Inside Slant
After new Rams coach Scott Linehan met those in the organization Jan. 20 and was introduced to the media, a breath of fresh air seemed to be present at Rams Park.
There is no denying the success Mike Martz had in his five full seasons as head coach. However, the tension in the facility over the last year was evident, and moving on has seemed to create a new energy, which was helped by Linehan's approach.

Asked what his plans are to avoid the problems in the past, Linehan said, "I wasn't here, so I can't really comment on previous issues. You have to remember, that there are always going to be bumps in the road in life. There was a bump in the road for whatever reason. I wasn't here for that. There will be a new era and a new chapter to it with the incoming regime, but we have to continue to build on the positive things that have happened around here and move on."

After meeting with the non-football personnel of the team prior to his press conference, in his opening statement to the media Linehan spelled out his goals for the entire organization.

"The one thing I want to make sure is really established right away is that this is going to be a family environment here at the Rams," he said. "We will do things cohesively as a group, as a unit and make decisions as a team from day one. That's how things get done. That's how things get done properly."

It was reminiscent of the words of Dick Vermeil when he took over the team nine years ago. Linehan even showed a shade of Vermeil when he was asked at the end of the press conference what it meant to him to become a head coach.

He said, "It's a dream come true. I promised my wife I wouldn't cry, so I'm not going to do that, but it's fulfilling a dream and being in the greatest profession in the world, and being in the greatest league in the world. How lucky am I?"

A hint of a tear could be seen in his eye as he spoke and he choked up a tad. When he was reminded that we're used to that after the experience with Vermeil, he laughed and said, "That's right. That takes the pressure off."

But it was a glimpse at how genuine Linehan appears to be. There's no pretense, no selling a bill of goods. You could see it with the slight nerves he was experiencing on such a daunting day. It was clear he is the real McCoy.

In voicing his philosophy, Linehan noted three things. "One thing is, just speaking on my behalf, words that I live by that I try to teach, not only my young boys, but the players that I coach is No. 1, be authentic. I'm going to be who I am. I am the guy that is standing at this podium, and it is what it is as they say. I think that's very important. I think it's very important to establish that within our organization with everybody that works in that organization, be yourself.

"The next thing is, you're going to have a progressive attitude here. Day in and day out, we will work extensively to get better at all areas of the organization. That's what you do when you want to get to where you want to get. Setting those goals and doing those things are very important, but we will be progressive day in and day out, and that's a promise.

"With that in mind, we have to be effective leaders. It starts with me and the other leaders in this organization, but everybody in this room has the ability to affect somebody in a positive way, and to be a leader; that's what you do. We'll strive hard to go by those basic principles and that will be the basis for our success in the future.

He then invoked the name of UCLA coaching legend John Wooden, saying, "One last thing that I would like to comment on, and I think it's very important that these words are taken in the right perspective. I read a quote this past offseason, and I think it's important that we listen to it very carefully. I don't know if you've read the recent book by John Wooden. He had a quote in there that I highlighted. He said, 'Never try to be better than any one person, but never cease trying to be the best that you can be.'

"You'll get the best from this organization, from the coaches we hire and from the people that work within this system."

NOTES, QUOTES

—One day after the Rams announced several new additions to coach Scott Linehan's staff, one of the hires departed. Nick Holt, former head coach at the University of Idaho, had taken considerable time deciding whether to leave Idaho to be the Rams' defensive coach. Linehan and Holt had coached together previously at Idaho and the University of Louisville. No sooner had Holt opted to take the job, when he told Linehan instead he was going to Southern Cal to be defensive coordinator. Holt was the Trojans' linebackers coach for three years before going to Idaho as head coach in 2003.

Other additions to Linehan's staff are running backs coach Wayne Moses, who was at Stanford last season; former Jaguars offensive line coach Paul Boudreau; quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier (Michigan State) and assistant secondary coach Ron Milus, who was recently fired by the Giants.

Bob Ligashesky was retained as special teams coach. Also retained by Linehan were receivers coach Henry Ellard and strength coach Dana LeDuc.

—Linehan's biggest additions have been Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator and Greg Olson as offensive coordinator.

Linehan first tried to hire Jim Bates, but he rebuffed the Rams' million-plus offer. Another candidate, Dick Jauron, was hired as Buffalo's head coach. That led to the ironic addition of Haslett, who as head coach of the Saints was part of an intense rivalry between the teams when they were in the same division. In fact, entering the 2005 season, the Rams had lost just nine regular-season home games since 1999, and Haslett's Saints had accounted for three.

"Pretty funny, isn't it?" Haslett said after being hired. "It still hasn't quite sunk in yet. It's a good opportunity. I didn't know Scott before the hiring process, but I'm excited about working with him. I know they're going to score a lot of points. They have a lot of talent on offense. If we can get the defense turned around, we have a chance to be pretty good."

Said Linehan, "By nature, he's a very aggressive person. Very upbeat. Got a lot of passion for the game. Not only as a team, but as a head coach, you need to be able to resound all those philosophies throughout the system. He's going to be installing the defense, and putting the defense in. And selling what we want to sell as a team."

Olson coached the Lions' quarterbacks the last two seasons, and the team had some of its best games when Olson called plays.

Said Linehan,"We're both Dennis Erickson-raised, as young coaches or players. I played for Dennis. (Olson) coached as a graduate assistant for Dennis at Washington State University. We were raised under the same system in college. Ran the same systems in college at different places."

Despite the connections, the two have never coached together, but have worked at the same camps and clinics. While Linehan will call plays, Olson will have significant responsibilities with the offense.

"(It) will be very extensive," Linehan said of Olson's role. "He will (have) input on the offense. He will be a big part of the entire evaluation of our offensive players in the offseason. He'll obviously be in charge of developing and grooming our quarterbacks. We will probably hire a quarterbacks coach who will work with him."

—Haslett was instrumental in the hiring of other defensive assistants. Former Saints defensive coordinator Rick Venturi will be assistant head coach and linebackers coach, while former Saints senior defensive assistant/secondary Willy Robinson will coach the Rams' defensive backs. It's possible with the departure of Holt to USC that former Saints defensive line coach John Pease could now be hired.

—Other hires are tight ends coach Judd Garrett (Dolphins 2005) and Randy Hanson (Vikings 2005) as offensive assistant/quality control.

—The Rams have interviewed Clyde Powers for a job as director of pro personnel, a vacant position in the Rams' football operations department. Powers has been with the Colts for 23 years and is currently the pro personnel director.

There is also interest in former Seahawks personnel director Bob Ferguson.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Rams signed safety Deandre' Eiland, who spent time on the Dolphins' and *****' practice squads this season.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Marc Bulger. Backups - Jamie Martin, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jeff Smoker.

Bulger played just eight games because of a shoulder injury yet passed for 2,297 yards with a rating of 94.4. He'll be adjusting to a new coach, but he is developing into an excellent player. The Rams just have to find a way to keep him healthy. Martin was solid as Bulger's backup, but he will be a free agent, and a possible return will depend on the new coaching staff. Fitzpatrick struggled in three starts as a rookie but received valuable experience. He beat out Smoker for the No. 3 job in training camp but Smoker returned when Bulger was injured.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - HB Steven Jackson, FB Madison Hedgecock. Backups - HB Marshall Faulk, HB Arlen Harris, HB Aveion Cason.

A variety of factors conspired to prevent Jackson from having the season everyone envisioned when he was named the starter to replace Faulk. A banged-up offensive line, along with the fact the Rams fell behind in several games, often kept the running game under wraps. In addition, Jackson sometimes struggled with his reads and was among the league leaders in carries for zero or minus yardage. He still ended up with 1,046 yards on just 254 carries, and also caught 43 passes for 320 yards. Faulk was mostly under-utilized but accepted his role as Jackson's backup. He rushed for only 292 yards but did catch 44 passes for 291 yards. Hedgecock, the team's seventh-round pick, won the starting job, and he improved as the season progressed. Harris didn't play much, although when he did, he was the team's best blocker picking up blitzes. Cason was active for only two games, but one was the season finale in which he showed quickness and burst while rushing for 65 yards on 10 carries.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Brandon Manumaleuna. Backups - Jerome Collins, Aaron Walker, Roland Williams.

Manumaleuna remains an enigma. He blocks well in tight quarters but poorly in space on the move. He's mostly forgotten in the passing game, catching just 13 passes for 129 yards. Collins spent most of the season on the practice squad and saw some action late in the season. Walker was added to the roster in December and never saw action. Manumaleuna's salary rises to over $1.3 million in 2006, and a decision will have to be made on his future.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce. Backups - Kevin Curtis, Shaun McDonald, Dane Looker.

He's in the Pro Bowl, yet Holt can't get listed in a poll of the top five receivers by ESPN. Talk about being overlooked. All Holt did, despite missing two games because of a knee injury, was tie for second in the league with 102 receptions for 1,331 yards. He is the only player in league history to reach 1,300 yards six straight seasons. Bruce had a disappointing year thanks to a toe injury that continued to affect him after he returned. He can still play, but a decision has to be made because his cap value is over $10 million in 2006. Curtis continues to emerge as a top No. 3 receiver, and he totaled 60 receptions for 801 yards and six touchdowns. McDonald contributed as the No. 4 receiver. Both he and McDonald will be restricted free agents. Looker saw most of his action when Holt and Bruce were injured. He is a solid insurance policy.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Orlando Pace, LG Claude Terrell, C Andy McCollum, RG Adam Timmerman, RT Alex Barron. Backups - T Matt Morgan, T/G Rex Tucker, G/C Larry Turner, G Ben Noll, G Blaine Saipaia, G Tom Nutten, G Richie Incognito.

It was another year of change on the offensive line. Pace made the Pro Bowl and was a standout. The next best lineman was McCollum, who remains one of the most underrated centers in the game. After that, it was scattershot. Nutten started the season at left guard but couldn't stay healthy. Terrell, a rookie, received experience and played well at times, but he needs an off-season in the strength program to build his endurance and improve his pass-blocking. Timmerman played hurt all season but was a warrior. Last off-season, he had surgery on his foot and both shoulders. A back ailment affected his play. His cap number is over $3 million, and he needs an off-season not rehabbing an injury to show he can still play at a high level. Tucker started the season at right tackle but struggled, as did Saipaia. Finally, despite missing significant time in training camp, Barron was inserted at right tackle and held his own. He played through a broken hand at the end of the season. An off-season in the strength program should improve his game even more. The Rams would like Saipaia to compete for a guard job, but he ended the season on injured reserve with a concussion. Incognito is a wild card, a rookie who didn't play because of a knee injury suffered at last year's scouting combine. He has the ability, but maybe not the maturity, as he blew off rehab assignments after being signed.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Leonard Little, DT Damione Lewis, NT Ryan Pickett, RE Anthony Hargrove. Backups - E Tyoka Jackson, E Brandon Green, T Jimmy Kennedy, T Brian Howard, E Clifford Dukes, NT Jeremy Calahan.

The Rams face some key financial decisions on the line, especially at tackle. Lewis hasn't lived up to expectations after being the 12th overall pick in the 2001 draft. He is solid, but he will be a free agent in March. Complicating matters is that Pickett has been very good on the nose and is also scheduled for free agency. He reportedly was asking for $4 million a year, which the Rams might find expensive. But if Pickett and Lewis depart, there isn't much left. Kennedy started the season strong but tailed off. He will need surgery for a hernia. Howard was hardly active. Calahan showed promise and was signed for the last three games of the season. He played in the finale but injured his knee. At end, Little enters the final year of his contract hopefully mentally strong after a difficult season in which his brother was murdered. He still can be a difference-maker. Hargrove has the physical ability but must develop consistency in being disciplined within the defense. Jackson has some years on him and is also a free agent. Green is a high-motor guy who provides solid depth.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, MLB Trev Faulk, SLB Brandon Chillar. Backups - OLB Dexter Coakley, MLB Chris Claiborne, OLB Jeremy Loyd, OLB Drew Wahlroos, OLB Mike Goolsby.

Only Tinoisamoa was consistent among the group, and he rarely makes big plays. Claiborne and Coakley were disappointing after being signed in free agency. Claiborne is due a $500,000 roster bonus at the start of free agency; Coakley $250,000, and he ended the season on injured reserve with a broken leg. Faulk showed promise in the middle after taking Claiborne's job. Chillar was also OK, but big plays were few and far between. Wahlroos is very good on special teams.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Ron Bartell, CB DeJuan Groce, SS Adam Archuleta, FS Mike Furrey. Backups - CB Chris Johnson, CB Corey Ivy, CB Dwight Anderson, CB Travis Fisher, CB Jerametrius Butler, CB Terry Fair, SS Jerome Carter, FS O.J. Atogwe, S Dwaine Carpenter.

What could go wrong went wrong for this group during the season. Butler was lost to a knee injury in training camp, and Fisher injured his groin early and never fully recovered. Archuleta can make plays in tight space, but his tackling in the open field is suspect. That was also Furrey's problem. After switching from receiver to free safety, Furrey led the team with four interceptions. However, his angles to the ball carrier were poor and he missed numerous tackles. The replacements for Butler and Fisher also struggled in run support. The rookie Bartell did improve, and he shows promise. Groce seems to have leveled off in his play. Ivy is the most exciting of the group, but his lack of size (he's 5-foot-8) can be a problem. Carter saw extensive playing time as a rookie despite being hampered by a foot injury most of the season. Atogwe played through a bad toe injury and was making plays at the end of the season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jeff Wilkins, P Bryan Barker, LS Chris Massey, KOR Chris Johnson, PR Dane Looker.

Wilkins is as consistent as any kicker in the league, and he signed a new four-year contract before the end of the season. He missed only four of 31 field-goal attempts and was 4-for-5 from 50 yards or more. Barker settled the punting situation after rookie Reggie Hodges showed he wasn't ready, especially in a dismal performance in a 37-31 home loss to Seattle. Barker is a free agent, but it seems a mistake to take a chance on a rookie punter again. Massey is also a free agent, and the Rams have to decide whether to pay him the going rate for top long snappers. Wilkins can't recall a bad snap in Massey's first four years on the job. The kick returning is suspect, as it has been since the days of Tony Horne and Az-Zahir Hakim.