By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMIST
Wednesday, Jul. 26 2006

Mad Mike is long gone. Scott Linehan is settled in as head coach. The Rams have
begun their first training camp of the new era.

And there are so many questions to be answered. Here are the first four that
come to mind:

Can Linehan lead this organization? Although John Shaw and Jay
Zygmunt ultimately run this show, the head coach must command the entire
operation at Rams Park.

Success starts with the head coach. The players must believe in him and the
executives must believe in him, too. Unlike Rich Brooks, Dick Vermeil gained
command of the operation. Mike Martz inherited it from Vermeil . . . and then
lost it.

The whole operation became dysfunction as a result. The NFL Network could have
created one heck of a reality show based on the nonsense that occurred at Rams
Park last year.

Now we will see if Linehan, as a rookie head NFL coach, can pull everything and
everybody together. He seems capable, but we won’t really know until we see him
handle crisis situations.

Can Jim Haslett get the Rams defense back on the attack? This unit
had schematic problems under hapless defensive coordinator Larry Marmie and
many individuals imploded as well. The defense got walked over as a result.

Linehan hired the fiery Haslett to fix everything – Xs and Os, attitudes, skill
deficiencies, everything. Although the unit returns many key players from last
season’s unit, the Rams are essentially starting over on defense.

Or so they hope.

Defensive end Leonard Little needs to become an impact player again. Jimmy
Kennedy must become a consistent force in the middle of the defensive line.
Defensive end Anthony Hargrove must learn to read the play better so he doesn’t
get caught up field again and again.

And it would be nice if cornerbacks Travis Fisher and Jerametrius Butler stayed
healthy for a change.

Will the offense regain its swagger? When Mike Martz had “The
Greatest Show on Turf” operating at full capacity, the Rams intimidated
opponents with their speed and skill.

On the fast track of the Edward Jones Dome, the Rams were nearly unbeatable.
And they were a handful anywhere on any surface because their star players
brought Mad Mike’s daring game plans to life.

Linehan is a fine offensive coach and the Rams still have Marc Bulger throwing
darts to Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Kevin Curtis. Running back Steven Jackson
is a well-rounded threat.

On the other hand, the Rams must replace former superstar Marshall Faulk on the
depth chart and shore up their offensive line play.

We’re most intrigued by Linehan’s attempt to deploy tight ends as major threats
this season. Perhaps this will get Bulger over the hump as a red-zone
quarterback.

Will the ‘05 draft class step up or fizzle out? The Rams need a big
season from second-year tackle Alex Barron, who flashed his Pro Bowl-caliber
skills while learning his trade last season.

He and Orlando Pace could form the best tackle combination in the league. The
middle of the offensive line is turning gray, so Richie Incognito’s development
is imperative as well.

The Rams secondary was a mess last season, so Haslett hopes competition this
summer will breed success. The Rams got little from cornerback Ron Bartell last
season and nothing from safety O.J. Atogwe until the end of the season.

Some of these questions will be answered sooner rather than later:

Did the Rams fortify their leadership through free agency? Will defensive
tackle La’Roi Glover not only bolster the defensive line, but mentor Kennedy as
well?

Can safety Corey Chavous settle down the young secondary? Can Will Witherspoon
add some fire to the disappointing linebacker corps?

Will quarterback Gus Frerotte help Bulger master Linehan’s offense and become
an elite quarterback in this system?

Martz’s track record on free agents was, well, spotty.

The New Regime is making plenty of changes – enough to make this preseason
quite interesting. The camp, the scrimmages and the preseason games should all
be illuminating.