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    RamView 8/5 training camp report

    RamView, August 5, 2006
    From Rams Park

    The first training camp of the Linehan Era seems to be moving along quite smoothly, with very little in the way of injuries or controversy. Even at that, though, it's still a training camp with more stories than the Empire State Building, and RamView is reporting a week late, so, after my annual caveat that I'm far from expert at all matters training camp, let's get cracking:

    Position by position:
    * QB: I didn’t find it to be a very impressive day for the QB corps. Marc Bulger was intercepted once (Travis Fisher) on a play where he'd better be throwing it away in the regular season and had another INT dropped. Bulger looked much better in goal line drills, throwing seeing-eye passes to Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt for fake TDs. Gus Frerotte brutally missed a ridiculously-wide-open Aaron Walker to avoid a TD. But Dave Ragone was easily the worst QB at this practice. He threw some bad short-hoppers, and thanks to a release point that is undoubtedly too low, had at least four passes tipped at the line or knocked down. He didn't look comfortable in the pocket, he stared down receivers, and how often do you see a QB scramble in a team scrimmage? Ragone was very much in the woods today. Ryan Fitzpatrick looked much, much sharper and more confident. He showed some real zing on his passes and looked all right throwing out patterns, a critical part of his game for improvement over last year. If I'm handicapping the #3 QB race right now, Fitzpatrick is Secretariat at the '73 Belmont and Ragone is Twice A Prince if he's lucky, Swaps if he's not. (Trivia: one of Secretariat's shoe nails worn in that race was sold in 2003 for $6,100.)

    * RB: Stephen Jackson didn't see much action, trying the outside a lot and not getting anywhere. Wonder where we've seen that before. The local ESPN radio crew called him out afterward for dancing around, which – AUGH! Cut it out, Stephen! Tony Fisher had the rushing highlight with a long run down to the 1 and pushing in for a fake TD the next play. I'm not the first to say Tony is bigger than I thought he was. Fred Russell and Moe Williams also got some handoffs. Russell started off with a nice run up the middle. I think Williams got dinged late in practice but got up okay. Madison Hedgecock made a nice catch of a swing pass. If Paul Smith, Bagwell or Denzel's kid got in there, sorry, I missed them.

    * Receivers: Isaac and Torry had TDs in the goal line drill; Kevin Curtis also had a TD catch. Third-stringers and beyond got most of the action in scrimmage. Dominque Thompson made a nice TD grab at the back of the end zone. Brandon Middleton had the long reception of the day, but this brilliant correspondent missed it coming back from the concession stand. Brad Pyatt beat Kevin (No Last Name) Timothee for a TD down the sideline. Marques Hagans had a couple of Ragone passes go off his hands. Neither were easy catches, but the first one was fairly catchable and is a ball Hagans has to be able to catch to contribute at WR. At TE, Joel Klopfenstein seemed to work with the 1s and Aaron Walker with the 2s. Walker got more attempts than I expected. Dominique Byrd was in with Walker on 2-TE sets, but I didn't see him much.

    * Offensive line: The 1s were last year's starting o-line, but with Incognito at LG. There were a couple of false starts, but pass protection looked good up and down the lineup. The defense had maybe two sacks, and were probably helped by the QB holding the ball more than anything. I wasn't wowed by the run-blocking of the starters, since all of Jackson's outside attempts once again got shot down. I'll hope to get a better look at the o-line Thursday night.

    * Defensive line/LB: The backups weren't impressive against the run, with Fisher breaking off the long run and Russell also having a couple of nice runs. Claude Wroten had one of the sacks, and it would be nice to have a DT who could get to the QB again. The D should probably get some credit for its success against the starting running game. Looked like Hargrove was stringing out those outside runs fairly well. They probably have to tone their games down for practice purposes, but I sure would like to see these guys getting after the QB better. They should get some credit for knocking down what seemed like half of Ragone's passes. I'd like to see these guys getting their hands up at the line on passes, which recent Ram defenses hardly ever seemed to do. It looked like Tim McGarigle was at fault on the pass Frerotte blew to wide-open Walker. Closest thing to a big hit for this practice was Mike Goolsby dropping Hedgecock on a play that was being blown dead as the ball got to Hedgecock, kind of a cheap shot, really. But Hedgecock didn't seem to mind.

    * Secondary: The starters appeared to be Fakhir Brown and Travis Fisher. Fisher blanketed Ike and picked off a long pass from Bulger in the end zone to end the first drive of the scrimmage. I'd have to say Brown's pretty solid. It's taking perfect throws to Pro Bowl receivers to beat him out there. Tye Hill got dinged – reported as an aggravation to a shoulder sprain he originally suffered in the Senior Bowl – but returned and made a nice breakup of an end zone pass for Dane Looker. Dwight Anderson committed a ridiculous pass interference against Looker earlier – practically tackling the WR without ever turning for the ball, but had a nice pass breakup later. OJ Atogwe lined up at FS opposite Corey Chavous, and I believe that job is his to lose. He looks very natural at it and he did a good job supporting against the run.

    * Special teams: There were some partial-speed kickoff-return drills, with Fred Russell, Kevin Curtis and Marques Hagans each getting a shot at returning. Curtis and Hagans showed nice speed hitting the seam, but whether that's good returning or poor coverage will have to wait. The interesting thing I noticed there was Incognito playing on the wedge. Groom and Turk did a lot of punting on the vacant practice field, but I'll wait for actual games to try to figure out who's better there. Groom had the one live punt of scrimmage, which I thought was downed at the 1, but I don't think the referee agreed. Wilkins and Hamilton shared duties on FGs and PATs; I don't think anybody missed any. They were kicking into the crowd and letting them keep the footballs. I'd like to see John Shaw's face when that expense report crosses his desk.

    * Coaching/discipline: As with the kickers, I'm going to need a while to figure out where Scott Linehan is coaching-wise. Unless you count passes to TEs, which would have been a wrinkle if Mike Martz were still coach, the Rams didn't run anything that you could call a wrinkle other than an end-around for Curtis, which Atogwe did a nice job of staying home and stopping. There was a good amount of 2-TE alignments, and 3-wide was the fanciest passing formation I detected. Since Martz used to practice 5-wide formations in camp from time to time, I'd say Linehan's intention to protect the QB is palpable. I only noticed three penalties called by the NFL referees present, though one ignored a pretty blatant interference by Corey Chavous in the end zone right in front of him. We always wondered if the team ran any strip-the-ball drills – I saw the RBs doing it for about two minutes, pretty half-heartedly. The RBs also ran a drill with one of those big exercise balls. They're supposed to run and hit the ball with their shoulder, to emphasize getting down low.

    * Cheers: Good crowd today, probably 1200 or more. It was hot but not too hot. If you haven't made a practice session yet, I'd recommend bringing a chair and binoculars. The practice fields have been rotated 90 degrees from last year. The bleachers would be great seats if the Rams were scrimmaging on the far field, but they were useless today with the Rams scrimmaging on the near field. I couldn't see shinola and ended up crowding on the hill with most everybody else. Pisa, Brandon Chillar and Kevin Curtis came over for autographs after the scrimmage. A lot of players ran sprints afterwards. Not being the most exciting part of a football practice, I didn't stay for the end of sprints to see if anyone else came over.

    * RamView update: No, RamView hasn't been holding out; the first RamView this year was going to be from last Saturday's night practice, which the St. Louis Quarterback Club had access to, but it got rained out. We'll try it again next Saturday night. If that gets rained out, this will be my only training camp report.
    For those interested in old RamViews, I am gradually moving them onto www.ramview.com. All of 2005's are up; I plan to eventually have everything up back to 1999. I wanted a free site, and my regular ISP lamely has a limit on the number of files you can have on your personal site, so it's a GeoCities site with advertising. I'll mention any website updates much more briefly in future articles.

    * What’s next?: The Linehan Era makes its preseason debut on national TV when the Indianapolis Colts come to St. Louis. That's a juicy offensive matchup in the regular season, but by the time CSI comes on Thursday night, it'll be Frerotte vs. Sorgi, and everybody except rabid Rams and Colts fans will tune it out. Except local Rams fans may not get to tune it in at all; the game is close to being blacked out in St. Louis. That's the NFL's dumbest rule. Baseball Cardinal fiascoes, er, games, are on Fox when they're not sold out (though they're usually close) – why does the NFL insist on taking games away from local TV audiences?
    Rams-Colts will probably leave more questions than answers. Goal number one for the Rams should be to have a good night defensively against the run. If the Colts run all over the Rams without Edgerrin James, it means Jim Haslett's still got a lot of work to do. But if the Rams succeed against the run, it may only mean that the Colt running game sucks. The crowded race for spots in the secondary will bear watching, as will Haslett's playcalling. On one hand, you don't want to show your cards in preseason games, and there's an unwritten rule about blitzing a lot, but on the other, the Rams probably need to run some of their new defense in a "live" game environment, especially blitzes, pass coverages that keep the DBs within 8 yards of receivers, and other defensive concepts that never penetrated Larry Marmie's cerebral cortex.
    Goal number two is to run the ball effectively. The rushing game bears watching on the offensive side of the ball as well, not only because of the competition for backup RB. With the Ram running game breaking down far too often in critical situations last year, the offensive line needs to show it can take over a line of scrimmage, and Steven Jackson needs to show he's a decisive, hole-hitting runner and not a dancer. And certainly the battle at TE, and the fact the Rams will utilize the position now, will be worth watching.
    The last goal is for Scott Linehan to call as clean a game as he can. Get all the play calls in on time Use timeouts and challenges judiciously. Run a two-minute offense that looks like it knows what it's doing. This is Scott's ship now, his command, he's in charge, he's the boss, head man, top dog, big cheese… It won't be long remembered if the Rams win or lose Thursday night, but it'll be remembered longer if they go out there and look like the Keystone Kops, or worse, last year's Rams. It's opening night for Linehan; if he's not prepared now, he never will be. Here's to (another) successful era for the Rams.

    -- Mike


  2. #2
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    Re: RamView 8/5 training camp report

    Hi Mike ,
    It's Oscar -What was your overall gut feeling going into the preseason with all the coaching changes. And are you having a great time interacting with other Rams fans over the new era per say?
    Thanks Mike I enjoy your columns.
    THE FIELD GOAL

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    Re: RamView 8/5 training camp report

    Hey Oscar,
    Sorry I am the world's slowest responder. I think I had the same gut feeling as a lot of other fans, they improved a ton just by changing the defensive coaches. & it was a coup to get as successful a defensive coach as Haslett. Linehan knows how to run an offense, maybe not as wide open as Mike Martz, but I think Linehan is a step sideways vs. a step backwards. I'm happy his strategy is to protect the QB better and to balance rush and pass more. Hopefully those things will shine through once he's coached a few games. I think we're all going to have great sport chewing over what Linehan's doing vs. what Martz did.

    --Mike

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    Re: RamView 8/5 training camp report

    Yea it seems to me that Scott is more balanced than Martz. But until we see the first five weeks. We can only guess. As for Marshall. I was very sadden over his ending. And i believe he needs to retire while he is still mobile. I would hate to see him with a prolong injury.
    What's your view on the veteran corps and this being there year to reconsider there status and careers.
    Thanks Mike again. Great Job. Keep it up.
    Oscar F Lopez-The Field Goal
    THE FIELD GOAL

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    Re: RamView 8/5 training camp report

    Good points on Linehan and Marshall.

    One veteran I'd like to see bounce back and have a big year is Leonard Little.
    I'd like to think Timmerman was off last year because of injuries. I don't think the Rams are ready to lose him or McCollum this year, but the team is definitely getting deeper on the o-line. I'd like to see Kevin Curtis have that breakthrough year this year, because Isaac isn't going to be around forever. Isaac doesn't appear to be considered an obvious Hall-of-Famer like Marshall is, but darnit, he ought to be.

    I think Linehan's got an excellent mix of youth and experience to work with.

    --Mike

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    Re: RamView 8/5 training camp report

    Oh Yea I forgot. Leonard Little the Midwest Beast. He truly needs to have a huge breakout year for this team to stay in the contention status.
    But overall i am really enjoying the new look Rams. Scott seems very confident on his ability to lead and stay focus. A more balanced attack will take us back to the John Robinson era. Solid running game and mixed with a hgh powered offensive. Remember Jim Everett- Bulger reminds me of him every year.
    So here's to the NEW ERA RAMS-
    Oscar F Lopez-The Field Goal
    THE FIELD GOAL

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    Re: RamView 8/5 training camp report

    Thanks for the report, easily the most interesting piece I've read this offseason. I agree that signing Haslett appears to be one of the best moves this offseason, it may take more than one season for him to turn it around, but we need to see some progress this year. Perhaps the old addition-by-subtraction (firing Larry Marmie) will be enough to improve things in itself.

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