Rams Team Report

By Jim Thomas
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Losing CB Jerametrius Butler for any amount of time, much less the entire season, would be a severe blow for a defense that had trouble creating turnovers in 2004 and for a secondary looking to establish its identity. The Rams had only six interceptions a year ago, and Butler accounted for all of them. His closing speed and athleticism allow him to get to some balls that others won't. Teams tried to pick on him deep last season but with little success. Butler could face surgery because of a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee suffered on the first day of camp. DeJuan Groce, Kevin Garrett, Corey Ivy, and Ron Bartell all could compete for Butler's spot. Dwight Anderson would have been in the mix, he had been the most impressive cornerback early in camp. But the team came to the conclusion that it just simply couldn't count on Anderson to be in the right place at the right time, after he missed curfew off the field, and forgot to be on the field during a simulated game on a play that resulted in a touchdown. The additions of DT John Parrella and T Matt Willig adds veteran presence to positions that needed depth. Parrella is a tough, high-motor, run stuffer who could be the fourth defensive tackle in the team's rotation. Willig may have to start right away, but eventually could settle in as the team's No. 3 or No. 4 offensive tackle. But both players are in their mid-30s and must prove in the preseason that they can still get it done.

NEWCOMER REPORT: At 6-1, 208, rookie CB Ron Bartell gives the Rams an element of size they have been missing at cornerback for years. That should help not only in the red zone against bigger receivers, but competing for 50-50 balls, and jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. Bartell doesn't lack for confidence, but has a long way to go in terms of technique coming into the league from Division I-AA Howard. But the release of Anderson and Butler's injury gives Howard a chance to play quickly this season -- covering slot receivers as the nickel back or even as the starter opposite Travis Fisher. To do so, he must minimize mistakes and display a quick grasp of the scheme.

SCOUTING REPORT: After another strong offseason in the weight room, DT Jimmy Kennedy is poised for a breakthrough season. Kennedy appears to be totally recovered from the broken foot that cost him half of the 2004 season. Kennedy is bigger and stronger at 325 pounds, but also looks quicker off the ball than he has at any time in St. Louis. Despite his size, Kennedy can uses that quickness, speed, and a variety of moves to get around blockers as much as he uses power and strength. There have been times in training camp where he has looked almost unblockable in pass rush drills against his teammates. If Kennedy can pick up where he left off late last season, he will solidify a defensive tackle position that includes fellow starter Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis off the bench.

TRAINING CAMP BATTLES: Just two weeks into training, four players already had taken turns as the team's starting right tackle: Rex Tucker, Blaine Saipaia, Grant Williams and Willig. The arrival of first-round draft pick Alex Barron makes it five. Williams has been slowed by a back injury; Saipaia has been moved to guard, which is a more natural position for him. Tucker has never played right tackle in the NFL, and may eventually be moved back to left guard to compete with rookie Claude Terrill for the starting job. When all is said and done, Barron should be the starter. But when? He was struggling with technique and learning the system during the full-squad minicamp. Now, he's playing catchup after missing the first two weeks of camp in a contract impasse. Either Willig or Tucker will have to hold down the position until Barron is ready. Tucker has strength and toughness, but may struggle with speed rushers. Willig has imposing size and wingspan. . . .

Rookie P Reggie Hodges needs an impressive preseason or he will be replaced by veteran Bryan Barker. Barker was signed two weeks into camp after Hodges struggled in a couple of practice session. Hodges has a strong leg, and at his best, has impressive hang time. But he has struggled with consistency, something the Rams feel Barker will give them.