situations and have manageable third downs. Jackson, along with the wide receivers and tight ends, will be part of a distributive passing attack that spreads the ball around.
Defensively, the Rams hope to be aggressive and put pressure on QB Matt Hasselbeck, going against an offensive line that is a work in progress.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams RT Jason Smith, who is making the first start of his career, vs. Seahawks DLE Cory Redding. Seattle has moved Patrick Kerney to right end, but Redding is a formidable opponent for a rookie playing in one of the loudest stadiums in the league.
Rams CBs Ron Bartell and Jonathan Wade vs. Seahawks WRs T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Nate Burleson. Wade is starting for the departed Tye Hill, with Justin King expected to be the nickel back. The Seahawks have Deion Branch and rookie Deon Butler as their third and fourth receivers. The Rams will need to pressure Hasselbeck to keep him from picking the secondary apart.
INJURY IMPACT: DT Adam Carriker had surgery Sept. 9 to repair a 75 percent tear in the subscapularis muscle of his right shoulder. That muscle is the deepest muscle in the rotator cuff. Carriker was placed on injured reserve after suffering the injury in the final preseason game against Kansas City. The recovery time is estimated at four months.
Re: Rams Team Report
GOD, this is one young team.
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