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  1. #1
    RamWraith's Avatar
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    Rams use deals and the draft to try to rise out of NFL's middle class

    By Jim Thomas
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    04/22/2007


    In any given year in the NFL, there are about a half-dozen elite teams, a half-dozen sadsack teams, and an enormous middle class of about 20 teams in between. For this last group, only a few breaks and injuries spell the difference between 6-10 and 10-6.

    From 1999 through 2003, the Rams were clearly among the elite, fashioning a 61-27 record that included two Super Bowl appearances, three NFC West titles and four playoff berths. Since then, the Rams have been swimming in that vast sea of NFL mediocrity. Over the past three years, the Rams haven't had a winning season and are 23-27 overall.

    They have changed head coaches and assistants. Dozens of players have come and gone since the last division championship team in '03. But are they any closer to being a playoff team in '07?

    "Relative to how we played last year, no question," coach Scott Linehan says. "We were right there."

    Relatively healthy, with the offense humming, and the defense righting itself to a degree, the Rams closed the 2006 season with three consecutive victories and just missed the playoffs at 8-8.

    Bolstering the roster

    Linehan is hoping for some carryover in '07, and has been encouraged by an offseason in which the Rams have added:

    1.) A $30 million No. 3 wide receiver in Drew Bennett.

    2.) A productive veteran tight end in Randy McMichael.

    3.) A solid run-pass defender in end James Hall.

    4.) A fourth linebacker, and potential starter, in versatile Chris Draft.

    5.) A young, strong-legged punter in Donnie Jones.

    6.) Depth acquisitions in running back Travis Minor, strong safety Todd Johnson and cornerbacks Mike Rumph and Lenny Walls.

    Besides the newcomers, the team has done a good job of retaining its own.

    Two of the Rams' best defensive starters were kept off the market with the re-signing of end Leonard Little and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa during the '06 season.

    Three restricted free agents who received tender offers from the club will return in '07: starting linebacker Brandon Chillar, backup tight end Aaron Walker and backup guard-tackle Adam Goldberg.

    Offensive tackle Todd Steussie and linebacker/end Raonall Smith have re-signed as unrestricted free agents, providing depth and roster flexibility as backups.

    So it has been a busy offseason. On paper, the team has strengthened several positions and fortified depth at others.

    "If we didn't have a draft, I would feel very good about it, being competitive (for the playoffs)," Linehan said. "I don't want to be (overly) optimistic. By nature you do that at this time of year. You don't want to set the bar too high and all that stuff. But I feel very strong about how much we've improved our team just up till now."

    But obvious, glaring holes remain on the roster. Whether it's through the draft or trades, what happens over the next week may determine whether the Rams make a playoff push in '07 or continue treading water in the middle of the NFL pack.

    Holes to fill

    Despite the offseason moves, there is work to be done in several areas:

    Defensive tackle, particularly nose tackle. The Rams will try to make the trade happen for Carolina defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, a three-time Pro Bowler once regarded as one of the league's top run stuffers. But they will not give up a first-round pick for Jenkins.

    If the trade comes off, and it may not materialize until the Rams are on the clock for their first-round pick Saturday, the Rams suddenly have great flexibility in the first round. If not, finding defensive line help becomes a more desperate proposition, with Louisville's Amobi Okoye and Nebraska's Adam Carriker the most likely targets at No. 13 overall.

    Kickoff and punt returner. Despite all the attention paid to Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr., it still seems hard to believe the team would invest a No. 13 overall pick in a return phenom/developmental receiver. Drafting Ginn becomes more plausible with a trade for Jenkins.

    The Rams have been downright awful in the return game for several seasons, and Linehan seems determined to rectify that in the draft. Ginn is clearly the best returner available, but the Rams have explored plenty of candidates, including some that might be had in the middle-to-late rounds.

    No. 2 running back. The Rams were lucky to get 430 touches with no substantial injuries from Steven Jackson a year ago. They need a bona fide No. 2 back, who can ease some of Jackson's work load, and step in for a game or two should Jackson go down.

    Don't hold your breath waiting for Ricky Williams. Despite Linehan's pro-Ricky comments Thursday, team sources insist that's not going to happen.

    Another veteran possibility could be Corey Dillon, who was released by New England and indicated he would retire if he didn't get a starting job elsewhere. If he changes his mind, there are two friendly faces on the Rams coaching staff. Linehan and new special teams coach Al Roberts were on the University of Washington staff when Dillon played there.

    A more likely scenario is the Rams expending a first-day draft pick on a running back. A Jenkins trade probably affects where that pick comes. The Rams brought four running backs in for pre-draft visits and have interest in others.

    Defensive end. The Rams remain interested in possibly signing Grant Wistrom. But the former Ram seems intent on retiring following his release by Seattle.

    With only three proven defensive ends on the roster in Little, Hall, and Victor Adeyanju, the Rams could use another end, particularly an edge rusher to complement Little.

    A couple of linebacker-end 'tweeners have caught Linehan's eye in the draft pool. Whether the team drafts such a player might depend on what happens at defensive tackle, returner and running back.


  2. #2
    Rambos's Avatar
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    Re: Rams use deals and the draft to try to rise out of NFL's middle class

    Defensive end. The Rams remain interested in possibly signing Grant Wistrom. But the former Ram seems intent on retiring following his release by Seattle.
    Come on Grant one or two more years...

  3. #3
    Raze's Avatar
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    Re: Rams use deals and the draft to try to rise out of NFL's middle class

    The Rams will be back in the elite few this season

    say bye bye to the Division 'Hawks your about to get WHOOPED


  4. #4
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    Re: Rams use deals and the draft to try to rise out of NFL's middle class

    Quote Originally Posted by RamWraith View Post
    The Rams brought four running backs in for pre-draft visits and have interest in others.
    i'd like to see them grab Michael Bush in the 4th but that is thinking very optimisticly.

  5. #5
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    Re: Rams use deals and the draft to try to rise out of NFL's middle class

    This will be a good season,there have been some good signings.I especially think McMichael will be a big asset.

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