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Rams are hoping they end up with defensive line answers (Post Dispatch)

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  • Rams are hoping they end up with defensive line answers (Post Dispatch)

    Rams are hoping they end up with defensive line answers
    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    Any coach well-versed in football-speak will insist that all starting positions are open heading into training camp. But realistically, only two spots will be up for grabs when the Rams assemble next week in Macomb, Ill.

    Both are on the defensive line: End Grant Wistrom, the team's first-round draft pick in 1998 and a five-year starter, snatched up Seattle's six-year, $33 million free-agent offer in the offseason. Brian Young, another free agent who was emerging as a top-flight tackle, accepted a four-year deal with New Orleans that included a $4 million signing bonus.

    Those losses are significant for a once-porous defense that had improved into a respectable unit. Last year, the Rams ranked 16th among the 32 NFL teams in total defense, and sixth in the 16-team NFC. They led the league in takeaways with 46 - 24 interceptions and 22 fumble recoveries.

    Wistrom, 28, piled up 108 tackles, fourth-best on the team and No. 1 among linemen, and had 7 1/2 sacks, a total exceeded only by All-Pro left end Leonard Little (12 1/2). Young, 27, had 102 tackles, No. 6 in team totals, including 2 1/2 sacks.

    Defensive line coach Bill Kollar acknowledged that the challenge of filling those holes effectively has him fretting just a bit. "When you end up losing two guys that really played good for you and really set a good effort tone, it makes it tough," Kollar said. "It'll be a pretty interesting task, and we'll just see what we're able to get out of these (other) guys."

    Despite his legal difficulties, Little is expected to report to Western Illinois University on Tuesday with the rest of his teammates, and to be available for the season. Meanwhile, Ryan Pickett started 13 games at nose tackle last year and should fill that role again this season, although he could wind up sliding over to Young's spot. Pickett's performance last season was hampered by a nagging ankle injury.

    The leading candidates to take over for Wistrom at right end are Bryce Fisher, a fifth-year pro who has started just once in 20 games with the Rams; Sean Moran, a former Ram who recently returned as a free agent; and Erik Flowers, a six-year veteran who played in only three games in his first season with the Rams.

    "Fisher will start out as the No. 1 guy," Kollar said. "Now, that's not saying that he is the starter. But right now, he's the guy that we've got in there, and it'll just depend on how it goes during training camp and the preseason games."

    Kollar also indicated that newcomer Anthony Hargrove, a third-round draft selection from Georgia Tech, could figure into the mix. Hargrove stood out at the team's rookie minicamp and was solid in the full-squad minicamp that followed.

    "We're hoping he can give us a little boost also this year," Kollar said. "Really, all four of those guys are trying to get playing time and seeing who can wrestle away the starting position."

    Kollar said veteran Tyoka Jackson is more suited to the left side, where he will back up Little.

    Although a rotation system is a possibility at right end, coach Mike Martz said he expected that "somebody will evolve over there eventually. It's kind of how we started off on the left side when Leonard was over there. He was making a transition (from linebacker), and we didn't know how that would work out. But Leonard got better and better.

    "I suspect something will happen like that. One of those guys is going to come to the top; we'll just see how it goes. The good news is, we feel real good about who's there. We're not scrambling around for bodies."

    The same can't be said about tackle, where Kollar conceded "we're a little short."

    Damione Lewis, a first-round pick in 2001, probably has the inside track - if he can stay healthy. Foot and ankle injuries have sidelined him for 11 games over three seasons. Other contenders are Jimmy Kennedy, a disappointment last year as the team's top draft choice; free-agent rookie Brian Howard from Idaho; and Bernard Holsey, who started all 16 games last season for the Washington Redskins and recently came aboard as a free agent. Kollar said Kennedy "had a pretty good offseason - he's gotten his upper body quite a big stronger - and we're hoping that he can come on and really help us out this year."

    Kollar added that Holsey "really hasn't been in yet. We've got to see how he is."

    "Right now, that's all we even have on the roster. So, we'll have to see how things end up working out."

  • #2
    Re: Rams are hoping they end up with defensive line answers (Post Dispatch)

    So are biggest concerns are one spot (DE) where we have 3 veterans, each of whom have 5+ years in the league. And another where our top 2 options are each a first round draft pick? I think we'll be OK on D-line.


    • #3
      Re: Rams are hoping they end up with defensive line answers (Post Dispatch)

      Originally posted by sbramfan
      So are biggest concerns are one spot (DE) where we have 3 veterans, each of whom have 5+ years in the league. And another where our top 2 options are each a first round draft pick? I think we'll be OK on D-line.
      It sounds so much better when you list it that way rather than listing their names.


      Related Topics


      • RamDez
        Mix of players vying to replace departed Wistrom
        by RamDez
        Mix of players vying to replace departed Wistrom

        R.B. FALLSTROM

        Associated Press

        MACOMB, Ill. - At this time last year, Anthony Hargrove was pushing airplanes around instead of offensive tackles.

        After being declared academically ineligible at Georgia Tech, the St. Louis Rams' rookie defensive end got a taste of life in the real world. He worked as a ramp agent at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, squeezing himself into undersized work clothes, wheeling around in carts, toting baggage and supervising the parking.

        Now, he's in a mix of players vying to replace Grant Wistrom at right defensive end. It's the only position vacancy on a team that went 12-4 and won the NFC West last year.

        "I couldn't ask for anything better," Hargrove said. "It's a free battle on the right side and we've got a lot of guys competing, and I'm right in the mix."

        There's an immediate opening for Hargrove, a third-round pick in this year's draft, after Wistrom was bowled over by a six-year, $33 million contract from the Seahawks that included a $14 million signing bonus. Bryce Fisher, a 1999 seventh-round pick of the Bills, entered camp first on the depth chart.

        Other candidates in the group are Sean Moran and Erik Flowers. Coach Mike Martz said the Rams will be just fine with a no-name rotation opposite Leonard Little, who was among the league leaders with 12.5 sacks last year and went to his first Pro Bowl.

        Veteran Tyoka Jackson is another backup end, but on the left side behind Little.

        Martz thought Wistrom, a 1997 first-round pick of the Rams, would be with St. Louis his entire career. But he's moved on.

        "There's six guys on the left and right side that you'd be happy with lining up and playing, I can safely say that," Martz said. "Whoever lines up on the right end, that's who he is, and I'm sure whoever that is will play very well."

        Players also are confident there won't be a dropoff.

        "We'll line up and play, that's the way it works," Jackson said. "Grant was a great player and a great friend and he's always going to be a friend, but he's on the wrong side of the ball now.

        "We've got some guys; people may not know who they are, but we've got some guys."

        Wistrom had 7 1/2 sacks last year and was a coaches' favorite because of his non-stop motor. Fisher, on the other hand, has made three career starts.

        "We're really working our tails off to prove we can be out there," Fisher said. "Everybody adds a little bit something different. Tony is a phenomenal athlete, Erik has a great takeoff, Sean is a nine-year veteran and I use my hands well."

        Unlike other members of the defensive line like tackle Ryan "Grease" Pickett and Jimmy "Bear"...
        -07-31-2004, 04:02 PM
      • RamWraith
        Competition Fierce, Deep at Defensive End
        by RamWraith
        Staff Writer

        When Rams’ coach Mike Martz looks at his menu of defensive ends; it might depend on what kind of mood he is in to make his selection.

        Martz said he has as many as six possibilities to full the position vacated by the departed Grant Wistrom. Wistrom chose to sign with Seattle in the offseason after six seasons in St. Louis. Replacing a talented pass rusher and charismatic leader such as Wistrom could be tough to do with one player.

        “There was such an emotional attachment there,” Martz said of Wistrom. “We all felt like he was going to end his career here. It didn’t work out that way.”

        With that in mind, the Rams have a variety of choices to replace Wistrom, each bringing something different to training camp. Leonard Little will continue to hold down his position at left end as one of the league’s most feared playmakers. That leaves the six others to fight it out for Wistrom’s former spot.

        Bryce Fisher is penciled in as the No. 1 end on the depth chart. Fisher gives the Rams a solid, disciplined player who honed his leadership skills at Air Force. At 6-feet-3, 272 pounds, Fisher gives St. Louis bulk opposite the speedy Little. He finished the 2003 season with 47 tackles and a pair of sacks.

        Fisher’s spot is written in pencil for a reason, though. He will face stiff competition in training camp for his spot. The group that is angling for his job includes a former first round pick, a recently retired “plane pusher,” a grizzled veteran, a returning Ram and an unknown free agent. Any of them could win the job, but with only three training camp practices in the books, nobody knows who it will be.

        “I think last year I proved that I could play in this league,” Fisher said. “This year I am looking forward to proving that I can be a full-time starter for 16 games.”

        Buffalo drafted Erik Flowers with the 26th pick in the 2000 draft. After two seasons with the Bills, Flowers moved on to Houston, where he adjusted to a new role as an outside linebacker. Flowers is still searching for the fit that can prove his detractors wrong and a clean start in St. Louis could be the cure for what ails him.

        Perhaps the most intriguing prospect of the group is rookie Anthony Hargrove. Hargrove has been one of the camp’s early standouts, showing a quick burst and enough strength to pound against the run.

        After missing his final season at Georgia Tech because of academic problems, Hargrove took a job at Hartsfield Airport as a “plane pusher,” helping Delta move planes in and out and riding alongside the planes to make sure the wings don’t hit anything.

        Hargrove said he didn’t like having to wear the uniform Delta gave him because it was too small. That was the least of his worries there, however.

        “I was always thinking NFL,” Hargrove said. “Working 9 to 5 behind a desk,...
        -07-29-2004, 06:31 PM
      • RamDez
        Veteran steps in for his injured teammate
        by RamDez
        Veteran steps in for his injured teammate
        By Jim Thomas
        Of the Post-Dispatch

        MACOMB, Ill. - Don't look for Bernard Holsey in an instructional fitness video any time soon. The veteran defensive tackle was doing a plyometrics workout during the offseason when he lost his equilibrium.

        "It was one of those freak accidents," Holsey said. "I was doing box jumps and kind of lost my balance. I fell down and my leg kind of stayed up on the box."

        He suffered a torn quadriceps tendon in his left leg and underwent surgery in February. Which is hardly the best way to begin the offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

        Because of the surgery, Holsey wasn't expecting to hear from NFL teams until the start of training camp. Much to his surprise, the Rams signed him to a one-year, $660,000 contract on June 18.

        "I really wasn't expecting that," Holsey said. "The Rams came out of the blue on that one. I really appreciate their trust and faith in me that everything's going to work out for the best."

        For the most part, Holsey had been a spectator during the first nine days of camp as he continued rehabilitation work on his leg. Now, it's time for Holsey to reward the Rams for that "trust and faith."

        Thursday afternoon, defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy was lost for 10 to 12 weeks with a fractured foot. On Friday afternoon, Holsey took part in his first full-scale practice with the Rams.

        Kennedy wasn't going to start this season; Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis will handle those chores. But Kennedy had shown enough to merit a spot in defensive line coach Bill Kollar's rotation.

        "Obviously, he still had a ways to go," Kollar said. "But he was getting better and working pretty hard."

        With Kennedy shelved for at least half the season, Holsey becomes the No. 1 candidate for the No. 3 spot at defensive tackle.

        "To me, starting is not that important," Holsey said. "I'm here to play. And the way Coach Kollar rotates his guys, I'm going to get to play a good amount."

        Given Lewis' injury history, Holsey could play even more than he thinks. An eight-year veteran from Duke, Holsey has played for the New York Giants, Indianapolis, New England and Washington. He has started only 33 of 104 games over that span, but started all 16 games last season for the Redskins.

        "He's a stout-looking guy and stuff," Kollar said. "I know he's a tough guy, which we like."

        Other possibilities for tackle help off the bench include defensive captain Tyoka Jackson and youngsters Brian Howard, Justin Montgomery and Kevin Aldridge.

        "Over the last couple years, Ty has really done a good job at left end for us, and we really like him out there,"
        -08-07-2004, 12:54 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, 01:27 AM
      • RamWraith
        Extra attention is holding back Leonard Little
        by RamWraith
        By Jim Thomas
        Of the Post-Dispatch

        In the third quarter against Seattle last month, Leonard Little got offensive tackle Chris Terry on his heels with a bull rush. Little then turned inside toward Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck but never got there.

        That's because Terry grabbed Little with his right arm and held on for dear life. After the play ended, Little raised his arms in protest, but there was no holding call by referee Bill Leavy's crew.

        The following week in Buffalo, Little darted inside on a stunt late in the first quarter. But before Little got in the backfield, Bills guard Chris Villarrial yanked on his facemask to slow him down. Again, no flag.

        Those are just two snapshots illustrating the kind of attention Little is getting from opposing blockers this season. He gets double-teamed or chip-blocked on the majority of passing downs. For a defensive end in the National Football League, it's the ultimate form of flattery.

        "They never leave him alone," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "Very seldom is he left alone on (the edge). If he is, then it's a quick throw. They have great respect for him."

        Not that that's much consolation to Little. All the extra attention has at times been exasperating and disconcerting.

        After the Rams' 31-14 loss in Miami, a frustrated Little was one of the last Rams to leave the visitors' locker room at Pro Player Stadium. The Dolphins had been particularly attentive - and particularly effective - in slowing Little that day.

        While reporters were milling about the locker room in search of postgame quotes, Little was huddled in a corner with teammate Tyoka Jackson.

        "He was looking for answers ... and trying to figure out what he can do to overcome what they're doing," Jackson said. "Because he's seeing things that he hasn't seen before.

        "The (Miami) guys were telling him after the game was over: 'Coach said we've got to do this all game. We've got to take you out of the game. We decided to do this and do that.' So teams are scheming him, and that's something he's got to deal with."

        The extra attention shouldn't be considered surprising, given Little's well-established reputation as a defensive playmaker.

        "Over the last three years, with the numbers he's put up, and the intensity and everything with which he plays, teams feel they've got to slow the guy down," Rams defensive line coach Bill Kollar said. "Without a doubt."

        The real surprise is that it has taken the league three years to figure this out. From 2001 through 2003, Little averaged 13 sacks a season, the third-highest total in the NFL. Over that period, Little had 39 sacks in just 41 games. (He missed three games in 2001 with a knee injury and four games last season with a torn...
        -12-17-2004, 04:23 AM