At Nebraska, DeJuan Groce was one of college football's most feared punt
returners, taking five punts back for touchdowns during his college career.

Coach Mike Martz has decided to give him another chance to do so for the Rams this season. Groce returned 19 punts as a Rams rookie in 2003, but was replaced after a couple of fumbles. Last season, the punt return job belonged to Shaun McDonald, but he averaged only 4.8 yards per return. Groce has the elusiveness and ball carrying instincts to be very effective, but ball security remains an issue. . . .


Mike Furrey's best chance of making the 53-man roster now appears to be on defense. Furrey has been switched from wide receiver to free safety, where he will try to earn a backup job and contribute on special teams. Furrey has gained 15 pounds, pushing his weight to 200, to help with the switch. Furrey emerged from deep on the depth chart to claim the No. 4 receiver job over the second half of the 2003 season. But he got pushed back down the depth chart last season by the emergence of 2003 draft picks Kevin Curtis and McDonald. He has proven to be a tenacious wedge buster on special teams and certainly has the toughness to play defense. He played some defensive back in the Arena League before joining the Rams. . . .


A healthy Rex Tucker could help solidify the offensive line at left guard. Tucker was released by the Bears after three injury-plagued campaigns, but was quickly signed to a one-year deal. Tucker has the size, strength, and aggressiveness to be a quality blocker, providing he stays on the field.


SCOUTING REPORT: At 255, MLB Chris Claiborne provides a physical presence in the middle that has been lacking since London Fletcher left the Rams for Buffalo following the '01 season. Claiborne is a good knee bender who can be a force from tackle to tackle in run defense. But he still has the range to get to outside lanes. Although he will be used mainly as a two-down player in St. Louis, Claiborne is athletic for his size and not devoid of coverage skills. He drops well in zone coverage and breaks well on the ball. He missed eight games because of injury over the past two seasons in Minnesota, so it may be optimistic to think the Rams can get 16 games out of him in '05.


HARD TRUTH: There are plenty of candidates, but no sure things as the Rams try to shore up their safety and nickel back positions. Free agent cornerback-safety "tweeners" Michael Stone and Michael Hawthorne were signed for close to the minimum. Draft picks Ronald Bartell, Oshiomogho Atogwe and Jerome Carter all have skills and potential, but none could be classified as sure things. Yet, at least two of those five players must click -- one in a starting role --or else the Rams are in big trouble in the secondary. And returning starter Adam Archuleta is no guarantee, since he's recovering from a herniated disc in his back.


DEFENSIVE TACKLES ANALYSIS: GRADE: C+ Ryan Pickett plays the run well, but doesn't provide much of an inside push on the pass rush; Jimmy Kennedy finished fast in '04, displaying good strength and quickness.