Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Dustin Johnson, Palm Harbor, Fla.: With the loss this weekend to the Redskins that means the Rams are just about done for the post season. Does that mean they will shut down Marc Bulger for the rest of the year?
If not, then when do you expect him to play again?

NW: It's hard to say when Marc will be back. He told me after the injury that he didn't want to rush it back this time unless it was a situation where the team really needed him for a playoff push. With those hopes essentially gone, it isn't out of the realm of possibility for him to return later this season. I wouldn't expect him to be back before the Dec. 24 game against San Francisco if he does return. Joe Vitt said Monday that he expects Bulger back at some point, but gave no indication of when that would be. Just on gut feeling from the conversation I had with Marc and the way things have gone since his injury, I would say that he probably won't play again this season. But that's just a gut feeling.

Bill Chapman, Grass Valley, Calif.: Some of the positives to take away from this lost season is not the current play of the secondary, but perhaps some of them reaching their potential next year?

NW: You hit the nail on the head here Bill. Obviously there are are plenty of growing pains for all of the young players, not just in the secondary. With the playoffs seemingly out of reach, this is the time for the young and inexperienced to play at all positions. That includes the likes of Ron Bartell, Oshiomogho Atogwe and Jerome Carter in the secondary. The only way to get better in this league is to play. That includes practicing against the best every day and then playing in games on Sundays. At the very least, the Rams can find out what they has in terms of potential in the next few weeks.

Chris Garcia, Costa Mesa, Calif.: So with the season pretty much over in regards to playoff contention, does the Rams draft board include predominantly defensive players? Whether it be free agency,trades or the draft we need some defensive studs next year.

NW: Well, it's hard to say what the draft board includes since the college season isn't over. I would expect that defense is this team's top priority heading into the offseason, whether that includes free agents, draft picks or trades. It's pretty clear that the defense is in need of some changes and upgrades so it's safe to say steps will be taken in that direction.

Will Milano, Boston, Mass.: How is Jerametrius Butler's rehab progress going? Assuming he returns to the form he played the past two seasons, it would help the Rams' cornerback position. But I also believe the Rams will need to make a move in free agency to add a true, shut-down corner (which they have not had since Aeneas Williams got hurt in 2002 and then moved to FS in 2003). Bartell, Ivy, Fisher, and Groce are good to have around, but as nickel and dime backs, not starters. What do you think the Rams will do this spring at that position?

NW: To the best of my knowledge, Butler's rehab is going well. He is around Rams Park pretty regularly and even made a recent road trip with the team. He is walking fine and seems to be in pretty good spirits when he is around. It's easy to look at the secondary and place blame, but it's a much better group with J.B. in the game. He was playing at or near a Pro Bowl level last season and was poised for a big year this year. There is definite need to add another defensive back, particularly a veteran who has proven himself. There won't be many available since those guys are at a premium, but Buffalo's Nate Clements is one guy that is due for free agency. It's not likely the Bills will let him go, but he's a name to remember. I think DeJuan Groce has taken some steps in the right direction this year as a cover guy and I'd like to see what Travis Fisher can do when he's fully healthy. It's clear he hasn't been for sometime and he was trying to play through pain to help make up for the loss of his friend J.B.

Rachel Bennett, San Francisco, Calif.: What do you think of the way the Rams' rookie class has played this year?

NW: I normally don't like to evaluate draft classes until at least three years down the line, but this might be a different case because so many rookies have been forced into action this year. The rookie offensive linemen Alex Barron and Claude Terrell have both shown tons of potential. I have said it before and will say it again, I think Barron will be a Pro Bowler before his time is through. Terrell still needs some work and might not have that kind of upside, but he's well on his way to being a solid contributor for years to come. Obviously, Ryan Fitzpatrick has all kinds of ability and potential and is getting a chance to show it. For a seventh rounder playing quarterback, he has played very well. Madison Hedgecock claimed the starting fullback job and has shown that he could be a good lead blocker, but he still struggles at times with positioning, pad level and reads. He will get better with time, also. Bartell is a guy that I have been especially pleased with in his development. Like the rest, he still has his mistakes, but he could be a good corner in this league before all is said and done. The jury is still out on Atogwe and Carter, but I'd like to see more of them down the stretch. Richie Incognito might still be the most intriguing guy, but we won't get to see him until next year.

Edward Edwin, Florissant, Mo.: I was wondering, with the very strong possiblity that the Rams will get a pretty good draft pick what position do you think they need to address first?

NW: I think I have said this before, but I don't think there's any doubt that drafting the best available defensive player is the way to go. This team just needs defensive playmakers. There are some tight ends I would love to see such as Maryland's Vernon Davis or Georgia's Leonard Pope, but the need on defense is much greater than it is on offense. Someone the likes of linebackers A.J. Hawk or Chad Greenway or cornerback Jimmy WIlliams would make a nice fit and be around the ball a lot. Barring some unbelievable offensive talent falling into their laps, the Rams need to go defense, defense, defense