August 6, 2005 - From Rams Scrimmage / WashingtonUniversity

Rams versus Rams, who do you cheer for? Probably Anthony Hargrove, who stole the show.

Position by position:
* QB: It took me a while to decide not to worry about it, but Ram QBs got picked off five times. The Rams opened scrimmage from inside their own five, and Marc Bulger's very first pass was deflected, intercepted and converted into a TD by Anthony Hargrove. Bulger looked good other than that. They ran a lot of quick stuff, and running more of a two-minute offense may be a good idea given the current situation at tackle. Ryan "Harvard" Fitzpatrick seemed to get a lot of snaps, and he tore off once for a 30- or 40-yard scramble. As noteworthy as that is that I didn't see Jeff Smoker get into the scrimmage at all, and I'm starting to wonder if he's going to make the team. Reportedly Harvard already knows the playbook better even though Smoker has had a year's jump on him. Definitely stay tuned.

* RB: Marshall Faulk looks lighter this year, and faster. He got around the corner quickly tonight, after looking sluggish at it much of last year. Faulk and Steven Jackson were in the backfield together a couple of times. Other times Faulk was a 4th or 5th wideout. Right now I'm picturing Mike Martz doing the Dr. Evil "bwaa-ha-ha!" bit. Jackson made some nice blitz pickups; he's becoming a more complete RB every day.

* Receivers: Torry Holt sat out, but Isaac Bruce scored a long TD against broken coverage. Shaun McDonald made an excellent sideline catch. I'm liking Dante Ridgeway. He has very good hands and catches the ball well in traffic. Kevin Curtis scored a short TD, tightroping and diving at the back of the end zone. Jerome Collins showed nice hands on a TD catch during a goal-line drill. Madison Hedgecock caught a lot better than I saw him do last weekend. Roland Williams had a drop but also a big gainer against broken coverage, which he of course ran all the way into the end zone.

* Offensive line: Orlando Pace sat out, Grant Williams may be done for the year with a bad back, and Alex Barron's agent apparently thinks he's Carl Poston, so your first-string tackles were Blaine Saipaia on the left side and Rex Tucker on the right side. Putting Saipaia on the left tonight seems to mean he'll become the starter on the right opposite Pace. He's certainly the most solid of the RT candidates in camp. I am extremely dubious about the Tucker's-a-natural -RT theory. If drills are any indication, Tucker's got a pretty long way to go at that position. The unavoidable lack of continuity on the offensive line certainly has to have Ram fans worrying how well this team can come out of the gate. They got flagged for several false starts, though without P.A., I don't know if any holding was called. Two linemen I liked tonight were Darnell Alford and Larry Turner. Alford was the second string LT and was pretty much a wall. He just wouldn't let Brandon Green by him. Turner looked as good against Jimmy Kennedy as Tucker looked bad last weekend. Wouldn't mind seeing Turner get a shot at a starting guard spot. Claude Terrell didn't look that good in the drills I saw.

* Defensive line/LB: Anthony Hargrove was the star of the scrimmage, with two interceptions. He tipped the very first pass of scrimmage at the line, hauled it in with a lunge and took it into the end zone. Hargrove's second interception was even more impressive, as he got it while covering Steven Jackson downfield on a zone blitz. Hargrove showed some excellent athleticism tonight, perhaps energized by not getting buried by Orlando Pace a dozen times. Leonard Little is ready to go right now. He put a spin move on Rex Tucker during drills that was so fast it made Tucker look like, well, me. D-Lew looked a lot stronger tonight than he did the last practice I saw. If he can provide nice push in a spot role, all the better.

* Secondary: Besides Hargrove's pair, there were interceptions by DeJuan Groce, Terry Fair and Kevin Garrett. Groce ran his back for a TD. He needed to do that, too, if he's the one who blew it on the long Bruce TD like I'm thinking. I'm pretty sure Fair's pick was made possible by a healthy amount of interference. I think the secondary also got flagged a couple of times for holding. Jerametrius Butler's still out, and Travis Fisher was tonight, too, and dangit, this secondary was so non-physical last year, how are things going to get better when the top two CB's can't survive the first week of training camp? Dwight Anderson has emerged almost out of nowhere into the #3 CB role, as I see it. He plays very confidently and will also be a big contributor on special teams. A couple of big coverage breakdowns again, but no dropped interceptions tonight. Looks like they're improving to me.

* Special teams: The punt team did down a nice punt at the 1-yard line (Dwight Anderson, I think), but other than that, ugh, Reggie Hodges, ugh! Right now it's yet another Ram punter who hits crappy 37-yard punts with no hangtime. Better nail some Friday night, son. Anderson and Terry Fair returned kickoffs; I think Fair also returned some punts. It's impossible to figure how the kick coverage fares in a non-contact drill. It looked like they would have bottled up the first return inside the 20, but there were some bad overruns on the next return that made it look like Fair would have taken it a long way.

* Coaching/discipline: The offense ran a couple of reverses, but that was about as fancy as the plays got tonight. The real fancy stuff was some of the formations, like the Faulk-Jackson backfield and the 4- and 5-WR sets with Faulk in the slot. One play was a sweep right for Faulk with Jackson leading him around the corner. What do you do if you're a LB on that play? You have to cover Jackson, don't you? The play almost blocks itself. As I mentioned above, a lot of the plays seemed to be quick passes, which would seem to be a useful strategy when your starting tackles are Blaine Saipaia and Rex Tucker.

* Cheers: It was a very pleasant night, and the scrimmage drew a very good crowd, I'd guess at least 4,000. The stands seat 3600+, and they were full, plus there were a lot of fans standing in front of the fence. Wash. U. can certainly afford some handrails for the stands, though, can't they? Two kids fell down the stairs in our section and countless people stumbled. Stadium doesn't have very good sound, either. Don't a lot of, um, engineers go to this school? Parking was a little tough, but well-organized, and the stadium appeared to have opened well before the advertised 6:00 opening time. I'm going to claim I was in the VIP section, since a group of players' wives was right behind me.
I think every player came over to sign some autographs afterward, including Faulk, Bruce, Holt, Jackson, Pisa, Roland, Manu, Little, Looker, Curtis and many, many more. Steven was the last player to leave. I continue to be impressed with the number of Rams who will sign, shake hands, pose for pictures, etc. after practice. I hope the rest of the teams in the NFL are so fan-friendly.

* Whatís next?: Itíll be for "real" Friday night as the Rams butt heads with Lovie Smith's Chicago Bears. Item of concern #1 is the offensive line, especially RT; who will the Rams line up there & how will he fare? The Bear defensive line wasn't very good last preseason, but should be better now with Adewale Ogunleye, who poses a stern speed test to whoever the Ram RT is. The other offensive story is the pecking order at QB behind Bulger. Fitzpatrick's making a move but will have to prove himself with live ammo. The Ram offense also needs to show ability to control the game on the ground, something they lacked too often last year.
Fun fact of the week: Cedric Benson has the same agent as Alex Barron, and he isn't in camp, either! So the Ram defense may not face him, but they will face a dangerous cutback runner in Thomas Jones. Run defense is a big concern after last season, and live action against an outside opponent should illustrate where the Rams really are defensively. Chicago's offensive line is improving, and won't be a pushover. Leonard Little will line up against former Ram Fred Miller for at least a few snaps. QB Rex Grossman was hurt all last year and is thus far from tried-and-tested, but he has a well-overpaid, er, well-paid main target in Muhsin Muhammed, who Ram defenses have never seemed capable of covering. Not leaving him wide open in the middle of the field all night would be a moral victory. Speaking of which, the Rams and Ram fans everywhere could really use a good night right off the bat out of the special teams units. The Bears donít look like world-beaters heading into this season, but they're an adequate test of where the Rams really are in certain areas Ė we all hope nearer the top of the curve than the bottom.

-- Mike

Mike also has some cool photos from the above here