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  • Rams will look for answers

    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 month of the season one-handed because of a broken hand. Former starting center Andy McCollum, playing guard for the first time since '99, struggled at times. Although he was still an above-average performer, right guard Adam Timmerman didn't play as well in '03 as he did in previous seasons in St. Louis. All three players are getting old - Wohlabaugh is the youngest of the group at 32. Can this trio play effectively enough to revive the running game and protect Bulger?

    5.) Will the tight ends improve?

    Ernie Conwell proved more difficult to replace last year than anyone could have anticipated. The tight end play was so-so at best. In his first season as a full-time starter, Brandon Manumaleuna made some costly blocking mistakes, which led to sacks that caused fumbles. The Rams feel those mistakes will be minimized now that Manumaleuna can concentrate on tight end and doesn't have to worry about playing fullback, too. Backup Cam Cleeland is a better blocker than generally given credit for, and could be utilized more in the passing game.

    6.) Can the fullbacks block?

    Manumaleuna was one of several players the Rams tried at fullback, as James Hodgins proved far more difficult to replace than anyone could have anticipated. This season, the Rams are hoping that some combination of Joey Goodspeed and a bulked-up Arlen Harris can keep linebackers off Faulk and pass rushers off Bulger. Goodspeed was with the team for half of the '03 season. Although his play tailed off at the end of the campaign, he did display some blocking skills and can be a decent receiver. Harris doesn't lack for toughness but appears a long shot as the next Robert Holcombe.

    7.) Can Chandler cut it at No. 2?

    Rare is the NFL quarterback who makes it through a 16-game schedule unscathed. If Bulger goes down, the Rams will be counting on Chris Chandler, who turns 39 in October. Make no mistake, Chandler can still wing it. He threw the deep ball beautifully at the full-squad minicamp in May. But his mobility is nearly nonexistent. If something happens to Bulger, can Chandler get the Rams through a game or two - or more?

    8.) Will there be anything special about special teams play?

    The Rams haven't had a kickoff return for a touchdown since 2000, and only one punt return for a TD since then. Once again, their coverage units left much to be desired in '03. But there appears to be reason for hope under new special teams coach Mike Stock. Stock is an old school sort who will demand toughness and accountability from his players. That wasn't always the case with his predecessor, Bobby April.

    9.) Who will play nickel and dime back?

    One of the secrets of the Rams defense in '03 is that it made it through almost all of the season without using a dime back - or sixth defensive back - against four wide receiver formations. The defense basically used three safeties and two corners in the nickel package against three wide receiver sets. This season, the hope is that either Kevin Garrett or DeJuan Groce can step in during nickel and dime situations. Both are second-year players. Groce had more playing time in '03. Garrett has more speed and potential.

    10.) Who will be No. 3 and No. 4 at wide receiver?

    Dane Looker did a credible job as the new Ricky Proehl a year ago - as a third-down specialist and red zone receiving threat. But the Rams still haven't replaced Az-Zahir Hakim from the glory days of '99 through '01. Kevin Curtis could be that man. Curtis has serious speed, the type of speed that Martz craves to stretch defenses. But his rookie season all but ended with a broken leg last August. Mike Furrey had some moments as the No. 4 over the second half of '03 but is not yet what you'd call a proven commodity. And what of Shaun McDonald, who has some Hakim-like qualities, but got worn down in training camp as a rookie in '03, then missed a month with a thumb injury?

  • #2
    Re: Rams will look for answers

    Originally posted by RamWraith
    9.) Who will play nickel and dime back?

    One of the secrets of the Rams defense in '03 is that it made it through almost all of the season without using a dime back - or sixth defensive back - against four wide receiver formations. The defense basically used three safeties and two corners in the nickel package against three wide receiver sets. This season, the hope is that either Kevin Garrett or DeJuan Groce can step in during nickel and dime situations. Both are second-year players. Groce had more playing time in '03. Garrett has more speed and potential.
    That is what killed us against Carolina, due to injuries we were forced to put Sehorn back in Dime packages. This year that won't happen. Garrett will play the nickel, put Groce in for the dime, and watch Aeneas roam in the back as the S.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Rams will look for answers

      Originally posted by txramsfan
      That is what killed us against Carolina, due to injuries we were forced to put Sehorn back in Dime packages. This year that won't happen. Garrett will play the nickel, put Groce in for the dime, and watch Aeneas roam in the back as the S.
      I agree with you, this sounds like the way to go. But hasn't most of the talk involved moving Aeneas to the slot for nickel packages and bringing in another safety?
      The more things change, the more they stay the same.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Rams will look for answers

        Yea, that's the talk....but Garrett is going to win that job as nickel and Groce as the dime and punt returner. That will free up Aeneas to roam as the S.

        The talk currently is just pre camp talk. Kevin Garrett may challenge for a starting spot when it's all said and done.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Rams will look for answers

          gee tx, do you like Garrett? *LOL*


          Originally posted by txramsfan
          Yea, that's the talk....but Garrett is going to win that job as nickel and Groce as the dime and punt returner. That will free up Aeneas to roam as the S.

          The talk currently is just pre camp talk. Kevin Garrett may challenge for a starting spot when it's all said and done.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Rams will look for answers

            I know, I know.....it's just fun to get excited about the youth of the defense. Seriously, if Pickett and DLew really step up, Hargrove becomes the monster everyone sqwaks about, the LB's mature into what everyone thinks could be an elite unit, and this secondary steps up and challenges each other....who cares who the QB is......it won't matter.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Rams will look for answers

              Originally posted by txramsfan
              I know, I know.....it's just fun to get excited about the youth of the defense. Seriously, if Pickett and DLew really step up, Hargrove becomes the monster everyone sqwaks about, the LB's mature into what everyone thinks could be an elite unit, and this secondary steps up and challenges each other....who cares who the QB is......it won't matter.
              Hey, if our defense could play that well, Michna could play QB for all I care. Hey, what's Farmer up to? Bring Germaine back. Where's Banks.....ok, went one too far.
              The more things change, the more they stay the same.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Rams will look for answers

                That is a lot of "IF's" big guy. But I hear what your saying. The defense has all the potential in the world, it is just a matter of coming together. I hope this is the year that they figure it out.

                One thing that worries me is an injury to the linebackers.


                Originally posted by txramsfan
                I know, I know.....it's just fun to get excited about the youth of the defense. Seriously, if Pickett and DLew really step up, Hargrove becomes the monster everyone sqwaks about, the LB's mature into what everyone thinks could be an elite unit, and this secondary steps up and challenges each other....who cares who the QB is......it won't matter.

                Comment

                Related Topics

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                • 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
                • RamDez
                  Inside Slant
                  by RamDez
                  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...
                  -07-19-2004, 01:08 PM
                • RamWraith
                  Rams are a team in transition
                  by RamWraith
                  By Steve Korte
                  Pro Football Weekly

                  ST. LOUIS -- Despite returning 20-of-22 starters, the Rams are a team in transition.

                  It's a team that is counting heavily on its young players, many of them former first-day draft choices, stepping up to take the pressure off its aging stars.

                  It's a team that has a cloud of uncertainty hanging over its offensive line: Pro Bowl OLT Orlando Pace, the Rams' franchise player, missed training camp for the second straight year due to a contract dispute, and ORT Kyle Turley will miss the season with back problems.

                  It's a team that also must deal with the possibility that RB Marshall Faulk is no longer the most dangerous weapon in the NFL.

                  And, most of all, it's a team whose success rests on the throwing arm of Marc Bulger, the undisputed starting quarterback now that two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner is a member of the Giants.

                  "Coming in as No. 1 obviously motivates me," Bulger said. "I know the team is counting on me, and that definitely gives me more motivation."

                  Rams head coach Mike Martz went with Bulger, who has an 18-4 record as a starter in regular-season games, over Warner because he believes Bulger is an ascending player.

                  "I do know that he is markedly improved from a year ago, no question about it," Martz said. "He's been consistently crisp. Just the speed of seeing things and getting the ball to the right guy, there is no hesitation or anything.:

                  Quarterbacks: The Rams rewarded Bulger with a four-year contract extension that included a $9 million signing bonus, but now he must live up to that $19 million contract. Bulger threw for 3,845 yards -- third-most in the NFL -- last year. However, he also threw just as many interceptions as touchdown passes (22). Bulger must stop forcing passes into coverage if he wants to cut down his interception total. He also needs to work on his deep ball, as evidenced by the fact that the Rams completed only one pass longer than 45 yards last season. The Rams brought in the well-traveled Chris Chandler to serve as Bulger's backup. Chandler has the kind of accuracy that Martz craves from his quarterbacks, but it would be hard to imagine Chandler holding up physically if he was called upon to be the team's starter for an extended period of time. The third-string job belongs to rookie Jeff Smoker, a sixth-round draft pick out of Michigan State. Grade: B.


                  Running backs: Faulk's odometer has a lot of miles on it. He has carried the ball 2,576 times over his 10-year career, and he's coming off several knee surgeries over the last three years, including a scope in the offseason. With that in mind, the Rams traded up in the first round of the 2004 draft to select Oregon State RB Steven Jackson. Jackson can run with both power and speed, which could allow the Rams the flexibility to line up Faulk...
                  -09-01-2004, 01:06 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
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