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Burwell: Spags Takes Note Of Rams' Progress

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  • Burwell: Spags Takes Note Of Rams' Progress

    Spags takes note of Rams' progress

    Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell

    The man is a stickler to details. Steve Spagnuolo carries around a little notepad with him everywhere, and he stops constantly to scribble down observations during practices and games. If it is important enough to catch his attention, it is important enough to jot down and look for a solution, note it as something worth repeating or investigate it more thoroughly on film.

    Hopefully when all is said and done, it will be the extensive blueprint of the early days of a brilliant career ... or the critical chronicle that carefully traces all that went wrong.

    Either way, as the neophyte coach goes through the early stages of his first NFL head-coaching gig, he is documenting everything. What some less- structured folks might call an obsession with minutiae, more sharp-eyed observers will tell you that it may prove to be the secret to Spags' eventual success if he is able to transform the Rams from rag-tag losers into regimented winners.

    The NFL preseason is one of the more curious places to go looking for meaningful clues into the regular season. A year ago, the Detroit Lions "roared" through the summer undefeated (4-0) before staggering through the regular season 0-16. Super Bowl winners regularly offer a mixed bag of results in the preseason. And with the exception of the (tongue placed firmly in cheek) glorious Governor's Cup at stake in Thursday night's exhibition finale against the cross-state Kansas City Chiefs, they don't hand out any worthwhile championship hardware in August in the NFL.
    But you can glean a few things from these games. You can pick out habits and attitudes. You can detect styles and trends. If a team can't run the ball or get it into the end zone on a regular basis in the preseason, it's rare that a switch flips after Game 1 in the regular season. If a team shows no toughness in the summer dress rehearsals, don't count on a physical or emotional transplant as soon as the live bullets start flying.

    So that's why it's so insightful to observe some of the things that Spags has been jotting down in that little notepad, or having his assistants record in their own tablets.

    He's looking to see if his team is developing into the "focused, disciplined and tough" squad, and he believes that personality is already forming.

    "There were some pieces in there with the first groups now that kind of looked like we envisioned it," Spags said Friday afternoon after an extensive review of game films from Thursday night's 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. "(We were) running the football effectively, moving the offense down the field and scoring a touchdown. The defense coming out and stopping people."

    After three preseason games, you might have to squint a little bit to see some of the things that Spags sees, but this much is already clear. The Rams are starting to pick up on his strict, tough-guy vibe.

    "I think we're there," said barrel-chested tough guy Richie Incognito. "I think we're getting physical. Everything we do in practice (is physical). We get physical in preseason games. Now we just have to carry it over to the first game of the season and take it to Seattle and dominate up front and let the running backs roll with the ball."

    There are still too many injured players out of the regular lineup to know what this team is truly capable of from a won-loss standpoint, but it's not too early to tell what Spags expects on a daily basis. He wants this Rams team, which used to be notorious for mental mistakes and a lack of physical toughness, to be a smart, no-nonsense, grind-it-out team that loves playing with a smash-mouth attitude and doesn't beat itself with dumb, unforced errors.

    "In a nutshell, I want a focused, disciplined, tough football team," Spags said. "We have certain measurements that we have after games that measure that focus, discipline and toughness. I blurt them out after every game and let them know if we met them. I think the team is starting to embrace that, too. We talk about it all the time."

    The change in personality is going to be a stark transformation in style and substance from the one that characterized the rise and fall of this franchise. In the past, very few football wise guys ever associated toughness with the Rams. That didn't matter much during the height of the Greatest Show on Turf days when the Rams dazzled you with all that fast-twitch athleticism dashing up and down the field.

    But it matters now. When the margin for error is so thin, effort, toughness and intelligence can make up for a scarcity of talent. If you are tough and don't make mistakes, sometimes that can compensate for other shortcomings.

    "If you're a physically tough team, you're able to run the ball and stop the run," Spagnuolo said quite simply. So he has his assistants recording how the offense and defense do in third-and-one situations, and how they manage to run the ball or stop the run down inside the 10-yard line where football players can have their manhood revealed or exposed.

    The Rams are no longer one of the more gifted teams in the NFL this season based on their depth charts. It is still a talent-thin team that does not compare to any of the NFL elite from 1 through 53.

    But that doesn't mean that Spagnuolo doesn't expect them to play hard, to limit mental errors and to always be the toughest guys on the football field.

    "That's the identity we're trying to create," Incognito said. "Physical up front, and get the running game going ... The coaches are calling it up, dialing it up and they're keeping it coming. We're pumped up, we're excited."

  • #2
    Re: Burwell: Spags Takes Note Of Rams' Progress

    "Physical Up front" and roll in the Backs. "Be the toughest team on the field". Words to live by!
    Is Saint Louis becoming "RAM TOUGH"?


    • #3
      Re: Burwell: Spags Takes Note Of Rams' Progress

      I sure hope so. If there is one word I would use to describe the Rams in recent years, it definitely would not be "tough".


      Related Topics


      • RamFan_Til_I_Die
        Spags' Rams show more toughness
        by RamFan_Til_I_Die
        Spags' Rams show more toughness
        Bryan Burwell

        SEATTLE — The rowdy folks inside Qwest Field just wanted to party already. They had spent the better part of this flawless football Sunday turning their raucous stadium into a joyful and vulgar open-air madhouse — laughing and cursing and chanting and cheering all afternoon as their Seattle Seahawks dismantled the hated Rams in a 28-0 rout. And now all they wanted to do to was let the game clock tick down so they could dance in the aisles and spill out into the streets and party some more.

        Only Steve Spagnuolo wouldn't let them.

        There were less than two minutes left in his first regular-season game as Rams coach, and Spags kept calling timeouts as if it were the end of some skin-tight playoff game instead of the dying moments of garbage time in an ugly, one-sided shutout that had essentially been over since the third quarter.

        Spags was still pacing the Rams sidelines, and his body language told you he didn't care what the score was. As long as there was time on that clock, he was going to work it.

        The Seahawks ran a play.

        Spags called a timeout.


        The Seahawks ran another play.

        Spags looked at the ref and called another timeout.


        Edgerrin James tried to barrel off-tackle, and he was swarmed by a pile of white Rams jerseys for a 1-yard loss, and now Spags was crouched near the 30-yard line, his head set tilted slightly, his hands cupped around his mouth.

        "KEEP ON MAKIN' PLAYS MEN, KEEP ON MAKIN' PLAYS!" he shouted in a voice that pierced the din of this angry and impatient partisan Qwest Field mob.

        And then he called another time out.


        So maybe you're not looking for a pearl to cull out of this disastrous start to the 2009 regular season. Perhaps all you see is another rotten start to another season destined to be as horrible as the last two or three or four. Maybe all you see is the unsightly misadventure that seemed a whole lot like the last four trips to Seattle.

        But I'm going to try to squint a little bit for you. I'm going to try to block out the blinding glare of this mistake-riddled, self-destructive loss to the Seahawks and try to tell you why the Steve Spagnuolo Era is still headed in the right direction even after going scoreless in Seattle.

        It can all be summed up in the sight of Spags on the sidelines and in the voice of Spags after the game.

        When he walked into his postgame interview room, Spags didn't spend a great deal of time fretting over the countless self-destructive miscues that wrecked what started out to be a fairly competitive ballgame. And surprisingly, he did not throw his emotional roller-coaster and ticking-time-bomb...
        -09-14-2009, 09:34 AM
      • BEER
        This game will define Spags.
        by BEER
        I hate to say it but I have too. If were not close or near close to winning this game agisnt the Chargers,,, I have to look at Spags as not the person to take the Rams in the right direction. That could be Devany as well. It just seems to me that Spags, in interviews, he just doesnt know much. He always tells the media to refresh him, that his not sure. It bothers me. I really, really, hope im wrong and he puts his stamp on this organization.
        -10-14-2010, 06:30 PM
      • AvengerRam_old
        Let's get this out of the way: Spags v. Line#&%
        by AvengerRam_old
        I'll start with the obvious.

        I condemned Scott Line#&% early in his tenure with the Rams (perhaps unfairly, but ultimately rightly, so).

        I fully support Steve Spagnuolo.

        Why the difference?

        Well, it just does not come down to wins and losses.

        Line#&% took over a team that was a bit down, but still had a core of players (Bulger, Jackson, Bruce, Holt, Curtis, Pace, Little, etc.) who been to the playoffs. His job was to sustain the remaining pieces of the GSOT, refresh the roster, stabilize the organization, and return to the playoffs.

        When Spagnuolo took over, that core was gone (Bruce, Curtis), on the way out (Holt, Pace) or worn down by three injury-plagued seasons (Bulger, Little). The only true known commodity was Steven Jackson. Spags' job was to REBUILD.

        So... given the difference in the HCs' respective "missions," there should be no surprise that there have been different initial results.

        Line#&% failed accross the board. His inability to manage playcalling duties with HC duties hindered the effectiveness of the veteran offense. His player personnel decisions were poor. His style caused division, rather than unity. And, of course, the team suffered on the field.

        Spagnuolo's success or failure simply can't be evaluated at this point. Anyone who thought that the Rams could remove the (arguably over-priced and under-performing) base of veterans, elevate a bunch of players with 0-3 years experience, and start winning immediately (and I include myself in this category) was kidding him or herself.

        This is not a new scenario. Teams often, following a successful run, have to bottom out entirely before returning to success. Look at the Cowboys during the transition from Tom Landry to Jimmy Johnson. First you have to break ties with the past (regardless of the short-term consequences), then you have to make good personnel decisions, and then... and only then, can a new era begin.

        The error of the Line#&% regime is that it wrongly tried to sustain an era that, in reality, was already gone.

        This is the first year in which the Rams organization has truly accepted that the GSOT years are over, and that a new chapter needs to written.

        I'm still banking on Spagnuolo being the man to help write the next story.
        -12-01-2009, 08:51 PM
      • r8rh8rmike
        Burwell: 4 Pillars Can't Be Milestones For Rams
        by r8rh8rmike
        4 pillars can't be millstones for Rams

        Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell

        There's no magical blueprint for instant success in sports that can be copied with the simple click of a computer mouse. What works over here doesn't always work over there. Through trial and error, circumstance and a little good fortune, every once in a while a plan comes together that works like a charm.

        The rebuilding Rams are in the process of tinkering with a new formula that the neophyte management team of GM Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo hope will lead this organization back to the NFL postseason. They have a plan and they hope ultimately that it will work. On the first day he showed up at Rams Park a few months ago, Spags laid out the foundations of his franchise reconstruction project:

        "I'm not about predictions, I'm not about bold statements. But we hope that we're going to be about faith, character, core values and team first. Those will be the four pillars we will hang our hat on."

        And now too many people who ought to know better are clinging to this idea that Spags ought to be tethered to those figurative four pillars like a growling junkyard dog on a short and extremely restrictive leash.

        Too many folks are acting like Spags has trapped himself into the sort of bind that forever prevents him from even glancing curiously at any available football player who doesn't have the constitution of a saint and live the lifestyle of a cloistered monk.

        When it comes to building a team, I, on the other hand, prefer to live by the wisdom of that noted cinematic philosopher Captain Jack Sparrow. To quote everybody's favorite movie pirate, "Hang the codes. They're more like guidelines anyway."

        That's why I would have absolutely no problem if the Rams at least did a little window shopping with a few of the NFL's most notable scalawags. Now that Pro Bowl wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Brandon Marshall — two certifiable knuckleheads who probably qualify for no better than 2.3 of those lofty four pillars — are suddenly available on the NFL market, it wouldn't trouble me in the least if the Rams took an interest.

        I'm not saying the Rams must sign either guy. That is silly. But when you are a team woefully inexperienced at wide receiver, any time receivers of the athletic pedigree of Burress and Marshall come on the market, you ought to be smart enough to at least explore the possibility. They both come with a ton of off-field baggage that makes them potential trouble for a new coach trying to turn an abysmal team back into a legitimate contender. But football is not a game of perfection, and neither are the men who play it.

        Walk into any football locker room and you'll find one of the most fascinating blends of humanity you've ever seen. Saints and...
        -06-17-2009, 07:46 PM
      • MauiRam
        Meet the new Spags; same as the old Spags?
        by MauiRam
        ROGER HENSLEY Friday, December 10, 2010 1:37 pm

        QUESTION: What differences, if any, have you seen in head coach Steve Spagnuolo’s approach in his second season with the Rams?

        JIM THOMAS

        The basics haven’t changed. The message is the same. Spagnuolo is intense, yet sincere. Demanding but interested in more than just football when it comes to player relations. The practices remain demanding, but he knows when to back off. If anything, he seems just a bit more relaxed this season.

        There’s a steep learning curve for a first-year head coach, and it appears that Spagnuolo has a better handle on just about everything that goes with having that job.

        BILL COATS

        One of the things that stands out about Spagnuolo – and he emphasizes this often – is that his approach really never changes. He’s a devoted one-game-at-a-time guy, he’s consistent in how he handles his players, and he preaches the mantra of never getting too high when things are going well or too low when they’re not.


        He is way more relaxed with the media. Winning some games probably helped that. Now that he is more comfortable, he is slightly more willing to address team mishaps and shortcomings. But I think he has been consistent in his dealings with the team itself and his approach to coaching.

        On the tactical side, he has given the offense a bit more latitude as Sam Bradford proves himself. He actually gave the offense the chance to close out the Arizona win rather than putting that responsibility on the defense.


        The most notable change I’ve seen is how much more comfortable he is in front of the TV cameras. He seems to be far more willing to engage reporters who want to question his strategies, and he does it with some sly wit. It is just another sign of how comfortable he is in his role as the front man for the organization.

        For the most part, on the football side the only noticable change is that he has been far more agressive this year defensively because he has upgraded personnel from last year.
        -12-11-2010, 12:42 AM