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  • Inside Slant

    Things are different for Dane Looker as training camp approaches.

    Once hailed as "Little Ricky" because of his style of play is similar to former Rams receiver Ricky Proehl, Looker accepts the compliments, but wants to be his own man.

    That was tough for a while, as he struggled to make an NFL roster. He was an undrafted free agent in the Rams' 2000 training camp, and was opening some eyes when he was surprisingly traded to the Patriots on Aug. 7 that year.

    He made New England's roster, but ended the season on injured reserve and was then released on July 31 because of a hamstring injury. Looker was right back with the Rams for three weeks, but he wasn't healthy enough to make an impact. Out of football for the rest of the year, he re-signed with the Rams in February and excelled in NFL Europe, but the numbers game caught up to him again.

    Released on Sept. 2, he spent most of the season on the practice squad until being added to the active roster for the final three games of the season.

    Last year turned out to be his coming-out party. Making the roster also resulted in him being the holder for kicker Jeff Wilkins. Wilkins wanted him all along after the departure of, you guessed it, Proehl, but there was no guarantee Looker would make the roster.

    He helped Wilkins tie a league record with 39 field goals and offensively was third on the team with 47 receptions for 495 yards and three touchdowns. More important, 27 of his catches, including 18 on third down, were first-down plays.

    Despite his success, Looker takes nothing for granted.

    "We've got some good receivers on this team, so I'm going to have to improve on what I did last year and play better," he said. "Nothing's a guarantee."

    Coach Mike Martz loves his work ethic and competitiveness.

    "Dane was terrific last year, and looking at him out here, he just picked up where he left off," Martz said during the offseason.

    NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

    —The Rams report to training camp in Macomb, Ill., on July 27 with the first practice scheduled for the next day. They will be in camp until Aug. 20, three days before a Monday night game in Kansas City.

    The Chicago Bears, coached by former Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, will visit Rams camp for three days from Aug. 5-7. There will be one practice the first day, two the second and then a scrimmage on Aug. 7.

    Said coach Mike Martz, "Having a scrimmage there at the stadium on Saturday morning makes it exciting for everybody. It gives us a chance to look at a lot of our young players under competitive situations, and the same for the Bears. The most important aspect of it is after seven or eight days (of camp), you get a chance to look at your players in a different environment against other players. Normally this can be kind of dangerous because it gets highly competitive and you run the risk of losing a good player in a drill.

    "However, with the Bears, Lovie and I know each other so well, these practices will be tempered and controlled. We'll talk to the players about maintaining their composure. Lovie and I will do a good job of preparing our teams for practice that that's what it is, and let's keep it professional. The scrimmage, though, will be a lot of fun for everybody."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have to stay on top of my game. I have to really focus in on being a technician, being complete every single down. Guys are going to come out and challenge us from this point on out." - WR Torry Holt, on what he has to do match his league-leading totals of 117 receptions for 1,696 yards last season.

    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

    QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Marc Bulger. Backups — Chris Chandler, Jeff Smoker, Russ Michna

    The depth chart is clear at quarterback, with Bulger entering camp as the starter, Chandler the backup, Smoker the rookie looking to learn and Michna the undrafted free agent probably little more than a camp arm. However, with practice squads expanded to eight players this season, Michna could stick around if he shows ability and a willingness to learn during the summer. Chandler has the reputation of being fragile, but his arm remains strong despite the fact he turns 39 years old in October. He has learned the offense quickly, and with the talent around him would be competitive if he was forced to play. Still, the obvious key for any success is the improvement of Bulger, whose record as a starter in the regular season is 18-4. And one loss was to Seattle in 2002 when he departed early because of an injury. He did have some difficult stretches during games last season, but usually came up big when games were on the line. There's no reason to believe he won't continue to get better under the tutelage of coach Mike Martz.

    RUNNING BACKS: Starters — HB Marshall Faulk, FB Joey Goodspeed, HB Steven Jackson, HB Lamar Gordon, HB Adam Matthews, HB Dusty McGrorty, FB Arlen Harris.

    Faulk's 31st birthday was in February, but he had offseason knee surgery that is said to have him feeling better than he has for several years. But what happens when the hits starting coming again? Is he really healthy? We'll find out at some point during the summer. Even if Faulk isn't what he once was, he can still be a presence as a runner and receiver. The addition of Jackson should in the least improve the Rams' productivity in the red zone, and provide a tough overall runner in the event Faulk isn't 100 percent. With Jackson's star rising, that of Gordon may be falling. There are those that question his toughness, while nagging injuries have affected him when he's had the chance to play. His roster spot is probably secure unless Matthews or McGrorty open some eyes in camp. Both looked solid in minicamps, but when the pads go on it's a different ballgame. Matthews has excellent quickness, and might have potential as a kick returner.

    Goodspeed and Harris are the only fullbacks on the roster, and Harris would only be used there in certain situations as a possible runner or receiver. How he is utilized could also impact Gordon's role in the offense. Harris showed toughness after making the roster as an undrafted free agent last year, and also excelled on special teams. Goodspeed had some moments after joining the team during the 2003 season, but was inconsistent as he attempted to learn the system. Coaches hope an offseason of working in the offense will make him the consistent blocker needed when called upon.

    TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Brandon Manumaleuna. Backups — Cam Cleeland, Erik Jensen, Mike Brake, Joel Jacobs.

    Yes, there were raised eyebrows when the Rams matched an offer made to Manumaleuna by Carolina, but one way of looking at it is that the Panthers obviously saw something in him. The hope is that by staying at tight end and not moving around as much, he can concentrate on that position and avoid the mental mistakes that led to breakdowns. Manumaleuna also has to use his size as an asset and be tougher as a blocker and runner after the catch. He goes down far too quickly after receptions. Cleeland caught only 10 passes for 145 yards last season, but might be utilized more in the passing game. He's simply not a strong blocker. The Rams believe Jensen could upgrade the blocking if he can overcome a lack of size. Brake and Jacobs must show quickly they can compete at this level to have any chance.

    WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce. Backups — Dane Looker, Kevin Curtis, Mike Furrey, Shaun McDonald, Michael Coleman, Jamal Jones, Kelvin Kight, Derek McCoy, Ryan McGuffey, Brian Sump.

    The wide receiver corps remains virtually identical to what it was last season. Holt will try and duplicate a season in which he led the NFL in receptions (117) and yards (1,696). Bruce continues to perform at a high level, and could see his production increase if officials actually follow through with the expected emphasis on defensive holding. There is still no one better in the league coming in and out of breaks, and unimpeded routes for Bruce should lead to even more defensive headaches. Looker made an impact as the third receiver last season when Curtis hardly played because of a broken leg suffered in the preseason. He had 47 receptions for 495 yards and was consistently effective on third down. If Curtis is truly healthy and recovered from his leg injury, the speed he brings to the table should help open up the offense even more. Furrey was the surprise on the roster last season, and should make the final six again unless an unheralded rookie or Coleman makes a major step up. Coleman was on the practice squad most of the season, and has shown some pass-catching prowess in workouts. It's unknown whether he would be successful when live bullets are flying.

    Coaches were hopeful McDonald could supply to the offense what Az-Zahir Hakim once did, but he has to show he can be durable. He contributed little last season (10 receptions, 62 yards) in limited action. Jones, Kight, McCoy, McGuffey and Sump represent the team's usual camp receivers that have ability, but rarely are able to crack the top group. Sump has some intrigue because of his kick return ability in college. If one or two of the latter receivers emerge, they could wind up on the practice squad.

    OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Orlando Pace, LG Andy McCollum, C Dave Wohlabaugh, RG Adam Timmerman, RT Kyle Turley. Backups — T Grant Williams, G/T Andy King, C/G Scott Tercero, C/G Larry Turner, C Andy Eby, T Ryan Schau, T Joel Hofmann, T Matt Morgan, T Ben Noll, T Jeremy Phillips, T Brandon Stephens.

    While fans found ways to find fault with the play of the line last season, production was better than the perception. Yes, there were some struggles with Turley and Wohlabaugh new to the system and McCollum switching to left guard, but the unit was healthy and compared to the rest of the league, problems were few. Now, all starters return, and assuming Turley and Wohlabaugh are recovered from injuries, a year together should create a better overall performance. The only question is whether Pace will miss most of camp again as the unsigned franchise player.

    The backups should be solid, with Williams at tackle, along with King and Tercero. What could be an issue early in camp and during preseason games is having tackles good enough to protect the quarterback if Pace is absent and Turley not playing much following back surgery. Coaches believe King's best position will be guard, and he could challenge McCollum down the road, but he might be forced to play tackle early if Schau can't handle the tackle chores. As noted above, there are several undrafted free-agent tackles on the roster, but it remains unknown whether any can develop fast enough to be counted on. Tercero is versatile, as is the rookie Turner. Eby missed last season because of a knee injury, and the coaches like his technique. But he might be a victim of the numbers game.

    DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — RE Bryce Fisher, T Damione Lewis, T Ryan Pickett, LE Leonard Little. Backups — E Anthony Hargrove, E/T Tyoka Jackson, T Jimmy Kennedy, E Erik Flowers, T Bernard Holsey, T Brian Howard, E Sean Moran, T Sean Mulcahy, E Nick Burley, T David Thompson.

    The departures of Grant Wistrom and Brian Young as free agents has created some roster battles that will be watched closely. Fisher and Jackson combined for as many sacks (7.5) as Wistrom had last season, but it's questionable whether either can play the amount of downs Wistrom did and still be consistently productive. Hargrove is the wild card, a rookie with impressive natural pass-rushing ability that needs seasoning. How quickly he can become a force is unknown. There is also a question whether Little will be distracted by the drunk driving charges hanging over his head. After his arrest in late April, Little was not around Rams Park for the remainder of the offseason.

    Moran is a savvy veteran that can contribute snaps, while Flowers is trying to have an impact for the first time since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2000. Inside is where several players have to step up. Pickett was a major force in 2002, but slipped last season while playing most of the year with a high ankle sprain. Lewis also was hampered by the same injury in the second half of the season. Kennedy worked hard in the offseason, and should benefit by the new approach to how much players weigh. He will be fine at 335 pounds, as long as he can be effective.

    The addition of Holsey provides veteran depth, which is needed. The only other tackles are the undersized Howard, Mulcahy, who might surprise, and Thompson, who played this past spring in NFL Europe.

    LINEBACKERS: Starters — OLB Tommy Polley, MLB Robert Thomas, OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa. Backups — Brandon Chillar, Trev Faulk, OLB Jeremy Loyd, OLB Tony Newson, OLB Justin Smith, Brandon Spoon, OLB Jason McWilliams, MLB Fred Pagac.

    The first four are set, assuming Chillar wins a job as the top backup. It's unlikely the fourth-round pick would be released, and his versatility makes him a potential backup at all three positions. Polley is in the final year of his contract, and needs to avoid injury and make more big plays to earn a lucrative deal. Thomas can be exceptional in the middle if he can stay on the field every game. Tinoisamoa should emerge as the leader of the group, and should be improved now that he understands the defense better.

    The competition for the final two or three jobs will be intense. Newson played for linebackers coach Joe Vitt in Kansas City, and might be the darkhorse. Loyd was around all last season, on and off the roster and practice squad, and has excellent speed. Smith also has shown solid ability, along with Faulk and Spoon. Spoon started for the Bills in 2001 before a biceps injury cost him the 2002 season. McWilliams suffered an injury in NFL Europe this past season, while Pagac appears a notch below the other candidates.

    DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — CB Jerametrius Butler, CB Travis Fisher, SS Adam Archuleta, FS Aeneas Williams. Backups — CB DeJuan Groce, CB Kevin Garrett, S Rich Coady, S Jason Shivers, S Justin Lucas, S Shedrick Copeland, CB/S Nijrell Eason, CB Dwight Anderson, S Kailan Williams, CB Corey Yates.

    The emergence of Butler last season resulted in the Rams matching a restricted free-agent offer he received from Washington. Fisher also continues to improve, while big things are expected from Groce and Garrett. Groce got some experience last season, while Garrett was bothered by injuries. Archuleta could be on the verge of a Pro Bowl, while Aeneas Williams keeps on ticking at the age of 36, moving to the slot in the nickel defense. Shivers could compete with Lucas for the nickel safety job. Coady provides versatile backup help and solid special teams play.

    The Rams like the potential of Copeland, and Eason might also have a chance. Whether Anderson, Kailan Williams or Yates can make the roster will likely depend on special teams.

    SPECIALISTS: PK Jeff Wilkins, P Sean Landeta, LS Chris Massey, H Dane Looker, KOR Arlen Harris, PR DeJuan Groce, KR Brian Sump, PR Mike Furrey, PR Dane Looker, PK Mark Jensen, P Jesse Nicassio.

    The top four are as good as it gets. Wilkins tied an NFL record with 39 field goals last season, while Landeta rolls on at the age of 42. Massey's name is rarely mentioned, which is good, because virtually every snap is dead-on. Looker was very good in his first year as the holder. But who will return kicks? Harris was steady, if not spectacular, last season. Groce is probably the best punt returner on the roster, but for that to happen, he has to be allowed to do it consistently, even if there is a mistake or two along the way. The kick returners had their jobs last season mainly because of ball security. Jensen and Nicassio are likely hoping to be seen by other teams during the exhibition season.
    Attached Files

    __________________________________________________________
    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

Related Topics

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  • RamWraith
    Inside Slant
    by RamWraith
    When training camp opened, the biggest question facing the Rams was how they would get through training camp with an unsettled situation on the offensive line, given the unknown status of tackles Kyle Turley and Orlando Pace and center Dave Wohlabaugh.

    Turley was recovering from offseason back surgery, while Wohlabaugh had surgery on his hip in the offseason. The Rams knew Pace would likely not be in camp as the team's unsigned franchise player, so how the line would be deployed because of the Turley and Wohlabaugh injuries was an issue.

    It turned out to be even bigger than expected when Wohlabaugh never made it onto the field and was released and Turley aggravated his back during the first few days of camp. Turley was placed on injured reserve in the cutdown to 65 players.

    Those factors resulted in frequent shuffling on the line in camp. Andy King began as the left guard, but lost that job after the first exhibition game and was replaced by Chris Dishman. Dishman had decided to retire before coach Mike Martz convinced him to sign, and he reported at 375 pounds.

    Grant Williams, who would be the right tackle as Turley's replacement, was forced to play on the left side throughout most of camp because of Pace's absence. Scott Tercero got a lot of work at tackle, even though most in the organization believe his best position is guard. Greg Randall, who was with the Texans last season, was signed when it became apparent Turley wouldn't be available.

    Guard Tom Nutten, who played for the Rams during their Super Bowl seasons, but left for the Jets last year and then retired, was brought back a few days before the third exhibition game against Washington and injured his toe on his second play.

    That's the type of summer it's been for a team that has deep offensive talent, but knows it could go for naught if the line doesn't come together.

    Complicating things even more was Pace's decision to stay away for the entire preseason. Last year, as the franchise player, he reported and signed 12 days before the season opener and was able to play in the exhibition finale.

    Not this time. Pace remained unsigned when the Rams played the Raiders Sept. 2, and for the first time, Martz voiced frustration with the situation.

    Asked about Pace not being with the team, Martz said, "To be honest with you I don't think about it. This is our football team right now, I would just assume he's not coming in. That's his decision, and we're moving on.

    "You can't let one player, no matter how good he is, or how good of a person he is, hold a team hostage waiting for him to come in. We have to move on, and get ready for Sept. 12th."

    For line coach John Matsko, he has to get this group ready.

    "Each year's different," Matsko said. "The challenge this year was to bring a bunch of guys...
    -09-02-2004, 12:34 PM
  • RamDez
    Rams Position Analysis
    by RamDez
    Rams Position Analysis
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Saturday, Sep. 11 2004

    QUARTERBACKS

    Starter: Marc Bulger.
    Reserves: Chris Chandler, Jeff Smoker.

    For the first time in his career, Bulger enters an NFL regular season as a
    starting quarterback. He actually got a lot less work in exhibition games this
    preseason as opposed to his previous three campaigns with the club. After
    averaging 75 throws in the 2001, '02, and '03 preseasons, he threw only 36
    times this preseason.

    After a rocky game against Kansas City, and a few erratic tosses against
    Washington, Bulger closed strong against the Redskins and looked sharp in his
    only series against Oakland. He must cut down on his interceptions, improve his
    deep touch and avoid rushing through his reads. If he does that, he will make
    the jump from a good NFL quarterback to an elite one.

    Veteran Chris Chandler outplayed Bulger in the preseason, with a 97.9 passer
    rating and a 65.9 completion percentage, easing concerns about his ability to
    be an effective QB at age 38. He looks like a good fit for this offense, and
    can still zing the deep ball.

    The third QB, rookie Jeff Smoker, isn't close to being ready to play in an NFL
    game.

    The Stat: Bulger's .818 winning percentage (18-4) is the best among
    active NFL quarterbacks with a minimum of 10 regular-season starts.



    RUNNING BACKS

    Starters: Marshall Faulk (RB), Joey Goodspeed (FB).
    Reserves: Steven Jackson (RB), Arlen Harris (RB/FB), Chris Massey
    (FB), Stephen Trejo (FB/TE).

    Faulk says he feels better entering this season than he has in a few years. But
    who knows how his right knee will hold up in this, his 11th NFL season? Faulk
    doesn't have the burst he displayed three years ago. But his vision,
    intelligence, pass-receiving skills, and competitive fire appear to be as good
    as ever. It's unrealistic to think he can get 20-25 touches a game and hold up
    for most, or all, of a 16-game season. That's where rookie Steven Jackson comes
    in.

    Jackson led the NFL in rushing during the preseason with 323 yards, and is a
    good pass catcher. How he handles a regular-season game plan remains to be
    seen. The same goes for his blitz pickup and pass-blocking in general, an area
    in which Faulk excels.

    Slowed for part of the preseason with a hamstring injury, Joey Goodspeed has
    shown that he can at least be a competent fullback. He's a willing blocker,
    with decent pass-catching skills.

    Although no game breaker, Arlen Harris can do a solid job running the ball and
    also may be used at fullback in certain formations. Once again, Chris Massey is
    a good insurance policy...
    -09-12-2004, 02:03 AM
  • RamWraith
    10 Questions (and a few answers) about the Rams
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Friday, Aug. 27 2004

    On the eve of training camp, the Post-Dispatch posed 10 questions concerning
    the 2004 Rams. One month later, we reassess those questions:


    1. Can Faulk still run (and catch)?

    He was basically a spectator early in training camp. But Marshall Faulk has
    gotten a lot of practice work over the past two weeks, and some exhibition-game
    time as well. He is rounding into form, but even Faulk isn't sure what to
    expect. The early results have been fairly encouraging. Nonetheless, it might
    be a few weeks into the regular season before Faulk has a read on his right
    knee and how it might hold up over a 16-game schedule.

    At least the Rams appear to have an emerging alternative in rookie Steven
    Jackson. Jackson has displayed surprising cutback ability for a 230-pounder,
    with the power to drag tacklers for an extra yard or two. He has above-average
    ability as a pass-catcher, and is a willing blocker on blitz pickup. He must
    keep mistakes to a minimum, however.


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

    Bulger seems to have the complete confidence of his teammates. With rare
    exceptions he has thrown the ball well on the practice field - be it in Macomb
    or back at Rams Park.

    He misfired on a few passes against the Kansas City blitz in the second
    preseason game. With the Rams' offensive line in a state of transition, rest
    assured that Arizona (Sept. 12) and Atlanta (Sept. 19) took note. The
    Cardinals, Falcons and other early-season Rams opponents are polishing up their
    blitz packages as we speak.

    A quick start by Bulger in September will keep the pressure off and the Kurt
    Warner zealots quiet.


    3. What's my line?

    The early returns on Bryce Fisher and Erik Flowers at right defensive end have
    been encouraging, fueling optimism that they can adequately replace Grant
    Wistrom. Rookie Anthony Hargrove has shown flashes of his considerable athletic
    talent on the practice field, but has yet to transfer that into games. He
    remains raw and unpolished. His development was hampered by missed camp time
    for a knee and ankle injury, plus a trip to Florida to tend to his family after
    Hurricane Charley.

    The foot injury to Jimmy Kennedy was unfortunate, given the amount of offseason
    work he put in to prepare for this season. His absence makes the defensive
    tackle depth very questionable at this point. Veteran Bernard Holsey is not yet
    up to full speed following offseason surgery to repair a torn quadriceps
    tendon. Brian Howard and Kevin Aldridge have had ups and downs as they contend
    for a backup...
    -08-29-2004, 08:34 AM
  • evil disco man
    The Good and The Bad
    by evil disco man
    With the Rams' first preseason game only days away, I thought it a good time to take a look at what the Rams put on the table this season - from two perspectives. Feel free to add your opinions and even new categories while trying to include both the possible positive and negative aspects of each.

    Quarterbacks
    GOOD: Marc Bulger can relax now, knowing that the job is his. He's had a full offseason to prepare with the team as the sure-fire starter, and will therefore show more confidence and production with the team behind him. Chris Chandler is the perfect backup; not durable enough to challenge for the starting job, but is an accurate, smart, veteran passer. Jeff Smoker is young, talented, is over his past troubles and could be the quarterback of the future.

    BAD: Marc Bulger was too inconsistent last year to prove he is really worthy of leading the Rams' passing attack. His decision-making and read progressions are questionable, and his long ball is awful. The team is on his shoulders now, and it will be too much for him to handle. Chris Chandler is old and entering a new offense, and he's known for being a statue in the pocket - something that isn't encouraging knowing that he's been severely injury-prone. Jeff Smoker is too young and unproven right now, and with his legal history in mind, he could only have a negative impact.

    Running Backs
    GOOD: Doctors found something previously undiscovered in Marshall Faulk's knee, fixed it, and he'll now be able to play like the old Marshall instead of an old Marshall. He provides the team with great leadership and knowledge and can carry this offense. Steven Jackson was considered the best back in the NFL Draft. He can run over, around, and through would-be tacklers and is a great receiver. He will be a workhorse in the near future for the Rams, and will be able to give Faulk a rest every now and then this season. Lamar Gordon and Arlen Harris provide great depth, as both are experienced in this offense. Joey Goodspeed emerged from the plethora of fullbacks the Rams brought in last season and will be a dependable lead blocker. Arlen Harris could even see time at fullback as the Robert Holcombe-type.

    BAD: Marshall Faulk isn't getting any younger, and he showed that last season. He had to have surgery on that knee again and could be even more prone to injuries after losing weight this offseason. Steven Jackson is too young to step into this offense right now as an unproven rookie, and his head will be swimming trying to learn Martz's playbook. Lamar Gordon is injury prone and inconsistent as a backup; there's no way the team could rely on him if injuries occur. The only thing Arlen Harris can give the team is three yards and a cloud of dust. Martz as usual ignores the fullbacks, and as a result the Rams really have none worth noting.

    Receivers
    GOOD: Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt are the best tandem at wide receiver in...
    -08-09-2004, 02:53 PM
  • Nick
    ESPN Scouts Inc: Rams Team Summary
    by Nick
    Training camps start late this year, with the first rookies not due to report until July 27. But Insider will keep the NFL fires burning all month with complete training camp previews of each team. Scouts, Inc., has sized up every roster and checks in with position-by-position breakdowns.



    Quarterbacks
    In terms of overall talent of the unit, the Rams are clearly not as deep with Marc Bulger and newcomer Chris Chandler than they were with Bulger and Kurt Warner. However, with coach Mike Martz and the Rams' organization finally putting an end to its quarterback soap opera, the team as a whole is much better off.

    This is finally Bulger's team, and often times that confidence of knowing that you don't have to look over your shoulder every time you make a mistake can be invaluable for a quarterback. Bulger has proved that he can be effective as a starter. He is still young and has the upside to develop into an even better player with more experience in the future. However, in order for Bulger to take his game to the next level he must cut down on his mistakes, force fewer passes if his primary target is not open, and become more consistent with his deep ball. For as many good things as he did in '03, throwing as many interceptions (22) as touchdowns is unacceptable. That type of carelessness with the football will prevent the Rams from making a serious run at another Super Bowl, which is why so much time and effort in the offseason and preseason is being spent on building Bulger's confidence and working with him to limit his mistakes.

    Chandler will be 38 years old in October and is nearing the end of his string quickly. He obviously has great starting experience and has proved in the last couple of seasons that he can step in for the short term and move an offense. He also is intelligent and has a history of picking things up quickly, so he should be ready to run the offense this season if needed.

    However, his skills are on a heavy decline and, as a result of his age and durability problems, he no longer can be trusted as a multiple game starter if necessitated by injury. Chandler was signed to be Bulger's backup in '04, but the Rams need to make sure they find a replacement for Chandler -- whether it's rookie Jeff Smoker or another veteran addition -- in '05, because Chandler is just a decent backup at this point and he's on a steep decline.

    Smoker, who slipped on draft day because of a substance-abuse problem in college, was a great find for coach Mike Martz that late in the draft. Smoker has dealt with his problems and showed a lot of courage by returning to his team and re-assuming the leadership role. He has the physical tools of a third-round quarterback and could wind up becoming Bulger's backup by '05.



    Running backs
    Marshall Faulk is still one of the elite weapons at the position when he is fully healthy,...
    -07-26-2004, 10:10 AM
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