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  • Inside Slant

    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 together — we brought two guys out of retirement — and develop the continuity, the unity, and the pride that you need to have on an offensive line. It's an ongoing process."

    How it goes will determine in large part how well the Rams do this season

    COACHING: Mike Martz, 5th year (45-24).

    REMEMBERING: 2003 record: 12-4 (1st in NFC West); lost divisional playoff game to Panthers, 29-23.

    PREDICTING: 2004 regular season record 11-5 (1st in NFC West); lose in NFC Championship Game.

    NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

    —OT Grant Williams was bothered by a back injury last summer, but except for a slightly sprained ankle, he got through this year in fine shape. Williams credits losing about 30 pounds in the offseason.

    "I definitely feel like I'm moving better laterally," Williams said. "There's a lot less pressure on my back. I just feel better overall. The joints, everything, feels better."

    —Rookie linebacker Brandon Chillar looks like the surprise starter at strong-side linebacker when the season begins, replacing Tommy Polley.

    "The thing that's very noticeable about him is his ability to pick up what we do defensively and not have hesitation you normally would have of a rookie linebacker," coach Mike Martz said.

    Linebackers coach Joe Vitt had his eye on Chillar during the draft and thought he had third-round talent. The Rams got him in the fourth round. After the draft, Vitt said of Chillar, "This is a guy that from the third round on I was just praying we would get. This guy is going to fit, I'm telling you. He can run, he can change directions, and he's violent."

    Said Chillar, "I've been working hard in camp, trying to get better. I've been OK, but I need to get better, definitely. I need to improve."

    —RB Lamar Gordon was back on the practice field Aug. 30, less than three weeks after having surgery to remove a bone chip from his ankle.

    Asked if he might play in the final exhibition game Sept. 2 against Oakland, coach Mike Martz said, "I don't know. There is a chance he can play. I want him to take as many reps as he can. I'd like him to play and I think he wants to play. He needs to be confident with that ankle, and changing direction. If he is confident in it, and feels strong, we'll get him in there as much as we can. Here is a guy that we questioned his toughness, but nobody knew, for the past four years, he had this bone in his joint floating around. Obviously, he's a pretty tough guy."

    —The irony wasn't lost on Andy McCollum. Last year, the Rams signed center Dave Wohlabaugh and it was unknown whether McCollum would be re-signed. The Rams wanted him to switch to left guard, and he ended up at that position after being wooed by the Patriots.

    Now, with Wohlabaugh released because of a hip problem, McCollum is back at center.

    "That's just how it worked out; it's pretty strange," McCollum said. "It was unfortunate with that injury that Dave had. It's sad to see him go. I consider him my friend."

    —Kicker Jeff Wilkins is one Rams player not hesitant about saying what he believes about the preseason.

    "I hate preseason," Wilkins said. "I wish they'd cut it down to two games or three games. It just gets crazy. Four games ... by the time the first (regular-season) game rolls around, you feel like it's halfway through the season and you've still got the full season to go."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 10 - Number of players from the Rams' 1999 Super Bowl team that are still on the roster.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Just the other day, we were stretching and I heard a couple guys talking about where guys used to be in the stretch line. It's amazing how many guys have left. You miss those guys. But at the same time, you can't picture yourself without the new guys. At the same time, you really don't notice (the departures), because the guys that they've brought in fit our chemistry so well. I've been on different teams in the NFL, and it's nowhere close to what it is here. Everyone genuinely likes each other. Even in college, you have three or four guys where you really don't care if they get kicked off, or if they get in trouble. But here, everyone's friends with each other. I can honestly say, there's not one guy that I dislike." - QB Marc Bulger on the makeup of the 2004 Rams.

    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    The biggest question as the Rams approach the final cutdown is whether to keep DT Jimmy Kennedy on the roster or place him on injured reserve. Kennedy broke a bone in his foot in early August, and will be out until at least November. What's unknown is whether the bone heals correctly, and how Kennedy's size will affect his comeback. He also won't be able to run until the bone is almost totally healed.

    PLAYER TO WATCH: CB Kevin Garrett - Played sparingly as a rookie in 2003 because of injuries, but emerged this summer to earn the starting job when Travis Fisher suffered a broken arm. He is also one of the team's best special teams players, and looks to have the potential to a big-play performer.

    DRAFT PICKS TO STICK

    Rd. 1/24, RB Steven Jackson, Oregon State — Ran hard and with passion during the summer and should help prolong Marshall Faulk's career.

    Rd. 3/91, DE Anthony Hargrove, Georgia Tech — Only a matter of time before this natural pass rusher begins making an impact.

    Rd. 4/130, LB Brandon Chillar, UCLA — After missing offseason workout time, made string move in camp to win starting job on string side.

    Rd. 5/158, S Jason Shivers, Arizona State — Slow to pick up the defense, but should at least contribute right away on special teams.

    Rd. 6/201, Jeff Smoker, Michigan State — Got off to rocky start thanks to learning the offense, but has gotten comfortable and is throwing the ball well.

    Rd. 7/238, C Larry Turner, Eastern Kentucky - Established himself as solid backup and should be center of the future.

    UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

    QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Marc Bulger. Backups — Chris Chandler, Jeff Smoker.

    The depth chart is clear at quarterback, with Bulger entering the season as the starter, Chandler the backup and Smoker the rookie looking to learn. However, with practice squads expanded to eight players this season, Chandler has the reputation of being fragile, but his arm remains strong despite the fact he turns 39 years old in October. He has learned the offense quickly, and with the talent around him would be competitive if he was forced to play. Still, the obvious key for any success is the improvement of Bulger, whose record as a starter in the regular season is 18-4. And one loss was to Seattle in 2002 when he departed early because of an injury. He did have some difficult stretches during games last season, but usually came up big when games were on the line. There's no reason to believe he won't continue to get better under the tutelage of coach Mike Martz.

    RUNNING BACKS: Starters - HB Marshall Faulk, FB Joey Goodspeed. Backups — HB Steven Jackson, HB Lamar Gordon, FB Arlen Harris, HB Dusty McGrorty, FB Erik Jensen.

    Faulk's 31st birthday was in February, but he had offseason knee surgery that is said to have him feeling better than he has for several years. But what happens when the hits starting coming again? Is he really healthy? We'll find out very quickly during the season. Even if Faulk isn't what he once was, he can still be a presence as a runner and receiver. The addition of Jackson should in the least improve the Rams' productivity in the red zone, and provide a tough overall runner for short-yardage situations. Gordon had ankle surgery that has him feeling as good as has in years, but he missed three weeks of training camp. Harris can be a solid fill-in and also contributes on special teams. McGrorty's best chance is on the practice squad.

    Goodspeed has established himself as a solid fullback, and he also has ability as a receiver. Jensen was drafted as a tight end, but missed two weeks of camp because of a knee injury. His roster spot is not secure, although he can also move back to tight end.

    TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Brandon Manumaleuna. Backups — Cam Cleeland, Mike Brake.

    Yes, there were raised eyebrows when the Rams matched an offer made to Manumaleuna by Carolina, but one way of looking at it is that the Panthers obviously saw something in him. The hope is that by staying at tight end and not moving around as much, he can concentrate on that position and avoid the mental mistakes that led to breakdowns. Manumaleuna also has to use his size as an asset and be tougher as a blocker and runner after the catch. He goes down far too quickly after receptions. Cleeland caught only 10 passes for 145 yards last season, but might be utilized more in the passing game. He's simply not a strong blocker. Brake had a solid camp, and might make the roster as the third tight end.

    WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce. Backups — Dane Looker, Kevin Curtis, Mike Furrey, Shaun McDonald, Jamal Jones.

    The wide receiver corps remains virtually identical to what it was last season. Holt will try and duplicate a season in which he led the NFL in receptions (117) and yards (1,696). Bruce continues to perform at a high level, and could see his production increase if officials actually follow through with the expected emphasis on defensive holding. There is still no one better in the league coming in and out of breaks, and unimpeded routes for Bruce should lead to even more defensive headaches. Looker made an impact as the third receiver last season when Curtis hardly played because of a broken leg suffered in the preseason. He had 47 receptions for 495 yards and was consistently effective on third down. Curtis' presence should help open up the offense even more. Furrey was the surprise on the roster last season, and should make the final six again. Coaches were hopeful McDonald could supply to the offense what Az-Zahir Hakim once did, but he has to show he can be durable. He contributed little last season (10 receptions, 62 yards) in limited action. Jones survived the cutdown to 65, but his best chance of being around is on the practice squad

    OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Orlando Pace, LG Chris Dishman, C Andy McCollum, RG Adam Timmerman, RT Grant Williams. Backups - G/T Scott Tercero, T Greg Randall, G Tom Nutten, G/T Andy King, C/G Larry Turner, T Matt Morgan, G Ben Noll.

    This group has been a chaotic mess during training camp, thanks to the release of C Dave Wohlabaugh (hip), RT Kyle Turley going on injured reserve because of a recurring back problem and the absence of Pace as the unsigned franchise player. During training camp, Dishman, Randall and Nutten were added, and Nutten promptly injured his toe in his first game action following last August's retirement. With Pace at home, Williams was forced to play left tackle for most of the summer. Tercero moved around, playing both tackle positions and guard. Once Pace arrives, things should stabilize, but it's difficult to predict when the unit will start being comfortable together. Dishman reported nearly 40 pounds overweight, but was showing excellence as a run blocker. McCollum switched back to center when Wohlabaugh was released.

    DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — RE Bryce Fisher, T Damione Lewis, T Ryan Pickett, LE Leonard Little. Backups — E Anthony Hargrove, E/T Tyoka Jackson, E Erik Flowers, T Bernard Holsey, T Brian Howard, E Sean Moran, T Kevin Aldridge, T Jimmy Kennedy (injured).

    The departures of Grant Wistrom and Brian Young as free agents created some roster battles that were watched closely during camp. Fisher and Jackson combined for as many sacks (7.5) as Wistrom had last season, but it's questionable whether either can play the amount of downs Wistrom did and still be consistently productive. Fisher played well all summer, and established himself as the starter. Hargrove is the wild card, a rookie with impressive natural pass-rushing ability that needs seasoning. How quickly he can become a force is unknown. He got some snaps at tackle during training camp. There is also a question whether Little will be distracted by the drunk driving charges hanging over his head. After his arrest in late April, Little was not around Rams Park for the remainder of the offseason.

    Moran is a savvy veteran that can contribute snaps, but his spot was in jeopardy because of the emergence of Flowers, who is trying to have an impact for the first time since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2000. Inside is where several players have to step up. Pickett was a major force in 2002, but slipped last season while playing most of the year with a high ankle sprain. Lewis also was hampered by the same injury in the second half of the season. Kennedy worked hard in the offseason, but is out until at least November because of a broken foot.

    The addition of Holsey provides veteran depth, which is needed, but he has been hampered all summer by a bad leg. Howard, an undrafted free agent, impressed coaches in camp, and could end up in the rotation. Aldridge also had a solid training camp.

    LINEBACKERS: Starters - SSL Brandon Chillar, MLB Robert Thomas, WLB Pisa Tinoisamoa. Backups - Tommy Polley, Trev Faulk, OLB Tony Newson, OLB Brandon Spoon.

    The most shocking development of the summer was the ouster of Polley as the starter. Newson got first shot at the job, but was hampered by a leg injury. That paved the way for Chillar to stake his claim, and he has it now. The question is whether Polley makes the final roster. Thomas can be exceptional in the middle if he can stay on the field every game. Tinoisamoa should emerge as the leader of the group, and should be improved now that he understands the defense better.

    Faulk appears to be the backup in the middle, while Spoon rebounded from missing a lot of time because of a hamstring injury to have a solid shot at being on the team.

    DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — CB Jerametrius Butler, CB Kevin Garrett, SS Adam Archuleta, FS Aeneas Williams. Backups — CB Travis Fisher, CB DeJuan Groce, CB/S Tom Knight, S Rich Coady, S Jason Shivers, S Justin Lucas, CB/S Nijrell Eason, CB Dwight Anderson.

    The emergence of Butler last season resulted in the Rams matching a restricted free-agent offer he received from Washington. Fisher also continues to improve, but he is sidelined until at least October with a broken arm. Big things are expected from Groce and Garrett. Groce got some experience last season, while Garrett was bothered by injuries. Garrett is currently the starter while Groce recovers from a knee injury. Archuleta could be on the verge of a Pro Bowl, while Aeneas Williams keeps on ticking at the age of 36, moving to the slot in the nickel defense. Coady is expected to be the nickel safety (Williams moves into the slot), but Lucas has also played well. Knight is versatile, and provides experience. The rookie Shivers has a lot to learn. Anderson and Eason opened some eyes in camp, and could be on the practice squad if they fail to make the roster.

    SPECIALISTS: PK Jeff Wilkins, P Sean Landeta, LS Chris Massey, H Dane Looker, KOR Arlen Harris, PR Shaun McDonald, PR Mike Furrey.

    The top four are as good as it gets. Wilkins tied an NFL record with 39 field goals last season, while Landeta rolls on at the age of 42. Massey's name is rarely mentioned, which is good, because virtually every snap is dead-on. Looker was very good in his first year as the holder. But who will return kicks? Harris was steady, if not spectacular, last season. Groce is probably the best punt returner on the roster, but he was injured in camp and he is too valuable at cornerback. McDonald showed some promise, and could be a threat if he becomes more decisive with his first move.

Related Topics

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  • 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
    10 Questions (and a few answers) about the Rams
    by RamWraith
    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...
    -08-29-2004, 08:34 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
  • 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
  • RamWraith
    Rams are a team in transition
    by RamWraith
    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...
    -09-01-2004, 01:06 PM
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