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  1. #1
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    Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR

    Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR
    By Mike Sando
    ESPN.com

    St. Louis used this offseason to become deeper on the offensive line and more experienced at offensive coordinator. Just six months after the Rams posted a 3-13 record, the combination has produced more optimism than most teams dare to muster.

    St. Louis still must answer questions in a few key spots. But any team with Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson in its backfield should be able to compete, particularly in a division as weak as the NFC West has been recently.

    What we learned from minicamp
    The Rams are excited about the possibilities with Al Saunders taking over as offensive coordinator. The feeling is mutual.

    Saunders loves what Jackson offers the offense as a three-dimensional back. (He runs, receives and blocks.) He ranks Jackson up there with Chuck Muncie, Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson and the other backs who have flourished in this offense. This should be a good marriage in St. Louis.

    "When you get somebody of his stature and his physical makeup, with his speed and his ability to run, catch and block, you are only limited by your own imagination in terms of what you can do with a player like that," Saunders said.

    The Rams no longer have the receivers to scare defenses as much on the outside. Torry Holt's chronic knee problem is a limiting factor. Isaac Bruce is in San Francisco. Those realities, coupled with considerable changeover on the offensive staff, make this an offense in transition.

    Still unresolved
    For the first time in nearly a decade, the Rams aren't sure what they have at receiver. Drew Bennett takes over as the likely No. 2 wideout alongside Holt, but his production has declined every season since 2004. He hasn't produced a reception longer than 39 yards since 2005.

    The Rams carry 13 receivers, two more than the league average. Only Tampa Bay (14) and Green Bay (13) carry as many. But in the Rams' case, quantity does not necessarily equal quality. Beyond Holt and Bennett, the Rams' receiving hopefuls are a long list of players unlikely to make a significant impact on offense. Dante' Hall is the most accomplished player among the backups, and he's a return specialist.

    Rookie second-round choice Donnie Avery will surely tantalize with his speed at times this summer, but the Rams know most rookie receivers need time to learn the complexities of the NFL game. The Rams will require Avery to learn routes most college receivers never see. They will ask him to run those routes with precision and timing. The return game should provide Avery with his best opportunity to make a difference right away.

    On defense, the Rams lack depth at linebacker after watching 15-game starter Brandon Chillar leave in free agency. Depth is so low that rookie seventh-round choices David Vobora and/or Chris Chamberlain could earn roster spots. The Rams simply haven't invested much draft capital in the position, and it could hurt them if one of the starters is lost to injury.

    Injury analysis
    The Rams fell apart last season after losing perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace to a season-ending injury in the first regular-season game. Injuries have limited Pace to nine games the past two seasons. He's 32 and has 144 regular-season games on his NFL odometer. The past two seasons suggest he could be winding down.

    But the shoulder injury Pace suffered last season wasn't related to the torn triceps he suffered in 2006. For that reason, the Rams hope Pace has suffered more from bad luck than from chronic ailments that could keep him from returning to his previous form.

    Pace continued his rehabilitation during minicamp. He won't practice with the team until training camp. If another injury strikes Pace, look for Saunders to change the offense in ways that give Bulger a better chance to avoid the injuries that hurt him in 2007. Saunders has assured Bulger he won't let him take such a pounding this season.

    Resurgence at tight end
    Coaches are quietly optimistic about the Rams' prospects at tight end. They expect Randy McMichael, Anthony Becht and even Joe Klopfenstein to provide stability at the position.

    McMichael caught 39 passes last season after averaging 65 per season the previous three, all with the Miami Dolphins. His numbers should spike this season with Saunders' running the offense and Bruce no longer a primary option. Saunders liked to use strong blocking tight ends as extra tackles in the running game when he was with Kansas City. The Rams don't have the same personnel, but Becht could give them solid blocking from the position.

    Training camp start date: July 25

    Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.


  2. #2
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    Re: Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR

    The Rams no longer have the receivers to scare defenses as much on the outside. Torry Holt's chronic knee problem is a limiting factor. Isaac Bruce is in San Francisco. Those realities, coupled with considerable changeover on the offensive staff, make this an offense in transition.

    I think the receivers stats will be better if Bulger stays upright. The so call expert is under estimating the declined of our wr with all the injuries to the ol.
    :ramlogo:

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    Re: Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR

    I'm actually not too concerned about the depth of our wide receivers. This is not the GSOT, this is Steven Jackson's era. I don't expect to see nearly as many three or four wide receiver sets.

    I'm ready for some double tight end, lead fullback(preferably not leonard, someone like Madison Hedgcock would do) smash mouth football in STL.

    And I'm pretty sure an aging Torry is still better than any WR Saunders had during his tenure with the Chiefs. Their offense was pretty good right?

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    Re: Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR

    "This is not the GSOT, this is Steven Jackson's era. I don't expect to see nearly as many three or four wide receiver sets."

    I think A Saunders will make SJ the center of the O and untill the rookies wr prove themselves i do agree about the # of sets wr's we will see.
    :ramlogo:

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    Re: Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR

    Saunders led the Cheifs to one of the leagues top offenses for some years, Green had great numbers, L. Johnson and Holmes had great numbers, and they never had wr's as good as Holt with them. If our recieving core does even above average, we will be in great shape. If our o-line stays healthy and protect Bulger and open the holes for jackson it will be pretty good stuff.


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    Re: Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR

    It's all very well saying that Saunders is going to make Jackson our offensive fulcrum but what happens if SJ gets injured?

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    Re: Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR

    Since when have injuries been a problem for the Rams?

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    Re: Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR

    Quote Originally Posted by Tampa_Ram View Post
    Saunders led the Cheifs to one of the leagues top offenses for some years
    Quote Originally Posted by Tampa_Ram View Post
    If our o-line stays healthy and protect Bulger and open the holes for jackson it will be pretty good stuff.
    That's really the key, isn't it? IMO, the Chiefs' success was largely a function of their talented offensive line, which was considered to be among the best in the league for a time there.

    The Rams' line has a ways to go to get on par with that. At best right now, I'd call us middle of the road when it comes to the offensive line. At this point in his career, I'd say Pace is probably good but not great. Bell is an up and comer but still a bit unproven. We have no clue what we have at center right now. At RG we have a young guy, also kind of unproven over time. And at RT we have a first rounder who plays more like a mid rounder - solid but unspectacular.

    Said it once, said it a thousand times - it's going to come down to what the guys in the trenches do. Their play, successful or not, is going to have direct impact

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    Re: Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR

    The Rams simply haven't invested much draft capital in the position, and it could hurt them if one of the starters is lost to injury.
    I don't have the angst over the LB corp that some do, but it's hard to argue with this statement. The Rams have only spent one 1st round pick on LB (Robert Thomas) in the last quarter century. The Rams have not drafted a Pro Bowl LB since Kevin Greene 23 years ago. The Rams have not drafted an All-Pro LB since Isiah Robertson 37 years ago! In the past 5 years, only 5 LBs have been chosen.....a reach ('06 Alston in the 3rd), an adequate starter ('04 Chillar in the 4th), and three 7th rounders ('06 McGarigle, '08 Vobora, '08 Chamberlain).

    Actually, I think, with as little attention as has been paid to this position, the Rams are in decent shape. However, it's hard to argue that recent attention has not been paid to the position in the draft.
    "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: Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR

    Bison...we drafted Pisa, no?

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    Re: Saunders must work around shortcomings at WR

    Quote Originally Posted by chiguy View Post
    Bison...we drafted Pisa, no?
    Yes, but that was in 2003.....outside the "5 year" spectrum I used. However, you are right, chi; Pisa, Polley, & the aforementioned Thomas are the only LBs from the first two rounds since Roman Phifer in 1991.
    "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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