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  • Competition Fierce, Deep at Defensive End

    By NICK WAGONER
    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, I couldn’t do it. I knew this was where I wanted to be and I had to do whatever it took to get here.”

    Tyoka Jackson is no stranger to competition. He has made his living as a sort of “utility player,” moving between tackle and end. He could figure into the mix for the Rams at end after he posted 45 tackles and five sacks in 2003. In 47 games, with St. Louis, Jackson has 12 sacks. If experience is what Martz is looking for on the right side, Jackson could be his man.

    Another veteran is also hoping to make his case for the starting job. Sean Moran, who spent the 2000 and 2001 seasons in St. Louis, returns with his sights set on serious playing time. He comes back to the Rams after a pair of seasons in San Francisco.

    “I just hope I can make the best of this,” Moran said. “We just have to go out and compete and whoever goes out and gets the job done is going to win it.”

    The unknown commodity is second-year end Kevin Aldridge. Aldridge is inexperienced, but has great size and has shown a willingness to mix it up early in practice.

    Martz said the competition will be fierce, but he has confidence in his staff’s ability to develop another top-level defensive end.

    “There are six guys at defensive end on the left and right side that you’d be happy with lining up and playing,” Martz said. “Whoever lines up on the right defensive end, that’s who he is.

    “I’m sure whoever that is will play very well.

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  • 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, 05:02 PM
  • RamDez
    Fisher has lead in battle to replace Wistrom
    by RamDez
    Fisher has lead in battle to replace Wistrom
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Saturday, Aug. 21 2004

    Grant Wistrom was a five-year starter for the Rams at right defensive end. A
    hustler. A hard-nosed player. And later in his tenure in St. Louis, a locker
    room leader. But whatever mourning period there was following his free-agent
    departure to Seattle has long since passed.

    "That's the way it works," defensive captain Tyoka Jackson said. "No one's
    sitting around saying, 'Oh, Grant's gone.' He was a great player. Great locker
    room guy. Great friend. But he's on the wrong side of the ball now."

    As for replacements, Jackson says, "We've got some guys. People may not know
    who they are, but we've got some guys."

    At the moment, Bryce Fisher and Erik Flowers are the top two ends on the right
    side. Both were washouts in Buffalo - the team that originally drafted them -
    but both appear intent on making the most of the opportunity in St. Louis.

    Talented but raw rookie Anthony Hargrove eventually could work himself back
    into the picture at right end. But for now, the team has been looking at him at
    defensive tackle.

    For all of his contributions in St. Louis, Wistrom was never an elite pass
    rusher. He had superior speed and effort, but not much in the way of moves.
    Fisher and Flowers have the potential - repeat, potential - to be at least as
    productive. They combined for three sacks in the preseason opener against
    Chicago - one by Fisher and two by Flowers off the bench.

    "Bryce has got real good instincts," defensive line coach Bill Kollar said. "He
    plays with pretty good strength most of the time; plays with leverage so he's
    able to end up hanging in there against the bigger players."

    Fisher isn't as fast as Wistrom but has a good short burst. And like Wistrom,
    effort has never been a problem.

    "That's how I made it into the league," Fisher said. "And that's how I plan on
    staying in the league, just by being that guy that keeps on hustling."

    Claimed off waivers from Buffalo just before the start of the '02 season,
    Fisher appeared in only four games for the Rams that year. But he talked his
    way onto special teams last season, including coverage units - which aren't
    normally the domain of defensive linemen. That got Fisher on the field on game
    day, and eventually got him in the defensive line rotation. He finished with 47
    tackles and three sacks.

    "Last year, I was really focusing on being the very best special teams player I
    could, and then trying to get as many reps on defense as I could," Fisher said.
    "It kind of worked out where...
    -08-21-2004, 11:57 AM
  • Nick
    Rams are hoping they end up with defensive line answers (Post Dispatch)
    by Nick
    Rams are hoping they end up with defensive line answers
    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    07/22/2004

    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.

    ...
    -07-23-2004, 06:47 AM
  • RamWraith
    Storm prompts team to end camp
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    08/19/2004
    MACOMB, Ill. - The exodus began about 6 p.m. Thursday, less than an hour after Rams coach Mike Martz abruptly declared an early end to Camp Macomb.

    "We've got a big storm coming in tonight, so I told them to get out of here," Martz said. "I don't want them driving home in the rain in the morning. It's supposed to rain all night and well into (today). So, we wouldn't get anything out of a morning practice out here, obviously."

    The team practiced twice Thursday and was scheduled for a morning workout today before checking out of Thompson Hall and returning to St. Louis. Instead, Martz planned a light practice for this afternoon at Rams Park.

    "We'll reorganize down there," he said. "We had a heck of a camp up here. We came out of this thing healthy; the injury list is minimal compared with what it's been in past years. We've had good tempo, the work's been outstanding. I'm pleased with where we are."

    The Rams will practice Saturday and Sunday evenings. Their second of four exhibition games is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday against the Chiefs in Kansas City.

    Hargrove moves


    Rookie Anthony Hargrove said he'd heard scuttlebutt about his moving to defensive tackle from defensive end. But when it became reality, he still was stunned.

    "It's kind of a shocking thing, something that I never thought really would happen," said Hargrove, the Rams' third- round draft choice. "It's one of those things that's in the back of your mind, but when it happens, you're really just kind of caught off-guard."

    Martz indicated that the strong play of Bryce Fisher and Erik Flowers at right end provided an opportunity to get a look at Hargrove on the inside. He worked at tackle Wednesday and Thursday, and pronounced himself "happy to take the challenge."

    "Coach Martz told me that he thinks the way I come off the ball and the way I play, that's a natural fit for me," Hargrove said. "I think it's going to be a real comfortable move for me."

    Veteran defensive end Tyoka Jackson likes the idea, too.

    "He's 6-4, 285 (or so), probably the strongest dude on the team, as fast as Leonard (Little) ... yeah, I'm cool with that," Jackson said. "He's going to make his mistakes because he's young, he's a rookie. But he's going to make his plays, too."

    Jensen returns


    A long and trying stretch on the injury list finally came to an end for rookie Erik Jensen, who practiced in full pads Thursday for the first time since suffering a sprained knee ligament in the first week of camp.

    Jensen, a seventh-round draft pick, said as time wore on, his frustration grew.

    "You want to come in and...
    -08-20-2004, 07:34 AM
  • 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
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