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Improving vision in Rams’ eye for talent

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  • Improving vision in Rams’ eye for talent

    12.31.2009 7:45 am
    Improving vision in Rams’ eye for talent
    By Andy Dapron

    Hello again to everyone out there in Rams Nation! I hope everyone is finding time and opportunity to enjoy this holiday season.

    The world can now join the Rams, as we are all now setting our sights on 2010. I don’t want to get too down on the Rams. We all know that General Manager Billy Devaney, Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo, and all the players and staffers on this Rams team are in the midst of a daunting climb from the bowels of the NFL. It was always going to take time and a massive infusion of talent to return the Rams to respectability, and eventually, glory.

    We just hoped it wouldn’t take this long, and that the Rams didn’t have this far to go, but they do. So, I am more than willing to be patient with Devaney, Spagnuolo, and the Rams braintrust as they try to rebuild the Rams’ engine one agonizing part at a time.

    But, that doesn’t make these games any easier to watch. I view these Rams with a “no pain, no gain” sort of outlook — I believe there is a lot to be gained from all the hardships the Rams are enduring now, but if ever there was a “pain” part of a rebuilding process, the Rams are mired in it. Make no mistake, it is painful to watch week after week as the Rams are buried beneath a mountain of injuries, a glaringly shallow depth chart, and poor execution.

    And, it’s difficult to even know who exactly to fault for the short-circuited play, or whether anybody should really be faulted at all (aside from the previous regime that dug the whole from which the Rams must now dig themselves out). After all, the Rams are playing the biggest bunch of newbies I’ve ever seen assembled on one field at the same time. I lost count of the number of times Sunday that one of the announcers used the word “rookie” in reference to a Rams player that was seeing significant action — a quarterback, a running back, a wide receiver, a corner… the list goes on. That’s without counting guys like WR/KR Danny Amendola and DE James Wyche who, even though they aren’t true rookies, are getting their first true taste of the NFL. With so many fresh faces, mistakes are bound to happen.

    But therein lies the beauty of this season for the Rams, and the thing that keeps us watching, even as the IR list, and the loss column, become more and more crowded. We are getting a good, long look at the young guys, and we’re seeing them in the context of the “real” NFL, too, not against another team’s third string running a watered-down, scaled-back playbook. That’s intriguing. Sure, we’re always hoping that we’ll be witness to that rare and long-awaited victory (I think… The whole “race for the top pick” thing sort of tempers the desire for the team to win…), but the most exciting aspect of Rams games these days is getting an extended look on some of the men on whose shoulders the franchise’s long-term future ultimately rests.

    Best of all, we can actually expect some of the players wearing the curly horns today to still be wearing them and making meaningful contributions a few years down the road. Of course, there will be ample roster turnover this offseason. That’s expected (and necessary) on the heels of a one- (or two-?) win season. However, a HUGE reason the Rams are suffering through these disappointing seasons now is because far too many young and inexperienced players have come and gone without making much of an impact on the team. Looking at the Rams now, that’s one trend I do not expect to continue. While I’m not about to declare the Rams’ various coaches, scouts, and front office people infallible. I think it’s safe to say the vision is improving in the team’s eye for talent.

    Take defensive end Chris Long, for example. Long was one of the bright spots in the latest demolition of the Rams, a 31-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Long recorded a sack, and applied consistent pressure to Kurt Warner (not that it slowed Kurt down any) in a game where he was forced to play every snap thanks to the absence of Leonard Little (knee injury) and James Hall (birth of his child — Congrats James!). He also had three tackles, including one breathtaking tackle for a four-yard loss in the second quarter in which he refused to allow Cardinals running back Beanie Wells to turn the corner. After a slow start that had fans questioning once again whether the Rams had erred with a high draft pick, Long’s production has picked up in recent weeks. He is starting to look worthy of the second overall pick the Rams spent on him last season.

    Long was the first top pick on which Devaney had significant input, and he is starting to pay dividends (and before I get a whole string of replies, no, Devaney wasn’t elevated to the GM position until the most recent offseason, but he absolutely influenced the draft and free agency in the 2008 offseason). If nothing else, it seems safe to say Long is going to work out a heck of a lot better than most of the other times the Rams tried to nab a d-lineman in the early rounds in recent history. Long is clearly leagues ahead of players like Claude Wroten, Anthony Hargrove, Jimmy Kennedy, Damione Lewis… I’m sure I’m forgetting some. I’ve tried to forget them all.

    The Long selection isn’t an aberration, either. While I know nobody will ever recommend judging a draft class after one season, I think a look at this year’s picks is enough to demonstrate that the Rams are doing a better job of finding players. The most recent Rams draft brought the team James Laurinaitis, whom most people expect will be a fixture at middle linebacker for the next decade. Bradley Fletcher, selected in the third round, was already developing into a solid corner before an injury against the Colts (by the way, I know Fletcher’s injury is serious, but I would encourage people not to give up hope that he will make it back. He is young, and more and more, players seem to be bouncing back from injuries that seem incredibly gruesome). Fourth rounder defensive tackle Darell Scott isw getting considerable playing time, and has shown the ability to hold his ground in the middle of the defense, something the Rams sorely need. Keith Null was selected in the sixth round, and despite being up-and-down in three starts, has worked his way into the quarterback conversation for next season. His exact role is yet to be determined, but even if Null settles into a backup role, that would be a good return on a sixth round pick. Seventh round selection running back Chris Ogbonnaya saw his first action in Arizona Sunday, and averaged five yards per carry helping to fill the void left by the ailing Steven Jackson. Lingering concussion symptoms also ended first-rounder Jason Smith’s season prematurely, but he has the tools to be a dominant offensive lineman.

    For argument’s sake, compare those guys with the players the Rams drafted in ‘07, the last draft before Devaney’s arrival. Only one of those players, fifth round selection DT Clifton Ryan, looks to be a “long-term” guy for the Rams. The top selection that year, defensive lineman Adam Carriker, had his season derailed by injury before it ever got started, so I’ll withhold judgment there. Second round pick Brian Leonard spent two years here as an average running back-fullback ‘tweener before being traded to the Bengals last offseason. Third rounder Jonathan Wade remains with the team for now, but he can’t get on the field, despite the fact that the Rams are in need of help at corner. The Rams other draft picks that year were center Dustin Fry, offensive tackle Ken Shackleford, defensive tackle Keith Jackson, and wide receiver Derek Stanley. Needless to say, their lockers at Rams park were given to somebody else a long time ago.

    I’ll take Devaney and Spagnuolo’s plans for the future over those of the previous regime any day.

  • #2
    Re: Improving vision in Rams’ eye for talent

    True. Our '09 draft HAS gave us many good players. All of them in fact, has contributed to this team, and all of them look to be on this team for a while.


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      Did the Rams then pull a Linehan style panic move by taking little known Iowa cornerback Brad Fletcher?

      We'll never know, but I know the book on this guy is he works out like a first rounder, and while he plays hard and physical, his hips may be a bit too tight to play corner. However, I think the Rams see him as a nickel back, playing inside to support the run as well as cover.

      As usual, the Rams have a third rounder, a high one, that to me becomes the real key to judging the draft. To me, no matter what else, they get a B- just ofr the first two picks.

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      Fletcher, who was behind Godfrey on the depth chart, only got his chance as a senior, so the risk is certainly there, though it was for the receivers the Rams could have chosen as well.

      Personally, I would have liked Giorgia TEch DE Michael Johnson there, as again, the lack of depth at that position left the Rams with no help in a key position.

      The Rams have some young cornerbacks already, but none are as physical as Fletcher, whose immediate impact will be as the "gunner" on punt coverage. He excelled doing it in college, and that IS a big need for the Rams, and has been for years.

      It's certainly not a pick that can be labelled a "reach", so in this case, we'll chalk it up as "Best player available".

      The cupboard was bare for the big space eating tackle the Rams needed, and could not find in free agency. So they really had to take the last big tackle on the board with any good grade at all, in Darell Scott.

      There seems to be a lot of controversy as to the spelling of his name ( Either way, wouldn't YOU use a nickname instead), and I used the one that appears to be correct according to Rams PR.

      While I worry about fourth rounders named Scott, based on past history here (See OG Travis), and impressive looking corners with not a lot of games under his belt as a starter (See Jacoby Shepherd),
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    • RamDez
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    • eldfan
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      —Nice fits: Defensive end Cameron Jordan, running back Ryan Williams, guard Will Rackley.

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      The Rams picked second in 2008 and 2009, and then first overall in 2010. There weren't many variables to consider when figuring out who they would draft, especially last year.

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      "Being realistic, there are certain guys you know are going to be gone from pick one to five, six, seven. Then after that there is a cluster of names and they are darn good names," Devaney said. "It's exciting. It's really exciting the possibilities that will be there at 14.

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      While Devaney hopes to draft a running back at some point, it appears unlikely that would happen in the first round. He said the goal is to find "a complement" to Steven Jackson, "someone to share the load." He concluded, "If that presents itself in this draft, we'll take advantage of it, but we won't force it."

      The need for a top-flight receiver to team with Bradford has resulted in the thought the Rams might trade up if Jones is still on the board at the eighth or ninth pick. That would likely mean giving up their third-round pick.

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    • r8rh8rmike
      It Ain't Pretty, But There Are Reasons To Keep Watching Rams
      by r8rh8rmike
      It ain't pretty, but there are reasons to keep watching Rams
      By Jeff Gordon

      The Rams have been outscored 146-34 this season. They have lost 32 of 37 games and 15 in a row.

      These are mind-blowing numbers. We are witnessing sustained failure of historic proportions.

      It is difficult to be THIS BAD in a league dedicated to maintaining parity, but the Rams have become exceptional losers. Week after week, they discover new ways to succumb.

      Believe it or not, though, the football operation appears to be adding potential building blocks, one by one.

      Second-round draft pick James Laurinaitis appears to be a worthy foundation on which to rebuild the defense. He is piling up tackles week after week and his pass coverage is improving, as he proved Sunday by picking off Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.

      Just five weeks into his NFL career, Laurinaitis is emerging as a leader too.

      “As long as the guys keep the heart that they have, we’re going to be all right,” he told reporters after the Rams lost to the Vikings 38-10 Sunday. “When we’re out there on the goal line stand, you have a lot of guys out there with a lot of heart, who just truly love playing this game and really want to get things corrected and win.”

      General manager Billy Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo keep milling the practice squad and the bottom half of the roster, auditioning new players on a weekly basis.

      Wide receiver/kick returner Danny Amendola appears to be a nice addition. He has produced one home-run return (which, of course, was negated by penalty) and nearly popped several other big gains.

      More impressively, he has emerged as a viable third receiver within a few weeks of his in-season arrival. His quick feet add some life to a generally moribund unit.

      If the pint-sized Amendola can improve his ball security and avoid getting squashed, he will earn a place in this group moving forward.

      The same can be said for tight end Daniel Fells. Sunday’s red zone fumble was a shame, since it overshadowed his emergence as a viable offensive option.

      Fells and Kyle Boller developed a love connection. It will be interesting to see if Marc Bulger bonds with him Sunday at Jacksonville.

      The Rams accumulated some interesting depth on the defensive line, with 25-year-old LaJuan Ramsey making a mark at defensive tackle.

      While it is a shame that journeyman run-stuffer Gary Gibson suffered a season-ending injury, the team was overloaded at that position. Perhaps rookie Darell Scott can step in the breach and build on his solid preseason showing.

      Rookie cornerback Bradley Fletcher has gotten burned here and there, but he is showing some potential to play the “press” coverage favored by this coaching staff....
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    • eldfan
      St Louis Rams Team Report
      by eldfan
      Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo knows the team's defense has to get better. He also knows all the problems can't be fixed in one year.
      Still, as the Rams prepared to get their first on-field look at the team's rookies at minicamp, a lot of the eyes will be trained on three players that arrived in the draft.

      Following the selection of tackle Jason Smith with the second overall pick, the Rams added a player from each of the defensive units in the next three rounds.

      The linebacker was James Laurinaitis, who came in the second round; cornerback Bradley Fletcher was a third-round pick, and defensive tackle Darell Scott was selected in the fourth round.

      The Rams hope Laurinaitis will emerge as a starter in the middle, and be the quarterback of the defense. Scott should immediately be the backup, possibly to both tackles Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan. Fletcher, who wasn't a fulltime starter until his senior season, will be competing for the nickel-back spot at the outset. Some of his competition will come from second-year player Justin King, who was making quick progress last year before seeing his season end because of a toe injury suffered in the first preseason game.

      Of course, after Scott was picked, the draft switched back to defense, with the next three choices on that side of the ball.

      After the draft was over, Spagnuolo joked about the way things went the defensive way after the drafting of Smith.

      "I was thinking about that walking down here," he said. "Bang, bang, bang."

      But, just like that (bang, bang, bang), it went in the other direction.

      Said a smiling general manager Billy Devaney: "It was kind of a stealth (move). (He) never said it, but then all of a sudden the draft's going on, and I said, 'This thing's starting to get away from us. We've got to get some offensive guys.'"

      Those offensive guys were fifth-round receiver Brooks Foster, sixth-round quarterback Keith Null and seventh-round running back Chris Ogbonnaya.

      The bottom line is that Devaney and Spagnuolo knew they needed to add as many good players as possible.

      When asked if there was anything the team wasn't able to accomplish in the draft, Devaney said, "I don't think so because we didn't come in over the last couple days saying we have to have or this is what we really have to have coming out of this. We're just hell-bent, as we said before, bringing in many good players that were going to be part of this process. It wasn't a case where we have to have one receiver, we have to have a quarterback, we have to take a tackle. It wasn't anything like that at all. So, we're like 31 other teams, we're pleased with the way it went.

      "We missed on some guys; it never goes perfect. You get close to some guys and they get taken and you get (ticked) off, but that happens....
      -05-05-2009, 01:15 PM