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  • Former scapegoat April earns vindication

    By Bryan Burwell
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Sunday, Nov. 21 2004

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - It's best that you no longer get either too excited or too
    upset about this up-one-minute, down-the-next season of the St. Louis Rams
    unless you have some demented fascination with excruciating headaches or
    exacerbating heartbreaks.

    The smartest thing you can do is to simply avoid any deep and everlasting
    emotional investment in this schizoid team because the Rams are no different
    from the rest of this menagerie of nondescript NFL teams that have muddled up
    the middle of the NFL standings and can't decide whether they're inconsistent
    pretenders or out-and-out frauds.

    Another week has gone by, and the best we can say about the 5-5 Rams is that
    they are no better than the Seattle Seahawks and no worse than the Miami
    Dolphins. But we still don't know if they are a good team playing
    inconsistently or a painfully average team wallowing in mediocrity.

    But after witnessing another shameful beating at the hands of another lowly AFC
    team - a sound and thorough 37-17 trouncing by the Buffalo Bills - we at least
    know the answer to the age-old question that has been endlessly taxing our
    brains:

    Q: Who's to blame for why the Rams stink so much on special teams?

    A: It sure isn't Bobby April.

    For the past three years, conventional wisdom was that the blame for the sorry
    state of Rams special teams should be heaped on the aforementioned Mr. April.
    But last winter, April was kicked to the curb by head coach Mike Martz - and to
    rousing public support - and we all figured new blood would come in and change
    things around.

    Fat chance.

    Now that April is employed as the Bills' special teams boss, he once again
    looks like his former mastermind self. And on Sunday inside Ralph Wilson
    Stadium, April's special teams just kicked the stuffing out of the Rams, the
    ultimate retribution for an unjustly persecuted man.

    With the score tied 17-17 in the third quarter, we got graphic exposure of the
    Rams' failings - and stunning vindication of April's coaching strengths in
    about 2 1/2 earth-shaking minutes.

    A bad 39-yard Rams punt (and lousy coverage) turned into a 53-yard punt return
    by Buffalo's Jonathan Smith that set up a go-ahead TD one play later to put the
    Bills up 24-17. Next series, Sean Landeta punted a 54-yarder with no
    discernible hang time, and Nate Clements returned the ball 86 yards for a TD
    and a 31-17 lead.

    On the kickoff, April caught the Rams by surprise, calling for a high, short
    kick directly to defensive end Erik Flowers, who looked exactly like you'd
    expect a defensive end to look trying to retrieve a kickoff. When Flowers
    muffed the ball, the Bills recovered. And in a span of 2 minutes 36 seconds,
    three critical special teams gaffes by the Rams - and three special teams
    standouts by the Bills - ended this game for all intents and purposes.

    "Special teams were pitiful, just pitiful - again," a subdued Martz said. "I
    really don't know what to do at this point. I'm at wit's end."

    When someone asked him why April was suddenly so successful in Buffalo after so
    many troubled days in St. Louis, Martz sort of snarled a bit.

    "They just have good people," he said.

    "Maybe," he said, his voice dripping in sarcasm, "that's the secret."

    You think?

    Through the first nine weeks of the season, the Bills' special teams have been
    one of the few places anyone can look to as a positive. They excel in kickoff
    and punt coverage (their average of 17.6 yards allowed on kickoffs is No. 1 in
    the league). They have two dangerous punt return men with the speed and talent
    to go all the way in Clements (ranked 12th in the NFL) and Smith, who has
    returned only four punts all season - one for a 70-yard score - and an
    eye-popping 33-yard average per return.

    I found April standing near the door of the Bills' locker room afterwards and
    asked him pointblank why he was so successful before he arrived in St. Louis,
    successful again after leaving St. Louis, but unable to be a success with the
    Rams.

    "What's the difference?" I wondered.

    "Oh, I'm not going to go there," April said.

    As April talked, several coaches and players walked by. Jonas Jennings, the
    Bills' 6-foot-3, 325-pound offensive tackle, smiled as he saw April surrounded
    by several cameras and notepads.

    "Ooooooh, look at the superstar," Jennings cackled. "Well awwright!"

    I stood beside April for nearly a half-hour, listening to various people parade
    up to him asking questions, and he never took a shot at Martz or the Rams. In
    fact, he went out of his way to graciously avoid any hint of blasting his
    former employers.

    So finally I focused on what he did say, rather than what he didn't.

    "I have great players here," April kept repeating whenever anyone asked a
    question. "Nate (Clements) and (Smith) are incredible athletes. You know what
    kind of guys I've had returning kicks for me in my career? The first two guys I
    had in the NFL were Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson. Good players make you look
    good."

    So read between the lines, folks. The Rams have never put their best people -
    or a big emphasis - on special teams play, and it continues to show. It doesn't
    matter if it's Larry Pasquale, Bobby April or Mike Stock standing on the
    sidelines. If the head coach isn't going to place a premium on finding, keeping
    and developing weapons of mass destruction on punts and kickoffs, the revolving
    door of special teams coaches will continue and the subpar play will, too.

Related Topics

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  • Nick
    Was firing Bobby April a mistake?
    by Nick
    Look at what Buffalo is doing on special teams.

    -They rank second in the league in average kick return yards.

    -They have returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, most in the league.

    -They're seventh in the league in average punt return yards.

    -They have two punt return touchdowns, tied for best in the league.

    -Opponents average only 19.0 yards returning kickoffs against them (third best in the league).

    -Opponents average 8.1 yards returning punts on them (15th best in the league)

    -They have not allowed one punt or kickoff touchdown.

    In 2003, their numbers weren't nearly as convincing. While their coverage units were not drastically worse, their kick and punt returners and teams didn't gain the kind of numbers they are this year.

    So the question is, is it all April or what? I remember many Ram fans from various places cursing his name, but it appears he's doing some good up north.
    -12-25-2004, 10:05 PM
  • moklerman
    Was April a "Martz" scapegoat?
    by moklerman
    INSIDE THE NFL
    Making quick move on April made season special

    2/13/2005

    By MARK GAUGHAN

    The acquisition of Jack Kemp after he was released by San Diego in 1962 was the No. 1 waiver claim in Buffalo Bills history.
    Getting special teams coach Bobby April after he was released by the St. Louis Rams might have been No. 2.

    Of course, since April is a coach and not a player, he wasn't actually waived. But he might as well have been, when Rams head coach Mike Martz opted not to renew his contract after the 2003 season.

    Bills coach Mike Mularkey acted quickly to add April to the Bills' staff, and a year later we can see the results.

    The Bills finished 2004 with the No. 1 special teams units in the NFL, according to the Dallas Morning News ranking system, which was released last week and is treated as official by most of the coaches in the league. St. Louis? The Rams ranked last - No. 32.

    It's the first time the Bills have been No. 1 since Bruce DeHaven's troops did it in 1996.

    April's units ranked among the top five in three of the four main special teams categories. The Bills were second in kickoff return average and fifth in punt return average. The kickoff coverage unit ranked second in average yards allowed. The punt coverage unit ranked 13th in net punting average.

    One could argue the Bills had one of the top 10 punting units in the league because Brian Moorman had a superb season. His net average was dragged down by the fact he kicked in six games with windy conditions that limited punt distance.

    St. Louis finished 31st in punt returns, 31st in kickoff returns, 32nd in kickoff coverage and 28th in net punting. That rivals the Negative Grand Slam the Bills achieved in 2000 when they were last in all four categories.

    The Dallas Morning News ranking combines each team's performance in 22 categories. The top three were: 1, Buffalo; 2, New Orleans; 3, Miami.

    The Bills' five touchdowns on kickoff or punt returns tied an NFL record. They had a sixth special teams touchdown on the blocked punt and end zone recovery by Jason Peters in Cincinnati. Terrence McGee's 1,370 kickoff return yards set a single-season team record. The Bills' average kickoff return of 24.5 yards was a team record, breaking the mark of 23.79 that O.J. Simpson helped set in 1969.




    Irvin snubbed

    Dallas receiver Michael Irvin missed induction to the Hall of Fame last week. He deserves to be in the Hall, he got this selector's vote, and he will eventually get elected. Hopefully, it will happen next year.

    It's hard to say why Irvin got rejected after reaching the final six in the voting process. (The candidates are whittled from 15 to 10 to six before the final vote.) It's possible some voters may think that first-year-eligible...
    -02-13-2005, 09:57 AM
  • moloch41
    Special Teams
    by moloch41
    Can anyone explain why the kick and punt return coverages for this unit are still below average? I know at first Mad Mike didn't think they were all that important (like defense or turnovers) until he got bashed so badly that they fired Bobby April (who moved to the Bills and had the #1 ranked special teams, I think) and then went to hire someone else who also coached a terrible coverage unit. Now, Linehan comes in and claims it's going to be one of the higher priorities (which it seemed it was because they went out and got some guys that are good ST performers and a new coach), but they are really only marginally better.

    Now, I'm not sure where the stats lie, but every time we kick off or punt the ball, I hold my breath. We almost gave up another one last week against the Saints, which might have really changed the momentum of the game. Luckily, someone was able to pull him down from behind and then the defense held. But if that dude breaks the tackle, we might be looking at 0-9.

    I really think the punting of Donnie Jones has saved us a lot of heartache or that unit would be far worse. I just can't see how you can put out such bad special teams year after year and not be able to fix it. One would think it a simple task.
    -11-16-2007, 01:07 PM
  • RamWraith
    Mike Martz punts special teams coach
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Thursday, Jan. 20 2005

    Less than a week after concluding the season with a thud against Atlanta, the
    Rams have two vacancies on Mike Martz's coaching staff.

    Special teams coach Mike Stock has been fired, and secondary coach Perry Fewell
    has been hired by Chicago to coach the Bears' secondary.
    Stock, 65, was with the Rams one season and becomes the third special teams
    coach to come and go in Martz's five seasons as head coach. Larry Pasquale was
    fired after one season in 2000, and Bobby April's contract was not renewed
    after three seasons with the club (2001-03).
    "I've got nothing negative to say," Stock said Thursday night. "They've been
    very nice to me. It's been a real honor to be here. I feel bad because we
    didn't produce more. I feel very embarrassed that we didn't perform to the
    level that I've been used to."
    A former fullback for legendary coach Ara Parseghian at Northwestern, Stock
    came to St. Louis with a reputation as a tough, old-school style of coach.
    Which was just what Martz was looking for.
    "He's hard-nosed. He pays attention to all the little details of each phase of
    special teams," Martz said, at the time Stock was hired one year ago.
    Like Pasquale and April before him, Stock came to St. Louis with a
    well-established reputation in NFL coaching circles. Stock had spent 12 of his
    previous 14 NFL seasons coaching special teams in Cincinnati, Kansas City and
    Washington. He was named NFL special teams coach of the year in 1997 with the
    Chiefs.
    "I think what I've been able to accomplish up to this time speaks for itself,"
    Stock said Thursday.
    But like Pasquale and April before him, Stock was unable to get the Rams'
    special teams on track.
    "My year here is just basically a continuation of what's happened in the past,"
    Stock said, referring to the special teams problems here that preceded him.
    "But I don't know if anything's going to change."
    The Rams have been struggling to find kickoff-return and punt-return men since
    the departure of Tony Horne and Az-Zahir Hakim. Unlike many NFL teams, St.
    Louis uses very few starters on special teams - and the backups didn't get much
    done this season covering kicks and blocking for return men. The Rams finished
    at or near the bottom of the league in almost every major special teams
    category.
    "I was just happy for the opportunity," Stock said. "The Rams are a great
    organization."
    He just would have liked more of an opportunity.

    "It's too bad that I couldn't have another chance," Stock said. "I don't think
    one year's a way...
    -01-21-2005, 05:18 AM
  • Nick
    Rams fire Mike Stock
    by Nick
    Mike Martz punts special teams coach
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    01/20/2005

    Less than a week after concluding the season with a thud against Atlanta, the Rams have two vacancies on Mike Martz's coaching staff.

    Special teams coach Mike Stock has been fired, and secondary coach Perry Fewell has been hired by Chicago to coach the Bears' secondary.

    Stock, 65, was with the Rams one season and becomes the third special teams coach to come and go in Martz's five seasons as head coach. Larry Pasquale was fired after one season in 2000, and Bobby April's contract was not renewed after three seasons with the club (2001-03).

    "I've got nothing negative to say," Stock said Thursday night. "They've been very nice to me. It's been a real honor to be here. I feel bad because we didn't produce more. I feel very embarrassed that we didn't perform to the level that I've been used to."

    A former fullback for legendary coach Ara Parseghian at Northwestern, Stock came to St. Louis with a reputation as a tough, old-school style of coach. Which was just what Martz was looking for.

    "He's hard-nosed. He pays attention to all the little details of each phase of special teams," Martz said, at the time Stock was hired one year ago.

    Like Pasquale and April before him, Stock came to St. Louis with a well-established reputation in NFL coaching circles. Stock had spent 12 of his previous 14 NFL seasons coaching special teams in Cincinnati, Kansas City and Washington. He was named NFL special teams coach of the year in 1997 with the Chiefs.

    "I think what I've been able to accomplish up to this time speaks for itself," Stock said Thursday.

    But like Pasquale and April before him, Stock was unable to get the Rams' special teams on track.

    "My year here is just basically a continuation of what's happened in the past," Stock said, referring to the special teams problems here that preceded him. "But I don't know if anything's going to change."

    The Rams have been struggling to find kickoff-return and punt-return men since the departure of Tony Horne and Az-Zahir Hakim. Unlike many NFL teams, St. Louis uses very few starters on special teams - and the backups didn't get much done this season covering kicks and blocking for return men. The Rams finished at or near the bottom of the league in almost every major special teams category.

    "I was just happy for the opportunity," Stock said. "The Rams are a great organization."

    He just would have liked more of an opportunity.

    "It's too bad that I couldn't have another chance," Stock said. "I don't think one year's a way to gauge, or a way to measure, or find out about what a guy can do, or what a guy can't...
    -01-20-2005, 11:55 PM
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