St. Louis Rams Team Report--Good overview of the team
Posted on the Footballguys.com site.
St. Louis Rams Team Report
Offense by Bob Magaw; Defense by Bob Magaw; OL by Chris Smith; Kickers and Returners by Mike Herman
Starter - Marc Bulger
Backups - Jamie Martin, Jeff Smoker, Ryan Fitzpatrick
Starting Quarterback: Bulger signed an extension prior to 2004 which put an end to an increasingly divisive QB controversy. His inaugural camp getting first team reps fostered the telepathic WR rapport preferred in Mad Martz's passing lab. Bulger shares the same HS as Dan Marino and a similar lightning quick release and catchable ball. When in rhythm, he drops passes into the smallest windows in the league and can pick apart virtually any NFL defense. Taming the mind boggling myriad of Rams formations and shifts reduced INTs (22-14 from '03-'04). Other signs of maturity included going through progressions faster, seeing the field better, hitting second and third targets and passing downfield more accurately. Bulger is cool under fire and is garnering attention for his late game heroics. The Rams had a yardage (#6 NFL) and scoring (#19) disconnect in '04. If Alex Barron stops the horror at RT, beast Steven Jackson unleashes the rushing attack and Holt/Bruce maintain their stature as an elite duo, a "Perfect Storm" confluence could elevate red zone efficiency and bridge the gap between Bulger's elite yardage numbers (283.1 YPG #4 NFL) and pedestrian passing TD total (21).
Backup Quarterback(s): Martin was brought back in the wake of last season's disastrous Chris Chandler signing. While unspectacular, a career backup who has played 27 games in six seasons (some merely in relief or mop up duty), with a mediocre 14/13 TD/INT ratio, Martz feels secure knowing Martin's familiarity with the intricacies of the system and ability to execute it proficiently if needed. Smoker was a sixth rounder in the '04 draft who likely would have gone higher if not for a public battle with substance abuse. He won Martz over with the forthright manner in which he detailed his problem and rehab efforts. Smoker was perhaps best known for being part of a record-setting battery at Michigan State with Charles Rogers. Though Bulger is the man, Smoker is expected to battle Martin for #2 QB in camp. While lacking prototypical size, positive attributes include a strong arm and unflappable aura. Harvard QB Fitzpatrick should master Martz's brainy playbook quickly.
Starter - Steven Jackson
Backups - Marshall Faulk, Arlen Harris
Fullback - Joey Goodspeed, Madison Hedge****
Starting Running Back: Jackson was declared the starter in the offseason. He had a full yard higher (5.0) YPC average than Faulk and could be a more dangerous red zone weapon at this stage. With the future HOFer a shell of his former self, the Rams pounced on Jackson in the 2004 draft (parting with a fourth to move up two spots) when he swam in deeper first round waters than expected. He was the consensus #1 RB in his class with the most NFL-ready, complete game, and played in a prostyle offense at Oregon State (under former NFL HC Dennis Erickson). Jackson complements superior running skills with natural hands and outstanding blitz pick up. He is big (6'2" 233) and fast in the mold of Fred Taylor and Deuce McAllister but doesn't rocket from zero to sixty as quickly or have their nitrous-fueled top end gear. He is extremely tough to wrap up when he gets a full head of steam and runs with good lean and pad level. Durability is a concern after a knee injury marred debut, but he was a workhorse in college. The Rams' spread passing attack creates gaping holes to run through, and the OL, TE and FB positions were reloaded with smash mouth-friendly types.
Backup Running Back(s): Faulk should be a HOF lock. A three-time All-American, the former Aztec came to St. Louis when the Rams dealt the Colts a second and fifth rounder in the '99 draft. The wide open passing attack of Martz and pinpoint accuracy of former grocery stocker Kurt Warner perfectly aligned with Faulk's skills, pushing his play to levels never seen before. Warner and Faulk took turns winning league MVP honors, went to the Super Bowl twice and won once from '99-'01. Faulk won offensive POY all three years and AVERAGED over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 84 receptions in that span (hitting pay dirt a stupefying 47 times in 2000-'01). Faulk, however, doesn't get to the second level like he used to and is in the twilight of a luminous career (his rushing trend line points downward since the last Super Bowl - 953-818-774). He did have 21 combined TDs in '02-'03 (with seven missed games) but only four last season.
Fullback(s): Goodspeed is somewhat of an oxymoron as he has somewhat limited athleticism and movement skills. He does seem to be able to carry out his assignments competently (if not spectacularly) in Martz's complex offensive scheme, which is highly demanding in terms of the vast array of formations, shifts and personnel groupings. He is strictly a lead blocker, mission one is to put a hat on the first guy he meets in the hole. Goodspeed did a commendable and workmanlike job last season to stabilize a position that in the past Martz prioritized about as highly as a third string holder (effectively putting a stop to a revolving door at the position since crushing lead blocker James Hodgins departed in FA to the Cardinals). Hedge**** was the last pick of the Rams well conceived '05 draft class. One of the top blocking backs in the nation, he is a king-sized (6'3" 266) FB and bigger than some DEs. St. Louis almost certainly won't carry two FBs on the roster, so his STs expertise (an unsurprising theme in the draft after the debacle against Atlanta in the playoffs) could be his ticket to the starting gig.
Starters - Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce
Backups - Kevin Curtis, Shaun McDonald, Dane Looker, Dante Ridgeway
Starting Receivers: Holt led all NFL WRs in receptions (117) and receiving yards (1,696) and was second in receiving TDs (12) in 2003. All of these marks were also career highs. Last season Holt tied for third in receptions (94), was fourth in yards (1,372) and tied for ninth in TDs (10) among WRs. The sixth overall pick in the '99 draft was an integral part of one of the most prolific NFL offenses ever and instrumental in their two Super Bowl runs ('99-'01). Despite lacking dominant physical traits, he separates himself by being a technician. Holt is a precise route runner, sets up DBs, gets in and out of breaks at full speed, has vacuum cleaner hands and explodes through the catch. Has accumulated 1,600+ yards twice and 1,300+ three times since his rookie year. With only 23 TDs his first four seasons, Holt has hauled in 22 in the last two years. Bruce has become the Rams' career leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs (777-11,753-74) during a stellar 11 season tenure. Las season he reversed a three-year downtrend in yards with a bounce back season (1,292) that was fifth among NFL WRs and also tied for seventh in receptions (89). Early hamstring problems (in his fourth and fifth seasons) put his career in question, but they haven't resurfaced since adopting a different stretching regimen. The "Reverend" caught the game winning TD in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Backup Receiver(s): Curtis led the nation in receptions per game in 2001 for Utah State despite not being on scholarship! After garnering some All-American recognition, he caught the Rams attention with a blistering sub-4.4 40 in the pre-draft workout circuit. Considered undersized at 5'11" 186, he is actually close to Holt and Bruce's dimensions (in Martz's system, precision route running supersedes raw size considerations). There is debate over whether the Rams are grooming him to be the Reverend's eventual successor. Not in doubt, however, are his serious wheels. He can eat up a DB's cushion in a hurry and has the scary speed to rip the top off of coverage schemes. A broken foot slowed his rookie development, but there were no discernible aftereffects in '04 (32 receptions). McDonald shades a little more towards the smurf end of the WR continuum (5'10" 183) and is reminiscent of Az-Zahir Hakim (the loss of whom many Ram observers trace the downfall of this offense from its apex). While the actual story is probably more complex, there was something about having a third playmaking WR that snapped defenses. McDonald has outstanding hands and can do something after the catch (set the AZ state record as a prep with 14 kick return TDs). Looker provides solid depth. Ridgeway led the nation in receptions with Ball State last season. Though not a speed merchant, he holds promise as a possession WR.
Starter - Brandon Manumaleuna
Backup(s) - Roland Williams, Jerome Collins
Manumaleuna can put the fear of God into any announcer. He was signed to a restricted FA contract (five years - $8.3 million) by the Panthers before the '04 season, but St. Louis bit the bullet and matched the offer. After last season, it questionable whether this was the wisest allocation of their cap dollars as he finished with only 15 receptions for 174 yards and one TD. Two things Manu has going for him (besides vowels) are size (at 6'2" 288, he is a thinly veiled extra OT in the running game) and durability (he hasn't missed a game in his last 64 opportunities dating back to '01). He actually has deceptive athleticism and is shockingly nimble for a large appliance-sized human. The Rams just don't seem to throw much to the TE. Williams returns after a three year stint with the Silver and Black. Though he can be a factor in the passing game on occasion (best year was '99 with six TDs but only six TDs combined in four years since), he was brought back primarily for his strength as a run blocker. Collins is speculative but might be the most intriguing draft pick of the Rams 2005 draft class. He is a physical specimen with tantalizing long term potential. Bounced around from WR, LB, DE to TE at Notre Dame, he has freakish measurables (6'4" 267... 10.9 100 m as prep). He was a gifted enough athlete to be the top gunner on the Fighting Irish coverage units, and his special teams expertise (coupled with his outrageous potential) all but insure he will make the team. With development, has the tools to easily be the best TE on the roster.
Jeff Wilkins: In 2003 Wilkins scored 163 points (second all-time to Gary Anderson's 164 in '98). In 2004 Wilkins proved that it's hard to repeat that kind of success as his point total plummeted to 89. His accuracy dropped from a stellar 92.9% to a pedestrian 79.2% (19 of 24). The up and down numbers has become a pattern for the Rams in kicker scoring: 26th, 1st, 24th, 1st, 12th, 5th, and 26th.
Kick and Punt Returners
KRs - Arlen Harris; Aveion Cason; Dane Looker; Mike Furrey; Steven Jackson
The KR job should be an open competition this year. RB Arlen Harris had plenty of opportunities last season but failed to capitalize (47 returns, 20.2 avg). RB Aveion Cason looked slightly better when he filled in late last year (14 returns, 22.1 avg). WR Dane Looker didn't get any chances in '04 but might get a look this preseason. WR Mike Furrey had a few uneventful returns (8 returns, 19.6 avg). Steven Jackson is a possibility but very unlikely due to his increased role on offense.
PRs - Shaun McDonald; Dane Looker; DeJuan Groce
WR Shaun McDonald handled every PR for the rams last year (30 returns, 4.8 avg). Looker had a tantalizing 23.5 avg in 2003 although that was only two returns. CB DeJuan Groce wasn't utilized last year but was a top-rated PR coming out of Nebraska. The Rams' poor kicking, poor returning, and poor kick coverage helped their 2004 special teams rank as one of the worst ever in the NFL.
Projected Starting Lineup: C-Andy McCollum; G-Adam Timmerman; G-Rex Tucker; T-Orlando Pace; T-Alex Barron
Key Backups: T Grant Williams; G Blane Saipaia; C Richie Incognito ; G Claude Terrell
The Rams have an elite lineman in Orlando Pace, two veteran linemen in Andy McCollum and Adam Timmerman who are beginning to feel the effect of aging, and two question marks at the right tackle and left guard positions. Assuming both McCollum and Timmerman still have another season or two in them, the overall success of this group may come down to how effectively the right tackle and left guard position are filled. The tackle opposite Orlando Pace should go to rookie Alex Barron from Florida State who brings his great athleticism and mobility to the NFL. He will make some mistakes but should get better with playing time. The big battle will be for the 2nd guard position with many players in the hunt including rookies Incognito and Terrell. Bears castoff Rex Tucker probably has the best chance to emerge as the starter. Any offensive line with a player of Pace's talents will do a good job, but it doesn't appear this unit is capable of great things in 2005.
The Rams had a Jekyll and Hyde year, stumbling to an 8-8 record. They then became the first .500 team in league history to win a playoff game (sweeping division rival Seattle 3-0) before being stomped by Atlanta in the next round. St. Louis was eighth in the NFC in team defense (334.6 YPG), fifth in the conference against the pass (213.4 YPG) but next to last in the NFC against the run (136.2 YPG). The Rams scoring defense was fifth worst in the NFC (24.5 PPG). Two seasons ago (DC Lovie Smith's last) the team led the NFL in turnovers (46). Last year (DC Larry Marmie's first) the wheels came off as they tied for NFL worst (14) and were last in INTs (six). Sack totals fell from fourth in the league (42) to the bottom ten (34). Keys to the offseason include the acquittal of Leonard Little, LB help (Claiborne and Coakley) and an influx from the draft of new soldiers for the war in the sky. Oshiomogho Atogwe will pilot this air battle. He embodies a shift away from dated SS/FS specialization and towards next-gen, multidimensional run/pass skills needed to combat modern offensive artillery.
Starters - DE Leonard Little, DE Anthony Hargrove, DT Ryan Pickett, DT Jimmy Kennedy
Backups - DE Tyoka Jackson, DE Jay Williams, DT Damione Lewis
Starting Defensive Linemen: The recent DUI acquittal of Little has lifted the specter of a four year prison sentence. In a funk most of last season he no doubt missed bookend Wistrom (who had left for Seattle). Little is just one year removed from a blistering stretch of 39 sacks in 41 games ('01-'03) and incredible 15 FFs in 28 games ('02-'03). He has freakish DE speed (4.4) and has some of the most dangerous pursuit ability from his position in league history. Man-child Hargrove is a physical prodigy whose measurables (6'3" 270, 4.5, 39" VJ & 31 reps) were superior to any DE in his class. However, he is a raw prospect who was a prep QB and only played two seasons for Georgia Tech, after taking the early entry route after a suspension season. He has the tools to become a complete DE (nine and eight tackle games in limited action last season). He just needs reps to improve. The Rams' strategy of using heavy ammo (round one picks) to bag recent DTs has failed to produce a difference maker. Pickett has the quickness to be more than a NT, though just stuffing the run consistently would suffice. Kennedy rebounded from a broken foot and disappointing rookie season, for the first time flashing some skills expected of a high first rounder (1.12 '03).
Backup Defensive Linemen: Jackson is a valuable reserve in more ways than one (his veteran leadership is a steadying locker room influence). The undrafted former Buc has been a swing player, with the versatility to play inside or out. Primarily a role player, he has never had more than 21 solos in a career that has spanned a decade, but he still has some skip in his step with 9.5 sacks since '03. Williams is a prodigal Ram who returns after sabbatical years spent in Carolina and Miami. Another undrafted DL-rotation guy, he begins his tenth year of NFL service. He has stuck in the league more by effort than talent. Though he has had as many as six sacks twice in the past five seasons, he is better known for his lunch pail, workmanlike attitude towards run defense. Williams represents valuable depth should Hargrove falter (which is unlikely). Lewis is trying to shake the impression that he is a first round bust. He was the first (1.12) of three first round selections in '01 (the other two being Archuleta and Pickett), but a litany of injuries have stunted his development. Career highs in tackles (36) and sacks (five) give guarded hope he can build on last year's success.
Starters - OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, MLB Chris Claiborne, OLB Dexter Coakley
Backups - WLB Robert Thomas, SLB Brandon Chillar, MLB Trev Faulk
Starting Linebackers: After the 2004 spectacle, the Rams dynamited the LB position. Lone incumbent Tinoisamoa was a prep legend in San Diego (only player in county history to be All-CIF on offense and defense). After a brilliant rookie campaign with multiple big plays (2 sacks, 3 INTs and 4 FFs), he paced the team in tackles in '04 (95). Tinoisamoa is a warrior who played through a separated shoulder (which corrected in the offseason). Free agents Coakley and Claiborne will significantly upgrade the units stopping power. The former Cowboy Pro Bowler compensates for a lack of size with speed and instincts (rarely takes false steps and flows to the ball). In the twilight of his career, veteran savvy outweighs skill erosion. The WLB/SLB roles will be sorted out in camp. Claiborne averaged 100+ tackles in three seasons (2000-'02) with the Lions, at MLB/SLB. The former high first rounder (1.09 '99) missed eight games since '03 and got mixed reviews as the Vikings SLB. Readying for his seventh season, the ex-USC great is just 26, and a return to MLB (initial success there) could ignite a career resurgence - if he can stay healthy.
Backup Linebackers: Thomas has been injured for much of his NFL tenure, and increasingly looks like both a first round bust and a poor fit in the middle (though he provides depth on the outside). He simply lacks the requisite physical nature needed by a MLB. The Rams had high hopes for former hoopster Tommy Polley (led national power Dunbar to four consecutive state titles) after a brilliant rookie season in which he started for the 2001 Super Bowl team. While one of the better coverage LBs in the NFL, he has since been labeled as soft, a liability against the run and resistant to coaching. The Rams didn't prevent him from departing to the Ravens, where he is expected to start at WLB. If the signature Baltimore intensity (Lewis and Reed) rubs off it could kick start his career. LB coach Joe Vitt thinks Chillar has a bright future, but he didn't distinguish himself last season as a rookie and failed to capitalize on an early opportunity to start. Faulk is strictly a journeyman and backup. The defense would probably be in trouble if he was forced to start for any extended length of time.
Starters - CB Jerametrius Butler, CB Travis Fisher, SS Adam Archuleta, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe
Backups - S/CB Michael Hawthorne, CB Ron Bartell , SS Jerome Carter , FS Michael Stone
Starting Defensive Backs: Butler enjoyed a breakout season as he led the team in INTs (4), was seventh among NFL CBs in solos (75) and emerged as the Rams' top playmaker in the secondary. Fisher once clocked a 10.3 (Butler a 10.5) - fastest in the state of Florida. He has above average coverage and run support skills but is coming off an injury riddled season. Archuleta is a plyometrics poster child (4.3, 39" VJ & 530 lb bench). The fourth year LB conversion was an ascendant player in '02 (102 solos). He led St. Louis in solos (79), but regressed last season and missed a lot of tackles. If he can recover from a herniated disc (not a given), a return to form is possible, but the talk of a move to FS could be a red flag. He could be vulnerable in a contract year. Atogwe fits the new profile. At near LB size (5'11 220), he can run (22.8 200 m), hit (led Cards in tackles last three seasons) and cover (nine career INTs). Fluid in coverage and capable of making plays on the ball, 'Mo hits ball carriers like an electric axe handle (led Pac 10 in '03 with six FFs and FRs). Studied Biological Sciences at Stanford, the playbook and secondary calls should be a breeze.
Backup Defensive Backs: Free agent S/CBs Michael Stone or Michael Hawthorn could emerge as a starting safety, but are better fits at nickel CB, as depth and special teams aces. DC Larry Marmie and new secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer knew them in Arizona and Green Bay respectively. These signings and the draft signal a clear recognition by the Rams a need to reload in the secondary and upgrade the talent level - a must in the shooting gallery-like NFC West. Bartell was one of the highest graded small school prospects in the draft at any position. Technical gaps are to be expected with such a raw CB, but he has tremendous triangle numbers (6'1" 208, 4.3). The second rounder will be tried first at nickel CB, and contingent on his development, could be groomed for an eventual starting role. Carter is a thumper who looks more like an old school SS. The three year starter for the 'Noles piqued the scouts interest with a smoking 4.4. A twin size-wise to Atogwe (5'11" 220), he could be the future opposite him if Archuleta can't make it all the way back. The Rams are one of the most fortuitous landing spots for a rookie S.
Re: St. Louis Rams Team Report--Good overview of the team
didn't know something:
5.0 on offense? Was he, a RB?
Lone incumbent Tinoisamoa was a prep legend in San Diego (only player in county history to be All-CIF on offense and defense)