Rams Turn Attention to Combine
Monday, February 20, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

With the NFL world set to converge on Indianapolis this week for the annual scouting combine at the RCA Dome; the Rams’ new coaching staff is set to turn its attention to fixing the problems that ailed the team a year ago and finding the right players for a revamped defense and an adjusting offense.

Over 330 college prospects will arrive in Indianapolis for the combine this week with hopes of impressing the countless number of coaches and scouts in attendance. Some will participate in every aspect of the workouts, some will pick and choose and some will show up simply to get face time.

For Rams coach Scott Linehan and Co., the combine represents the first opportunity to get on the same page with the scouting department and begin to evaluate the players that can turn around a team that finished 6-10 in 2005.

“What you have to understand is that we’re a new staff, so we’re putting together our system, offense, defense, special teams,” Linehan said. “In the meantime, we’re also evaluating free agents, our current free agents and free agents that are free in the market from the other teams, and establishing what will be best for us. There are obviously economic considerations that go in there. We have to evaluate the current players and the college players. We’re getting ready for the combine next week. We’ll look at them in the next upcoming six or seven weeks prior to the draft and going into our draft meetings. You throw in hiring assistant coaches and getting ready for offseason programs with our current players, when that starts, when we do our mini-camps, when we do our OTAs. There are a lot of things. There is a lot of multitasking going on with these guys right now.”

In fact, there is so much multitasking going on, that this week will be the staff’s first real opportunity to get any kind of a glimpse at the upcoming draft class. Linebackers coach Rick Venturi wasn’t even aware yet of the talent at linebacker in this year’s class because he had been so busy breaking down tape of the Rams’ free agents as well as available players from other teams.

This year’s class is expected to be strong at the top and loaded at tight end, running back and linebacker. A year ago and in years past, the Rams have made a habit of drafting for need. Fortunately for St. Louis, need met value in the first round of last year’s draft with right tackle Alex Barron emerging as the choice at No. 19 overall.

The Rams then went in to free agency to attempt to fill their other needs by signing linebackers Dexter Coakley and Chris Claiborne. Linehan revealed a piece of his offseason philosophy at the meet the coaches luncheon last week, saying that he views the draft as an opportunity to get the best available talent, not necessarily fill a need.

“I think you really put more of your emphasis, when you are looking at need right away, it’s more the free agent market, the current players in the league,” Linehan said. “When you get into the combine, you’re looking for the best players. You’re going to stack the best players, regardless of the need we have on our team. So, you’re not going to go over somebody to pass up a great player.”

Even if that great player will come to a place where he already has a great player in front of him?

“We’ll evaluate the players as if we need those players at every position, and then when we stack the players, the need factors in there, but you never want to pass up a great player to get somebody you think you need more, because you already have a Steven Jackson,” Linehan said. “If the next best player in the draft happens to be a running back, and that’s how we stack them, then you have to trust in the system and believe in the system. That’s how you have to do it. It factors, but it’s not the only factor.”

The combine lasts nearly a week and is broken down by position. For instance, quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers will work out and speak with the media on Friday. The players will go through a variety of drills ranging from the 40-yard dash to cone drills to simple things such as height and weight measurements.

It is in those drills and measurements that combine legends are made. Some turn out to be stars, while others flop miserably. Mike Mamula was a workout wonder, was drafted by the Eagles early in the first round and never did much of anything before his career ended. Last year, running back Maurice Clarett showed up with plenty of fanfare, but left as the laughingstock of the combine after running the 40 in a time that could have been measured with a sundial.

As Linehan and the staff evaluate the needs of the team this season, it is obvious that the majority of the team’s needs are on defense with particular attention to the secondary and linebacker. Linehan also said the team will look to improve at tight end, on the interior of the offensive line and the backup quarterback situation.

“The kind of players we have on our 53-man roster need to be able to help us offensively, defensively and on special teams equally, so that we can be a more effective football team,” Linehan said. “So, creating better depth and the right types of players that fit the characteristics that are required to play in our system will be the biggest factor. I think that’s going to be the thing we address. Obviously, we’re looking at all players defensively. We have our own free agency situation out here as far as guys we have to decide on whom we’re going to be able to keep and those things. We’ve addressed it in that order, our current players first, we’re evaluating them now, and then looking at possible players that are out there that are free on the market coming from other teams. We’ll be making that decision. We’re putting together our list, as we say, from top to bottom on what we think will best fit our systems.”