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How They Look - Defense, Special Teams

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  • How They Look - Defense, Special Teams

    How they look • Defense, Special teams

    A healthy Leonard Little and a breakthrough year by Chris Long are musts if this unit is to show more than token improvement. Little has had a strong camp and looks quick around the edge, but James Hall had one of the best camps of any Ram. He has shown the ability to get to the passer from both the end and tackle positions. Spagnuolo's MO as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants was to use ends inside in passing situations. Although not as polished a pass rusher, Victor Adeyanju provides similar versatility The question mark remains the interior, where Adam Carriker has yet to play in the preseason because of an ankle injury and Clifton Ryan is trying to step up his game. Gary Gibson, rookie Darell Scott and Hollis Thomas are competing for backup DT jobs.

    The starting trio, with Will Witherspoon back at his natural position (weakside), rookie James Laurinaitis in the middle and savvy veteran Chris Draft on the strongside, should at least be respectable. Laurinaitis appears to be making a smooth transition to the NFL. He has decent size and range and is a heady player who takes his preparation seriously. Witherspoon should flourish on the weakside; to some degree his speed was nullified banging around at middle linebacker. Draft is more of a collision player who should help on run defense. Among the backups, Larry Grant has had a good camp, providing much-needed bulk at 251 pounds. Chris Chamberlain, David Vobora and Quinton Culberson must earn their way onto the final roster through strong special-teams play.

    Lots of question marks once you get past Ron Bartell at corner and safeties Oshiomogho Atogwe and James Butler. Butler replaces Corey Chavous at strong safety, and although not a burner, he won't be the liability in coverage that Chavous was during his Rams tenure. Atogwe has been the team's best playmaker on defense since moving into the starting lineup in 2006. Bartell has the size (6-1, 206) Spagnuolo likes at the position and is on the verge of establishing himself as one of the NFC's better corners. At the other corner, Tye Hill needs to stay healthy and regain his confidence and aggressiveness. Jonathan Wade has the lead for the nickel back job, but Justin King isn't far behind. The depth at safety remains iffy, with Todd Johnson and Craig Dahl the leading candidates for backup jobs.

    When it comes to punter, kicker and long snapper, there might not be a more productive or more consistent trio than Donnie Jones, Josh Brown and Chris Massey. Despite being snubbed for the Pro Bowl, Jones had one of the best punting seasons in NFL history a year ago. Brown has the leg strength to make long field goals and a knack for making game-winners. In seven seasons as the team's long snapper, Massey has made 840 clean snaps in 841 attempts. Coverage units and the return games are where the Rams have been lame for years. Under new special-teams coordinator Tom McMahon, the play of the coverage units was encouraging in the first two preseason games. The return game remains a big unknown, with Derek Stanley the leading candidate on punt returns and Kenneth Darby the leading candidate on kickoff returns to date.

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  • eldfan
    Rams: The defense and special teams
    by eldfan
    By Jim Thomas

    This unit has the potential to be the strength of the defense. At left end, Leonard Little appears completely recovered from his season-ending toe surgery of last year. Backups Victor Adeyanju and James Hall have had excellent camps, providing depth and the flexibility that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett loves. It has been a slow go for this year's first-rounder (Chris Long), and last year's first-rounder (Adam Carriker). Both need to step up their play in order for the line — and the defense — to reach its potential. Long starts at right end, Carriker at tackle. Veteran La'Roi Glover returns for his 13th NFL season as the other starting DT; he's an excellent leader and remains an effective interior pass rusher. Clifton Ryan, the only pure nose tackle on the roster, will see plenty of action on run downs.

    The front-line talent here is good enough to win with, but the depth is suspect and durability could be an issue. After playing at a Pro Bowl level a year ago, middle linebacker Will Witherspoon is aiming to lead the team in tackles for the third consecutive year. Witherspoon has very good closing speed and developed into a highly effective blitzer a year ago. If weakside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa can stay healthy after a couple of injury-plagued seasons, this unit will be a team strength. Tinoisamoa also has very good speed. He doesn't shy away from contact and has developed into one of the defensive leaders. At strongside linebacker, it looks like unheralded Quinton Culberson has won the job over veteran Chris Draft. Culberson is an aggressive, physical tackler with good instincts. There is no proven depth behind the versatile Draft.

    Injuries have made it tough to get a read on this unit. Cornerback Fakhir Brown (shoulder) and free safety Oshiomogho "O.J." Atogwe (hamstring) have missed most of camp and the preseason. Brown has above-average coverage skills and is solid in run support. Atogwe is a ball hawk who led the NFC in interceptions (eight) in '07. Veteran Corey Chavous, who has had a strong camp, returns at strong safety, with Tye Hill the other starting corner. Ron Bartell, a big corner at 6-1, 215 pounds, normally covers the slot receiver in the nickel package. But he has played well at corner this month in Brown's absence and also has gotten time at safety because of injuries at that position. Jonathan Wade and David Macklin are the front-runners for the No. 4 and 5 corner spots; Todd Johnson is a reliable third safety.

    In punter Donnie Jones and place-kicker Josh Brown, the Rams have one of the league's best tandems. Brown, signed in free agency from Seattle, may not be as accurate as the now-retired Jeff Wilkins. But he has a reputation for clutch kicks, and his leg strength should help on kickoff coverage. Jones...
    -08-25-2008, 10:45 AM
  • Goldenfleece
    State of the Rams: Defense
    by Goldenfleece
    A week ago I took a look at offensive needs. Now I'd like to take a look at where we stand on defense.

    Defensive Tackle
    Current Options: Clifton Ryan, Darrell Scott, Gary Gibson, Adam Carriker, Lajuan Ramsey, Leger Douzable
    Evaluation: The early losses of Gibson and Carriker make this position difficult to evaluate. Before AC even went down for the season, Gibson was already taking reps with the first team. I really don’t know whether Carriker is good or not because I can’t remember the last time he wasn’t slowed by some injury or another. Ryan had a pretty decent season, although not reflected in the stats. Scott had a very quiet rookie season. Ramsey and Douzable had their moments but would have been fringe players even on our team if not for the injuries.
    Off-season Priority: Medium-High. We have a lot of young players at the position who at some point during the season showed promise, but once again we finished near the bottom of the league in both run defense and sacks. Our defense will not be strong without strong line play.

    Defensive End
    Current Options: Chris Long, Leonard Little, James Hall, C.J. Ah You, Victor Adeyanju
    Evaluation: Long has made strides in his game each season and may yet quiet his doubters if he gets some help. Little is 35 and, although still productive, is not the force he once was. His contract is up, and he may retire. Hall will be 33 next month and is also likely near the end of his career. His contract is up, and he may or may not be back for the 2010 season. Ah You's most memorable moment in 2009 came when he blocked a field goal on a play which was called back because we had 12 men on the field. He saw some playing time in a reserve role and recorded one sack. Adeyanju may have fallen out of favor with the new regime, as he was often inactive on game day. He, too, may leave as a free agent.
    Off-season Priority: High. Three out of five could leave, and we didn't have much of a pass rush even with them. Also, we have a defensive coordinator whose defense relies on pressure. Bad news.

    Middle Linebacker
    Current Options: James Laurinaitis, Dominic Douglas
    Evaluation: “Viral” Laurinaitis was all over the place wreaking havoc on opponents. Yes, he occasionally got caught out of position, but he still had a great rookie season. Douglas joined the active roster in mid-November, a few weeks after he had most recently been cut from the practice squad.
    Off-season Priority: Low. If Laurinaitis ever succumbed to injury, we could probably slide over one of the guys competing for the strongside position or something.

    Outside Linebacker
    Current Options: Paris Lenon, Chris Chamberlain, David Vobora, Larry Grant
    Evaluation: On the weak side, Lenon is sort of the classic journeyman. As a starter for the Lions, he led the team in tackles...but an above-average starter for the Lions might still be...
    -01-22-2010, 09:19 PM
  • r8rh8rmike
    What Rams Need On Defense
    by r8rh8rmike
    What Rams need on defense

    Sunday, January 9, 2011 12:00 am

    Rams' outlook at defensive line

    What They've Got

    The improved play by this unit was one of the pleasant surprises of the season. At end, James Hall (10˝) had the second-highest sack total of his 11-year NFL career, plus a career-high six forced fumbles. Chris Long had a breakout year in his third NFL season with 8˝ sacks, 21 quarterback hits and 16 quarterback pressures. Although he didn't do much over the final third of the season, C.J. Ah You (four sacks) found his niche as a situational pass rusher; rookie George Selvie got some seasoning, participating in about 30 percent of the defensive plays. At tackle, Fred Robbins gave the Rams some of their best interior play in recent years, helping immensely on run defense but also adding a career-high six sacks

    What They Need

    Other than Robbins, there are more questions than answers at defensive tackle. Darell Scott was slowed by injury early and never got on track. After showing potential as a rookie in ‘09, Scott was one of the biggest disappointments on defense. Clifton Ryan was a two-year starter who lost his job to Gary Gibson in camp, got sidetracked by recurring migraines and ended up on the injured reserve list after appearing in just one game. Ryan's scheduled for unrestricted free agency, and it seems doubtful he'll be back. Gibson played in 16 games for the first time in his career and did a lot of the grunt work, soaking up blockers while occasionally getting penetration. Ideally, he's a rotational player, not a starter.

    Rams' outlook at linebacker

    What They've Got

    James Laurinaitis took another step toward being a Pro Bowl-caliber middle linebacker in his second NFL season. He led the team in tackles for the second year in a row and improved his work in coverage and as a blitzer. Laurinaitis was the Rams' highest-graded defensive player for the season. Before his season-ending pectoral muscle injury in Game 12 (against Arizona), Na'il Diggs provided steady play at strongside linebacker, particularly on run defense. At weakside linebacker, Larry Grant, Chris Chamberlain, Bryan Kehl and David Vobora all had at least one start. Grant and Vobora were more physical; Chamberlain and Kehl had better coverage skills. But none looked as if they were the answer at this key position.

    What They Need

    A quality weakside linebacker, someone with range who can play the run and the pass, is one of the Rams' top overall needs. In an ideal world, this guy could also rush the passer. Too often the Rams got burned on outside runs because they couldn't hold the perimeter, or couldn't get to the edge in time. Too often, opposing running backs and tight ends leaked out late as receivers with the Rams slow to detect them, which meant what should have been...
    -01-10-2011, 07:58 PM
  • eldfan
    St louis Rams Team Report
    by eldfan

    —New coach Steve Spagnuolo made his first two hires with the addition of Pat Shurmur as offensive coordinator and Ken Flajole as defensive coordinator.

    Shurmur was an assistant with the Eagles since 1999, and spent the last seven seasons as quarterbacks coach. His uncle, Fritz Shurmur, was a Rams assistant and defensive coordinator from 1982-90.

    Flajole has been Carolina's linebackers coach since 2003. He and Spagnuolo don't have a coaching connection, but Flajole and Eagles coach Andy Reid were assistants together at the University of Missouri from 1989-91.

    Spagnuolo also received permission to talk with Vikings special teams coach Paul Ferraro. They were teammates at Springfield College in 1980 and '81, and were on the same staff at Massachusetts in 1982 and at Bowling Green in 1996 and '97. Ferraro was with Carolina in 2005 at the same time as Flajole.

    Interviewed as a potential defensive line coach was Randy Melvin, who has been with the Browns since 2005.

    —General manager Bill Devaney and Spagnuolo have connections from earlier in their careers.

    Devaney was a scout with Washington in 1983 when Spagnuolo was getting his feet wet as an intern in the player personnel department.

    Ten years later, Spagnuolo was with the Chargers as a scout when Devaney was the club's player personnel director.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "St. Louis has treated me well, giving me the opportunity to play and I am always going to be appreciative of that. Whatever happens, that is in God's hands and I am not really fretting over it. I feel like I am going to be where I'm supposed to be this next year." — FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, commenting on his impending free agency. Atogwe is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent Feb. 27.



    QUARTERBACK: Starter — Marc Bulger. Backups — Trent Green, Brock Berlin.

    All indications are that Bulger, despite a season of struggles, will return as the starter in 2009. However, it's also possible the Rams will explore signing a different backup and that Green won't be back. It also appears likely that a young quarterback could be brought in to develop behind Bulger. Berlin has shown progress, and could remain in the mix as the No. 3 quarterback.

    RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Steven Jackson. Backups — Kenneth Darby, Antonio Pittman, Travis Minor. Injured reserve — Brian Leonard.

    Jackson held out for 27 days, and then missed several games because of a groin injury. He went over 1,000 yards in the final game of the season, and showed how different the team is when he plays. However, it's clear the offense needs a better backup because 2007 second-round pick Leonard is not the answer, nor is Pittman, who showed flashes, but not consistency. Darby was a find as a slasher-type...
    -01-24-2009, 11:36 PM
  • eldfan
    Rams Team Report
    by eldfan
    USA Today
    Posted 12h 35m ago E-mail | Save | Print |

    Aside from trying to win games, coach Steve Spagnuolo had one thing he stressed from the first day he was hired last January: Concentrate on "team first" and building an atmosphere that had that as the main goal.
    The Rams won only one game during the season, but Spagnuolo insists the team goal was met. Now he knows what has to be done to create wins for an organization that has won just six games in three seasons.

    Rookie middle linebacker James Laurinaitis likes what was accomplished and says the young talent will only get better.

    "I think we have a lot of talent on this team," Laurinaitis said. "If you look at a lot of the games this year, they could've gone other ways. I think we have great coaches. Another year together, it's going to be something good. There's definitely a lot of competitiveness in this group."

    It was also a unique year for Laurinaitis, who didn't lose many games during his entire college career at Ohio State, much less 15 in one season.

    "It's very easy to play 100 percent when you're winning and things are rolling and the crowd's into it, and stuff like that," he said. "But when you're down and things get out of control, that's when it's very easy to pack it in. I think I learned a lot about myself this year. I've never been put in that (losing) situation except for a few times in college. You can tell who really cares by who really keeps trying in those moments."

    Cornerback Ron Bartell was an unrestricted free agent last March and was being wooed by the Saints. After meeting Spagnuolo, Bartell elected to re-sign with the Rams. Does he regret it, considering New Orleans was 13-3 this past season and earned the top seed in the NFC playoffs?

    He said, "When I re-signed, I knew it wasn't going to be an overnight thing. I got into it for the long haul. So I knew it was going to take time. We still have the right people in place. I totally, firmly believe that. I think I made the best decision for me. I still think we can get this thing turned around."

    Of course, he acknowledged how tough the season was.

    "It was extremely difficult," Bartell said. "With all the changes we made, you definitely didn't see that coming. But it is what it is. We put ourselves in this position. The only thing we can do now is move forward."

    Bartell also likes the talent on the roster.

    "We have a good mix of young guys that are willing to learn, and veterans that are willing to lead," he said. "Not a lot of egos. Everybody's playing for the same goal. We didn't accomplish that, of course, but I think in the end we all just stuck together."

    Said veteran James Hall, who has played 10 seasons in the NFL...
    -01-14-2010, 02:33 PM