By Bill Coats
Monday, May. 19 2008

Observers at the recent Rams minicamp noticed right away that something was out
of whack: What was tight end Randy McMichael doing running downfield routes?

This was the same tight end who spent most of last season virtually tethered to
the tackle, his blocking valued far more than his receiving after injuries
devastated the offensive line.

But here McMichael was running free, down the middle, up the sidelines,
latching onto 15-, 20-, even 25-yard passes. No wonder McMichael was heard
crowing that "it's a new day around here."

"Randy, the same as a lot of guys, came in here last year with a lot of
expectations, and last year was last year," coach Scott Linehan said. "This
year he can really step up and play big in this offense. He's going to have
plenty of opportunities, for sure."

With just 39 catches for 429 yards, McMichael slogged through his least
productive year in his six NFL seasons. Meanwhile, the 3-13 Rams endured their
worst season since moving from Los Angeles in 1995.

"It was a miserable year, not just for me but for the team," said McMichael,
28. "It just seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong for us.
But you could just tell from the first play (of minicamp) that ... the guys are
excited to be here."

Two offseason moves directly affected McMichael: the hiring of Al Saunders as
offensive coordinator and the signing of free-agent tight end Anthony Becht
from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Saunders brings a more aggressive approach on offense with his hybrid of the
"Greatest Show on Turf" schemes that Mike Martz concocted. For example, there
are no "reads" for the quarterback on passing plays. If you're an eligible
receiver, the ball just might come your way.

"That gives everybody a little heightened awareness when they're running the
routes," Becht said. "If Randy's out there running a route, he has a great
chance of getting the ball. He understands that."

Becht, 6 feet 5 and 280 pounds, is the big, blocking tight end that Linehan has
been seeking since taking over for Martz in 2006. Although Becht has had some
impressive receiving years (40 catches in 2003, 36 in '01), he concedes that
his role has changed.

"I just kind of fell into a label" as a blocker, he explained. "No one ever
wants to be labeled as anything, but if you're going to labeled as something
and you're good at it, I'll take it.

"I'm picking up some new techniques in blocking with the coaching here, and I'm
just trying to help improve the running game and make this team better. But I
still practice my routes hard, try to get out there and do what I can in the
passing game."

Becht's blocking prowess jumped out during the Rams' 24-3 loss at Tampa Bay
last Sept. 23. The Buccaneers pounded out 187 yards on the ground, with Becht
often out front leading the way. "He controlled the line of scrimmage and
controlled the edge," Linehan said. "I felt that was something we wanted to add
to our tight end corps."

Becht, 30, recalled it as one of his best blocking performances. "We had some
nice sweeps and things around the edge," he said. "We ran a lot of things point
of attack over the tight end and tackle position. That just happened to be a
game where my presence was felt, I guess, more than others."

And it helped him land another job after five seasons with the New York Jets,
followed by three with the Bucs.

"When you're in the final year of your contract, every week's a job interview,"
Becht said. "I don't really change my demeanor on what I do week in and week
out. Every game I treat as if it's my last."

Becht's presence means that McMichael can broaden his responsibilities and
perhaps reprise the numbers he put up — an average of 56 catches and 619 yards
— in his five seasons in Miami.

"He's a great receiver; he's proven that over the years," Becht said. "I think
last year was just a product of how that season went. He definitely wants to
get back in this offense."

Saunders wasted little time heaping expectations on McMichael, informing him
that he'd sent a tight end to the Pro Bowl in each of the last eight seasons
(Chris Cooley in Washington, Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City).

But, McMichael stressed, his expectation level for himself is plenty high after
last year's debacle.

"As soon as I found out that they'd hired Coach Saunders, I got really excited;
this is the kind of offense I've dreamed of playing in my whole career,"
McMichael said. "I'm just having a good time right now. I think it's going to
be a fun year for everybody."