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Thread: Wagoners mailbag
Frank Paty, Gainesville, Fla.: The hot debate right now going on in my head is Jamie Martin vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick. I know I'm dreaming but do you think there is any chance we'll see him next week, especially if Martin goes cold?
NW: Itís hard to imagine a scenario where Fitzpatrick gets in the game aside from an injury to Martin. Fitzpatrick is an intriguing prospect and the Rams have hinted that he could get in on some certain packages. He even took some reps with the first team last week. If Fitzpatrick does get in, donít expect anything too fancy. Fitzpatrickís best quality (aside from his intellect) is his athleticism and ability to make things happen on the run. For this week, though, letís not count out Marc Bulger quite yet. He threw for the first time Monday and Joe Vitt said Bulger felt ďpretty good.Ē I would say itís still somewhat of a long shot for Bulger to go this weekend, but at least thereís some hope. Letís give Martin some credit here, too. He isnít being asked to throw for hundreds of yards like Bulger usually does, but he manages the game and didnít turn the ball over. If he can do that and Steven Jackson can run, the Rams will have a chance.
Phil Steeves, Now that Joe Vitt is the head coach for the remainder of the season, do you think he will get more involved with the offense (e.g. calling plays)?
NW: I donít think there is much of a need for Vitt to get involved in the play calling. Thatís what Steve Fairchild is here for. Fairchild has done a pretty good job so far of mixing up the run and the pass and he was well schooled by Mike Martz, one of the great offensive minds of his generation. I do think, though, that we will see more of Vitt in relation to what is going on on defense. He has been a defensive coach his entire career and thatís what he knows. Vitt has already taken a more active role in the defense as he did some of the defensive play calling in the second half against New Orleans.
Michael Schlund: How many times in the last couple years have the Rams gotten the ball with 3 to 4 minutes to go in the game and a 7 or less point lead and actually ran for 2 or 3 first downs and killed the clock to 0:00??
NW: I donít have the exact numbers, but my guess would be not many. This is one area, Michael, which the Rams need to improve. It can be hard to kill the clock simply by running the ball because the other team generally knows what is coming. Itís a matter of finding the balance between run and pass late in the game. If the opponent knows you are going to run, they load up the box and get the stops. Sure, you can kill clock that way, but what you really need is a safe, efficient way to pick up a first down or two to run the clock out. In some instances, itís better to maybe come out with a run on first down, see what you get and then mix in some safe passes underneath that give you a chance to get a first down. It seems the Rams are always allowing the other team to get a chance for a comeback win after having a chance to run out the clock. Off the top of my head, St. Louis has given the opponent a chance to win the game at the end in each of its three victories this year. The ability to salt away the game at the end is something that good teams, championship teams do and the Rams are still finding their way.
Keenan Jenkins: What ever happened to our second rounder Ronald Bartell?
NW: I had a lot of questions about Ronald Bartell this week. Well, if you didnít notice on Sunday, Bartell got his first extended action of the season. He made the most of that time. Bartell was outstanding in coverage aside from a holding penalty. He showed great instincts on the deep out, one of the toughest passes in the NFL to defend. Itís too early to say if he will start this week, but a lot of it might depend on the status of Travis Fisher, who is battling a groin injury. When Fisher and Chris Johnson left Sundayís game against the Saints, Bartell literally ran up to secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer and demanded to be put in the game. You have to love that kind of attitude and enthusiasm. Bartell is still somewhat of a raw prospect and has a lot to learn coming out of a small school. But Bartell has the athleticism and natural instincts that could make him a good player. Give him some time and be patient, Bartell still has plenty of time to develop into an impact cover man.
Bruce Bourquin: How will the Rams attack the Jaguars' defense this Sunday?
NW: Jacksonvilleís defense is really quite impressive on defense. There isnít a better pair of defensive tackles in this league than John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. That duo creates so much havoc and draws so much attention that it frees up an average linebacker corps to make plays. It also helps defensive ends Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward make things happen in the pass rush. Spicer is one of the leagueís leaders in sacks right now and is having a breakout season, largely because of Henderson and Stroud. On paper, the secondary looks pretty average, but the Jaguars are second in the league against the pass. The surprising thing is that, even with those huge tackles as run stuffers in the middle, Jacksonville is susceptible to a good running game. The Jaguars are allowing 120.8 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 23rd in the league. If Martin is at quarterback again, expect an attack similar to the one the Rams used against the Saints with a bulk of the work going to Steven Jackson. It stands to reason that the Jaguars will load up against the run, itís Martinís job to keep them honest and allow Jackson room to run. Of course, all bets are off if Bulger finds a way on to the field. We all saw what the Rams can do in the first quarter against Indianapolis with Bulger at quarterback and Fairchild calling plays. It should be fun to see what happens when all of the offensive talent comes together.
Chris Garcia: I love seeing Steven Jackson making his mark on our team, one thing that bums me out is to see Marshall Faulk on the sideline, it would be great to see him have the opportunity to play. Donít you think he should be involved more in the offense, maybe return kicks at least?
NW: There is no doubt that Faulk still has some gas left in the tank. Faulk has looked downright quick in the past couple of weeks and his involvement in the offense is especially important with Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce battling through injuries. Faulk is playing at a high level and when he is used properly, he is a great complement to Jackson. But Jackson is the man right now. He has proved worthy of carrying the load, especially in the red zone the past couple weeks and is getting stronger as he goes. With Faulk, itís all about timing and it seems the Rams are still searching for the best way to incorporate him. As for returning kicks/punts, that idea has been kicked around and Faulk has taken some reps in practice, but itís unknown whether it will ever happen in a game.
Chris Calabrese: Do you think Mike Furrey is good enough to be a starter for the rest of the year? Is it possible someone else could compete for that position such as OJ Atogwe or Jerome Carter?
NW: I absolutely think Mike Furrey is good enough to be a starter for the rest of the year and, perhaps, beyond. He is still a bit of a work in progress after switching from receiver, but he is such an improvement over the last group of free safeties that have been tried at the position. Furrey is not afraid to stick his nose in and hit someone, is rarely out of position and has a good nose for the ball. Those are qualities that have been sorely lacking. When he hits the point where he is completely comfortable, he could become a very good safety in this league. As for Atogwe and Carter, their situations are different. Carter is a strong safety. He is a lot like Adam Archuleta in that he is a big hitter who is better off up in the box. Atogwe, on the other hand, will probably be the guy that competes with Furrey for the job in the offseason or, perhaps, this season if he can come on. Atogwe struggled in the opener against San Francisco, particularly on special teams. But he is active again and showing signs that he is close to being ready to contribute. Atogwe is a cerebral player who is learning every day and has the potential to be a good player in the NFL for a long time. For now, itís a matter of playing up to that potential.
Tom Diener: What is the update and extent to the injuries of Bruce and Holt?
NW: Lots of questions about Bruce and Holt this week. The fact is, the extent of those injuries are hard to gauge because of their nature. A knee and a toe are the type of nagging injuries that are literally a day to day thing. Holt told me that some days he wakes up and feels fine and others he is really sore. Even when he played on the knee against Indianapolis a couple weeks ago he felt fine at the beginning of the game and it got worse as the game went on. That was similar to what happened to him last week. He just didnít feel ready to go at game time. Bruceís injury is similar, but there were some in the organization that expected him to not be ready to return until after the bye week. It appears that will probably be the case, but there might be some hope for Bruce for this week. The official injury report wonít be out until Wednesday, but I donít think itís a sure thing that either will be in the lineup against Jacksonville. I would expect that they will both be back coming off the bye, but if I had to guess, Iíd say thereís a better chance for Holt this weekend than Bruce.
Cary Hueber: The Rams have an awesome gold jersey (I have a #28) for an alternate color, have they, or will they ever wear it?
NW: I know which jersey you are referring to, but to my knowledge they have never worn it and probably wonít in the near future. The Rams did wear some throwback yellow jerseys during the 75th anniversary season when everyone was wearing them, but they have not worn those gold jerseys. Personally, I think it would be cool if they pulled out the old school blue and white jerseys, but I donít see that happening anytime soon either. Maybe when the league hits the 100th anniversary, the throwbacks will be brought out again.
Thanks for all the great questions this week and sorry to those that I couldnít get to. Weíll do it again next Tuesday.