Several articles from Wagner - 9-4-08
Jackson Ready to Roll
Thursday, September 4, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
With about two weeks to prepare for the regular season opener against Philadelphia, running back Steven Jackson’s workload will remain a mystery until kickoff Sunday.
But if there’s one thing all sides can agree on, it’s that Jackson is going to be involved in the Rams’ offensive game plan.
“I’m sure he’ll touch (the ball) a few times,” Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said. “I’m sure they’ll hand him the football a once or twice. He’s a pretty dominant player.”
Indeed, Jackson is widely regarded as the Rams’ most valuable offensive weapon. Now that he has the contract to match, Jackson has spent the past two weeks trying to get up to speed after a 27-day holdout.
That holdout cost Jackson the entire training camp and all four preseason games. It also meant he was going to be putting in what many would call “coaches’ hours” at the Russell Training Center.
“He had his semi boot camp last week, I guess, but he’s getting a lot of snaps, I mean he’s taking most of them in practice just to continue to bring him along and we’ve got to bang him around still a little bit and do those things because he missed all that from training camp,” Rams coach Scott Linehan said. “But this is game week now; now you get in more the mode of everybody’s kind of on the same schedule.”
Jackson estimated he spent about 12 hours per day at the facility last week. Before practice, after practice, during practice, every piece of information and work was thrown at Jackson in an effort to get him prepared for Sunday’s game against the Eagles.
An average day for Jackson started with some early morning conditioning. He would follow that with meetings and a little work before practice. Those sessions would often involve just Jackson, a center if one was available and one of the backup quarterbacks, either Brock Berlin or Trent Green.
Members of the coaching staff were also present for the pre and post practice simulations. Some of the activities in those practices were meant simply to ensure Jackson has a grasp of the play book.
While it’s one thing to read the plays out of the book, it’s another entirely to hear it called and instinctively know what your job is. That was the goal for Jackson during those extra sessions.
“I got a lot of on the field stuff,” Jackson said. “I practiced with the team and before and after practice, I got some extra conditioning, went through extra plays with the coaches, simulated huddles so I could hear the play calls, it’s a little different than reading a play yourself and hearing someone say it. So we just went through some of those things to make sure I’m grasping the offense and making sure I’m ready.”
The other top goal the Rams and Jackson hoped to accomplish in the past two weeks is doing their best to get him ready for contact.
Most players get that initial contact out of the way in training camp and the preseason games but without those benefits, Jackson is going to get his first live action in the first regular season contest.
“There’s nothing that quite prepares you to take that first hit but the scout team and guys on the practice squad have done a pretty good job of thudding me up and going after the ball to make sure when I do get those surprise hits and those hits I’m not expecting during the game that my body is not going to be totally shocked,” Jackson said.
It’s safe for Jackson to expect plenty of contact early and often against Philadelphia’s fast and aggressive defensive unit.
The Eagles and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson are known for their exotic and varied blitz schemes. That means Jackson has to be on point with his blitz pickups, an area he has admittedly struggled in the past.
“Our own defense has some exotic things so me having that going back from last year and coming back these last two weeks and seeing it, it kind of was like muscle memory and it came back to me really fast,” Jackson said. “It’s just getting in there and getting my head in there and keeping under control.”
According to Linehan, Jackson is ready to start and will likely get his fair share of touches against the Eagles. Although he joked about Jackson getting 50 touches this week, there’s no way to put an exact number on the amount of work he will get.
“He is ready to go,” Linehan said. “We are going to play him like we always would. He is going to be a big factor in our game plan just like I said Monday. He looks like his same old self to me so I am excited about the kind of game he is going to have and I think he is going to have a great year.”
In his first four years in the league, Jackson made a habit of revealing his individual goals for the season even if he sometimes waited until the end of the season to make those public.
Soon after signing his contract, Jackson said he had no plans for individual goals for the season but has narrowed his focus to finding ways to make the team better.
Jackson does have one individual goal for the season but it’s one that he believes will improve the team as a whole.
“I always keep a carrot ahead of me,” Jackson said. “But I don’t play for money; I play for the passion of it. I think that’s a reflection of my play and how I motivate my teammates. The year I want to have is to be able to play in all 16 games healthy. If I can do that, I think that would do (as) a number for people in this locker room.”
Jackson says he is ready for game action but he also says he understands if his touches are dialed back this week so as to have him ready for the grind of the rest of the season.
“I’m ready,” Jackson said. “I feel I am in shape to carry the full load but I am not quite sure right now what angle we are going to take in my playing time.”
Burton Prepared to Play
Thursday, September 4, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
To most NFL wide receivers, wearing a number in the 80’s is the standard. But Rams rookie Keenan Burton is embracing the 14 plastered across his jersey.
Burton says maybe someday he’d like to have a number that goes with being a proven veteran in the league but until he accomplishes something in real NFL games, he’s content to use that 1 and that 4 as motivation.
Taken together, Burton wears 14 but he views them as separate entities that lead to one conclusion.
“There’s a reason for everything and I went in the fourth round so every time I look down it’s a constant reminder of how much I have to prove myself and how much I have to do to stay here,” Burton said.
And the 1?
“Everyone thinks they should be a first rounder,” Burton said. “Everybody thinks that. My dream was to go in the first round. I didn’t do it; I went in the fourth round so maybe I can have a career like a first rounder.”
Burton showed plenty of promise in the preseason after the Rams used that fourth round pick on him in April’s NFL Draft. He got off to a hot start in training camp before hitting a wall. But he broke through that wall soon after and had his coming out party against Baltimore in the third preseason game.
There, Burton wowed the crowd at the Edward Jones Dome with a diving catch in the end zone for the first team offense’s first touchdown of the preseason and made a couple of other catches with plenty of wow factor. He finished the preseason with six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown and appeared more polished than second round choice Donnie Avery.
The question now becomes how soon will Burton get his chance to prove himself and stake his claim to a more esteemed number?
Injuries to receivers Drew Bennett and Dante Hall, the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers on the depth chart, appear less serious than first assumed. Neither appears on this week’s injury report and both appear ready to play this weekend against the Eagles.
Avery, meanwhile, is the one player who has not participated in practice and seems unlikely to suit up in Philadelphia. Even with Bennett in the lineup, Burton figures to get some opportunities in his first NFL game because he is technically the backup at Bennett’s position.
And if Burton does get on the field, quarterback Marc Bulger has enough confidence in him to look his direction on passing downs.
“I think from a mental stand point he’s getting there,” Bulger said. “He can’t go in and play every position like a Dane Looker could, but… he could definitely help us. He’s physically gifted enough where he can go in there and make plays without 100 percent knowing what he’s doing. He’s progressed as well as a rookie could.”
Burton readily acknowledges that he will have some nerves when the Rams get on the field Sunday for his first NFL game but he also is looking forward to his first opportunity to prove his value.
“It’s about getting yourself prepared the way your coaches want you to,” Burton said. “You don’t want to let any of your teammates down. I want to make sure I do everything in my power to help the team in any way possible and also to maybe surprise them a little bit and let them see what I can do.”
HOLT HEALTHY: Entering last season, Holt was coming off knee surgery that had slowed his usual offseason work. In fact, Holt spent much of the preseason and training camp resting and icing his knee.
Now more than a year removed from that, Holt seems about as close to pain free as he’s been in a long time. Although the Rams scaled back on some things for Holt during the preseason, he got plenty of repetitions and looked like the player who has been to seven Pro Bowls and is on pace to go down as one of the game’s most prolific receivers.
Linehan says there’s almost no comparison to where Holt is now compared to where he was at this point in 2007.
“(It’s) night and day,” Linehan said. “I thought he had a really, really good camp. He has a different role too in that he was leading some young players. We were making some transition things in our receiving core. The fact that he was able to get himself ready to play but also help the transition of some of the younger players we have. I just really see a rejuvenated guy, a lot like my first year with a very focused attitude on what has to be done.”
MANNING PLAYS CATCH UP: Soon after signing with the Rams, Ricky Manning Jr. was saddled with the task of trying to learn the Rams defensive playbook in less than a week.
Manning dived in head first and is continuing in his quest to catch up. According to Linehan, Manning is making progress to that end.
“He’s a veteran, he’s been here since the day he signed and got here,” Linehan said. “He’s been in the building studying, watching film, he really has had the coaches hours in here day and night and he’s coming along. He’s a veteran, he knows that’s what he has to do and I see him out there.”
It remains to be seen if Manning will play this weekend as he has yet to do much more than work on scout team so far this week in practice. It’s possible the status of starter Fakhir Brown will determine if Manning plays though he could contribute on special teams either way.
“He can go in and when he does play as we go along with this we have a pretty good idea of what he’s comfortable with and he’ll get comfortable quick with our entire system because he has a background of making the adjustments you need to make in this league as a veteran,” Linehan said.
INJURY REPORT: Thursday’s injury report wasn’t much different from Wednesday’s. In fact, Avery (knee) was the only Ram who did not participate in practice for the second day in a row.
Center Brett Romberg (broken hand) was upgraded to full participation, joining cornerback Fakhir Brown (shoulder) and running back Brian Leonard (shoulder) with that designation.
For Philadelphia, the only change was a downgrade. Receiver Reggie Brown moved down from limited participation to did not participate because of a hamstring injury. His status for Sunday is doubtful and it appears rookie DeSean Jackson is prepared to make the start.
Eagles Offense Centers on Westbrook
Thursday, September 4, 2008
By Brett Grassmuck
After a career year for Eagles running back Brian Westbrook in which he led the league in yards from scrimmage and was elected to his second Pro Bowl, he wanted to thank the offensive linemen that had opened holes for him all year.
Most running backs treat their squad to a nice meal, or even buy them a nice gift. Westbrook took it a step further, treating all of his offensive linemen and their families to a summer vacation.
“I just wanted those guys to have something a little bit different and something they can involve their families in,” Westbrook said. “I was able to buy those things for those guys and because they have done such a great job for me and helped be the type of player that I want to be, I wanted to reward them, as well as their wives or spouse, to take a trip and enjoy themselves and get away from football a little bit.”
The unconventional Westbrook has shown his versatility on the field throughout his career, but it all seemed to come together for the running back in 2007.
He put together his second-straight 1,000-yard rushing season, racking up 1,333 yards on the ground, a career high. He also added 90 receptions for 771 yards, also a career high, giving him a combined 2,104 yards from scrimmage, the most in the NFL last season. He also found his way into the end zone 12 times, which was yet another career high.
“I’m going to continue to perform at that level,” Westbrook said. “I think that sooner or later people will recognize me for things that I bring to this team and the success that I’m going to have on the field. As this team wins more games, we’ll all get more recognition. That’s something that I’m striving to help the team do as well.”
Westbrook was rewarded for his career season with a restructured contract in early August that netted him an extra $15 million for the remaining three years on his contract.
“It gives you, definitely a big peace of mind,” Westbrook said. “I know your guy up there Steven Jackson, he was looking for that same sense of security and peace of mind and he was able to get it as well. It allows you to go out there and play worry free and not have to worry about your contract at all, just go out their and play football, which is what every athlete wants to do.”
Westbrook’s style and versatility make him a threat no matter where he is on the field, and the Rams will be sure to key on the running back Sunday whether he’s taking a handoff or lined up in the slot.
“He can run the ball and catch passes out of the backfield, make people miss,” Rams defensive end Leonard Little said. “When you get a running back like that, it’s hard to slow him down.”
The Rams will have to find a way to slow Westbrook down in order to get a win on Sunday, and it will take a team effort to do that.
“You have to get a lot of hats to him,” Rams defensive tackle La’Roi Glover said. “That’s the biggest thing. You have to get a lot of hats to him. He’s the type of back where you’re lucky if one guy can bring him down. He has that kind of ability. So we have to get a lot of guys to him, gang tackle him and try to hit him as much as possible.”
A couple years ago, the strategy for slowing Westbrook down would have been different. Over the past two years, Westbrook has really developed into a solid runner, where he used to be more dangerous coming out of the backfield or lining up in the slot.
Early in his career, Westbrook would rack up as many or more yards receiving as he would running the ball. But the past two years, he’s carried the ball over 240 times and ground out more than 1,200 yards on the ground.
“You always thought of him as more of a ‘loose-play’ back, where he’s always catching screens and lining up playing receiver and occasionally would carry the ball inside,” Rams coach Scott Linehan said. “Now, he’s got the ball in his hands every which way. It’s hard to defend because they move him around in so many places and they do so many things with him. You hope to contain him. That theory, that’s really it right now with him. He’s just a multiple weapon.”
Make no mistake, Westbrook can still beat you catching the football. He may be as dangerous as ever when he gets into the open field.
“He’s elusive,” Glover said. “He’s a smaller guy, so he can hide behind that big offensive line a little bit, and in the open field, he has all the moves. He has the spin, the jumps, the cuts and all those different types of things, a solid straight-arm. Then he’s a pretty strong lower-body style of runner. He’s the total package.”
Westbrook’s versatility and style has drawn comparisons to a familiar name around St. Louis, former Rams running back and future Hall of Famer, Marshall Faulk.
“His style is somewhat like Marshall’s used to be,” Little said. “He’s very hard to tackle. He has a low center of gravity. He does everything in their offense, catch the ball, run the ball and everything they need for him to do. He’s the focal point of their offense.”
Although honored by the comparison, Westbrook said he is not quite ready to call himself the second coming of Faulk.
“We did a lot of similar things,” Westbrook said. “He took the ball well out of the backfield, same as I do. We run the ball fairly well, and it’s a comparison. For me, I have to do it over a longer period of time to be compared to Marshall, who is one of the NFL’s great running backs.”
The Eagles success in Sunday’s opener lies largely on Westbrook’s shoulders. The Rams success on Sunday lies in making sure those shoulders don’t get too far past the line of scrimmage. To do that, it’s going to take a team effort.
“That’s really getting bodies to the ball and making sure that everybody is getting to the same place at the same time,” Rams linebacker Will Witherspoon said. “I think you just have to make things happen. They put things in their offense to open him up and get him in a lot of one-on-one situations, and sometimes you have to make plays. At the same time, sometimes you just have to make time.”
Re: Several articles from Wagner - 9-4-08
The third article was quite obvious. Kind of like how our offense revolves around Jackson. For the most part, without Jackson we're a mess. Same with the Eagles. Say they lose Westbrook, and they're a mess also. So, both defenses will be containg the running backs.
As for Burton, I hope he eventually becomes a great player. Nothing better than Avery and Burton becoming the next Holt Bruce combo. We can only hope these two guys progress enough to become hit players in our offense. Even if Bennett and Hall are the 2 and 3 receivers, these guys are old. So is Holt, so to find a new receiving corps would be the option, and lets hope two of the three are already in our line up.
I am really glad that Holt is getting better. He is still Bulger's favorite target. He's also still one of the better receivers in the NFL. I REALLY hope he stays a Ram till the end...