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    Rams will look for answers

    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    07/26/2004
    With a new quarterback and only a handful of players remaining from the Super Bowl championship team of 1999, coach Mike Martz has called the Rams a team in transition.

    It will take months for the entire story to unfold. But the answers to several questions facing the team begin to be answered with the start of training camp Wednesday in Macomb, Ill. Stay tuned.

    1.) Can Faulk still run (and catch)?

    He might be the best all-purpose back in NFL history. At his best, he remains one of the most feared backs in the league. But Marshall Faulk is 31 years old, which by NFL standards for a running back qualifies you for an AARP card. With more than 3,400 regular-season and postseason touches, Faulk has taken a lot of hits over his 10 NFL seasons.

    After missing five games last season because of hand and knee injuries, Faulk underwent yet another knee operation this offseason and talked openly with his agent about retiring in a year or two. How much can the Rams expect from Faulk in '04? Is it realistic to think they can still build an offense around him?

    2.) How will Bulger fare as the man at quarterback?

    For the first time since Trent Green went down with a knee injury five summers ago, someone other than Kurt Warner will open the regular season as the Rams' starting quarterback. Marc Bulger has shown accuracy, coolness under fire and an ability to rally the team at crunch time. Logic says he should be more relaxed without Warner - and the Warner zealots - peering over his shoulder at every snap. But can Bulger cut down on his interception total of a year ago? Can he regain the touch on the deep ball that was there in '02 but missing for most of '03? Will he prosper or wilt under the scrutiny that comes with being an NFL starting quarterback?

    3.) What's my line?

    The defensive line lost two of its top five performers in Grant Wistrom and Brian Young. Beyond their tackling stats and sack totals, Wistrom and Young brought an attitude and work ethic to the field that helped set the tone for the defense. Bryce Fisher enters training camp as Wistrom's replacement. Underachieving and injury-plagued Damione Lewis, a No. 12 overall pick in 2001, gets the first crack at Young's job. Fisher must show he can hold up against the run on a consistent basis. Lewis must stay healthy and show the skills he has flashed in St. Louis. There is also uncertainty over the status of Pro Bowl DE Leonard Little, who faces felony charges of drunken driving. And can DT Jimmy Kennedy make a meaningful contribution after a highly disappointing rookie campaign? Can rookie DE Anthony Hargrove supply sizzle as a pass rusher?

    4.) What's my line? (Part II)

    The interior of the Rams' offensive line had some rough moments in '03. New center Dave Wohlabaugh played the first month of the season one-handed because of a broken hand. Former starting center Andy McCollum, playing guard for the first time since '99, struggled at times. Although he was still an above-average performer, right guard Adam Timmerman didn't play as well in '03 as he did in previous seasons in St. Louis. All three players are getting old - Wohlabaugh is the youngest of the group at 32. Can this trio play effectively enough to revive the running game and protect Bulger?

    5.) Will the tight ends improve?

    Ernie Conwell proved more difficult to replace last year than anyone could have anticipated. The tight end play was so-so at best. In his first season as a full-time starter, Brandon Manumaleuna made some costly blocking mistakes, which led to sacks that caused fumbles. The Rams feel those mistakes will be minimized now that Manumaleuna can concentrate on tight end and doesn't have to worry about playing fullback, too. Backup Cam Cleeland is a better blocker than generally given credit for, and could be utilized more in the passing game.

    6.) Can the fullbacks block?

    Manumaleuna was one of several players the Rams tried at fullback, as James Hodgins proved far more difficult to replace than anyone could have anticipated. This season, the Rams are hoping that some combination of Joey Goodspeed and a bulked-up Arlen Harris can keep linebackers off Faulk and pass rushers off Bulger. Goodspeed was with the team for half of the '03 season. Although his play tailed off at the end of the campaign, he did display some blocking skills and can be a decent receiver. Harris doesn't lack for toughness but appears a long shot as the next Robert Holcombe.

    7.) Can Chandler cut it at No. 2?

    Rare is the NFL quarterback who makes it through a 16-game schedule unscathed. If Bulger goes down, the Rams will be counting on Chris Chandler, who turns 39 in October. Make no mistake, Chandler can still wing it. He threw the deep ball beautifully at the full-squad minicamp in May. But his mobility is nearly nonexistent. If something happens to Bulger, can Chandler get the Rams through a game or two - or more?

    8.) Will there be anything special about special teams play?

    The Rams haven't had a kickoff return for a touchdown since 2000, and only one punt return for a TD since then. Once again, their coverage units left much to be desired in '03. But there appears to be reason for hope under new special teams coach Mike Stock. Stock is an old school sort who will demand toughness and accountability from his players. That wasn't always the case with his predecessor, Bobby April.

    9.) Who will play nickel and dime back?

    One of the secrets of the Rams defense in '03 is that it made it through almost all of the season without using a dime back - or sixth defensive back - against four wide receiver formations. The defense basically used three safeties and two corners in the nickel package against three wide receiver sets. This season, the hope is that either Kevin Garrett or DeJuan Groce can step in during nickel and dime situations. Both are second-year players. Groce had more playing time in '03. Garrett has more speed and potential.

    10.) Who will be No. 3 and No. 4 at wide receiver?

    Dane Looker did a credible job as the new Ricky Proehl a year ago - as a third-down specialist and red zone receiving threat. But the Rams still haven't replaced Az-Zahir Hakim from the glory days of '99 through '01. Kevin Curtis could be that man. Curtis has serious speed, the type of speed that Martz craves to stretch defenses. But his rookie season all but ended with a broken leg last August. Mike Furrey had some moments as the No. 4 over the second half of '03 but is not yet what you'd call a proven commodity. And what of Shaun McDonald, who has some Hakim-like qualities, but got worn down in training camp as a rookie in '03, then missed a month with a thumb injury?


  2. #2
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    Re: Rams will look for answers

    Quote Originally Posted by RamWraith
    9.) Who will play nickel and dime back?

    One of the secrets of the Rams defense in '03 is that it made it through almost all of the season without using a dime back - or sixth defensive back - against four wide receiver formations. The defense basically used three safeties and two corners in the nickel package against three wide receiver sets. This season, the hope is that either Kevin Garrett or DeJuan Groce can step in during nickel and dime situations. Both are second-year players. Groce had more playing time in '03. Garrett has more speed and potential.
    That is what killed us against Carolina, due to injuries we were forced to put Sehorn back in Dime packages. This year that won't happen. Garrett will play the nickel, put Groce in for the dime, and watch Aeneas roam in the back as the S.

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    Re: Rams will look for answers

    Quote Originally Posted by txramsfan
    That is what killed us against Carolina, due to injuries we were forced to put Sehorn back in Dime packages. This year that won't happen. Garrett will play the nickel, put Groce in for the dime, and watch Aeneas roam in the back as the S.
    I agree with you, this sounds like the way to go. But hasn't most of the talk involved moving Aeneas to the slot for nickel packages and bringing in another safety?
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

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    Re: Rams will look for answers

    Yea, that's the talk....but Garrett is going to win that job as nickel and Groce as the dime and punt returner. That will free up Aeneas to roam as the S.

    The talk currently is just pre camp talk. Kevin Garrett may challenge for a starting spot when it's all said and done.

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    Re: Rams will look for answers

    gee tx, do you like Garrett? *LOL*


    Quote Originally Posted by txramsfan
    Yea, that's the talk....but Garrett is going to win that job as nickel and Groce as the dime and punt returner. That will free up Aeneas to roam as the S.

    The talk currently is just pre camp talk. Kevin Garrett may challenge for a starting spot when it's all said and done.

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    Re: Rams will look for answers

    I know, I know.....it's just fun to get excited about the youth of the defense. Seriously, if Pickett and DLew really step up, Hargrove becomes the monster everyone sqwaks about, the LB's mature into what everyone thinks could be an elite unit, and this secondary steps up and challenges each other....who cares who the QB is......it won't matter.

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    Re: Rams will look for answers

    Quote Originally Posted by txramsfan
    I know, I know.....it's just fun to get excited about the youth of the defense. Seriously, if Pickett and DLew really step up, Hargrove becomes the monster everyone sqwaks about, the LB's mature into what everyone thinks could be an elite unit, and this secondary steps up and challenges each other....who cares who the QB is......it won't matter.
    Hey, if our defense could play that well, Michna could play QB for all I care. Hey, what's Farmer up to? Bring Germaine back. Where's Banks.....ok, went one too far.
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

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    Re: Rams will look for answers

    That is a lot of "IF's" big guy. But I hear what your saying. The defense has all the potential in the world, it is just a matter of coming together. I hope this is the year that they figure it out.

    One thing that worries me is an injury to the linebackers.


    Quote Originally Posted by txramsfan
    I know, I know.....it's just fun to get excited about the youth of the defense. Seriously, if Pickett and DLew really step up, Hargrove becomes the monster everyone sqwaks about, the LB's mature into what everyone thinks could be an elite unit, and this secondary steps up and challenges each other....who cares who the QB is......it won't matter.

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