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  • Rams show big improvement with solid special-teams play

    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Thursday, Oct. 14 2004

    With just under 4 minutes remaining Sunday at Qwest Field and the Seahawks
    leading 27-17, the Rams' Shaun McDonald fielded a punt at the St. Louis 20-yard
    line. McDonald broke through the right side and 39 yards later, the Rams were
    in business at the Seattle 41.

    On the next play, wide receiver Kevin Curtis sprinted past two defenders and
    hauled in quarterback Marc Bulger's on-the-button pass in the end zone. Just
    like that, the Rams were down just 27-24. Some 6 1/2 minutes later, the Rams
    pranced away with a startling 33-27 overtime victory.

    Once again, the importance of solid special-teams play was apparent. "You have
    to win in three phases: offense, defense and also special teams," said safety
    Justin Lucas, a busy special-teams contributor. "You can't take that for
    granted."

    Yet that might have been the case early in the season, according to rookie
    defensive end Anthony Hargrove. "Maybe at the beginning of the year not
    everybody was taking (special teams) so seriously," he said. "But we saw that
    we were just looking really bad out there, and we wanted to stop that. So we
    took it upon ourselves to make it better."

    And better, it's been. In the last two games, the Rams averaged 16.6 yards per
    kickoff return, compared with 12.1 in the first three, and 14.0 yards per punt
    return, compared with 3.7 in the first three.

    "At the beginning of the year, we couldn't return a kickoff for anything,"
    Hargrove said. "Now that we see we're getting close to breaking one, it just
    makes you want to do that much better on your blocks."

    Their coverage numbers gradually are improving, too. Trev Faulk and Erik
    Flowers were named the team's special- teams players of the week for the last
    two games, mainly for their stops on kickoffs.

    "All the guys are getting down there and just really making things happen,"
    Faulk said. "So it makes it tough on the opponent to really single out one guy
    who they'll try to double-team or who they'll try to avoid going to. We're just
    enjoying doing what we're doing."

    The key to the improvement, coach Mike Martz said, is the increasing
    availability of the linebackers and secondary players "Those are the guys that
    really are the center point of your special teams," he said. "And now that
    we're fairly healthy, those guys get to play the same position and they're
    there all the time."

    All the better for familiarity and cohesion to set it, rookie linebacker
    Brandon Chillar noted. "The more you play together, the better you come
    together," he said. "We had a tough time on some things at first, but the more
    you do something, the more you work at it, the better you're going to get."

    Mike Stock, who has logged 11 years as a special-teams coach in the NFL, is in
    his first season in that position with the Rams. Stock replaced Bobby April,
    whose contract wasn't renewed after the 2003 season.

    "Mike Stock is a good teacher," Lucas said. "We're young on special teams, and
    he's teaching technique and things like that."

    Injury Update

    Guard Chris Dishman suited up for practice Thursday for the first time since
    suffering a hyperextended right knee early in the second quarter against New
    Orleans on Sept. 26. Scott Tercero replaced Dishman for the remainder of that
    contest and started the past two games.

    Despite suffering a broken left hand in San Francisco on Oct. 3, Tercero was
    back in the lineup Sunday in Seattle and is expected to start again Monday
    night vs. Tampa Bay (1- 4). Dishman was listed as "questionable" on Thursday's
    injury report.

    Cornerback Travis Fisher, out since Aug. 23 with a broken right forearm, saw
    limited action in practice Thursday.

    Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, who broke his right foot in training camp, is
    continuing individual workouts.

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  • RamWraith
    Rams, Bucs No Strangers to Monday Night
    by RamWraith
    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    In a season that thus far has seemed to reunite the Rams with former players and coaches, there has also been a rekindling of many popular rivalries. Aside from the usual division rivals, St. Louis has played former division rivals Atlanta and New Orleans.

    Now, the Rams are set to square off against another of their (former) rivals. Tampa Bay cruises into town for Monday Night Football at the Edward Jones Dome. This game might not have the history of the rivalry with San Francisco or the pure angst of the New Orleans’ battles, but it certainly has enough ingredients to make it a big game for both sides.

    St. Louis is riding an emotional high after an astonishing comeback against Seattle on Sunday. That win improved the Rams to 3-2 and put them in a good position to make it to the bye week with a three-game winning streak.

    Rams’ coach Mike Martz said the team can’t let an emotional win affect it any more than it could if the comeback had happened to the Rams.

    “It goes both ways,” Martz said. “This thing you put to bed, it’s over with,” Martz said. “We’re moving on. (It’s) just like a heartbreaking loss, you have got to really focus on this week, otherwise you won’t be at your best.”

    Tampa Bay is coming off its first win of the season, beating New Orleans on Sunday to go to 1-4 on the year.

    The Buccaneers and Rams don’t have a long history, but in recent years, it has been a matchup of two elite teams usually squaring off in an important game.

    St. Louis holds the overall edge, with an 8-6 record against Tampa Bay, but the Buccaneers have won the past four regular season meetings. Despite all of that, the Rams won the teams’ biggest matchup in 1999. That game was for the NFC Championship and St. Louis prevailed 11-6 on receiver Ricky Proehl’s late touchdown catch. This is the fourth game between the teams on Monday Night Football since 2000.

    Martz said he loves games like this.

    “This is kind of why you coach and why you play, for games like this,” Martz said. “It’s good for the National Football League; I look forward to it.”

    INJURY REPORT: Cornerback Travis Fisher and defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy are one step closer to making their return from injury. Fisher broke his forearm against Kansas City in the second preseason game on Aug. 23 and Kennedy broke his foot on Aug. 8.

    Both players began practicing again Thursday after spending the past few weeks starting to run again. Martz said they will be limited in activities and kept from contact, but will participate in some drills. Fisher and Kennedy are listed as out for the Tampa Bay game.

    Defensive end Tyoka Jackson, who injured his hamstring against Seattle on Sunday, is listed as doubtful, but could play Monday.

    Guard Chris Dishman (knee) linebacker Trev Faulk...
    -10-15-2004, 05:18 AM
  • RamDez
    Kickoff coverage improves for Rams
    by RamDez
    Kickoff coverage improves for Rams
    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Thursday, Dec. 02 2004

    If there was a positive to be gleaned from the Rams' 45-17 shellacking Monday
    night in Green Bay, it was a marked improvement in kick coverage. After a
    shake-up in personnel, the Rams yielded an average of 18 yards on four kickoffs
    - their best showing of the season.

    "Field position is a real important part of the game, and that's what special
    teams is all about," said linebacker Drew Wahlroos, who had two tackles on
    kickoffs. "It was good to be able to make some stops. But there's always room
    for improvement."

    Only twice in the previous 10 games had Rams opponents averaged fewer than 20
    yards per kickoff return: 19.2 by San Francisco on Oct. 3 and 18.8 by Seattle a
    week later. In the five games since then, the Rams had surrendered an average
    of 28.1 yards per kickoff.

    In addition, the Packers had zero yards on punt returns. That's because
    newcomer Kevin Stemke, though he averaged only 30 yards on two punts, had good
    hang time and both boots resulted in fair catches inside Green Bay's 20-yard
    line. "That's very important, and that's why he's here," coach Mike Martz said.

    The week before, the Rams were shredded by Buffalo's returns. The Bills took
    one punt 86 yards to the end zone and returned another 53 yards, setting up a
    touchdown in a 37-17 victory.

    "I really felt terrible personally about the Buffalo game and the way that we
    performed on special teams," said linebacker Trev Faulk, who also had two
    special-teams tackles vs. the Packers. "We definitely are the unit that brings
    the offense and defense together, so we've got to hold up our end of the
    bargain."

    Still, the Rams lag badly in league special-teams statistics. Defensively, they
    rank 31st in kickoff coverage (24.1 yards) and are tied for 31st in punt
    coverage (15.5). Offensively, they're No. 31 in both kickoff returns (18.6
    yards) and punt returns (4.0).

    Faulk, Bruce get a break from practice

    Martz has eliminated - for now, anyway - the midweek live tackling sessions he
    instituted last month in an effort to add a physical edge to his team's
    attitude. On Thursday, in fact, the Rams practiced without full pads after an
    off-day for the first time in four weeks.

    "I think they're focused," Martz said. "I don't see the physical aspect of it
    being an issue right now. Now, we're kind of getting back to the regular-season
    routine."

    Martz kept running back Marshall Faulk and wide receiver Isaac Bruce on the
    sideline. Faulk has a bruised knee, and Martz wants Bruce, an 11-year veteran...
    -12-04-2004, 01:03 AM
  • MauiRam
    Rams stress importance of special teams in game ..
    by MauiRam
    • By Joe Lyons

    Early in the second quarter of the Rams’ 27-19 loss to Cleveland in the preseason opener last week, Browns’ speedster Travis Benjamin fielded a punt on the right side, made a cut to his left and raced untouched down the sideline for a 91-yard touchdown.

    So what happened?

    “Obviously a huge bust in coverage ... get the edge that easy, there’s a problem,’’ special teams coordinator John Fassel said Wednesday following a crisp practice focusing on special teams at Rams Park in Earth City. “So that’s what we’ve been focused on fixing. Young guys gotta learn to get to their spots and leverage the football, and that’s what we didn’t do.’’

    The problem, oddly enough, started when Rams punter Johnny Hekker booted the ball too far.

    “We wanted to keep the ball in play so that we could practice covering punts,’’ Fassel pointed out. “Unfortunately, it was a real game and it bit us because I think he hit a 65-yard punt with about a four- or five-(second) hang (time), so, in reality, that’s not the punt that we’re looking for.’’

    In covering the return, Fassel said there were “two guys’’ on the right side who helped create the breakdown that resulted in a lesson learned the hard way.

    “Sure enough, we saw what can really happen if we don’t do the right thing,’’ the coach said. “But it was good to see on film –in a bad way – because it also lets me know what I need to focus on more in practice. We did some unique things today to work on covering punts.’’

    Fassel, in his second season with the Rams and his ninth overall, said it can be difficult to get players who were college stars to realize the impact special teams can have on their careers.

    “No matter how you impress upon them the importance of (special teams), I think it takes a while for them to understand that this is their path to establishing themselves in the NFL,’’ he said. “So that’s a huge part of my job, to convince them in an unbiased way – they think, ‘Oh, you’re the special teams coach; of course you want us to be good.’ – that this is a path for you if you really want to make it.

    “Some guys get it and some guys don’t.’’

    One Rams player who ‘gets it’ is fourth-year linebacker Josh Hull.

    “He’s a core guy on all big four, which is punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return,’’ Fassel said. “He’s a crucial part of teams and we can count on him. He’s reliable, he’s a tough guy and he’s a guy that knew his path to the NFL was on teams ... and he’s still getting better.’’

    Hull, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound inside linebacker, was drafted by the Rams in the seventh round in 2010 and has been a solid contributor, mainly on special teams. Following a rookie season cut short by a knee injury, he’s had eight special-teams tackles during each of the last two campaigns.

    “Special teams is very important...
    -08-15-2013, 09:15 AM
  • RamWraith
    Adjustments Could Improve Special Teams
    by RamWraith
    Friday, November 26, 2004

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    In any dire situation desperate means eventually become necessary. For the Rams’ special teams, the predicament has gotten so difficult that coach Mike Martz has reached his boiling point and changes are set to be made for Monday night’s matchup at Green Bay.

    Amidst speculation for various changes on each special teams unit this week, most alterations won’t be evident until the teams take the field Monday night.

    After a brisk Thanksgiving Day practice at Rams Park on Thursday, defensive end Leonard Little hinted at one important addition to the kickoff coverage units.

    “You might see me on kickoff coverage,” Little said with a wink and a nudge. “I used to do that a long time ago. I might have to come out of retirement. Be on call, be on watch for that, and see me on kickoff coverage on Monday.”

    Little is probably the Rams most valuable defensive player, but was a special teams dynamo when he first arrived in St. Louis. In 1998, Little’s rookie season, he made eight special teams stops, but he became that group’s most consistent performer soon after.

    In just six games in 1999, Little made nine tackles on special teams, but 2000 was his best season on the special units. He made 18 special teams tackles that season before making 11 in 2001. He made enough of an impression with his nonstop motor and speed during that season to start taking more snaps with the defense.

    Seemingly out of nowhere, Little racked up 14.5 sacks that season and established himself as one of the league’s best defensive ends. The following season was his first as a full-time starter.

    Now, Little is likely going to get back to his roots on the special teams. His addition certainly can’t hurt, but Martz said earlier this week that he would prefer not to have his starting defensive players pull double duty.

    Martz said his biggest problem with the special teams struggles is just that, seeing the starters forced to help in areas they normally wouldn’t.

    “Not only is it hard, it’s unfair,” Martz said. “There are guys who should be doing a better job. That’s what I am angry about. That’s really disturbing.”

    A prime example of a player who has struggled doing both is middle linebacker Trev Faulk. By all accounts, Faulk is the Rams most consistent performer on special teams, but when he took over the job from Robert Thomas, he was forced into doubling his output.

    His performance on both units has suffered because of the extra workload. Not that Faulk has been bad; it’s more a matter of being able to keep his energy level up, according to Martz.

    “He’s been on special teams, but he’s also started, (so) he’s exhausted,” Martz said.

    That physical wear and tear attributed to Thomas getting his job back this...
    -11-27-2004, 04:45 AM
  • RamWraith
    Same old special teams prove costly in loss
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats
    St. Louis Post-Dispatch
    09/11/2005

    SAN FRANCISCO -- When last seen in a game that counted, the Rams were being trampled by Atlanta and its speedy Allen Rossum.

    While setting an NFL postseason record for return yardage, Rossum romped 68 yards with a punt for a touchdown as the Falcons blasted the Rams out of the playoffs.

    The replay came eight months later, when San Francisco's Otis Amey hauled in a punt and dashed 75 yards through Rams defenders. His second-quarter sprint to the end zone was a critical play in the *****' 28-25 victory on the first Sunday of the regular season.

    The Rams ran more than twice as many plays as the ***** (89-41) and also nearly doubled them in yards (405- 217) and time of possession (39:23-20:37). But an array of special-teams breakdowns - where have we heard that before? - short-circuited their hopes.

    "That's not the start we were looking for," said first-year Rams staffer Bob Ligashesky, Mike Martz's fourth special-teams coach in six years. "I think it's fixable. We'll improve."

    The Rams stumbled in virtually every phase of special teams. It started, fittingly, with the first play of the game. Newcomer Chris Johnson, installed just this week as the primary kick returner, fielded the opening boot near the sideline, and his momentum carried him out of bounds at the 1-yard line.

    One second into the season, the Rams were holed up 99 yards from their end zone. The misery continued when:

    * The *****' Maurice Hicks scampered 40 yards with Jeff Wilkins' first kickoff after the Rams had moved in front 3-0.

    * Amey's touchdown, which put the ***** up 14-6, was followed by an onside kick that caught the Rams flat-footed. The *****' Terry Jackson recovered with little resistance.

    * A 26-yard wounded-duck punt by rookie Reggie Hodges gave the ***** possession at the Rams' 41-yard line. "Just a mis-hit and a little wind," Hodges muttered. Five plays later, quarterback Tim Rattay hit wideout Arnaz Battle for a 6-yard TD, and San Francisco was cruising 21-6.

    Overall, the ***** returned six kickoffs for an average of 24.6 yards, compared with the Rams' 13.8 average. San Francisco's Andy Lee averaged 41.4 yards on five punts, far superior to Hodges' 33.0 yards.

    Those factors added up to a decided edge in field position for the *****, coming off an NFL-worst 2-14 season record in 2004.

    "That's not a reflection on Coach 'Lig.' He's been busting his tail, doing a great job," said Trev Faulk, a busy special-teams performer. "Basically, it comes down to, we've got to make plays. It's very, very disappointing, very, very frustrating. Because ... you take away that, we win the ballgame."

    Said teammate Mike Furrey: "We've just got to eliminate the big returns....
    -09-12-2005, 05:16 AM
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