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  • Training Camp Preview: St. Louis Rams

    by Ted Carlson - Fanball.com

    Notable Offseason Moves: According to the Chinese Calendar, the Year of the Ram ended on January 21, 2004 and gave way to the Year of the Monkey. As far as the people of St. Louis are concerned, the Rams' year stopped on January 10, when the team suffered a disappointing overtime loss to the Carolina Panthers on January 10. Despite that defeat, the Rams enjoyed a successful 2003 season, posting a 12-4 record and leading the NFC in points scored.

    The Rams wisely made very few changes to their prolific offense during the offseason. Headlines and controversy surrounded Kurt Warner and his eventual release, but for this team's fantasy outlook, the news proved fairly worthless. Warner ceded his starting job to Marc Bulger early in the 2003 campaign, and the Rams solidified Bulger's position when they handed him a four-year, $17.25 million contract on May 3.

    In anticipation of Warner's departure, the Rams signed veteran, injury-prone statue Chris Chandler to a three-year deal in March. The franchise then completed their quarterback depth chart by selecting Michigan State's Jeff Smoker in the sixth round of April's draft.

    The bigger draft news, however, was the Rams choice to move up two spots in the first round to grab Oregon State running back Steven Jackson. According to head coach Mike Martz, the selection prompted the entire draft room to burst into boisterous applause, and we can only assume that Martz is telling us the unexaggerated truth. Maybe the Rams personnel was elated to find Martz once again following in Dick Vermeil's footsteps, as the Chiefs walked a similar path by choosing Larry Johnson in 2003.

    Also on offense, the Rams opted to bring back tight ends Brandon Manumaleuna and Cam Cleeland, both of whom were free agents. The pair combined for an uninspiring 39 catches, 435 yards, and two scores in 2003, and we don't anticipate that their pay increase or another year of experience will greatly boost those stats.

    On the defensive side of the ball, the club took a couple sizable hits over the past few months, starting at the top of their staff. Assistant head coach-defensive coordinator Lovie Smith signed up for the Bears' head job, and Martz responded by hiring old Arizona State pal Larry Marmie for the defensive coordinator position. Marmie held the same title for the Arizona Cardinals over the past three-plus seasons, and we all know how tough it's been to gain yards and score on those defenses over the past few years.

    Marmie's biggest challenge will be to reconstruct the Rams' defensive line. Starting right end Grant Wistrom signed on with the rival Seahawks, and starting defensive tackle Brian Young took his game down to New Orleans. The Rams could also be without pass-rushing stud Leonard Little, who is in trouble with both the law and the league after being arrested for a DWI in April.

    On a positive note, the starting defensive secondary remained in tact after the Rams matched the Redskins offer for cornerback Jerametrius Butler.

    Position Battles: The Rams are returning their entire starting offense, so all the fighting occurs further down the depth chart. The biggest battle of fantasy note is at running back, where Lamar Gordon will aim to hold off Jackson for the right to start when Marshall Faulk gets hurt again. Gordon is the primary backup heading into camp.

    The receiver ranks are also an area of strong contention. Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are the unchallenged starters, but Dane Looker, Shaun McDonald, Kevin Curtis, and Mike Furrey all have a shot at taking the field on three-receiver sets. Considering how often Martz employs his third receiver, that struggle is certainly worth watching.

    Ryan "Big Grease" Pickett and Damione Lewis occupy the starting defensive tackle spots entering camp, but the Rams would love to see the Jimmy Kennedy Experiment step forward to claim more playing time. Considering that all three are former first-round selections, the Rams are fairly optimistic that the interior of their line will be well filled. However, former Redskin Bernard Holsey is around just in case.

    On the ends, Sean Moran and Bryce Fisher will fight for Wistrom's old spot, while Tyoka Jackson will likely stick on the left side in anticipation of a Little suspension. The team speaks highly of rookie Tony Hargrove, but he probably won't push for a starting job after sitting out the entire 2003 season due to academic ineligibility.

    Keep an Eye On: Martz will be tinkering heavily with his backfield throughout camp. Knowing Mad Mike, though, he likely won't showoffs his tricks until the regular season. We expect his bag of sets to include some combinations of Faulk and Gordon or Faulk and Jackson in the backfield together. Marshall remains the primary weapon but the existence of other able runners could cut down on his touches.

    As usual, left tackle Orlando Pace is flying under the franchise tag but wanting a long-term contract. The Pro Bowl lineman will likely sit out most (if not all) of training camp and send scares into any fantasy owners with Rams on their squads. We expect Pace to show up before the regular season, but his situation and participation is always something that needs close watching.

    Staying with that theme, fantasy owners should be very worried if the Rams incur any injuries or other problems along the line. Their starting unit is one of the best in the league, but the team lost backups David Loverne and John St. Clair to free agency and now have very little experience down the depth chart.

    Lastly, as touched upon earlier, the Rams defense could be in serious trouble if they are without Little. Wistrom and Little accounted for 20 of the team's 42 sacks last season, and a lack of pressure would obviously increase the stress on the linebackers and secondary. Without Leonard, Marmie's unit could easily turn into one of the more beatable defenses in the league, which could make them a welcome target for fantasy owners when setting lineups throughout the 2004 season.
    Last edited by evil disco man; -07-07-2004, 08:49 PM.

  • #2
    Re: Training Camp Preview: St. Louis Rams

    For fantasy purposes, Holt and Bruce are sure picks, but the rest of the pack of WRs (Dane Looker, Shaun McDonald, Kevin Curtis, and Mike Furrey) all have potential but all seem to be wild cards at the moment. Will a favorite appear during training camp or pre-season?

    Picking the Rams defense would not be wise with the loss of seasoned players and Lovie. I'll be staying away from picking them for my team. Sorry Ram fans. The defense will probably struggle this year.
    :disappoin
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    • RamWraith
      HOLY CRAP! No wonder Marshall is not the same
      by RamWraith
      I was reading in the Sporting News that Marshall has had his surgury 87 times on his knees. Is this true??? WOW! How can the guy even walk much less run.
      -09-01-2004, 08:14 AM
    • RamDez
      St. Louis Rams 2004 Season Preview
      by RamDez
      St. Louis Rams 2004 Season Preview

      From James Alder,
      Aug 14 2004

      QB Controversy No Longer an Issue

      The defending NFC West Champion St. Louis Rams decided it was time to cut ties with former two-time league MVP Kurt Warner because of a contract that made it prohibitive for them to keep him as a backup. In doing so, they also rid themselves of the quarterback controversy that has dogged this team since Warnerís fairy-tale career took on a tailspin that mirrored his meteoric rise just a few short years ago. And now that all questions about his starting QB have been erased, the mad scientist, head coach Mike Martz, can get back to work devising further ways to frustrate defensive coordinators. As in recent seasons, the Rams find themselves in the situation of having what promises to be one of the most potent offenses in the league. They also find themselves, once again, looking for answers on defense.zSB(3,3);if(!z336){var zIsb=document.getElementById("adsb");if(zIsb){zIsb.style.display="inline";zIsb.style.height="0px";zIsb.style.width="0px";}var zIss=document.getElementById("adss");if(zIss){zIss.style.display="inline";zIss.style.height="0px";zIss.style.width="0px";}}





      Lovie Smith accepted a head coaching job in Chicago, so the responsibility of pulling the defensive squad together falls squarely on the shoulders of new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie, who promises to use much of the same system used last year with a little more man-to-man schemes thrown in. Potentially, he has a very good unit, but there are legitimate concerns with durability, depth, and experience at several positions.




      Quarterback
      Now that Warner is in New York, the issues at quarterback appear to be settled. Starter Marc Bulger will no longer have to look over his shoulder to see if he is going to be replaced every time he makes a mistake, which should only add to his confidence. Bulgerís ability to make quick reads is a good fit for this offense, but he tends to force the ball at times. He must cut down on the 22 interceptions he threw last season if this team is to become a legitimate contender again.

      Backup Chris Chandler will be entering his 18th year in the league, and while he can be as effective as anyone throwing the ball, he has to have great protection to get the job done. He tends to hold onto the ball too long, which is why durability has become such an issue for him in recent years. Jeff Smoker, who slipped on draft day because of off-field issues, was added late in the daft and will likely be a developmental prospect in the No. 3 role.

      Running Backs
      When healthy, Marshall Faulk is still one of the best running backs in the league, but heís had two knee surgeries in the last year and is 31-years old, which is why the Rams used...
      -08-14-2004, 02:15 PM
    • RamDez
      Rams are getting set to gear up again
      by RamDez
      By Bill Coats

      Of the Post-Dispatch

      Late afternoon had crept into early evening Jan. 10 when lightning struck the Edward Jones Dome. The bolt was a 69-yard pass play deftly executed by Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme and wide receiver Steve Smith that brought the Rams' season to an abrupt and crushing conclusion.

      It was 23-23 when the Panthers faced third down and 14 on the first play of the second overtime. Inexplicably, Smith split the Rams' deep defense and Delhomme found him in full stride in the middle of the field, streaking toward the end zone. The capacity crowd was yanked into an eerie silence as the NFC West champions, 12-4 in the regular season, suffered sudden death in the opening round of the playoffs.

      "I just went, 'Arrrrrrggggh,'" Rams wide receiver Torry Holt said. "Your heart just drops all the way down to your toes. That's the kind of hurt you feel."

      Now the team is gearing up for training camp and a new season. The players are to report to Western Illinois University in Macomb by 5 p.m. July 27, with the first two workouts scheduled for the following day. Camp will continue through Aug. 20.

      During the six months since the 29-23 loss to Carolina, some significant shifts have taken place in the team's landscape. Here's a review of the most noteworthy happenings during the offseason:


      Two defensive linemen sign with other teams

      Two starters on the defensive line, right end Grant Wistrom and tackle Brian Young, accepted free-agent offers from other teams. Wistrom signed a six-year, $33 million deal with Seattle, and Young went to New Orleans.

      Damione Lewis heads to Macomb as the heir apparent to Young's spot. Should Lewis falter, Bernard Holsey, a free-agent pickup who started all 16 games last season for Washington, could move into the lineup.

      Replacing Wistrom, whose 60 tackles last season included seven sacks, could be more problematic. For now, Sean Moran - a former Ram who returned as a free agent - is No. 1 on the depth chart, with Bryce Fisher and Erik Flowers listed as backups. Tyoka Jackson also could figure into the mix.


      Defense is going from Lovie to Larry

      Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith was hired as Chicago's head coach on Jan. 14. Five days later, Rams coach Mike Martz named Larry Marmie as Smith's successor.

      Smith had turned an unsteady defense into one of the NFL's best units. Marmie, who spent the previous eight years with the Arizona Cardinals, the final 3 1/2 as defensive coordinator, said that like Smith, "I like speed. . . . We want to continue to play in the same way, with the same style."


      At quarterback, a Kurt dismissal

      Marc Bulger, who started 16 games last season at quarterback and was the most valuable player in the...
      -07-18-2004, 02:27 AM
    • Nick
      FoxSports.com's Pre-Camp Rams Preview
      by Nick
      SCOUT'S HONOR: Rams pre-camp preview
      Brian DeLucia / Special to FOXSports.com
      Posted: 8 hours ago


      Last season, Marc Bulger proved he was a great regular-season quarterback. In 2004, Rams fans need him to prove he can be a great playoff quarterback. (Otto Greule Jr / GettyImages)


      St. Louis Rams
      CAMP SITE: Western Illinois University
      LOCATION: Macomb, Ill.
      ROOKIES REPORT: July 27
      VETERANS REPORT: July 28

      TEAM ATMOSPHERE
      The Rams remain a playoff contender that can put plenty of points on the board, but there are more questions heading into this season than any other time during Mike Martz's tenure as head coach. Last year's devastating playoff exit against Carolina was followed by some key free-agent losses that could linger into the season.

      POSITION OF STRENGTH
      The offense has the ability to score on short notice due to the depth at wide receiver. Torry Holt took his game to another level last season. He matured and became a lot more focused on the little things that make a difference on the field. Isaac Bruce remains a fixture of stability who still maintains his quickness to separate from coverage. Dane Looker became a clutch performer on third downs out of the slot. And Mike Furrey emerged as a solid reserve who runs good routes and has enough quickness to get open. Keep an eye on Shaun McDonald and Kevin Curtis. Both have intriguing skills to bolster the depth in the passing game.

      POSITION OF WEAKNESS
      Under Mike Martz, the Rams have struggled to find productive return specialists. Arlen Harris (kickoffs) and Mike Furrey (punts) did an adequate job last season, but neither is a gamebreaker. Harris might have outgrown his role further by putting on more weight during his transition to fullback. Furrey was reliable and has good toughness on punt returns. The Rams expected more from DeJuan Groce last season, but had trouble hanging on to the ball. Shaun McDonald could be worth keeping an eye on.

      BIGGEST QUESTION MARK
      Will Marc Bulger bounce back after a tough finish last season? Bulger's struggles down the stretch and in the playoff loss were disturbing. He forced a lot of balls into coverage and was sloppy about pushing the ball downfield. With Kurt Warner out of the picture, Bulger must relax and play loose. I believe Bulger displayed enough of a track record to suggest he'll bounce back and have a productive season.

      KEY POSITION BATTLE(S)
      The Rams are looking at several options to replace Grant Wistrom at right defensive end. Bryce Fisher in many ways is the most like Wistrom. He has a quick first step off the ball and plays with a lot of tenacity and effort. The coaches are also very intrigued by the raw tools displayed by rookie Tony Hargrove. They feel he's responding very well to pro coaching, but must now prove himself during training...
      -07-14-2004, 02:21 AM
    • RamWraith
      Rams will look for answers
      by RamWraith
      By Jim Thomas
      Of the Post-Dispatch
      07/26/2004
      With a new quarterback and only a handful of players remaining from the Super Bowl championship team of 1999, coach Mike Martz has called the Rams a team in transition.

      It will take months for the entire story to unfold. But the answers to several questions facing the team begin to be answered with the start of training camp Wednesday in Macomb, Ill. Stay tuned.

      1.) Can Faulk still run (and catch)?

      He might be the best all-purpose back in NFL history. At his best, he remains one of the most feared backs in the league. But Marshall Faulk is 31 years old, which by NFL standards for a running back qualifies you for an AARP card. With more than 3,400 regular-season and postseason touches, Faulk has taken a lot of hits over his 10 NFL seasons.

      After missing five games last season because of hand and knee injuries, Faulk underwent yet another knee operation this offseason and talked openly with his agent about retiring in a year or two. How much can the Rams expect from Faulk in '04? Is it realistic to think they can still build an offense around him?

      2.) How will Bulger fare as the man at quarterback?

      For the first time since Trent Green went down with a knee injury five summers ago, someone other than Kurt Warner will open the regular season as the Rams' starting quarterback. Marc Bulger has shown accuracy, coolness under fire and an ability to rally the team at crunch time. Logic says he should be more relaxed without Warner - and the Warner zealots - peering over his shoulder at every snap. But can Bulger cut down on his interception total of a year ago? Can he regain the touch on the deep ball that was there in '02 but missing for most of '03? Will he prosper or wilt under the scrutiny that comes with being an NFL starting quarterback?

      3.) What's my line?

      The defensive line lost two of its top five performers in Grant Wistrom and Brian Young. Beyond their tackling stats and sack totals, Wistrom and Young brought an attitude and work ethic to the field that helped set the tone for the defense. Bryce Fisher enters training camp as Wistrom's replacement. Underachieving and injury-plagued Damione Lewis, a No. 12 overall pick in 2001, gets the first crack at Young's job. Fisher must show he can hold up against the run on a consistent basis. Lewis must stay healthy and show the skills he has flashed in St. Louis. There is also uncertainty over the status of Pro Bowl DE Leonard Little, who faces felony charges of drunken driving. And can DT Jimmy Kennedy make a meaningful contribution after a highly disappointing rookie campaign? Can rookie DE Anthony Hargrove supply sizzle as a pass rusher?

      4.) What's my line? (Part II)

      The interior of the Rams' offensive line had some rough moments in '03. New center Dave Wohlabaugh played the first...
      -07-27-2004, 06:22 AM
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