Recent spotty drafts mean Rams can't blow this one

BY JEFF GORDON
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
04/19/2005

The Rams' football operation will be put to the test again this weekend. Are these men functional or dysfunctional?

We’ll know in due time. Given this group’s rather spotty performance in recent NFL Drafts, scoring big -– especially on Saturday -– will be imperative.

Sure, the Rams have nabbed some great prospects in recent years. Running back Steven Jackson was a fine No. 1 pick last spring, for instance.

In this corner of cyberspace, we still believe in receivers Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald. The same goes for defensive backs Travis Fisher, Jerametrius Butler, DeJuan Groce and Kevin Garrett.

Linebacker/safety/linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is a keeper, as long as his shoulder holds up. Tackle/guard Scott Tercero was a great find at 184th overall in 2003. There is still hope for linebacker Brandon Chillar and guard Larry Turner, too.

Defensive end Anthony Hargrove appears to be an excellent pick and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett became a solid contributor after a slow start. This summer, quarterback Jeff Smoker will get his opportunity to prove he belongs.

On the other hand, linebacker Tommy Polley washed out. Guard Travis Scott was a waste of time. Defensive tackle Damione Lewis and linebacker Robert Thomas -- each a first-round pick -- have been ordinary at best.

Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy has had his moments, but not enough of them to justify his high draft selection. And Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch . . . well, now, we’ll try not to bring up his name again.

The last three drafts have netted the Rams exactly three starters and 14 back-ups. Of their 26 picks, four moved on to other teams and five were out of the league last season.

Overall, the Rams' football operation deserves about a “C” for a job adequately done. But given the age of key veteran players -– and the team’s equally spotty effort in free agency (Kyle Turley! Jason Sehorn!) -- it will need more than adequate work in the ’05 draft.

Coach Mike Martz, “general manager” Charley Armey and Co. need to select a solid starter in the first round, followed by three players capable of moving into starting roles as needs develop. Another three or four good athletes for the special teams could help, too, since all of the incumbents on the kick coverage units are suspect.

Are the Rams up to the challenge? Our friends at Scouts Inc., writing for ESPN.com, offered this assessment of the front office:

“The Rams also have an experienced veteran scouting staff led by Dave Razzano, Tom Marino and Dickie Daniels, and there is no shortage of quality opinions on draft day. As strong as they are in college scouting, they are very unusual in their pro personnel side of the department.

“They rely on outside services, and their assistant coaches and head coach Mike Martz get more involved in free agency, in pro acquisitions, than they probably do with the draft.

“They will rely on assistant coaches Larry Marmie and Bill Kollar. Armey and (president of football operations Jay) Zygmunt will be involved in free-agency moves, but their scouts will have little to do with the pro side of the scouting department. This set-up is a little stronger from the outside looking in.

“The Rams seem to be top-heavy in experience on the college side but pro scouting seems to be undermanned. The relationship between Armey, Zygmunt and Martz is always open to speculation -– but yet it seems to work and Armey knows how to make decisions on both sides of the aisle.”

Yeah, but he doesn’t get to make the call on both sides of the aisle -– because Martz fancies himself a general manager. Perhaps Armey could have spared him the embarrassment that was Chris Chandler . . . but, hey, it’s a new year.

Let’s not pick at old wounds.

The Rams have made some interesting moves in free agency, overhauling the linebacker corps and adding veteran help to a battered secondary.

The free-agent departure of defensive end Bryce Fisher hurts, since we’re not sure if old friend Jay Williams will be the same sort of part-time playmaker during his second stint with the team.

We’re eager to see what Tercero, Turner and Blaine Saipaia can do in training camp after a full offseason to prepare. We’re intrigued by the prospect of Jackson filling the lead role at running back -– while getting his knees off the painted asphalt that served as the previous “playing surface” at the Edward Jones Dome.

As we noted earlier, we like the Rams in 2005. They ought to reach the playoffs, again, after wading through a fairly inviting schedule.

But if the football operation blows it this weekend, the Rams could sputter, the Arizona Cardinals could reach the playoffs instead and next year at this time we’ll be discussing the need for a complete overhaul -– from the front office down.

Not to put any pressure on Martz, Armey or Zygmunt, of course.

Let the fun begin!