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Aside from trying to win games, coach Steve Spagnuolo had one thing he stressed from the first day he was hired last January: Concentrate on "team first" and building an atmosphere that had that as the main goal.
The Rams won only one game during the season, but Spagnuolo insists the team goal was met. Now he knows what has to be done to create wins for an organization that has won just six games in three seasons.

Rookie middle linebacker James Laurinaitis likes what was accomplished and says the young talent will only get better.

"I think we have a lot of talent on this team," Laurinaitis said. "If you look at a lot of the games this year, they could've gone other ways. I think we have great coaches. Another year together, it's going to be something good. There's definitely a lot of competitiveness in this group."

It was also a unique year for Laurinaitis, who didn't lose many games during his entire college career at Ohio State, much less 15 in one season.

"It's very easy to play 100 percent when you're winning and things are rolling and the crowd's into it, and stuff like that," he said. "But when you're down and things get out of control, that's when it's very easy to pack it in. I think I learned a lot about myself this year. I've never been put in that (losing) situation except for a few times in college. You can tell who really cares by who really keeps trying in those moments."

Cornerback Ron Bartell was an unrestricted free agent last March and was being wooed by the Saints. After meeting Spagnuolo, Bartell elected to re-sign with the Rams. Does he regret it, considering New Orleans was 13-3 this past season and earned the top seed in the NFC playoffs?

He said, "When I re-signed, I knew it wasn't going to be an overnight thing. I got into it for the long haul. So I knew it was going to take time. We still have the right people in place. I totally, firmly believe that. I think I made the best decision for me. I still think we can get this thing turned around."

Of course, he acknowledged how tough the season was.

"It was extremely difficult," Bartell said. "With all the changes we made, you definitely didn't see that coming. But it is what it is. We put ourselves in this position. The only thing we can do now is move forward."

Bartell also likes the talent on the roster.

"We have a good mix of young guys that are willing to learn, and veterans that are willing to lead," he said. "Not a lot of egos. Everybody's playing for the same goal. We didn't accomplish that, of course, but I think in the end we all just stuck together."

Said veteran James Hall, who has played 10 seasons in the NFL and will be an unrestricted free agent in March, "It was a pleasure playing with these guys. Each locker room is different. And I've been in some bad ones. I've been in some good ones. So you try to stay with the good ones."

Of course, as running back Steven Jackson noted, there is much that still has to happen for improvement to occur. Said Jackson, "We have a lot of work to get done. We have a lot of things that need to get turned around. ... Something has to turn. What we've done this year is not enough. We've got to work harder."

NOTES, QUOTES

—Steve Spagnuolo said there are no plans for changes on his coaching staff. When asked about that after the season ended, Spagnuolo said, "No, not right now."

While Spagnuolo said everything would be evaluated, he added, "You just don't jump ship on process, schemes, people. There'll be some tweaking. But there won't be a major change here. You don't do that. You stick with what you believe in. If you didn't believe in it, you shouldn't have put it in in the first place. But we're going to be smart about it and see if there's anywhere in there that we need to improve or change or adjust, and we'll definitely do that. We won't be stubborn about it."

—Since the end of the season, the Rams have signed four players who ended the season on their practice squad, along with another who was also with them during the season.

Signed from the practice squad were defensive end Sean Conover, CB Marcus Brown, G Mark Lewis and C/G Drew Miller. Also added was LB Dominic Douglas, who played in four games during two periods on the active roster during the season.

—The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that QB Marc Bulger is considering retirement. However, in the same story, it was also said Bulger had reportedly talked to a friend on another NFL team about the potential of playing there.

Bulger has four years remaining on his contract, and he is scheduled to be paid $8.5 million in 2010.

His agents said they have heard nothing from Bulger indicating he might not be interested in playing anymore.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "If you look across the league, most of these playoff teams are very experienced teams and have been together for quite some time. That's why I hope they can keep all of us together in this system under this coaching staff, so we can grow and keep getting the morale and the camaraderie up, so we can do something special around here. Because the city deserves it. The fans deserve it. And most of all, the players deserve it." — NT Clifton Ryan, on the current state of the Rams.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Keith Null. Backups — Kyle Boller, Mike Reilly. Injured reserve — Marc Bulger.

Of all the decisions the Rams have to make this offseason, quarterback has to be tops on the list. Bulger has been battered the last three seasons, and he is scheduled to be paid $8.5 million in 2010. Boller played on a one-year contract, and he showed why the Ravens gave up on him. Null showed some promise in four starts, but a lack of play-makers in the receiving corps makes it difficult to judge any of the quarterbacks. Reilly was signed in the second half of the season, and he will at least be around to compete heading to training camp. If Bulger and Bulger aren't brought back, the question is whether the Rams will sign another veteran or select a quarterback in the first three rounds and let the young guys battle it out.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters — RB Steven Jackson, FB Mike Karney. Backups — Kenneth Darby, Chris Ogbonnaya, Samkon Gado.

Jackson played the last part of the season with a herniated disk in his back, missing only one of the final six games. His injury accentuated the need for a true backup who can carry the load when he's not available. Darby has some skill, but he isn't an every-down back. Ogbonnaya showed some flashes when he played in the final two games. Gado is mostly a contributor on special teams. Karney dealt with some injuries during the season, but when healthy, he was showing his ability as a lead blocker for Jackson.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Randy McMichael. Backup — Billy Bajema. Injured reserve — Daniel Fells.

McMichael will be an unrestricted free agent and isn't expected to return. Entering the season, he was expected to be a focal point of the offense because of the inexperience at wide receiver, but he simply dropped too many passes and failed to gain the confidence of the quarterbacks. Fells has shown big-play ability at times, but he has yet to exhibit the consistency necessary as a blocker and receiver to be a starter. Bajema is a solid blocker and has good hands but isn't a threat as a receiver.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Donnie Avery, Brandon Gibson. Backups — Danny Amendola, Ruvell Martin, Jordan Kent, Cord Parks. Injured reserve — Laurent Robinson, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster.

This group has a bunch of complementary players but no one who is a consistent play-maker. Avery should be, but his lack of consistency in route-running as well as durability questions reduce his overall value. Robinson was emerging as the class of the unit, but his season ended in the third game of the season. Gibson, acquired in an Oct. 20 trade with Philadelphia, was showing signs of developing when Bulger was playing. After he was injured on Nov. 22 against Arizona, Gibson's production tailed off except for one outstanding touchdown reception. Burton was also finally showing some progress when his season was ended by an injury. Amendola is solid in the slot, but nothing more. Foster could be the wild card. A fifth-round pick in 2009, his season ended in training camp, but he has speed and will need a strong offseason to get back on the radar.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LT Alex Barron, LG Mark Setterstrom, C Jason Brown, RG John Greco, RT Adam Goldberg. Backups — T Jason Smith, G Roger Allen III, T Phil Trautwein, T Eric Young, T Ryan McKee. Injured reserve — G Jacob Bell.

Just when the line was starting to jell and looking as if it might have some stability, everything fell apart. Smith suffered a concussion on Nov. 22 and didn't play another game. Brown played the last several games with an injured knee, but he is the leader of the line and is a Pro Bowl alternate. Bell suffered a torn hamstring on Dec. 6 against Tennessee, the same game in which G Richie Incognito drew two personal-foul penalties. Incognito was waived two days later. Setterstrom replaced Bell, then missed the final game of the season because of a torn triceps. Even Setterstrom's replacement, the rookie Allen, tore his ACL in the season finale. Barron has never been as good as he can be, but he is durable. Without a salary cap, he will be a restricted free agent, so the Rams have a decision to make there. Goldberg can play anywhere on the line, and he spent most of the season at right tackle because of Smith's injuries. Greco, a third-round pick in 2008, started the last three games of the season. Smith likely will slide to left tackle, meaning Barron won't return, leaving a question mark at right tackle.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters — DLE Chris Long, T Darell Scott, NT Clifton Ryan, DRE James Hall. Backups — E Leonard Little, E Victor Adeyanju, E James Wyche, T LaJuan Ramsey, T Leger Douzable. Injured reserve — T Adam Carriker, T Gary Gibson, E C.J. Ah You.

More decisions need to be made here. Little, who missed the end of the season because of an infected knee, and Hall will both be unrestricted free agents. Will the Rams re-sign one ... or both ... or neither? Long was solid all season against the run, and he started becoming a difference-maker in the second half of the season. His second season in Spagnuolo's defense should produce even more improvement. Adeyanju will be a restricted free agent without a salary cap. He's a work-hard guy with little pass-rush ability, and he was inactive for the first six games of the season. The tackle spot was very young and somewhat depleted after Carriker and Gibson were injured. Scott came on in the second half of the season, while Douzable and Ramsey showed some promise.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — SLB David Vobora, MLB James Laurinaitis, WLB Paris Lenon. Backups — Chris Chamberlain, Larry Grant, K.C. Asiodu.

One of the brightest spots in an otherwise forgettable season was the play of Laurinaitis, who not only led the team in tackles, but also became the quarterback of the defense in his rookie season. Now, the talent has been improved around him. Chris Draft was released six days before the start of the regular season, and Will Witherspoon was traded on Oct. 20. Lenon was signed and was solid, but nothing more. Vobora missed four games because of a league suspension, and he needs a lot of improvement. Chamberlain is the team's best special teams player, while Grant and Asiodu are also average backups.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — CB Ron Bartell, CB Justin King, SS James Butler, FS Craig Dahl. Backups — CB Jonathan Wade, CB Quincy Butler, CB Danny Gorrer, S Clinton Hart, S David Roach. Injured reserve — FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, CB Bradley Fletcher, S Eric Bassey.

Bartell was affected all season by an injury to his quadriceps muscle, but he is still a very good player. The biggest disappointment came when Fletcher was lost for the season only a few games after being inserted as a starter. There is a question, but it is hoped he will be healthy by the start of training camp. After the training-camp trade of Tye Hill, several others were given a chance. Wade was first in as a starter, lost his job to Fletcher and then couldn't even get on the field as a nickel back until the season finale. King showed some promise in what was essentially his rookie season after missing all of 2008 with a toe injury. Quincy Butler made plays in the preseason but very few when he played in regular season. Gorrer, signed off the Saints' practice squad, showed some spunk in some late-season action, but he was very raw. James Butler added stability to the secondary, while Atogwe was fine until missing the final four games because of a shoulder injury.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Josh Brown, P Donnie Jones, LS Ryan Neill, KR Danny Amendola. Injured reserve — LS Chris Massey.

The special teams were a bright spot all season. Brown missed some kicks early but settled down after that. Jones again was one of the better punters in the league, but he missed out again on the Pro Bowl. Neill replaced the injured Massey, and nothing seemed to be affected. Amendola gave some spark to the return game, but if he had more speed, he might have found the end zone a couple of times.