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Shaw Addresses Rams Future- - (Long, 2 parts)
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
For any team starting a season with a 0-8 record, speculation about the future is expected to run rampant.
After enduring a winless first half of the season, the Rams have gone 3-2 in the past five games. That ray of light has quieted some of the conjecture, but there’s no doubting that the organization is entering an important offseason that will help clarify the future of the team.
THE COACHING SITUATION
Rams coach Scott Linehan has done, by most accounts, a good job of keeping the team together after the difficult start.
That effort has led to some victories in recent weeks and the Rams have a chance to finish with a winning record in the second half of the season though the playoffs are out of the question.
The signs of life in the second half means there’s a strong chance Linehan will return for a third season and be given a chance to complete the rebuilding job he began in 2006.
“I fully expect that Scott will be here next year,” Shaw said. “The main question we ask ourselves and they are twofold in this case: Is the team competing? I feel this team has competed, despite our record and despite the adversity. This team has stayed together and competed so I give a lot of credit to Scott.”
The other part of the formula Shaw uses to evaluate his coaching staff is whether the Rams were making progress before things fell apart on the injury front this season. Linehan took over a team that was 6-10 and had suffered through a miserable year on and off the field before his arrival.
The Rams went 8-8 in Linehan’s first season with a fast start, a slump in the middle and a hot finish. That created enough confidence that many believed the Rams would be a contender for the NFC West Division and beyond in 2007.
Those hopes were squashed when injuries began to mount in the preseason and decimated the offensive line and various skill positions during the opening stages of the regular season.
While Linehan and many players have been quick to dismiss injuries as nothing more than an excuse, Shaw maintains that it is unfair to critique a team when so many key players are out with injury.
“I feel we progressed from 2005 to 2006 so you have to ask yourself what would have happened had our team stayed intact and it’s hard to judge a head coach on a team that has had this type of injuries,” Shaw said. “I feel if the team had stayed healthy we would have been as good as, maybe even better, than we were last year. So those are the things I consider.”
Linehan is the fourth coach in the Rams’ time in St. Louis. His record through one and three-quarters of a season (11-17) is better than Dick Vermeil’s and Rich Brooks’. Brooks got only two years, but Shaw said he didn’t see the type of progress he was looking for in the second season of Brooks’ tenure.
Vermeil got a third year based more on a gut feeling than anything and, of course, the Rams went on to win the Super Bowl.
That championship didn’t come without plenty of major offseason moves. Shaw, however, believes this team is closer to being a contender than that 1998 team was before the offseason shakeup.
“This team I feel has a good quarterback, a good running back, and some good receivers,” Shaw said. “I look at this much more as decimation by injury than anything else. Next year will be an interesting year to see how things come back together. I am encouraged that we have enough pieces in place that we can compete here pretty quickly.”
The Rams have played almost the entire season without left tackle Orlando Pace and defensive end Leonard Little, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, cornerback Tye Hill, quarterback Marc Bulger, running back Steven Jackson, guards Richie Incognito and Mark Setterstrom and tackle Todd Steussie will all have missed almost half of the season or more.
In his 28 years in the league, Shaw says he has never seen anything like the injury bug that has plagued this team.
“This is clearly the worst I remember,” Shaw said. “I have spent some time trying to reflect on when it was this bad and I really can’t come close to an answer.”
Shaw said he and other members of the staff have had regular meetings to attempt to figure out the reasons for all of the injuries. They have reviewed the strength and conditioning program, the way the players train in the offseason and anything else that might lead to a conclusion.
At the end of the day, though, most of the injuries have been freak occurrences; they have just happened to the Rams more than most teams in 2007.
“We have spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out why,” Shaw said. “Is it a conditioning problem? Is there a reason for it? I just think it’s part of the business and some years you are more lucky than others.”
While injuries have clearly been the main mitigating factor keeping the Rams from winning more, there are still some moves that Shaw would like to make in the offseason to get the Rams back to contention.
Offensively, the Rams had relied on speed so much that it was hard to make many changes to the skill positions. The emergence of Jackson has changed that approach some as receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce have gotten older. Bruce and Holt are obviously still productive and the Rams added Drew Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael to help shore up red zone issues and utilize the middle of the field.
The receiving corps currently doesn’t have a true speedster on the outside capable of stretching the field. That’s an area Shaw would like to address along with getting healthy and adding depth on the offensive line.
“It’s hard to really assess our offense right now because of the line situation,” Shaw said. “Considering the age of our wide receivers, it’s hard to assess what our offensive moves are. I think we are going to have to get our offensive line back and see if we can stretch the field some more with some outside speed.”
Defensively, Shaw is pleased with the progress that has been made. The Rams found a superstar in middle linebacker Will Witherspoon through free agency and have fortified the defensive line with 2007 draft picks Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan.
There are still some moves that can be made to improve on that side, but Shaw is encouraged by what he has seen from that side of the ball under coordinator Jim Haslett.
“I am very encouraged but we have invested quite a bit of assets into our defense over the last couple of years,” Shaw said. “The defense has played well.”
THE DECISION MAKERS
Although it’s difficult to tell because of the injuries, Shaw believes the Rams have fallen behind a little bit in terms of talent because of some drafts that weren’t as productive as possible.
That might have turned around this year when the Rams got keepers such as Carriker, Ryan, Brian Leonard, cornerback Jonathan Wade and others. As the salary cap has continued to rise to record highs, an added emphasis on the draft has been prevalent in the NFL. Teams now have the money to retain their marquee players and when they allow big name players to leave there are usually some strings attached.
“I believe this is very much a draft league,” Shaw said. “The dominant players are most typically the players you have drafted. Sometimes you can get lucky in free agency by getting a dominant player.”
The Rams did strike gold with Witherspoon, but for the most part the free agent market hasn’t provided many difference makers for many teams around the league. Part of the emphasis on the draft comes from trying to strike a chord between building from the ground up and supplementing with outside talent rather than hoping to buy a championship like baseball teams can.
That’s where Jay Zygmunt, President of Football Operations/General Manager, comes into play. According to Shaw, the structure of the front office has remained the same and the formula has had success with the respective people in their roles.
According to Shaw, Zygmunt oversees the financial and business aspects of the football side of the organization and is responsible for helping determine the financial value of the players.
Tony Softli was hired before last season as the Vice President of Player Personnel. It is Softli’s job to stack the draft board and help make decisions in the draft. Softli also helps evaluate free agents.
Softli has a say in both the draft and free agency, but Linehan still holds final say on all picks and acquisitions. Although some have called for the addition of another personnel man in the offseason, Shaw said there won’t be a drastic change to the way the Rams acquire, evaluate and select talent. And that likely means no addition of someone else in the decision making process.
“We have had success with the formula we have used,” Shaw said. “I am not going to drastically deviate from the formula because we have had a year that we have lost a lot of games. I am going to try to improve on the formula, which means we are going to work hard on getting better players.
“We will utilize all our cap dollars the best way we can utilize them and evaluate all areas and work hard toward improving the product. I don’t think it entails turning everything upside down. I am confident in the people and executives in this organization based on the success we have had in the past. To me, it’s hard work by coaches, players and executives in trying to get the best we can possibly get.”
THE TICKET SITUATION
The Rams on local television had been an institution in St. Louis pretty much since the team’s arrival in 1995. No matter the record, the Rams had an impressive sellout streak with no local broadcasts blacked out until late last season against Washington.
Since a sellout in the season opener this year against Carolina and the following week against San Francisco, the Rams have had three games blacked out. The Arizona, Cleveland and Atlanta contests did not air on local television as the games were not sold out.
Clearly, the on-field product is the top reason for those blackouts but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing for Shaw.
“It’s very disappointing,” Shaw said. “I believe we have good fans. They are as disappointed in the product as we are. This has been a successful franchise here, so it kind of disappoints me. I also believe that we are going to work hard to improve and they will be back next year when we start again.”
To that end, the Rams will be starting a ticket sales division that will focus solely on pounding the phones and selling tickets and suites to fans. That group’s main purpose will be to ensure there are no more blackouts.
But there is plenty more being done to ensure that the fans will want to come and enjoy their experience at the Edward Jones Dome.
In the next couple of years, there are improvements being made inside the dome that include new video boards and even a potential solution to get more natural daylight inside.
“It’s about improving the product so we will use our assets to attempt to improve the product and I expect the fans will support the team,” Shaw said. “We will be aggressive about selling tickets and doing all of those marketing things that all sports franchises do. Our emphasis here is putting the best product on the field.”
As for comments made by Jackson about music inside the stadium, Shaw said though he doesn’t make the decisions on that type of thing, “if it requires improvement, we will look at that and try to improve it.”
When all is said and done, though, it comes down to putting the best product on the field. When the Rams were lighting up scoreboards and delighting fans, the Edward Jones Dome was one of the best homefield advantages in football. Shaw believes that can be re-created in some form with a more successful team.
“My decisions are based on what is best for the franchise,” Shaw said. “My job is what am I going to have to do put the best football product on the field? There are lots of organizations in the league that deal with these same issues from year to year to year. It would disappoint me if we are committed to spending to the cap and doing everything we can do to win that we wouldn’t get quite a bit of support in the marketplace. This is the National Football League, it’s a terrific brand, a terrific product and this is one of 32 teams in 31 cities. I have every confidence that this marketplace will continue to support us.”
Re: Shaw Addresses Rams Future
Rams president John Shaw talks with Senior Writer Nick Wagoner
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Editor’s Note: At the end of the season, John Shaw will begin answering questions from you, the fans, right here at stlouisrams.com. Stay tuned for more information.
Nick Wagoner: How disappointing has this year been for you?
John Shaw: It’s been a disappointing year for us; we had much higher expectations. Having said that, there are reasons that are fairly obvious for the lack of wins this season. Mainly we have been overcome by a series of injuries that have been almost impossible to overcome. Despite the record, I am encouraged the team has managed to stay together and play competitively in a number of these games. With just a little bit of luck, we would probably be closer to .500 than 3-10. We lost a very tough game to San Francisco and Seattle and Arizona and Cleveland. We competed even though we were certainly undermanned.
NW: Have you ever been around a worse situation in terms of injury?
JS: This is clearly the worst I remember. Our starting offensive line has been really decimated. I think of the 65 potential starts through 13 games, we have only had 18 or 19 of the starts (by the anticipated starters), which is less than a third. Of those, 11 have been by Alex Barron at a position he didn’t normally play. That’s just the starters. Todd Steussie got hurt in the last preseason game, so we lost some of our depth. Then injuries to our dominant skills players, Marc (Bulger) for about half the games, Steven (Jackson) for about half the games and Leonard (Little) will have missed half the season. The answer is this is about as bad as I remember. I have spent some time trying to reflect on when it was this bad and I really can’t come close to an answer.
NW: Is there anything you can point to as the reason for the injuries?
JS: We have spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out why. Is it a conditioning problem? Is there a reason for it? I just think it’s part of the business and some years you are more lucky than others.
NW: Have you looked at how you deal with offseason conditioning and training methods?
JS: We have looked at it. I sat down with Jay, I sat down with Scott, I sat down with our trainers and none of us think there is anything different we are doing this year than we have done in the past, so it’s just kind of wild.
NW: Are you encouraged by the way the team has continued to compete in the second half of the season?
JS: Very encouraged. The defense has played well. It’s clear that we are a much different team with Steven Jackson in the backfield and obviously with Marc. I am encouraged but we have competed and I think we have a good defensive unit. It’s hard to really assess our offense right now because of the line situation. Considering the age of our wide receivers, it’s hard to assess what our offensive moves are. I think we are going to have to get our offensive line back and see if we can stretch the field some more with some outside speed.
NW: Why is the offensive performance so uneven?
JS: We formerly had great speed, but now the makeup of the offense is a little different with a different type of back, even though Steven is a dominant player, he’s different from Marshall. Then Isaac and Torry have been in the league a long time.
NW: Is the defense headed in the direction you’d like?
JS: I am very encouraged but we have invested quite a bit of assets into our defense over the last couple of years. It looks like we got two really good young defensive linemen this year in the draft. Will Witherspoon is a dominant player. We are hoping that Leonard comes back and is the edge speed rusher that we need. Our secondary has played very well. We are very encouraged by that.
NW: Is there an explanation for the struggles in the second half closing out games?
JS: I have discussed it with Scott. We clearly have had some problems in the second half this year, both offensively and defensively, not just on offense. The defense has given up quite a few yards in the fourth quarter over the last several weeks. I can’t figure it out but we’ll get an answer and a solution.
NW: How do you view the future for Scott Linehan and on what basis do you make the determination if he will get a third season?
JS: Scott will be here next year. The main question we ask ourselves and they are twofold in this case: ‘Is the team competing?’ and I feel this team has competed, despite our record and despite the adversity. This team has stayed together and competed, so I give a lot of credit to Scott. The second question I ask is, ‘Did the team make progress prior to the injury situation?’ I feel we progressed from 2005 to 2006 so you have to ask yourself what would have happened had our team stayed intact? And it’s hard to judge a head coach on a team that has had these types of injuries. I feel if the team had stayed healthy we would have been as good as, maybe even better, than we were last year. So those are the things I consider.
NW: Do you use past instances of removing head coaches as a basis for how you approach this situation?
JS: I think they are looked at separately. I felt with Rich (Brooks) that the team wasn’t competing that second year. With Dick (Vermeil) we actually won fewer games than we did his first year and we had quite a bit of player objection to the type of practices and how hard we were working. I just felt, and maybe it wasn’t apparent and was more instinctive, but I felt that the team was improving. I thought we needed to look at him a third year. Obviously at that point some certain things had to be done. We needed to change the quarterback. We were trying to improve our skill players. On the present team, I would like to add a speed player for Scott. But this team I feel has a good quarterback, a good running back and some good receivers. I look at this much more as decimation by injury than anything else. Next year will be an interesting year to see how things come back together.
NW: How close do you really feel this team is to being a contender again?
JS: I feel this team is closer. This team, despite only having three wins, is closer to being in the hunt than the team that Dick brought into his third year. That team, we did quite a bit of offseason movement. So there was quite a bit of uncertainty with that team. It looked like in the preseason that would be a good team then Trent (Green) got hurt. And then Kurt (replaces Green) and we win the Super Bowl. Lots of things happen in our business and there’s a high level of unpredictability. There’s a certain amount of good fortune and bad fortune. I am encouraged that we have enough pieces in place that we can compete here pretty quickly.
NW: Are you disappointed in the lack of sellouts and the no-shows at the Edward Jones Dome?
JS: It’s very disappointing. I believe we have good fans. They are disappointed in the product as we are. This has been a successful franchise here, so it kind of disappoints me. I also believe that we are going to work hard to improve and they will be back next year when we start again.
NW: If you stay with the current coaching staff, how do you show the fans in the offseason that you are trying to make this team better?
JS: My decisions are what is best for the franchise. My job is what am I going to have to do put the best football product on the field? There are lots of organizations in the league that deal with these same issues from year to year to year. It would disappoint me if we are committed to spending to the cap and doing everything we can do to win that we wouldn’t get quite a bit of support in the marketplace. This is the National Football League, it’s a terrific brand, a terrific product and this is one of 32 teams in 31 cities. I have every confidence that this marketplace will continue to support us.
NW: So the best way to get the fans back is through winning?
JS: Winning is the best way to get the fans, but all NFL teams expect that their fans understand hardships and difficulties and support them in the down years too. I feel that our fans have been there in our down years. My job is to try to improve the product and not to make a change that I feel wouldn’t be in the best interest of the product.
NW: The Rams’ recent draft record hasn’t been too good. How do you view that? And is there a chance that a new addition will be made to the front office?
JS: We are going to evaluate how we draft players closer. I think this last draft was a good draft. We have had success with the formula we have used. I am not going to drastically deviate from the formula because we have had a year that we have lost a lot of games. I am going to try to improve on the formula which means we are going to work hard on getting better players. We will utilize all our cap dollars the best way we can utilize them and evaluate all areas and work hard toward improving the product. I don’t think it entails turning everything upside down. I am confident in the people and executives in this organization based on the success we have had in the past. To me, it’s hard work by coaches, players and executives in trying to get the best we can possibly get.
NW: For those that don’t know, can you define the structure of your front office?
JS: Our structure right now is Jay is the President of Football Operations, he oversees the financial and business aspects of the football side. Tony Softli is our Vice President of Player Personnel. He stacks our board and between Tony and Scott with Scott having the final say, we draft players. Scott and Tony also evaluate free agency with the acquisition of new players and the retention of players whose contracts might be up. Obviously, they are aided by significant staffs that get involved in the evaluation of talent.
NW: With the way teams are now able to hang on to their own players in free agency that makes the draft even more important than normal, right?
JS: I believe this is very much a draft league. The dominant players are most typically the players you have drafted. Sometimes you can get lucky in free agency by getting a dominant player. We have happened to get one in Will Witherspoon. Teams are reluctant to give up a dominant player. There has to be a reason. We have seen that happen with Randy Moss going to New England. He wasn’t really a free agent, that was a trade, but there’s usually a reason a team lets a dominant player out which means there is usually a risk attached to it. Let’s just say by circumstance somebody gets loose, it gets very competitive and it’s a full retail market. You are paying top dollars to get that player. It’s not a question only of let’s go sign whoever the top free agents might be, it’s a question also of utilization of those cap dollars. Are you willing to allocate huge dollars to a guard like (Steve) Hutchinson? It becomes not only a player evaluation, it also becomes a player valuation. Is he not only a good player, but is the value on your roster in terms of cap space and cap room something you can live with?
NW: Do you believe the draft is the foundation for building a team?
JS: I believe it is still a draft league. Most of the good players on your roster are there because you drafted them. If you don’t draft well you ultimately won’t be a good franchise. It’s hard to win in our league unless you draft well.
NW: What do you think of the atmosphere at the Edward Jones Dome?
JS: It’s actually something we spend quite a bit of time discussing and talking about. There was an issue with Steven (Jackson) having a comment about the music. I don’t particularly make any decisions on that. I think if it requires improvement, we will look at that and try to improve it. The fan experience is a big thing and the game experience is a big thing so it’s something we spend quite a bit of time on.
NW: Is the atmosphere worse simply because of the team’s struggles or is there more to it?
JS: It’s magnified because we have had quite a bit of no-shows the last few games. I thought the crowd was very much into the Seattle game. Again, I come down to that I think we have supportive fans and good fans, so I am disappointed in the blackouts because I want to send the product to the fans on television. Other than the no-shows, I haven’t noticed really anything different than we have the last couple of years. I expect that we would have very enthusiastic crowds for the Green Bay and Pittsburgh games.
NW: What, if anything, is being done to improve the dome and the atmosphere in it?
JS: Most of the money is going to electronics. We presented a proposal to the city. The city has been evaluating and reviewing it. Until we get to the point where we have an agreement as to what it is, a lot of the stuff is just our ideas. Part of the idea goes to electronics, namely scoreboards and some allocation to the north end zone with a restaurant and it would affect seating in the end zones.
Last edited by RamWraith; -12-13-2007 at 09:55 AM.
Re: Shaw Addresses Rams Future- - (Long, 2 parts)
I don't really like the way he continuously throws in Torry's and Bruce's age in there. Then he sidesteps immediately past what he was getting at...
If Shaw attempts to take either of those WRs from us I will stop watching the Rams next until he is gone.
Re: Shaw Addresses Rams Future- - (Long, 2 parts)JS: Scott will be here next year.
-12-13-2007 #5Registered User
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Re: Shaw Addresses Rams Future- - (Long, 2 parts)
He mentions that the rams spend alot of their assets on defense. I wonder what the percent is spent on the defensive team verses the offensive team and how this compares to other teams.
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