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The ball's in Bulger's court

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  • The ball's in Bulger's court

    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Friday, Aug. 27 2004

    For a split second, it had the nightmare feel of Rodney Harrison crashing into
    the knee of Trent Green five Augusts ago in the Dome.

    This time, Marc Bulger was writhing in pain on the practice field at Western
    Illinois University, holding his right (throwing) arm after getting the worst
    of a collision that also involved offensive tackle Greg Randall and defensive
    end Leonard Little.

    Within minutes, it was apparent that Bulger was OK. But at first, no one knew
    for sure. The lasting memory of that incident wasn't the collision, or the
    apparent injury. It was of how quiet it got on the practice field. The anxious
    glances toward Bulger as he was examined by the medical staff. The nervous
    shuffling by teammates.

    The silence was immediate, and total. Except, that is, for wide receiver Torry

    "Who did it? Who did it?" he said. And you couldn't really tell if Holt was
    joking. The entire scene was a telling indicator of how the Rams feel about
    their starting quarterback.

    "I think they have a great deal of respect for him," coach Mike Martz said. "I
    think his humility is something that is noticeable for them. And then, of
    course, the other part of it is performance. In really difficult situations, he
    has come in and performed very well."

    Perhaps the most difficult situation is about to unfold for Bulger. For the
    first time since 1998, the Rams are beginning a football season without Kurt
    Warner as their starting quarterback. The same Kurt Warner who won two
    regular-season MVP awards, as well as being named the most valuable player of
    Super Bowl XXXIV against Tennessee five seasons ago. The same Warner who still
    has the highest career passer rating in league history (97.2), despite
    struggling the past two seasons.

    It's a tough act to follow. No one has ever put up the kind of numbers Warner
    posted over a three-year period between 1999-2001.

    It would be understandable if a part of Bulger always felt pressured to measure
    up to Warner. Understandable, but not necessary.

    "I'd be disappointed in Marc if he ever felt that way," Martz said. "He
    certainly doesn't need to do that. He's Marc. He needs to have his own respect
    for who he is, and what he's capable of doing for this football team. Nobody's
    going to ask him to be an MVP. All he's got to do is come out and move this
    team and win like he's done in the past."

    Win he has. Bulger's 18-4 regular-season record makes him the most successful
    active quarterback in the NFL (with a minimum of 10 starts), with an .818
    winning percentage.

    "He has a certain presence about him, whether it's with this team, or over in
    the Pro Bowl," Martz said. "The guy just finds a way to win. He just does. And
    you can't put a name on it. It's a mixture of great leadership, and just a feel
    for playing the game, and a toughness."

    Comeback kid

    Last season, the victories didn't always come in ideal circumstances, or in
    games where Bulger - or the team around him - was effective from start to
    finish. The Baltimore, Chicago, and second Arizona games from November are
    prime examples. To say that Martz was surprised by some of Bulger's comeback
    victories would be an understatement.

    "He is a really remarkable comeback kid," Martz said. "He just finds a way to
    get it done."

    And it's not as if Martz could have predicted this in 2000, when studying
    Bulger prior to the draft, or during that one week later in that year when
    Bulger was on the Rams practice squad.

    "Here's what was special about him," Martz said. "He had just terrific skill.
    He's very accurate. A very humble guy. After that, superficially we thought he
    had talent and possibilities. The part that you never know about anybody is how
    well they'll play. You don't know that until you put them in a game.

    "So to say that we knew this all along - there's just no way. But when he got
    his opportunity, he made the most of it. And that's what this league is about."

    Of course, the one comeback that never materialized came in the most important
    game so far of Bulger's NFL career - the 29-23 double-overtime playoff loss to
    Carolina last Jan. 10.

    You can make the case that Martz took that game out of Bulger's hands. That,
    concerned in part by protection issues in the red zone, Martz went conservative
    at the end of regulation. The Rams had a first down at the Carolina 38 with
    more than two minutes remaining in regulation. But the Rams ran only three
    plays the rest of the way, running out the clock before Jeff Wilkins kicked a
    game-tying field goal on the final play of regulation. It looked like a lack of
    confidence in Bulger by Martz.

    Suffice it to say that game is a blemish - a three-interception blemish - on
    what otherwise is a largely spotless record.

    "Marc was impressive last season, and then he got in the playoff game and threw
    the picks," said former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Terry Bradshaw. "It was
    a good learning experience. So now you pick up from there, cut out your
    mistakes, and go forward. He'll play better this year."

    Honing his craft

    Ask Bulger what he needs to work on, and the answer is everything.

    "You always want to get more touchdowns, less interceptions, and a higher
    completion percentage," said Bulger, who threw as many touchdowns as
    interceptions last season, 22. "So if you pick one, you have to pick them all.
    There's always going to be room for improvement."

    But ask Martz to compare the Bulger of today with the Bulger of a year ago, and
    he says, "It's not close. It's just not even close. He's still behind in some
    areas, in the decision-making process of where we want him to be. But he's
    light years ahead of where he was."

    In 2002, when Bulger was pressed into action following injuries to Warner and
    Jamie Martin, Martz dumbed down the offense. But those days are gone. When it
    comes to formulating a game-plan during the season, or installing an offense
    during training camp, Martz has thrown the book at him.

    "I don't worry about anything with him now," Martz said. "He has shown an
    intuitiveness on some things during practice that makes you think that this guy
    really has a terrific feel for what you're trying to accomplish."

    There's no doubt that Bulger sees the big picture better. The biggest jump in
    knowledge came once he got to start those six games in '02. But he's still

    "I'll never completely know this offense," Bulger said. "Only Coach Martz will.
    It's his offense, and it keeps evolving, and adapting and changing all the
    time. I think that's the way he wants it. Because then guys can't say, 'Hey, I
    got it.' He really gets upset when guys say they've got it. So I'll never say
    I've got it."

    Because once you think you've got it, there's a tendency to start freelancing.
    Warner started free-lancing during the 2002 preseason, and that was a
    contributing factor to his eventual departure.

    Bulger doesn't freelance - at least he hasn't to this point. He can be stubborn
    occasionally. But he remains humble, and brutally honest in self-assessment. In
    many ways he's like former Rams quarterback Green in temperament and

    On the field, Bulger sometimes gets the ball out too quick. Just as patience
    can be a virtue for running backs trying to follow the blockers, the same holds
    true for quarterbacks letting patterns unfold and hitting receivers in stride.

    "It's real important in our offense to put the ball where you want it every
    time, and let the guys run," Bulger said. "Obviously, you're not going to do
    that every practice."

    Or every game.

    "But if you do that more often than not, then you're going well," Bulger said.
    "But it's never good enough."

    Bulger also says he is seeing the field better, something Warner excelled at
    during his heyday.

    "It's definitely slowed down a little bit," Bulger said. "I can concentrate
    more on what the defense is doing, and trying to exploit them, rather than just
    worrying about where my guys are going to be, and where my second read is
    coming. It's a little bit easier now."

    And that's the next level - being able to read defenses quickly, dissect
    blitzes and attack weaknesses.

    "He's playing at an extremely high level right now," Martz said. "If he played
    like this all year long, I think we'd all be excited. His biggest deal at this
    point is just not having any valleys. Just go ahead and level off and continue
    to be consistent, and play at this high level that he's at."

    Which is easier said than done, of course.

    Marc's the man

    Since the start of training camp, hardly a day goes by where Bulger or one of
    his teammates isn't asked about this now being Bulger's team. Has Bulger
    changed now that he's the guy? Does he have to change? And quite simply - can
    he do it? Is he up to the challenge?

    "How many games has he lost - three or four?" defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson
    asked reporters.

    Four is the correct answer in terms of regular-season defeats.

    "So c'mon," Jackson replied. "You think anybody's worried about that?"

    Many teammates are almost amused by the "Marc's team" line of questioning. In
    their mind, it has been his team for a while.

    "I have 100 percent confidence in Marc," safety Aeneas Williams said. "But it
    was the same last year. The one thing, being asked about the Kurt and Marc
    situation - Marc has been starting for the past two years almost.

    "I saw him last year. Saw what he did last year. And he's only going to get
    better. Sometimes his demeanor may throw people off. He's a laid-back guy.
    Won't show you the excitement. Won't rip down a tree before a game."

    The emotion appears the same, whether Bulger is starting, or backing up, in a
    big game, or a not-so-big game. He's what Rams general manager Charley Armey
    calls a flat-liner, which isn't a bad thing for a quarterback, particularly a
    quarterback in a sophisticated offense.

    "Maybe Marc internalizes it differently," Williams said. "But in terms of
    outward appearance, it just doesn't seem that it was ever a big deal to him.
    When he was called upon to start, he was ready. When he was called upon to back
    up, he was ready to back up. So I just don't see a stress level with him."

    Which begged the question, has Williams ever seen Bulger excited?

    "Maybe going in Walgreens (in Macomb)," Williams said, laughing heartily. "I
    just remember seeing him smile. It's kind of like when you see your teammates
    out - you're not used to seeing them in a grocery story or something - you get
    a big smile. So I did see some excitement there."

    Wonder what he was buying.

    "It's training camp," Williams said. "So he was probably getting toothpaste or
    shaving stuff, something like that."

  • #2
    Re: The ball's in Bulger's court

    Originally posted by RamWraith
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Friday, Aug. 27 2004

    "I'll never completely know this offense," Bulger said. "Only Coach Martz will.
    It's his offense, and it keeps evolving, and adapting and changing all the
    time. I think that's the way he wants it. Because then guys can't say, 'Hey, I
    got it.' He really gets upset when guys say they've got it. So I'll never say
    I've got it."
    Don't try and tell me that more football can't be accomplished with less Martzian playbook.


    Related Topics


    • RamDez
      There's no marked change in Marc Bulger
      by RamDez
      There's no marked change in Marc Bulger
      By Jim Thomas

      Of the Post-Dispatch

      MACOMB, Ill. - Marc Bulger became Joe Millionaire when he signed a four-year, $19.1 million contract in May.

      All that money, including a $9 million signing bonus, represents a commitment by the Rams' organization to Bulger as its quarterback of the future. At least, of the near future.

      But money aside, Bulger remains Joe Quarterback - just a regular guy when it comes to his approach to the game and all that comes with being a QB in the NFL.

      He doesn't necessarily avoid the spotlight, but doesn't seek it out, either.

      He has never been about the glitter, the endorsements, the radio and TV shows. And that doesn't figure to change, even though his life changed in a big way with the new contract and the departure of Kurt Warner.

      "I really don't think it will change," Bulger said. "It is challenging sometimes. You get opportunities that you want to do. But you have to stick to who you are, and what will make you happy.

      "And I don't think that doing a show maybe for an hour a week on Monday is going to make me happy. I had opportunities to do it last year, and the year before, and it's just not something that appeals to me."

      For one, he no longer needs the money. For another, he likes to keep his own time his own time. For yet another, he wants to keep his eye on the target.

      "Now that I have a new contract, I'm pretty secure," Bulger said. "I can concentrate on football. I'm not going to go looking for things to do. When you get those few hours off, you need that to rest. You need that to get refreshed for the next week. And I think doing too many things would hurt this team rather than help it."

      So you're probably never going to see Bulger with a Monday night show on St. Louis television. ("Highly unlikely," he says.)

      You're not likely to see him pitching cars, or cell phones, or plasma screens any time soon. (OK, he does have a shoe contract.)

      And no disrespect to Warner, but you're not going to see Bulger at a table signing autographs for 45 minutes following every practice in training camp.

      "There's not going to be a table," Bulger said. "I don't have my own football card to give out (as Warner did), so I can't get the table going. ... I'll sign my share but I'm not going to go out looking or anything."

      The fact that Bulger seems intent on avoiding the trappings of success has not gone unnoticed by coach Mike Martz.

      "Football's his passion," Martz said. "It's pretty much his life right now, and he's not interested in anything else. He's squared away. He doesn't need those things. And I think that's the attraction of Marc
      -08-01-2004, 05:29 AM
    • RamWraith
      Rams’ Martz knew Bulger would be special
      by RamWraith
      From Charlotte Gazette

      June 06, 2004
      Mitch Vingle

      Rams’ Martz knew Bulger would be special

      ST. LOUIS RAMS head coach Mike Martz flew into Charleston Friday for a good cause.

      In order to help the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, he attended a black-tie gala at the Civic Center.

      But even before putting on his tux, Martz had a tie to West Virginia. A strong one, in fact, in Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, the former WVU standout. And it didn’t take but a few minutes after landing at Yeager Airport for the subject to be broached.

      Which brought a smile to Martz’s face.

      “We just love the guy,’’ said the coach. “He’s like the players’ little brother. He’s just so humble. You can’t help but like him.’’

      Martz and the Rams more than like Bulger, though. They signed him to a four-year, $19.1 million contract in April — and released two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner, who led the team to two Super Bowls.

      Of course, there’s little to dislike about Bulger. The guy is 18-4 as the Rams’ regular-season starter. But even Martz admits the rise of the QB is storybook. Bulger was cut by the New Orleans Saints before being plucked by the Rams from the Atlanta Falcons’ roster.

      “I remember the first time I saw ,’’ Martz said. “I was breaking down tape. I was watching him and he didn’t have a real good senior year , but the guy who was running our college scouting at the time — John Becker — said, ‘I really like this guy.’ He said, ‘Don’t look at his senior tape. Go back and look at his junior season.’ ’’

      So the coach did.

      “I went back and looked at his junior tape — and was just astounded,’’ Martz said. “I’d never seen anybody with that quick of a delivery before. I mean, he was like Marino. He had that Marino quickness of getting the ball out of there.

      “He was accurate and had plenty of arm strength, but he was injured and in a new system his senior year so things didn’t go well.

      “We were fine, obviously,’’ the coach continued. “We had Kurt and didn’t feel our quarterback situation was a real big need. So we did what we call a ‘red tag.’ We put a ‘tag’ on him. We decided to follow him through his career, and if he would come up again, then we’d decide if we wanted to bring him in.’’

      Now, he’s a Rams team captain along with stars Marshall Faulk and Aeneas Williams. Sure, Bulger threw 22 interceptions last season, but he finished second in the NFL in completions. He also earned a Pro Bowl berth and was named the game’s MVP.

      Martz claims it didn’t take long to realize Bulger was special.

      “First series in his very first start in 2002,’’ said the coach. “We were playing the Oakland Raiders. We were coming off the Super Bowl loss and were 0-5. Kurt was struggling, then he broke his...
      -06-07-2004, 06:55 AM
    • RamWraith
      Bulger finding ways to hit his mark
      by RamWraith
      Posted on Fri, Oct. 22, 2004

      [email protected]

      ST. LOUIS - The bomb is back in the St. Louis Rams' offense.

      Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, often criticized over the past year for his inability to connect with his receivers on the long pass, has thrown eight passes of 30 or more yards in six games this season.

      He threw only two passes of 30 or more yards in the final five games of the 2003 season, including the Rams' overtime playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers.

      "For a while, he wasn't throwing it as well," Rams coach Mike Martz said of Bulger being able to go deep. "I think he is very confident right now about throwing the deep ball, very confident. He started out that way, and then he got to the point where -- and this is Coach Martz's interpretation of what had happened, I'm sure not Marc's -- he was a little tentative with the deep ball.

      "You get a guy running down the field, and he didn't want to miss him. He's very confident right now, and he's putting that ball right where he wants to."

      Bulger has thrown three passes of 40 or more yards over the last two games after throwing only six passes of 40 or more yards all of last season. He had a 52-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Shaun McDonald in overtime in a 33-27 win over the Seattle Seahawks two weeks ago and a 52-yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt in a 28-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.

      "I haven't done anything different, but we're hitting them, and that's all that matters," Bulger said. "So I'll keep winging it."

      Bulger said that completing a deep pass is actually much more difficult than just winging it.

      "People think throwing the deep ball is just taking five steps and throwing it 50 yards down the field, but it's not that easy," Bulger said. "I'm throwing it way before they cut, and it's all depending on the coverage. It's a different landing point every time."

      Bulger said the Rams also have several different kinds of deep balls in their playbook that call for him to throw the ball at different trajectories.

      Martz said Bulger was one of the most accurate deep passers he'd seen when the former West Virginia standout first stepped into a starting role during the 2002 season.

      "Initially, his first year in '02, he was very good on the deep ball," Martz said. "He was like Trent Green in that respect, and I thought Trent was as good as there was throwing the deep ball. He was like that."

      Martz said Bulger's struggles with the deep pass last season prompted extra attention on that aspect of his game during training camp.

      "Throughout camp and the preseason there were days where that is what we did," Martz said. "We took part of our...
      -10-22-2004, 02:05 PM
    • MauiRam
      Prisco on Bulger ...
      by MauiRam
      Camp tours: Rams' Bulger finally lands big cash, respect
      Aug. 24, 2007
      By Pete Prisco

      EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Marc Bulger looks like a kid throwing passes for the local high school. He isn't big, doesn't have a rocket for an arm and when you sit down with him off the field, a baseball cap on his head, you half expect to hear him say he's late for a senior English class.

      Maybe that's why Bulger, the starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, doesn't get his due. There is nothing eye-opening about the way he plays the game. He doesn't have the theatrics at the line of a Peyton Manning or the Tom Brady gun or the size of a Carson Palmer.

      But Bulger does have something those guys have: numbers and money.

      The numbers say he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The money verifies it. Before the start of training camp, Bulger signed a six-year, $65-million deal that puts him in the top five quarterbacks in terms of pay.

      Not bad for a guy who was cut by the New Orleans Saints in his first attempt to make the league without ever getting the chance to throw a pass in team drills that summer.

      "I can finally not have to worry about the stuff that stinks about the NFL," Bulger said during a sitdown in the cafeteria at the Rams Park facility. "I don't have to worry about any of that stuff. That hasn't happened since I played high school ball. I'm just playing ball again.

      There's a lot more pressure, but there's none of that stuff where I'm wondering if I get hurt if they would hold it against me in contract talks. I can play football and not worry about any of that."

      To travel the road Bulger has been forced to travel has made him a little jaded, and understandably so. Wouldn't you be if you were told so many times that you couldn't make it?

      After a stellar career at West Virginia, he wasn't drafted until the sixth round by the Saints. He was subsequently cut without a real chance, lost in a crowded field of not-so-great quarterbacks. He went home to Pittsburgh, and was offered a job in the now-defunct XFL.

      "I knew I was better than a lot of quarterbacks drafted ahead of me," Bulger said. "There was no way I was playing in that league. I knew I could play in the NFL."

      His break came one Sunday while he attended a Steelers game. During the game, he and his buddies heard that Rams quarterback Kurt Warner had injured a finger. Having already worked out for Rams coach Mike Martz, Bulger thought something might happen the next day.

      "I think I could be getting a call," he told his friends.

      The call came and the Rams brought Bulger in as a practice-squad quarterback. They let him go when Warner got healthy and he briefly toyed with the idea of signing with Atlanta, but the Rams told him he'd...
      -08-28-2007, 11:16 AM
    • RamWraith
      Bulger Focusing on the Future
      by RamWraith
      Wednesday, September 20, 2006

      By Nick Wagoner
      Senior Writer

      As Marc Bulger continues to look for the consistency and rhythm in the passing game that made him one of the league’s most statistically decorated quarterbacks in his first three years as a starter, he has realized that he can longer look at what’s happened.

      Instead, Bulger has come to the realization that he can only focus on the future and how he can get a better handle on grasping the new system installed by Coach Scott Linehan.

      A full grasp of that system has yet to come to Bulger as he has struggled at times in the first pair of regular season games. For a player who has made it look so easy at times in the past few years, that has been a difficult adjustment.

      “It’s tough, especially when you know what you have been able to do,” Bulger said. “But you can’t live in the past. You have to move on and just know that this is new and you have to learn this and be patient and it’s not going to come all at once. It’s not easy, but we have to deal with it. There’s no sense in forcing it or giving up now. We have to fight through.”

      Perhaps no player on any football team will have the constant scrutiny of the starting quarterback. It’s his job to know not only his tasks on every play, but also to know the whereabouts of every player on every play and have the ability to identify the opposing defensive scheme.

      With a new system comes new terminology, but it also brings a new philosophy. Things in the Mike Martz era were freewheeling and potent. And Bulger fit in to that scheme as well as anyone. Although he didn’t have as much freedom to audible or do many of the things that many quarterbacks around the league can, there was always some built in rules and regulations to help Bulger if he identified something in the defense.

      Those rules allowed Bulger to go to a fallback plan in the play and have ways to get out of trouble. Bulger says he probably never would have had a full grasp of Martz’s offense and he knows it won’t happen overnight in Linehan’s less complex system, either.

      One player who knows all about adjusting to a new system is the man who showed Bulger the NFL ropes, Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner. Warner has kept in touch with Bulger since he left for New York two years ago.

      Warner has since bounced from New York to Arizona where he is settling in as the team’s starter. He and Bulger talk about once every three or four weeks and Warner has offered Bulger advice on being patient with the adjustment to Linehan’s system.

      “We actually talk quite a bit,” Warner said. “I actually talked to him just last week. He did tell me he is working through it. It is a work in progress, but he is working to get to that point where it is second nature to him. After being where he was with Mike (Martz) and that type of...
      -09-21-2006, 04:25 AM