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Thread: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

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    Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    By Nik Wagoner
    June 15, 2012

    - With yesterday’s announcement that the Rams had signed veteran LB Rocky McIntosh to a contract, the Rams continued their efforts to bolster the one position they didn’t address much in the draft – save for the 7th round selection of Hawaii’s Aaron Brown. They now have 10 total linebackers on the roster.

    - But that doesn’t mean the Rams haven’t attempted to address the outside linebacker position this offseason. They haven’t thrown large amounts of free agent dollars at any outside ‘backers and they didn’t use any premium picks to get one but they have now added three talented veterans and a plethora of hungry young rookies looking to solidify jobs.

    - On Thursday, assistant head coach Dave McGinnis made it clear that the Rams do not have a need at MLB. Not that we didn’t know that already but here’s what he had to say after getting the chance to spend the past two months around MLB James Laurinaitis:

    “He’s perfect,” McGinnis said. ”He’s the perfect middle linebacker for this defense. The ultimate linebacker for this defense when it started evolving was Mike Singletary. I was with Mike Singletary for seven years. The quarterback of the defense is the middle linebacker and in this system he has to be so in tune, I mean he has to be right in the defensive coaches skin. He has to understand it and know it from a lot of different angles. We could not have asked for a more perfect middle linebacker to install this system than James Laurinaitis. I remember watching him come out. I interviewed him at the Combine when he came out and I loved him then and I love him even more now because he’s exactly what you need.”

    - So, yeah, I’d say the Rams are pretty pleased with what they have in the middle.

    - That, of course, leaves us with two spots flanking Laurinaitis, spots that have been troublesome in recent years in no small part because they’ve been neglected. The Rams have tried a hodgepodge of players there without finding consistent results. Chris Chamberlain had some good moments last year but departed as a free agent to New Orleans.

    - This offseason, the Rams have focused their efforts on finding veteran pieces to put outside while also adding a bunch of talented rookies who could potentially fit the bill. With that in mind, and removing Laurinaitis from the equation, let’s take a look at what the Rams have in place on the outside now:

    - Jo-Lonn Dunbar: Dunbar was one of the team’s initial free agent moves, falling in line soon after the team pursued the big, high-priced free agents. He’s still young at 27 and the Rams believe his best football is ahead of him. He spent his first four years in New Orleans and played every linebacker spot. He says he’s most comfortable in the middle but he can play either outside spot. With the Rams so far, he’s played almost exclusively on the weak side. It’s possible he could shift over to the strong side because of the addition of McIntosh but he did just go through an offseason program playing one spot so it would also make sense to leave him there.

    - Rocky McIntosh: Like Dunbar, McIntosh has been around for a bit though he’s more experienced with six years under his belt. He’s 29 and has played all over in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts. He played inside and out in college but most of his starts for Miami were on the strong side. For the Redskins, he played weak side linebacker his first four seasons before the team transitioned to a 3-4. Upon that change, McIntosh moved inside and never was truly comfortable in that role. In St. Louis, McIntosh will work outside exclusively and it’s likely he’ll play there in St. Louis though he could get a look on the strong side if the Rams prefer not to move Dunbar.

    - Mario Haggan: The most experienced of the linebackers, Haggan is 32 and has been in the league since 2003. At 6’3, 270 pounds, Haggan is the very definition of a strong side linebacker. He’s considered an excellent special teams player and should play a big role there but he also will be in position to battle for the strong side spot.

    - Josh Hull: Hull is best served as a middle linebacker and a solid backup/special teamer. He did some work in the very early stages of the offseason at strong side but since the Rams have added the likes of Haggan and Dunbar, Hull has worked more in the middle. That’s likely where he’ll get his reps come training camp.

    - Dunbar, Haggan and McIntosh would seem to be in the driver’s seat to win the starting jobs outside Laurinaitis. McIntosh and Dunbar have a bit more versatility than Haggan, who will play exclusively on the strong side. The question is how that will play out. Because of McIntosh’s experience on the weak side, it could trigger a move of Dunbar to the strong side but again, the Rams can sort through that in camp as they might prefer to keep Dunbar at the position he played most of camp.

    - Justin Cole: Signed late last year, Cole is a young player with some intriguing upside and special teams value. He can play either outside position (though he spent most of his time on the weak side in the offseason) and will compete for a roster spot in camp.

    - The wild card here is a group of talented youngsters that the Rams either drafted (Aaron Brown) or signed as undrafted free agents (Sammy Brown, Noah Keller and Alex Hoffman-Ellis). All of those players have flashed some level of potential during the offseason program and each seems to bring something different to the table.

    - Aaron Brown: A bit on the smallish side, he figures to compete on the weak side but is expected to help on special teams. Known as a fearless competitor in his time at Hawaii, he’ll be in the mix.

    - Sammy Brown: On the other end of the spectrum, doesn’t have the natural coverage skills to play the weak side so he’ll likely be in the mix on the strong side. Natural pass rush skills but is coming from a 3-4 defense at Houston to a 4-3.

    - Alex Hoffman-Ellis: Some positional versatility with Hoffman-Ellis, but he spent the bulk of his time in the middle. We’ll see if he gets opportunities at other positions.

    - Noah Keller: Similar to Hoffman-Ellis, Keller showed some flashes during the offseason. He had some nice moments and worked in the middle as well. Will compete with Hoffman-Ellis and Hull for spots.

    - All told, the Rams have 10 linebackers and will likely keep six or seven. How that shakes out will likely come as a result of how the starting three shakes out. At a glance, here’s how the competition figures to look in terms of positions:

    MLB: Laurinaitis, Hull, Keller, Hoffman-Ellis
    WLB: Dunbar or McIntosh, Cole, A. Brown
    SLB: Dunbar or McIntosh, Haggan, Sammy Brown

    - Obviously, this situation won’t gain clarity until we get to training camp and can see where everyone is working on a daily basis but if nothing else, this can serve as a bit of a guide to what to watch for heading into camp.

    - As always, thanks for reading and have a great weekend.
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    Re: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    But that doesn’t mean the Rams haven’t attempted to address the outside linebacker position this offseason. They haven’t thrown large amounts of free agent dollars at any outside ‘backers and they didn’t use any premium picks to get one but they have now added three talented veterans and a plethora of hungry young rookies looking to solidify jobs.
    It shouldn't be but the 4-3 LB has become like the FB, overlooked and underappreciated. In the past 5 seasons, six 4-3 LBs have been named All-Pro. In that same time period, thirty-six 3-4 LBs have been named All-Pro.
    "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: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    The ultimate linebacker for this defense when it started evolving was Mike Singletary. I was with Mike Singletary for seven years. The quarterback of the defense is the middle linebacker and in this system he has to be so in tune, I mean he has to be right in the defensive coaches skin. He has to understand it and know it from a lot of different angles. We could not have asked for a more perfect middle linebacker to install this system than James Laurinaitis.
    Sweet monkey lovin' on a mango!!!

    Did McGinnis just compare Laurinaitis to the Samurai?
    live4ramin and Jonze like this.
    "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: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    Call me crazy, but as a guy that lived in chicago during the bears heyday and saw Singletary play for years (pre direct tv, couldnt see much of the rams in those days), and as a rams fan that has seen every down of Laurianitis' career, I would tell you that i think that Laurinaitis is very comparable to Singletary and has the upside to be the much better player. I think that Laurianitis has better coverage skills that Singletary and is still improving in that area. He is every bit as intense as Singletary and once he improves his angles to the ball a bit, i think he will be an even better tackler.

    Singletary is a very overated guy in my opinion. He was an excellent player, but a good deal of his production was a function of fantastic defensive tackle play in front of him, something that the rams have not even remotely come close to. Does anyone see anyone on the Rams roster over the last few years that reminds them of the Danimal (Dan Hampton), a true force of nature in the bears interior line?

    Bottom line, if Brockers is what we hope he will be, and Langford is solid, watch how much better Laurianitis looks when he doesnt have offensive guards and a center bearing down on him and getting a body on him play after play. With horrible defensive tackle play in front of him Laurianitis is still a ten tackle a game guy, durable, tough and a great leader.

    Butkus had doug atkins and others in front of him. Ray Lewis has had great defensive tackles. Laurianitis has had nothing to this point of his career. He is destined for all time Rams greatness and multiple pro bowls if we can support him up front.

    Ramming speed to all

    general counsel


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    Re: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    Quote Originally Posted by general counsel View Post
    Call me crazy, but as a guy that lived in chicago during the bears heyday and saw Singletary play for years (pre direct tv, couldnt see much of the rams in those days), and as a rams fan that has seen every down of Laurianitis' career, I would tell you that i think that Laurinaitis is very comparable to Singletary and has the upside to be the much better player. I think that Laurianitis has better coverage skills that Singletary and is still improving in that area. He is every bit as intense as Singletary and once he improves his angles to the ball a bit, i think he will be an even better tackler.

    Singletary is a very overated guy in my opinion. He was an excellent player, but a good deal of his production was a function of fantastic defensive tackle play in front of him, something that the rams have not even remotely come close to. Does anyone see anyone on the Rams roster over the last few years that reminds them of the Danimal (Dan Hampton), a true force of nature in the bears interior line?

    Bottom line, if Brockers is what we hope he will be, and Langford is solid, watch how much better Laurianitis looks when he doesnt have offensive guards and a center bearing down on him and getting a body on him play after play. With horrible defensive tackle play in front of him Laurianitis is still a ten tackle a game guy, durable, tough and a great leader.

    Butkus had doug atkins and others in front of him. Ray Lewis has had great defensive tackles. Laurianitis has had nothing to this point of his career. He is destined for all time Rams greatness and multiple pro bowls if we can support him up front.

    Ramming speed to all

    general counsel
    Wow......I'd just like to know how you could be a Hall of Famer and be "very overrated" at the same time.

    To me, you couldn't possibly fool the experts long enough to end up in the Hall of Fame, could you?

    Let's take a closer look, shall we......


    Mike Singletary either led or was 2nd on the team in tackles the final 11 years of his career (he played 12).

    Mike Singletary was named to the All NFC team 9 straight years.

    Mike Singletary was named All-Pro 8 times (same as All-NFL).

    Mike Singletary was selected to 10 consecutive pro-bowls.

    Mike Singletary started 172 games in his career, second most in Chicago Bear history.

    Mike Singletary missed 2 games in his 12 year career.

    Mike Singletary was the anchor of argueably the most prolific defense of all time in 1985.

    Mike Singletary was also named Defensive Player of the Year that year. And then again in 1988.

    Mike Singletary was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1998.

    Based on those credentials, I'd have to agree, "you are crazy." For both, thinking Laurinaitas compares favorably to an all-time great in just 3 years in the NFL, and for what I think is an outlandish characterization of Mike Singletary.

    Mike Singletary "the player", was far from "very overrated."
    Last edited by Fortuninerhater; -06-17-2012 at 05:18 AM.

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    Re: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    Quote Originally Posted by Fortuninerhater View Post
    Wow......I'd just like to know how you could be a Hall of Famer and be "very overrated" at the same time.

    To me, you couldn't possibly fool the experts long enough to end up in the Hall of Fame, could you?

    Based on those credentials, I'd have to agree, "you are crazy." For both, thinking Laurinaitas compares favorably to an all-time great in just 3 years in the NFL, and for what I think is an outlandish characterization of Mike Singletary.

    Mike Singletary "the player", was far from "very overrated."
    If you remove the "overrated" term, and focus on GC's observation - that James has never had the luxury of playing behind top notch defensive tackles - there certainly is validity in that statement. I believe Singletary is truly deserving of the Hall of Fame, and probably played with more intensity than any NFL player I have ever seen. That said, I think GC brings forth some good points ..

    Quote Originally Posted by general counsel View Post
    He was an excellent player, but a good deal of his production was a function of fantastic defensive tackle play in front of him, something that the rams have not even remotely come close to. Does anyone see anyone on the Rams roster over the last few years that reminds them of the Danimal (Dan Hampton), a true force of nature in the bears interior line?
    I certainly don't think GC is crazy for bringing this up. It is true. It has been many years since the Rams have fielded a truly talented front four across the board. Let's hope we're finally getting it right ..

    Quote Originally Posted by general counsel View Post
    Bottom line, if Brockers is what we hope he will be, and Langford is solid, watch how much better Laurianitis looks when he doesnt have offensive guards and a center bearing down on him and getting a body on him play after play. With horrible defensive tackle play in front of him Laurianitis is still a ten tackle a game guy, durable, tough and a great leader.

    Butkus had doug atkins and others in front of him. Ray Lewis has had great defensive tackles. Laurinaitis has had nothing to this point of his career. He is destined for all time Rams greatness and multiple pro bowls if we can support him up front.
    It is a team sport after all, and great players make great teams. Lets hope in Brockers and Langford, we've found 2 more key pieces to add to Chris Long and Robert Quinn - a more fearsome foursome if you will ..

    I am really curious to see how Fisher and crew regard Jermelle Cudjo. I'm hoping he is able to make the team, for now though it appears he's running under the radar ..

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    Re: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    Quote Originally Posted by MauiRam View Post
    If you remove the "overrated" term, and focus on GC's observation -.

    If you remove the "overrated term", there would not've been an arguement from me in the first place.

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    Re: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    Football is the ultimate team sport. You cant tell me that all players that make the pro bowl deserve to make it and many that dont make the pro bowl shouldnt be there. History is full of examples of great great players who dont get the credit they deserve because they play on lousy teams and often not in big markets. Go look at the current list of "top 100" players and tell me if you really believe that there are 36 guys in the nfl better than steven jackson. If steven jackson had played his career on great teams, with a functional offensive line, he would be considered a hall of famer by now. The same thing works in reverse. Tell me that singetary would have been a nine time or whatever pro bowler if he had played his career on lousy teams. Of course you can be a hall of famer and be overated (see scottie pippin, the ultimate example).

    Singletary was a very good player, but he benefitted massively from his circumstances. All statistics in football are a function of circumstances. Overated doesnt mean i dont think he was very very good, but to me, HOF means all time great and i just dont see singletary in that category without the great players he had around him, and i have watched the game for 40 plus years. Of course laurianitis doesnt make pro bowls, because how many guys make pro bowls when you win two to four games a year?

    Middle linebackers make tackles. Their job is a million times easier when the defensive tackles do their jobs in front of them. Average middle linebackers can look very good and very good guys can look great when they have great d tackles in front of them.

    Put it another way. Was greg bell a great running back because he gained over a thousand yards after dickerson left, or did he gain a thousand yards in large part because he had five pro bowl linemen in front of him. Said another way, any average back could have gained a thousand yards in front of that line. My point here is that tons of starting nfl middle linebackers would have had great stats playing behind that bears defensive line.

    Many consider singeltary to be one of the all time greats at the position. I do not. In that sense, i think he was overated. The bears of 1985 had in my opinion the best defense in the history of the nfl. Singletary was an important part of that defense, but i dont believe that he was the driving force, and if you dont believe me as a person that was an eyewitness to it, go ask a hard core bears fan to compare singletary to urlacher or butkus and go ask them who they think was more critical dan hampton or singletary.

    London Fletcher has better a better player than singletary and he has done it for a longer period of time without the same kind of talent in front of him. Fletcher belongs in the HOF. Will he get there? Maybe, but he has been the most underated player of his generation, whereas singletary got a ton of publicity and acclaim for being a very good player playing under the best possible circumstances to maximize his effectiveness as an individual, and i dont believe that on an average to a below average team such as the rams (let alone a terrible team) he would have looked any better than laurianitis.

    Ramming speed to all

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    Re: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one, because I don't believe Mike Singletary was "very overrated", no matter how you slice it.

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    Re: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    I guess we can argue over whether Singletary is overrated or not. But what we can't debate is that McGinnis referred to Singletary as the "ultimate" MLB for this defense. Then referred to Son of Animal as the "perfect" MLB for this defense.

    Now, maybe that's all just preseason hyperbole, but no matter how we slice it, the intent was the highest possible praise for our defensive captain.
    "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: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    Mike Singletary was definitely not overrated. He was an outstanding player- productive, cerebral and durable for the duration of his career. His accolades speak for themselves. That he played on a team with other great defenders certainly helped him, but one cannot discount his achievements because he had the good fortune to play with quality people around him. .

    We can pick any position and argue all day about a guy's ability. Was Montana great BECAUSE of Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Roger Craig, or would he have been great even without them? Was Bradshaw great BECAUSE of Swann, Stallworth and Franco, or would he have gotten the job done regardless? I don't think there's any question that in football, one relies on those around them much more than in baseball or basketball, for instance. No player achieves greatness all by themselves.

    GC's bigger point, however, is that a linebacker is more productive when playing behind a superior defensive line. Laurinaitis thus far has not had that privilege. I do think that McGinniss is getting a little carried away- he's hardly the first coach to overhype one of his players- but it is not a stretch to think that Laurinaitis is real close to becoming one of the game's better MLBs. And he'll need help in front of him for that to happen.
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    Re: Sorting Through the Rams Linebackers ..

    Quote Originally Posted by NJ Ramsfan1 View Post
    Mike Singletary was definitely not overrated. He was an outstanding player- productive, cerebral and durable for the duration of his career. His accolades speak for themselves. That he played on a team with other great defenders certainly helped him, but one cannot discount his achievements because he had the good fortune to play with quality people around him. .

    We can pick any position and argue all day about a guy's ability. Was Montana great BECAUSE of Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Roger Craig, or would he have been great even without them? Was Bradshaw great BECAUSE of Swann, Stallworth and Franco, or would he have gotten the job done regardless? I don't think there's any question that in football, one relies on those around them much more than in baseball or basketball, for instance. No player achieves greatness all by themselves.

    GC's bigger point, however, is that a linebacker is more productive when playing behind a superior defensive line. Laurinaitis thus far has not had that privilege. I do think that McGinniss is getting a little carried away- he's hardly the first coach to overhype one of his players- but it is not a stretch to think that Laurinaitis is real close to becoming one of the game's better MLBs. And he'll need help in front of him for that to happen.
    Great post! JL is approaching his prime, and if Brockers proves out to be the real deal, Laurinaitis' will be a regular at the Pro Bowl - if there still is one.

    Spot on analogy regarding Montana and Bradshaw ..

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