Is The Swagger Back?
By Howard Balzer
Saturday, October 18, 2008
It was only one win after four painful losses and the firing of the head coach. One win. But, in the NFL, it can be a springboard to better things. Or, it can be just an anomaly, as things revert to the way they were.
In the case of the Rams, we'll have a pretty good idea which it was by about 3 p.m. Sunday. But, no matter what happens, the atmosphere is different, and the vibe has totally changed at the Russell Training Center after the ascension of Jim Haslett as head coach and the subsequent victory over the Redskins.
Since day one after taking over the top spot, Haslett has talked about regaining confidence and developing the swagger necessary to compete in the NFL. A large part of doing that is overcoming the adversity that occurs in every game at different times. It's easy for coaches to say those words. But when it happens, they become more than words. And, that's when a team can become a team.
Asked about that swagger, running back Steven Jackson said, “I think guys are upbeat. That definitely helps out around here. I think now once you have that first win against a big opponent, a team that was red hot like the Redskins, now you have that feeling that you can beat anybody and I think that was what we really needed around here.”
Haslett was asked what kind of bounce the team has experienced in the days after the win while preparing for the Cowboys. He said, “Well, every time you win in this league you get a little bit of a bounce, but these guys feel good about themselves. They practiced hard, they’re fun to be around and like I said last week, we’ll play hard. I can promise you that and we’ll give them everything we got and we’ll try to win this game and then we’ll go out and lay it on the line and whatever happens, happens.”
Jackson commented on whether things have settled in with Haslett. Jackson said, “It sure feels like it. Our defensive guys, they’ve known coach Haslett for a while, but as an offensive player, I’ve been able to get to know him over the last couple weeks. We definitely feel that he’s real settled in and he’s kind of settled us down.
"The thing that we’ve talked about, and he’s talked about with you guys, is once something bad goes on in the game not to get so down and he really helped us trying to get that fight and kind of that swagger believing in ourselves.”
Said wide receiver Torry Holt, “I think things are slowly settling in. I think he (Haslett) is still continuing to put his imprint on what we are going to do and what we are going to be as a football team. I am thinking, as the weeks go by, we are going to get better and better, but thus far I think he has done an outstanding job and most important, the guys have responded to his coaching and his style.”
So, his approach is helping the team enjoy the game again?
Said Jackson, “Enjoying it, instead of being afraid of what’s going to happen if you do something wrong," Jackson said. "Am I going to lose my job or how is the reaction of the media and the crowd? I think now he’s telling guys to go out and be football players and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.”
Tomorrow, we could learn a lot more about this team. For fans, there is definitely the feeling that it's not the same ol' Rams and that there is hope.
SORRY DANE; YOUNG GUYS HAVE THE JUICE
It's disconcerting to see wide receiver Dane Looker moping around the team facility this week. Unfortunately, it seems Looker is being unrealistic about why his role is being diminished. He believes it's because of the time he missed as doctors were trying to explain the abnormality on his brain. That couldn't be further from the truth.
In reality, there's a reason the Rams selected Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton in the draft. Looker had to know that and he understood he would be in a major roster battle in training camp. He showed his versatility and displayed what a team player he is. However, he started earlier in the season only because Avery and Burton were learning, and experienced injuries. In addition, wide receiver Drew Bennett was injured early in the first game of the season and hasn't played since. Now, there is also an effort to try and get Derek Stanley's speed on the field.
The only way the Rams' offense can work, and the only way for teams not to play eight in the box to stop Jackson and roll coverage to Holt, is for there to be more speed on the field at receiver, especially since Holt isn't the same as he was.
Burton is back after missing three games because of a knee injury, and was enthused by what Avery did against Washington. "He's a very explosive player, and he makes us both look good when he does things like that," Burton said. "I'm definitely pulling for him, and I know he's pulling for me. I'm just excited to be out there with him."
Asked what he hopes to get from the young receivers, Haslett said, “Well, I’d like to score some touchdowns to start, that’d be nice. Those young guys they bring speed, they bring energy. Keenan, it’s going to be nice to get him back and I think 17 (Avery) gets better and better every day he’s out here. We’ve got Derek Stanley who’s up; he’s going to play this week, so we’ve got three young guys that will go well against their two young corners, so it will be a good match-up.”
Holt is enthused by what they can add to the offense. He said, “I think (Burton) gives us another opportunity for us to make plays. He can open some things up, not only for himself but for Donnie and myself and Steven and (tight end) Joe (Klopfenstein). They will have some opportunities, early and often hopefully in the game. The way he looked this week, with his concentration and his focus and his attention to detail, I think was outstanding especially for a guy who is coming off an injury and picking things up fairly quickly.
"One thing I can say about Keenan; he is a very smart and a very intelligent young man and he asks a lot of questions. He wants to do the right thing; he and Donnie and Derek. If we can get those guys going and the quicker we can get those guys going, it just makes our offense that much better.”
Holt ruminated on being the older player in the group. “It is cool," he said. "I understand where those guys are coming from and I have been there. Like I tell them, it is going to be a time in their careers, where they are going to be in the position that I am in, so the best thing you could do is pass on your knowledge and experience to the young guys. The quicker they can pick things up, the better it makes it for themselves and their teammates. I just try to continue to encourage those guys from a football standpoint as well as a health standpoint and thus far they are taking heed to what I am saying and they are applying it. Hopefully they can continue to get better and better as the year goes.”
Health standpoint? It turns out Holt had something to say to the receivers when there was pizza in the locker room after practice Thursday.
“I am just trying to get them better nutrition wise," Holt said. "My thing is and I go back to when I was a young guy, I always had a tremendous amount of energy, I have always been a high energy guy and that is what you expect from young guys, to have a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm and do things correctly. Another thing I say to them is don’t wait until you are in your fifth, sixth, seventh year to try to get things right. If you have some veterans ahead of you pick their brains and try to do it now as a rookie or a second-year player so that can help you as your career goes on.
"That is all we wanted to say, but they probably left here and had some pizza on the side or something and that is fine. On a serious note, we are just trying to give those guys some words of encouragement that they can build on in their careers.”
On a personal level, it appeared there was a concerted effort to get the ball to Holt last week, but numerous passes were incomplete. Holt managed five receptions, but for a paltry 23 yards. For the season, he has 20 catches for 210 yards, a 10.5-yard average. Aside from the flukish 45-yard touchdown against the Giants, his other 19 receptions have averaged just 8.7 yards. He has averaged 42 yards per game.
This from a player that entered the season averaging 83.5 yards a game, most in NFL history. He is currently at 82.1, which remains the best of all time. It also appeared Holt didn't make maximum effort on a couple of balls against the Redskins. Friday, he didn't dispute that notion, and actually brought it up on his own.
Asked whether it's been frustrating this season not making plays, he acknowledged, “It gets frustrating at times, but I understand what’s going on. The main thing I can do is when opportunities present themselves and I had a couple of opportunities last week where I felt I should have done a better job of going up and attacking the football like I have done in the past and making some plays and taking some pressure off Marc (Bulger). Taking some pressure off of some of the other guys on our football team that I didn’t execute. I’ll have some more opportunities this game and hopefully I do a better job of getting open, getting some separation and making the catch and doing what I do.
"Also, just trying to lean on other guys and hopefully they continue to make plays and open some things up where I can have some clear lanes and do my thing. I’m going to hang in there, keep pressing the issue, keep working and hopefully this will be the week to turn things around and make some more plays on the perimeter.”
*It might be an exercise in futility because he's become such a marked man, but it wouldn't be surprising if guard Richie Incognito appealed the fines handed down by the league this week. Especially the $25,000 portion for verbally abusing the officials. Even teammates said Incognito wasn't cursing at the officials. Paid over 17 weeks, Incognito's salary of $460,000 works out to just over $27,000 a week, so his total fines of $35,000 are more than a week's salary.
However, it's obvious the league is coming down hard on all players, not just Incognito. Miami linebacker Joey Porter and Denver cornerback Dre' Bly were each fined $20,000 this week for criticizing game officials. Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was fined $20,000 for verbal abuse of an official.
*It might have been a blessing in disguise that cornerback Fakhir Brown missed a few weeks after being released Sept. 24. The question Sunday will be where his conditioning is, but the time away probably helped his shoulder get stronger. Brown missed all of training camp after injuring his shoulder on the first day of camp. Haslett estimated he was about two weeks away from being 100 percent when he was released. Asked if the down time away might have helped him, Haslett said, “I think in his shoulder obviously. He wasn’t 100 percent when he played that last game, but he told me he feels fine. He feels like he’s back to normal and, I hated to have him away that long, but it probably did help at least from a health standpoint.”
*Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens currently has 136 career touchdowns, which is tied with Marshall Faulk for fourth on the NFL's all-time list. Next is Marcus Allen with 145. Owens also needs 341 yards to pass Rams receivers coach Henry Ellard (13,777 yards) for seventh on the all-time list.
*Aside from the questionable status of quarterback Tony Romo, officially out for the Cowboys are running back Felix Jones (hamstring), left guard Kyle Kosier (foot), cornerback Terence Newman (abdomen), linebacker Anthony Spencer (hamstring) and safety Pat Watkins (neck). Wide receiver Sam Hurd (ankle) was placed on injured reserve Thursday. In addition to being a change-of-pace for starting running back Marion Barber, Jones was also the team's kickoff returner. He was averaging 8.9 yards per rush with three touchdowns and was averaging 27.1 yards per kickoff return with a 98-yard touchdown.
Suspended cornerback Pacman Jones was the punt returner, while punter Mat McBriar was placed on injured reserve this week and replaced by Sam Paulescu.
Re: Is The Swagger Back?
Feels good to see the team learning and feeding off of each other and having fun..haslett said the guys were fun to be around and for the coach to say that says alot about the teams attitude...it also seems as if haslett defends his players alot more than the "other guy"...if something has to be said, win or lose, haslett will say it how it NEEDS to be said....with balls