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St. Louis Rams 2004 Season Preview

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  • St. Louis Rams 2004 Season Preview

    St. Louis Rams 2004 Season Preview

    From James Alder,
    Aug 14 2004

    QB Controversy No Longer an Issue

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





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




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

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

    Running Backs
    When healthy, Marshall Faulk is still one of the best running backs in the league, but he’s had two knee surgeries in the last year and is 31-years old, which is why the Rams used their first-round pick in this year’s draft on Steven Jackson out or Oregon State.

    Lamar Gordon, who is recovering from ankle surgery, figured to be the backup this season, but his lack of receiving skills make him a poor fit for this offense, so Jackson will likely take the No. 2 role from Gordon simply because he fills their needs better. He has good size at 6-2 and 230 pounds, yet is still elusiveness enough to make defenders miss. He has mid 4.4 speed with a quick first step and a good burst through the hole. He displays good balance and power, runs low to the ground, and isn't afraid to take on would-be tacklers. He also picks up a lot of yards after initial contact and catches the ball effectively out of the backfield. Joey Goodspeed, who is likely to be little more than a situational blocker, will be the starter at fullback, with Arlen Harris providing depth behind both the fullback and running back positions.

    Wide Receiver/Tight End
    Starting wideouts Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt will once again make up one of the NFL’s most potent receiving duos. Holt is in his prime and is probably one of the top three or four receivers in the game. Bruce is on the down side of his career and may have lost a step, but he is still better than most No. 2 receivers in the league.



    Second-year player Shaun McDonald looks to be a nice fit in the slot and Kevin Curtis, also in his second season, will come in when the Rams run four-receiver sets. Dane Looker and Mike Furrey will battle for the job as the fifth receiver. Brandon Manumaleuna will start at tight end, but he is not much of a weapon and will probably not be utilized a whole lot in this offense. Offensive Line
    The Rams have a very solid group of veterans starting on the offensive line, assuming starting LT Orlando Pace is in camp by the start of the season and RT Kyle Turley’s surgically repaired back holds up.zSB(3,3);if(!z336){var zIsb=document.getElementById("adsb");if(zIsb){zIsb.style.display="inline";zIsb.style.height="0px";zIsb.style.width="0px";}var zIss=document.getElementById("adss");if(zIss){zIss.style.display="inline";zIss.style.height="0px";zIss.style.width="0px";}}

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    Pace’s holdout has become an annual event, so it is probably not as big of a concern as Turley’s health, but should St. Louis be forced to use their bench, they are fortunate to have some depth at the tackle positions with Grant Williams and Scott Tercero, who could adequately step in for short periods of time. However, there could be problems if either are asked to start on a full-time basis.



    Andy McCollum moved from center to left guard last year, and he struggled at times, but the coaches are hoping he will become more consistent after a year at the position. Two-time Pro Bowler Adam Timmerman will continue to start at right guard while veteran Dave Wohlabaugh returns at center. Wohlabaugh is an intense player and should have a couple good seasons left in him, but he lacks bulk and isn’t overpowering.

    Defensive Line
    The Rams could find themselves in a bit of a bind at defensive end if Leonard Little’s felony drunk driving charge causes him to miss time this season. He is an effective pass rusher who creates turnovers and big plays, but if he misses significant time, St. Louis will likely have to resort to a platoon system to fill in for him. Sean Moran, who came over as an unrestricted free agent from the Bills, will probably receive the majority of the playing time at right end, filling the hole left by Grant Wistrom, who signed with the division-rival Seahawks during the off-season. And a group that includes rookie Tony Hargrove, Tyoka Jackson, and Bryce Fisher will battle for playing time in the rotation.

    Ryan Pickett will start at the nose tackle position, and Damione Lewis will play the one-gap, but this unit suffered a big blow with the loss of last year’s first-round draft pick Jimmy Kennedy, who suffered a broken leg in traininng camp and could be lost for the season. Although he struggled as a rookie, coaches had high hopes for the youngster this year, and he was being counted on to play a significant role in a three-man rotation at tackle. Bernard Holsey, who came over from the Redskins will probably take his place in the rotation, but if Little is forced out of action, he could be placed into service at end on running downs as well.

    Linebackers
    The starting linebacking squad is among the most athletic in the league and is the strength of this defense, however, there is little depth on the bench. Robert Thomas will start in the middle, with Pisa Tinoisamoa on the weak side and Tommy Polley at the Sam position. Thomas is a solid player with the potential to be one of the best middle linebackers in the league, but he is undersized, has trouble shedding blockers, and is a durability risk. On the outside, Polley is a solid player with sideline-to-sideline speed, but he can be inconsistent when teams run at him and he, also, carries durability concerns. He is at his best when he is attacking and has the potential to be a playmaker if he can stay healthy. Tinoisamoa had a very nice rookie season and he should continue to get better with improved technique and experience. He is a playmaker with great burst and closing speed, and he also possesses good coverage skills. Rookie fourth-rounder Brandon Chillar will compete with second-year players Jeremy Loyd and Brandon Spoon for backup duties.

    Secondary
    St. Louis could be faced with some serious concerns in the secondary, where they lack a true shut-down corner and experienced depth. Travis Fisher and Jerametrius Butler are adequate starters, but neither matches up well with most teams’ No. 1 receivers and would struggle if forced into a heavier man-to-man package. Second-year players DeJuan Groce and Kevin Garrett will play in nickel and dime situations, giving the Rams a very inexperienced group that could possibly be exploited by opposing offenses.

    The safety position appears to be more stable with Adam Archuleta returning at strong safety and veteran Aneas Williams back at the free safety position. Archuleta has good speed and agility, and he’s solid against the run. He has also improved his coverage skills since entering the league in 2001.zSB(3,3);if(!z336){var zIsb=document.getElementById("adsb");if(zIsb){zIsb.style.display="inline";zIsb.style.height="0px";zIsb.style.width="0px";}var zIss=document.getElementById("adss");if(zIss){zIss.style.display="inline";zIss.style.height="0px";zIss.style.width="0px";}}

    Williams brings 13 years of experience to the secondary, and although he is obviously on the downside of his career, he is always in position and rarely makes mistakes.



    Overview
    The Rams still have the weapons to compete for the division crown, but there are some serious concerns on defense. If Leonard Little is lost for a significant period of time, it could have a seriously adverse affect on the pass rush, which could further expose an inexperienced secondary. If Little misses time, someone will have to step up to match his production or this unit will likely struggle. Defensive tackle is also a big concern with a couple guys that have never fully lived up to their potential and another whose season may already be over.

    Offensively, I don’t think they will miss a beat, and I believe the offensive line will not be a problem even if they are forced to accommodate Turley’s injury for a short period. Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk should cause match-up problems when the Rams line them up together in the backfield and the receiving corps could have a bit of a renaissance with the young guys legitimizing the No. 3 and 4 roles again and Marc Bulger fully gaining control of the QB duties. Overall, I believe the Rams will compete for the division, but defensive problems will allow the Seahawks to take the crown from them. They could very well pull out a wild-card berth and make some noise in the playoffs, however, and could be legitimate contenders if the defense holds together.

    __________________________________________________________
    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

  • #2
    Re: St. Louis Rams 2004 Season Preview

    If we stay healthy and can stop the run, we are going to win the super bowl.

    ramming speed to all

    general counsel

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: St. Louis Rams 2004 Season Preview

      They also find themselves, once again, looking for answers on defense.
      I'm sick of hearing this crap after the way they performed last year. They're questionable against the run and have a new coordinator, but it's not like the defense is a glaring weakness.
      Dane Looker and Mike Furrey will battle for the job as the fifth receiver.
      I believe Mike Furrey is all by himself at the #6 spot.
      The Rams could find themselves in a bit of a bind at defensive end if Leonard Little’s felony drunk driving charge causes him to miss time this season.
      He won't this season.
      Sean Moran, who came over as an unrestricted free agent from the Bills, will probably receive the majority of the playing time at right end
      He came from the Whiners and isn't even competing for the opening at right end.

      Comment

      Related Topics

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      • 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
      • RamWraith
        Overview from ESPN
        by RamWraith
        Monday, July 26, 2004


        Scouts, Inc.
        Chat with Scouts, Inc., at 2 p.m. EST today!
        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.

        BulgerThis 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
        ...
        -07-27-2004, 06:26 AM
      • Nick
        Scouts, Inc. breaks down Rams roster
        by Nick
        Faulk, Jackson will be good tandem

        Scouts Inc.

        As another NFL season approaches, Scouts Inc. breaks down every roster and offers position-by-position breakdowns.

        Quarterbacks
        Marc Bulger hasn't taken the league by storm like his predecessor, two-time league MVP Kurt Warner, did when he led St. Louis to its first Super Bowl victory since 1951 in his first full season as the starter. In addition, Bulger doesn't have elite arm strength and is a streaky passer who misses the strike zone at times. However, has progressed steadily in his first two seasons as the starter and should continue to improve.

        Bulger generally finds the open man given enough time. He also puts good touch on his short-to-intermediate passes and is mobile enough to buy some time in the pocket. Most importantly, he appeared more comfortable last year and did a better job of taking care of the football.

        Backup Jamie Martin, re-signed during the offseason, provides adequate depth behind Bulger. He doesn't put great zip on his passes, but is mechanically sound, has good experience in this scheme and is capable of moving the offense effectively when he takes what the defense gives him.

        2005 seventh-round pick Ryan Fitzpatrick and 2004 sixth-round pick Jeff Smoker are expected to battle for the No. 3 job, and it's a competition worth keeping an eye on because of their potential. While the fact that Fitzpatrick played at Division I-AA Harvard raises concerns about his ability to compete in the NFL, he is smart, accurate and has good size.

        Smoker had some off-the-field problems at the collegiate level and failed to attempt a pass last year. However, he became the first Michigan State quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season in 2003, and has better arm strength than Fitzpatrick.

        Running backs
        It's hard to believe that Marshall Faulk's reign as the Rams' premiere back has come to end, but Steven Jackson is expected to get the bulk of the carries last year. Jackson has the burst to turn the corner, the power to pick up the tough yards between the tackles and the speed to break the long run when he gets a seam. Although he doesn't always give his blocks enough time to develop, he should improve in that area as he gains more experience.

        With that said, Faulk will continue to play a big role on offense and should be more explosive when he does touch the ball, because he'll be fresher and most likely healthier. St. Louis is also expected to play Faulk and Jackson in the same backfield at times. Look for Faulk to motion out to the slot out of this two-back set at times. Faulk is still an outstanding receiver, and the Rams will try to keep defenses off-balance by taking advantage of his versatility.

        No. 3 Arlen Harris doesn't have great lower body strength or breakaway speed, but provides good depth. He is an...
        -07-20-2005, 01:30 PM
      • 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
      • RamWraith
        Rams will look for answers
        by RamWraith
        By Jim Thomas
        Of the Post-Dispatch
        07/26/2004
        With a new quarterback and only a handful of players remaining from the Super Bowl championship team of 1999, coach Mike Martz has called the Rams a team in transition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

        3.) What's my line?

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

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

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