Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
Sunday, Jan. 16 2005

Well, look at the bright side. The Ramsí horrific 47-17 playoff loss to the
Atlanta Falcons brought clarity to their offseason objectives.

There will be no arguing about what the Rams players, coaches and personnel
folks must do to make this team a more solid playoff contender in í05.

Here goes:

* The Rams have lots of kids on defense. What they will need to go get is some
men if they want to succeed next season.

The Falcons humiliated the Rams' front seven Saturday night. >From now until
Week 1 of next season, every defensive meeting should start with a lowlight
reel of that beatdown. Rub their faces in that mess.

This team needs to add at least one veteran linebacker who can actually read a
play, shed a block and fill the hole with gusto. Robert Thomas was NOT that guy
Saturday night.

* If safety Adam Archuleta is finished Ė- and he certainly appeared to be in
Atlanta -Ė then the Rams almost must add a hard-hitting veteran in his place. Ií
d like to believe that Archuleta will rebound once he rests his aching back,
but Iíd like to believe Iím going to win the next Powerball drawing.

* Coach Mike Martz spent the last three weeks raving about defensive
coordinator Larry Marmie, insisting he was the very best. Then Marmieís unit
played like so many Campfire Girls in Atlanta, triggering a media and fan
campaign to cashier the guy.

But the grim aesthetics of Saturdayís game aside, didnít the Rams go about as
far as they could with the players they had? The unit has one Pro Bowl-caliber
player, Leonard Little, and he had an unremarkable season.

The unit did improve enough to facilitate victories over the Jets and Seahawks.
Iíd give Marmie one more year -- and Iíd give him a couple of veterans capable
of becoming catalysts on that side of the ball.

(As for the unitís obvious lack of motivation for the game, I point to the
players. If you canít get fired up for a playoff game, then quit football and
take a construction job. If you canít respond to getting the football thrust
down your throat, then you've got some manliness issues. That whole unit needed
testosterone shots at halftime.)

* Iíd bring back running back Marshall Faulk, since the club would take a big
cap hit by letting him go. He is still a leader and, as we saw Saturday, he
still has a bit left. And Steven Jackson still must prove heís tough enough to
become the every-down back.

* Hereís what I would do with special teams: On the first day of training
camp, everybody remotely in contention for kick coverage work would be summoned
to the practice field at Macomb.

The next four hours would be spent covering kicks. If it went well, the players
would be allowed to leave for lunch. If it did not go well, then the players
would remain on the field until they got it right. Ten hours, 12 hours, 24
hours, whatever.

Iíd commit at least half of all on-field training camp time to special teams
work. That would continue through the duration of the preseason. I would make
an unprecedented commitment to special teams.

Itís unreasonable, for sure, but catastrophic failure calls for harsh solutions.

Once the regular season began, any breakdown in kick coverage would result in
three hours of on-field work on the scheduled off day. Kick after kick after
kick after kick after kick after kick after kick after kick after kick, I would
make the players run downfield and do their jobs.

Sure, some players would get hurt. But so what? If you canít cover a stupid
kickoff or punt, why are you playing football?

Go get a job at Home Depot and get out of our lives. Scram.

* At the draft, Iíd take the best available offensive lineman in the first
round. Yeah, the Rams got something out of Scott Tercero, Blaine Saipaia and
even Larry Turner this year, but Adam Timmerman is in the twilight of his
career and re-retirement probably sounds appealing to wounded vets Tom Nutten
and Chris Dishman.

The Rams havenít developed a blue-chip offensive lineman since drafting Orlando
Pace, who obviously was a canít-miss pick. Itís time to break that trend.

In the second, third and fourth rounds, Iíd select defensive players who can
actually tackle.

* If Iím Rams president John Shaw, the gist of my offseason meeting with Martz
would be simple: The football operation must become more sound and the team
must become tougher. Football is still football.

I would open the meeting by replaying the lowlights of the Falcons game. I
would demand that Martz, Jay Zygmunt and Charley Armey all get on the same
script for making the operation more sound and the team tougher.

I would hold all three men accountable. I would need convincing that this
threesome can work toward the same simple goals.

And if I sensed this front office really IS dysfunctional, then I would hire a
high-powered football man to come in and clean it up. Enough of the nonsense,
OK fellas?

The Rams were one of the better teams in the NFL this season. They were one of
eight teams playing over the weekend.

As the Falcons game underscored, though, this team was closer to the pack than
the Super Bowl. During the next eight months, the Rams organization must clean
up the sloppiness and harden the soft spots.

What happened Saturday night was embarrassing. Letís hope embarrassment
motivates all parties involved every single day until the í05 season begins.