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  1. #1
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    Several young Rams already at crossroads of careers

    BY JEFF GORDON
    Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
    11/29/2004

    Online Columnist Jeff Gordon


    The Rams have time, with six games left on their schedule. They have opportunity, with so many NFC teams playing like they are in the Big 12 North this season.

    So what’s it going to be? Are the Rams going to overcome their pedestrian 5-5 start and battle into postseason play?

    Or are they going to stagger toward an offseason of heavy reconstruction?

    The Rams have been all over the map this season, so it’s tough to label the Monday Night Football game at Green Bay as a defining moment of the season.

    An upset would help the Rams, of course, but only if they followed it by dismissing the under-skilled ***** next week.

    A loss would hurt the Rams, obviously, but this is shaping up as a season where 9-7 or even 8-8 might be good enough.

    Will the Rams make it, or break? We’re guessing this season will go right down to the end, with plenty of good and bad surprises still in the offing.

    But this much is for sure: Many Rams are running out of time to make an impact for this franchise.

    There are lots of promising first- and second-year players on this team -- Mike Martz’s last two drafts have been OK -– but plenty of young veterans have reached the crossroads of their careers here.

    To wit:

    Damione Lewis, DT: He has made some big plays here and there, but he hasn’t become a defensive force. Lewis has NOT played like a first-round draft pick. When Martz elected to start street free agent Brian Howard ahead of him, that is a warning flare.

    Lewis is healthy now. There are no excuses.


    Jimmy Kennedy, DT: He is the same story. Foot problems slowed him earlier, but now he is healthy. He is overdue to become a force inside. At the very least, he needs to become a reliable run-stopper.

    On an otherwise under-sized front seven, he should make a big difference. But he hasn’t. Martz has been encouraged by Kennedy's improved work ethic, but that hasn’t been followed by improved productivity.


    Ryan Pickett, DT: He has shown more than the other two first-round picks -- largely because he has stayed relatively healthy -– but he hasn’t become special. Martz often says that defensive tackles take a while to develop, but at what point must an organization concede that a player has hit his plateau?

    It seems like we’ve about reached that threshold with “Big Grease.”


    Adam Archuleta, S: Remember when he appeared destined to become a regular at the Pro Bowl? That’s a faded memory. He is no longer a ferocious run-stopper and he hasn’t improved his coverage skills.

    Nagging back problems have certainly affected his play this season, but his ordinary play is still a concern. Is he on his way up in the NFL or, because of injuries, has he begun his descent?


    Tommy Polley, LB: He has gamely played hurt this season, often making himself noticeable. Other times, though, he is distressingly inert. Like Archuleta, he looked like a budding Pro Bowl-caliber player earlier in his Rams career.

    What went wrong? If Polley is indeed a washout, his failure will be a major blow to this franchise’s immediate future.


    Robert Thomas, LB: He has the wheels to be an impact player, but what about the fire? As with Polley, injuries have been a mitigating circumstance here. Yet you are left wondering why he can’t become a playmaker, if not on defense then on special teams.


    If these six defensive players would perform at a high level, nobody would have reason to grouse about new coordinator Larry Marmie. If these six would improve instead of regress, the Rams could still have the makings of an effective defense.

    Leonard Little still is a disruptive pass rusher. Pisa Tinoisamoa is a disruptive linebacker. Injury-battered Travis Fisher is still a fine corner. Jerametrius Butler could be a solid corner, too.

    Cornerback DeJuan Groce and linebacker Brandon Chillar have had their moments, too, although it’s tough to project whether they will become special players or just regular guys.

    We’re going to learn a lot more about the young Rams veterans during the weeks ahead. We’ll see for ourselves which players are worth keeping over the long haul and which need to depart.

    We’ll see if the Rams need to tweak their defense for next season . . . or whether the football operation has to start over.

    As a team and as individuals, the Rams still hold their fate in their own hands -– and hearts.


  2. #2
    HUbison's Avatar
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    Re: Several young Rams already at crossroads of careers

    So let me see if I get this. We take 6 young defensive players, Arch, Pickett, D-Lew, Kennedy, Thomas, & Polley. All 1st rounders with the exception of Polley who was taken in the 2nd round. Gordon then has this to say:
    If these six defensive players would perform at a high level, nobody would have reason to grouse about new coordinator Larry Marmie. If these six would improve instead of regress, the Rams could still have the makings of an effective defense.
    So here's my question, who's to blame for this mass regression? Is it...

    1. a pure coincidental moment in time when 6 young players just lost the will to improve their game?

    2. the fault of whoever is in charge of player evaluation? In which case, why is this individual still in charge of player evaluation?

    3. the fault of a defensive coach and/or his staff that can not get the best out of his players, and in fact is doing them more harm than good, as demonstrated by their performance?

    The answer that makes me the happiest is the first one. That one only requires a change from the players. The other two requires change from a coaching staff and/or FO that have shown no willingness to change. If it's the first one, fine, blow up the D and let's regroup. However, if it is either 2 or 3, I don't think anything will get fixed any time soon, because with regards to those two possibilities, change is a foreign concept.
    "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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    viper's Avatar
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    Re: Several young Rams already at crossroads of careers

    Quote Originally Posted by HUbison
    So here's my question, who's to blame for this mass regression? Is it...

    1. a pure coincidental moment in time when 6 young players just lost the will to improve their game?

    2. the fault of whoever is in charge of player evaluation? In which case, why is this individual still in charge of player evaluation?

    3. the fault of a defensive coach and/or his staff that can not get the best out of his players, and in fact is doing them more harm than good, as demonstrated by their performance?
    I think Martz has to be included in your mix as well HUbison. If you add him to number "3" I'd probably pick that one. I think that up until recently, Martz has focused so much of his heart and soul into the offense that the signal that has sent to the defense and special teams coaches and players is that they aren't as important for the team's success.

    I know that's probably an oversimplification of the state of the team's mentality. But, I just shake my head every time I see the success that Bobby April is having in Buffalo. Obviously, at some point the players have to be productive. But, our defense and ST need the fire and motivation that comes from coaches that can inspire their players.

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