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    USA Today's inside Slant

    Rams Inside Slant

    The Rams lost their colorful owner Jan. 18 when Georgia Frontiere passed away after a battle with breast cancer. She was 80.

    Frontiere had been hospitalized in Los Angeles for several months, and only those closest to her knew she was suffering from cancer.

    Said club president John Shaw, "For virtually my entire adult life, she's been a friend and an employer. As an employer she was unbelievable to work for. I always contended she was the easiest owner in the league to work for because of the type of autonomy she gave me.

    "For me, it's definitely the death of a family member, and really the end of an era in my career. As a friend, she was terrific. She treated me as a family member. She never had a social function at her house where I wasn't included."

    Frontiere owned 60 percent of the Rams, while Stan Kroenke owns the other 40 percent. Kroenke has a right of first refusal on any sale of the team, but he also owns the NBA's Denver Nuggets and NHL's Colorado Avalanche.

    NFL cross-ownership rules currently would prevent Kroenke from owning the Rams unless he would divest himself of those interests in the Denver market.

    Frontiere's son and daughter - Chip and Lucia - inherit her 60 percent stake in the team. Both live in Los Angeles. The question to be answered in the coming months is how long they will retain ownership.

    Notes, Quotes
    For a while it appeared Rams coach Scott Linehan was taking his own, sweet time trying to hire a new offensive coordinator. It turned out Linehan's patience was rewarded when Al Saunders was hired as offensive coordinator, just four days after he was fired by the Redskins.

    Said Linehan, "I talked to a number of very qualified candidates, whether it was in person interviews, over the phone interviews. There was a lot of that. I talked to more people for this job than I did for the entire hiring process the first time around. That's how important it was to me. I didn't, at the time, have any idea where it was going to take me. I knew what my goals were, but I was hoping something like this would transpire. I was hoping somebody the caliber of Al would be available, but again, you never know. When it opened up, I acted quick. He was open to it, and we hit it off right away."

    Saunders had one year remaining on his contract with Washington, and signed a three-year deal with the Rams. Said Linehan, "He wanted to coach and he wanted to be here."

    Saunders was the receivers coach for the Rams in 1999-2000, when they had a combined record of 23-9 and won a Super Bowl. But he left for Kansas City in 2001 when Dick Vermeil returned to coaching, then went to the Redskins in 2006.

    Linehan will turn over control of the offense to Saunders, who will be the play-caller. Said Linehan, "I told him I can be an asset, but I also told him I'd stay away. This is also an admission that I need help."

    Asked if he had yet reached out to wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, Linehan said, I have not talked with Torry or Isaac. I know both will be very positive about the addition. I know both had very great experiences when Al was here before as associate head coach and receivers coach. I've kept Marc (Bulger) somewhat in the loop because this is kind of critical as we were talking about directions that we might go offensively. It's really important to keep as much continuity as we can and I know the continuity is going to be very, very good for especially all the veteran players. It would surprise me if this isn't a very positive move for them as far as they see it, but it was more important to me that I hire the best coach for our football team. At this point our football team needs some veteran leadership not only from the veteran players but from some veteran coaches, which was a big part of my thought process.

    The hiring of Al Saunders as offensive coordinator, leaves coach Scott Linehan with having to just hire a secondary coach to replace Willy Robinson.

    Art Valero, originally hired without a position, will be assistant head coach/running backs coach, replacing Wayne Moses. Steve Loney replaced Paul Boudreau as offensive line coach.

    Greg Olson, the offensive coordinator last season who had been told he could pursue other opportunities, joined Tampa Bay as quarterbacks coach.

    Quote To Note: "I've never felt that way, from the time I interviewed (for the job) to now. To me, that's what I like or respect the most about this place. And that isn't the case everywhere." -- Coach Scott Linehan, saying he didn't expect the front office to force him to make changes.

    Strategy And Personnel

    Quarterbacks: Starter -- Marc Bulger. Backups -- Gus Frerotte, Brock Berlin.

    Bulger had the worst season of his career, completing less than 60 percent of his passes and compiling only a 70.3 passer rating. After throwing 24 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions in 2006, several injuries plus a decimated offensive line contributed to his subpar play. Frerotte also struggled when he replaced Bulger, throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes (12-7). Bulger (37) and Frerotte (11) were sacked a total of 48 times and hit often. Berlin played one game when both Bulger and Frerotte were out.

    Running Backs: Starter -- Steven Jackson. Backups -- Brian Leonard, Antonio Pittman, Rich Alexis, FB Richard Owens. Injured reserve -- Travis Minor.

    Jackson managed to rush for 1,002 yards despite missing four games and most of another because of groin and back injuries. As he got healthy at the end of the season, he had one stretch where he had a run of at least 40 yards in four straight games. Leonard went back and forth between tailback and fullback, but isn't big enough to be an NFL fullback. He can be a solid contributor. Pittman, picked up on waivers from New Orleans, showed some quicks in relief of Jackson, and could become the No. 2 tailback. Minor was solid on special teams. Owens was not a worthy replacement for Madison Hedgecock, who was released after the first game of the season. The Rams frequently struggled in short-yardage situations, and on many third-and-one plays, he wasn't even on the field.

    Tight Ends: Starter -- Randy McMichael. Backups -- Joe Klopfenstein, Dominique Byrd. Injured reserve -- Aaron Walker.

    McMichael didn't have close to the season many expected, with just 39 receptions for 429 yards and three touchdowns. Much of that was because he had to help in pass protection because of season-long problems on the offensive line. Klopfenstein started 16 games as a rookie in 2006, but struggled in his second season. He did score a touchdown in the final game of the season, which was just his second reception of the year. Byrd played just nine games, and continues to have off-field issues. He was fined at least twice for missing team meetings. Walker played seven games before being lost for the season with a shoulder injury.

    Wide Receivers: Starters -- Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce. Backups -- Drew Bennett, Dane Looker, Derek Stanley, Marques Hagans, Brandon Williams. Injured reserve -- Dante Hall.

    Despite some of the season-long struggles on offense, Holt and Bruce still combined for more than 1,900 receiving yards and Holt was selected to the Pro Bowl. He had 93 catches for 1,189 yards and seven touchdowns, while Bruce was 55-733-4. Bennett was a disappointment as the replacement for Kevin Curtis, with just 33 receptions for 375 yards. An early-season quadriceps injury slowed him, and later he had hamstring problems. Looker rarely saw action as a receiver. Stanley showed some promise late in the season as a kickoff returner, and did well as a receiver in training camp. He could challenge for a job in 2008. Hagans made the roster at the start of the season instead of Stanley based on his camp performance, but when he got a chance as a receiver, he was disappointing. Williams was also used as a returner after being signed during the season, but suffered an ankle injury. Hall also had an injury-marred season.

    Offensive Line: Starters -- LT Alex Barron, LG Milford Brown, C Andy McCollum, RG Todd Steussie, RT Brandon Gorin. Backups -- C Brett Romberg, C Dustin Fry, C Nick Leckey, OT Rob Petitti, OT Mark LeVoir. Injured reserve -- OT Orlando Pace, OG Mark Setterstrom, OG Richie Incognito, T/G Adam Goldberg.

    This was a group decimated by injuries, and it began even before the season started when Incognito suffered a high-ankle sprain. Pace went down in the season opener, and with Steussie out with a foot injury, the Rams changed three starting positions for the second game of the season. Barron had to move from right tackle, and the line became a musical chairs situation for the rest of the year, with the unit getting just 18 total starts out of 80 from their projected position starters (LT Pace, LG Setterstrom, C Romberg, RG Incognito, RT Barron). Thirteen different players started games on the line. The question entering the offseason is what the health will be for the returning players and whether they can be counted on for 2008.

    Defensive Line: Starters -- DLE Victor Adeyanju, DT La'Roi Glover, NT Adam Carriker, DRE James Hall. Backups -- DE Trevor Johnson, DE Eric Moore, NT Clifton Ryan, DT Claude Wroten. Injured reserve -- DE Leonard Little.

    The Rams got just 5.5 of their 31 sacks from ends and another 10.5 from tackles. Little had just 1.0 and saw his season end because of toe surgery. The best play came inside. Not playing as many snaps as the previous season, Glover was rejuvenated, and had six sacks, 18 quarterback pressures and 59 tackles. The play of the team's rookie tackles made it possible, Carriker had some ups and downs, as did Ryan, but they were generally very good. Carriker showed his versatility by playing both tackle spots and some end. Johnson and Moore had some moments, but Wroten showed little progress. He was suspended four games early in the season and did little after that.

    Linebackers: Starters -- WLB Chris Draft, MLB Will Witherspoon, SLB Brandon Chillar. Backups -- Quinton Culberson, Tim McGarigle. Injured reserve -- Pisa Tinoisamoa, Raonall Smith.

    Witherspoon was voted the team MVP for good reason. He led the Rams with 132 tackles (103 solo), to go with seven sacks, 10 passes defensed and nine quarterback pressures. He was used more as a pass rusher after Little was lost for the season. Chillar had an outstanding season, and earned himself a likely nice contract as he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He had 85 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Draft took over for Tinoisamoa and was solid, but Tinoisamoa's injuries are troubling. For the second straight year, he wasn't able to finish the season, playing just nine games after playing 11 in 2006. Culberson made the team as an undrafted free agent and showed promise, tying for second on the club with 17 special teams tackles.

    Defensive Backs: Starters -- CB Fakhir Brown, CB Ron Bartell, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, SS Corey Chavous. Backups -- CB Jonathan Wade, CB Darius Vinnett, CB Eric Bassey, S Todd Johnson, S Hanik Milligan. Injured reserve -- CB Tye Hill, S Jerome Carter.

    Bartell got a lot of experience because of injuries, and is developing into a solid player. Brown, after missing the first four games of the season on league suspension, had four interceptions and led the team with 16 passes defensed. Wade learned a lot in his rookie year, playing more than expected because of injuries. When the Rams had their regular starting secondary (Brown, Hill, Chavous, Atogwe), they were 3-3 and 0-10 in the rest of the games. Hill played just eight games, missing starts at the beginning of the season and at the end. Atogwe became a ball-hawk, leading the NFC with eight interceptions. Chavous was second on the team with 107 tackles and added 3.5 sacks. Johnson was the team's best cover guy on special teams, leading with 23 tackles.

    Special Teams: PK Jeff Wilkins, P Donnie Jones, LS Chris Massey.

    Wilkins had an off year, hitting just 24 of 32 field-goal attempts, yet he made three of four from 50 yards or more. Except for a brief few games where he struggled, Jones was outstanding, averaging 47.2 yards per punt with a 39.3 net. Massey is always consistent. The return game was improved, and would have been even better had Dante Hall been able to play the entire season. He played just seven games, which meant returners like Hagans, Stanley and Williams got opportunities.

  2. #2
    laram0's Avatar
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    Re: USA Today's inside Slant

    Obviously the most disappointing thing about last season was all the injuries to the o-line. What really irks me though is Drew Bennett. He to was injured for most of the season. He better be working hard during this offseason and show that he belongs. With a reasonably healthy o-line and a healthy Drew Bennett I feel like we can make some noise in the NFC West in 2008. It's actually very exciting when I think about it. A healthy o-line will allow McMichael to more of an offensive threat also. The package we have on offense is pretty impressive. Marc Bulger, Steven Jackson, Torry Holt, Issac Bruce, Dante Hall, Randy McMichael and hopefully a rejuvenated and healthy Drew Bennett. Not to mention Leonard will have had 1 year under his belt.

    Hopefully the law of averages will swing our way in 2008, concerning injuries that is.

  3. #3
    moloch41 Guest

    Re: USA Today's inside Slant

    Drew Bennett is a good receiver and can be very good inside the 20. They need to run patterns that utilize his height more. Hopefully last season was just an anonmoly because of the injuries though. Curtis's season in Philly made it look like a huge blunder for us tho.

  4. #4
    Bar-bq's Avatar
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    Re: USA Today's inside Slant

    Anomoly is probably the best word to use, there.

    Bennett had a hard time succeeding as player due to a combination of inury, and plays that didn't utilise his strenghts well enough. It also looked as if Bulger repeatedly forced the ball to Bennett in thr Red-zone. Hopefully that's all correctable.

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