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  • 10 Questions (and a few answers) about the Rams

    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 DT job. Starting DTs Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis have had good
    camps to date. But Lewis, obviously, must transfer that to game day.


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

    Obviously, the offensive line situation has worsened as camp progressed,
    largely because 2003 starters center Dave Wohlabaugh (hip) and right tackle
    Kyle Turley (back) were unable to return following offseason surgery.

    The Rams won't miss a beat with Andy McCollum moving back to center after
    playing left guard last season. But left guard remains problematical. Chris
    Dishman is rounding into shape, but at 350 pounds-plus, still needs to trim 20
    pounds. Another possibility, Tom Nutten, is trying to build up his weight and
    strength after sitting out last season. It's unlikely he'll be ready to play a
    meaningful role by opening day.

    Without Turley, Grant Williams will open the season at right tackle, assuming
    Orlando Pace is ready to go at left tackle. Both Williams (ankle) and right
    guard Adam Timmerman (shoulder) have been slowed by nagging injuries.
    Impressive second-year player Scott Tercero could force his way into the
    picture at either guard or tackle. It could be a few weeks into the regular
    season before the o-line settles in.


    5. Will the tight ends improve?

    Brandon Manumaleuna is down to about 275 pounds and looks much more nimble on
    pass routes. Even at the lighter weight - about 15 pounds lighter than last
    season - he continues to show that he can be a load blocking on the line of
    scrimmage. But Manumaleuna's botched blitz pickup in the preseason opener
    against Chicago brought back bad memories of some of his miscues last season.
    He was lined up in the backfield on that play. He still must show he can play
    relatively mistake-free football.

    Backup TE Cam Cleeland had a superb first week of camp, then was sidelined by a
    hamstring injury. He took his first team reps in practice Wednesday, and
    barring any setbacks should be up to speed in time for the opener.

    At the moment, undrafted rookie Mike Brake is the frontrunner for the No. 3 TE
    spot. Rookie Erik Jensen missed a couple weeks with a knee injury, has been
    switched to fullback, and might not make the final roster.


    6. Can the fullbacks block?

    Finally, it appears that this position will be stabilized. Joey Goodspeed,
    despite missing the better part of a week with a hamstring injury, has had a
    good camp. He's a bright player, with good strength, and is a very willing
    blocker. Although Arlen Harris has spent almost all of camp at running back, he
    can help out at fullback in a pinch. So can deep snapper Chris Massey.


    7. Can Chandler cut it at No. 2?

    So far this preseason, Chris Chandler has absorbed a few hits and shown
    surprising mobility escaping the pass rush. Chandler wasn't as consistently
    accurate as Bulger in Macomb, but has a nice touch nonetheless and still has
    enough arm strength to throw it deep.

    His practice reps were reduced noticeably prior to the Kansas City game because
    of a tired camp arm, but he's OK now. Chandler has picked up the offense fairly
    quickly, but still has some work to do there.


    8. Will there be anything special about special teams play in '04?

    There have been way too many penalties. Sound familiar? But many of them have
    been made by players who won't make the final roster. That Ahmad Merritt
    kickoff return notwithstanding against Chicago, the coverage units have been
    more solid than a year ago at this time. Shaun McDonald has a firm grip on the
    punt returner job, displaying quickness and aggressiveness. Arlen Harris has
    yet to display much spark on kickoff returns. P Sean Landeta and PK Jeff
    Wilkins have been strong.


    9. Who will play nickel and dime back?

    Travis Fisher's fractured forearm has altered the picture. Kevin Garrett and
    DeJuan Groce will battle for Fisher's starting spot, with Garrett currently
    holding the edge while Groce recovers from a knee injury. Whoever doesn't take
    over for Fisher will be the third corner, although veteran Tom Knight has been
    working at corner - instead of safety - following Fisher's injury.

    At the moment, steady safety Rich Coady is the fifth defensive back, with
    Aeneas Williams moving up to cover the slot receiver in the nickel. In
    six-defensive back packages, the Rams have used a variety of alignments,
    including one where Coady and newcomer Justin Lucas are at safety; Williams is
    covering the slot receiver; and SS Adam Archuleta moves up in a linebacker-like
    position.


    10. Who's No. 3 and No. 4 at wide receiver?

    Dane Looker lost a key fumble against Chicago, but it's a play where the
    defender probably should have been flagged for grabbing Looker's helmet. Looker
    has done nothing to lose the No. 3 job.

    McDonald has emerged as the leading contender for the No. 4 spot, based in
    large part on his game performance. He has displayed the quickness and
    elusiveness that got the Rams interested in him in the first place in the 2003
    draft. McDonald hasn't gotten worn down in camp, as was the case last summer.

    Kevin Curtis isn't far behind McDonald. Among his highlights are a TD catch in
    the Chicago scrimmage, and five catches for 86 yards against Kansas City. But
    he could have fought better on 50-50 balls to prevent interceptions against the
    Bears and Chiefs. Mike Furrey has had a good camp in his own right, but appears
    to be trailing McDonald and Curtis at the moment.

Related Topics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Each year's different," Matsko said. "The challenge this year was to bring a bunch of guys...
    -09-02-2004, 12:34 PM
  • RamDez
    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 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
  • 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
  • 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
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