TSN Rams Report

Although coach Mike Martz lays much of the blame for the team's kick return woes on sub par blocking, the team will sort through several candidates in an attempt to upgrade its kickoff and punt returners. Aveion Cason and Arlen Harris shared kickoff return duties in 2005. But Harris lacks breakaway speed, and Cason has above-average speed but lacks elusiveness. DeJuan Groce will get another chance to win the punt return job held by Shaun McDonald a year ago. Groce is a more decisive return man than McDonald. Plagued by injuries in recent seasons, newcomer Terry Fair also will be given a chance to win a return job. . . .

Consistent pressure from Leonard Little is a given at left defensive end, but the pass rush will go only as far as Anthony Hargrove takes it. The second-year player from Georgia Tech is a key to the team's front seven in 2005. If Hargrove can post eight to 10 sacks with a fair amount of quarterback pressures, teams won't be able to chip block or double team Hargrove as much as they did last season. Hargrove has a quick first step and the athleticism and smarts to develop multiple moves. But he must learn to use his hands better and read his keys better to become a bona fide NFL starter.

SCOUTING REPORT:A first-round draft pick in 2002 and a starter the past two seasons, LB Robert Thomas is faced with the prospect of winning back a starting job from either Dexter Coakley at outside linebacker or Chris Claiborne at middle linebacker. Thomas struggled last season adjusting to the new defensive schemes of coordinator Larry Marmie. Although quick and instinctive in the middle, the undersized Thomas frequently was run over by lead blockers and engulfed by guards and centers. He would be much better suited to a defensive scheme where he could play in space more and use his athleticism.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:The Rams are looking for production and leadership from veteran LB Chris Claiborne, a free-agent pickup from Minnesota. Claiborne can play pass defense; he is athletic and mobile for a big linebacker. But what the Rams are counting on from Claiborne is a physical, run-stuffing presence in the middle on first and second down, something that has been lacking since London Fletcher left for Buffalo. In the past, Claiborne has played some of his best defense in the middle, and he is looking forward to making the switch after playing outside in Minnesota.

GUARDS/CENTER ANALYSIS: Grade: B-. RG Adam Timmerman and C Andy McCollum are proven players, but the team is still searching for a starting LG among Rex Tucker, Blaine Saipaia, and Scott Tercerco.