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  • Rams are a team in transition

    By Steve Korte
    Pro Football Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Running backs: Faulk's odometer has a lot of miles on it. He has carried the ball 2,576 times over his 10-year career, and he's coming off several knee surgeries over the last three years, including a scope in the offseason. With that in mind, the Rams traded up in the first round of the 2004 draft to select Oregon State RB Steven Jackson. Jackson can run with both power and speed, which could allow the Rams the flexibility to line up Faulk as a wide receiver more often. Injuries have kept Lamar Gordon from living up to the high expectations that the Rams' scouting department had for him. Arlen Harris rushed for 166 yards in two games as rookie last year, when both Faulk and Gordon were injured. Harris bulked up to 220 pounds this year, expecting to see time at fullback, but the Rams decided to keep him at running back after seeing how well he carried the weight. The Rams feel like they have finally found a replacement for FB James "The Hammer'' Hodgins, who left for Arizona in free agency last season, in Joey Goodspeed. The 247-pound Goodspeed isn't nearly as devastating a blocker as Hodgins, but he offers more as a receiver. Grade: B-plus.


    Receivers: No WR combo was more productive than Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce last season. The Rams' duo combined for 186 receptions for 2,677 yards and 17 touchdowns. Dane Looker established himself as the team's No. 3 receiver last season with 47 receptions for 495 yards and three touchdowns. However, Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald, two players who had their rookie seasons scuttled by injuries, and Mike Furrey are pushing for playing time. Holt, Bruce and the rest of the Rams' receivers should be helped by the NFL's promise to more strictly enforce illegal-contact penalties against receivers more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. TE Brandon Manumaleuna is a threat as a receiver in the red zone, but he needs to block better and cut down on his mental mistakes if he's ever going to develop into a quality starter. Grade: A.


    Offensive linemen: The O-line has been the biggest cause for concern during the preseason. Among the expected starters, C Dave Wohlabaugh was released due to a career-threatening hip injury; Turley has been sidelined by a herniated disc in his back, the same disc that required surgery during the offseason; and Pace missed all of training camp for the second straight year as the Rams again wait for him to sign the one-year tender as the team's franchise player. Andy McCollum, the team's starting center from the 2000 through '02 seasons before moving to the ORG spot last year with the arrival of Wohlabaugh, moves back to his old position. That leaves Andy King, Chris Dishman, Scott Tercero and Tom Nütten, who was talked out of retirement, to compete for the starting OLG spot, while Grant Williams takes over for Turley at right tackle. Solid veteran Adam Timmerman remains at right guard. The Rams allowed 43 sacks, tied for the fourth-most in the NFL last season. It would behoove them to cut down on that number, since we all saw in the Pro Bowl how Bulger can pick apart a defense when he has plenty of time to throw. Grade: B.


    Defensive linemen: The Rams will use a committee approach to replace DRE Grant Wistrom, who signed a megadeal with the Seahawks. Bryce Fisher will probably start with Erik Flowers and Sean Moran rotating into the game in passing situations. DLE Leonard Little is one of the top pass rushers in the NFL. He had 121z2 sacks last season despite missing four games with a torn pectoral muscle. Little could be facing a suspension from the NFL if he's convicted on felony drunk-driving charges, but his legal battle probably won't be fought until after the '04 season. The Rams have two former first-round picks at defensive tackle in Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis. Pickett is a solid run stuffer, while Lewis' development has been slowed by injuries. DT Jimmy Kennedy, the Rams' first-round pick in 2003, will miss the 2004 season due to a broken foot. Versatile Tyoka Jackson, ex-Redskin Bernard Holsey and rookie Tony Hargrove provide depth Grade: C-plus.

    Linebackers: Starters Pisa Tinoisamoa, Robert Thomas and Tommy Polley along with backups Tony Newson, Brandon Chillar and Trev Faulk give the Rams more depth at linebacker than they've had during any of their previous nine seasons in St. Louis. Thomas showed marked improvement in his second season in the league, while Tinoisamoa was the team's leading tackler from the "Sam" position as a rookie. Look for the Rams to utilize the push-rush ability of Tinoisamoa and SS Adam Archuleta with more blitzes under new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie. Grade: B-minus.


    Defensive backs: The secondary suffered a blow when feisty CB Travis Fisher broke his right forearm in the preseason game vs. the Chiefs. Fisher, expected to miss three to four months, will be replaced by the combination of second-year players Kevin Garrett and DeJuan Groce. Aeneas Williams continues to cheat Father Time as he earned a Pro Bowl berth in his first season after moving to free safety from cornerback. Playing safety has enabled Williams to showcase his nose for the ball. Archuleta is on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl player, though there is still room for improvement in pass coverage. Jerametrius Butler, who like Fisher held up well in his first full season as a starter, mans the other corner. Grade: B.

    Special Teams: This unit would have been a total disaster last season if not for PK Jeff Wilkins, who connected on 39-of-42 field-goal attempts, successfully executed several onside kicks and made six solo tackles on kickoff coverage. P Sean Landeta doesn't have the strongest leg around, but he's still more than adequate entering his 20th NFL season. The Rams gave up four returns (two kickoffs and two punts) for touchdowns last season, costing special-teams coach Bobby April his job. New special-teams coach Mike Stock is responsible for shoring up the team's coverage units. Grade: C.

  • #2
    Re: Rams are a team in transition

    I think the D line will surprise alot of poeple this season. :ramlogo:
    JUST WIN ONE FOR THE FANS
    :ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram::ram:

    "HIT HARD, HIT FAST, AND HIT OFTEN"
    Adm. William "Bull" Halsey

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Rams are a team in transition

      I just wonder how in the know this person is. He knows about Fishers arm, but he doesn't know that Chillar has replaced Polley.
      This space for rent...

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Rams are a team in transition

        That's what happens when you use ESPN to research your article, but don't bother to go to any Ram web sites. Well, in his defense, he probably had a deadline to meet.

        It just confirms what I've been saying... 99% of us know this team as well or better than 99% of the sportswriters.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Rams are a team in transition

          Some people still see the Polley demotion as motivation, and predict Chillar's demotion prior to the Arizona game.

          Comment

          Related Topics

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          • Nick
            Rams produce too little too late (PD's Grades for the Season)
            by Nick
            Rams produce too little too late
            By Jim Thomas
            Of the Post-Dispatch
            Wednesday, Jan. 19 2005

            While the 2003 Rams overachieved by two or three games in fashioning a 12-4
            regular-season record, the 2004 edition underachieved by a like amount.

            Championship-caliber teams don't lose at home to New Orleans. Or lose to
            previously-winless Miami. Or lose at Arizona. Perhaps you stub your toes in one
            of those three games, but not in all three.

            Equally disturbing was the blowout nature of most defeats. Including the
            playoffs, the Rams lost nine times. In eight of those losses, the margin of
            defeat was at least 13 points.

            When blowouts happen that many times, it goes beyond strategy, play-calling, or
            injuries. It becomes a matter of mental toughness, poise, and discipline.

            The 2004 Rams season will be remembered for a surprising late-season surge that
            put the team two steps short of a third Super Bowl in six years. But it also
            will be remembered for terrible special teams, poor run defense, an amazing
            lack of takeaways on defense, and a good offense that had trouble finishing
            drives.


            QUARTERBACK -- Bulger becomes one of the top 10
            GRADE: B

            A year ago, Marc Bulger ranked somewhere in the No. 12 through No. 16 range
            among NFL starting quarterbacks. But he reached the top 10 this season and the
            arrow still is pointing up. After missing 2 3/4 games with a bruised throwing
            shoulder, Bulger was a key factor in the team's late-season surge, with a 106.3
            passer rating in the final four games.

            Bulger's game improved in two obvious areas. For one, he cut down on
            interceptions. Including playoffs, he threw 16 interceptions in 552 attempts
            this season, compared to 25 in 578 attempts a year ago. He makes better
            decisions and has a better knowledge of the offense. For another, Bulger's deep
            accuracy was noticeably better, even though he was bothered by shoulder
            problems at times. His yards per attempt increased a full yard to 8.2 this
            season compared to 2003.

            His toughness and quiet leadership skills came into full view this season.
            Bulger continues to win the close ones: He was 5-1 in games decided by seven
            points or fewer and is 13-3 in such games over his career.

            Bulger needs to improve on his throws in the red zone and throws that end up in
            the red zone. Ten of his 16 interceptions were on such attempts.

            Only the disastrous play of Chris Chandler, who had seven interceptions in five
            quarters against Carolina and Arizona, keeps the QBs grade out of the A range.


            RUNNING BACKS -- Faulk falls from elite status
            GRADE: B-

            From 1999-2001,...
            -01-20-2005, 12:36 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
          • 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
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