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  • Adjustments Could Improve Special Teams

    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 week. With a more-rested Faulk and Little on kickoff coverages, there will definitely be more speed and attitude than in recent weeks.

    Other changes are possible as far as personnel. The Rams brought in Kevin Stemke to punt in a workout Thursday. Punter Sean Landeta has struggled in recent weeks.

    Whatever decisions are made this week, they certainly can’t hurt an already ailing unit. Perhaps a couple of familiar faces on kick coverage and a new face punting could make all the difference.

    INJURY REPORT: The injury report remained the same from Wednesday. Receiver Torry Holt did more in Thursday’s practice than Wednesday, but is still questionable for Monday night with a knee injury.

    Cornerbacks Travis Fisher (knee) and Kevin Garrett (concussion), safety Antuan Edwards (groin), defensive end Anthony Hargrove (neck) and tackle Grant Williams (shoulder) are probable.

    Guard Chris Dishman (knee) is out and cornerback DeJuan Groce (knee) it doubtful. Among Packers’ notables on the injury report, RB Ahman Green did not practice for the second straight day.

  • #2
    Re: Adjustments Could Improve Special Teams

    Yeah, we've heard that how many times?

    Comment

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    • Guest's Avatar
      Martz keeps team working
      by Guest
      Martz keeps team working
      The Associated Press

      ST. LOUIS (AP) - Even with an extra day to prepare for their next game, the St. Louis Rams won't be relaxing at home on Thanksgiving.

      Extra practice time also will be devoted to horrid special teams, the end result of a frustrating, up-and-down season and 5-5 record for coach Mike Martz, even if the Rams don't play until Monday at Green Bay.

      "If this wasn't a Monday night game, obviously we'd practice," Martz said Wednesday. "If we had a veteran team that was playing really well ..."

      But Martz doesn't. The Rams have 17 players with two or fewer years experience, players he's counting on to come through on special teams. He's still trying to get them used to the realities of life in the NFL.

      "What's irritating is their role primarily is special teams and it's almost as if they feel they shouldn't have to do that," Martz said. "But they'll learn because they'll either do it or they won't be here." Martz is reluctant to use too many starters on special teams for fear of wearing them out for regular duty.

      "You get all these other guys that should be doing a better job that don't, and you can't put them in there because they're going to beat you because they've demonstrated it," Martz said. "That's what I'm angry about."

      Players didn't seem to mind practicing on Thanksgiving. They also worked out on the holiday last year, although that was on a regular work week.

      "This is our job, this is the time of year we practice and play during the holidays," tight end Cam Cleeland said. "You've got to do it."

      Plus, Martz also is worried players might not retain everything that was installed in practice on Wednesday.

      "We practiced Thanksgiving last year and we were rolling, and we've practiced in years past, too," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "It's an extra day to prepare and to give us a whole day off, you forget everything you put in and come back a little rusty on Friday.

      "So I think it's a good idea to keep things going."

      Special teams rank 30th in the NFL in punt returns and 31st in kickoffs, kickoff returns and punt coverage. Sean Landeta is 31st out of 33 rated punters in the NFL.

      This week, there'll be an additional special teams walkthrough.

      "You can't really do special teams full go because that's a little dangerous," punt returner Sean McDonald said. "We've just got to know what we're doing more and be confident in what we're doing."

      Definitely, there will be changes in the lineup. Middle linebacker Robert Thomas, a first-round pick in 2002, will be restored to his job after five games, and Grant Williams will start at right tackle after missing...
      -11-26-2004, 06:35 AM
    • RamDez
      Special Teams Hoping for Breakthrough
      by RamDez
      Thursday, May 5, 2005


      By Nick Wagoner
      Staff Writer

      Since the Rams won the Super Bowl in 1999, they have been known around the NFL for having one of the league’s most dominant offenses. The first things that come to mind when someone mentions the Rams are points, point and more points.

      While that reputation is deserved based on the production of the offense under coach Mike Martz there is still a nasty side of the team’s performance that has been just as consistent, special teams.

      That consistency has been a bad thing considering the way those units have played in recent seasons. Last year, the group hit an all-time low, ranking last in the league in kickoff return defense, next to last in punt and kick returns and second to last in punt coverage.

      Those failures led Martz to the realization that something had to change and it had to change fast.

      "That's a mistake I've made in the past when we've gone after defensive players," Martz said. "We've spent so much time looking for ability only on defense, but really didn't go into the next phase of that. You have to be equally significant on special teams. We made an issue of it this year both in free agency and the draft. So hopefully, we'll make a quantum leap."

      The changes did indeed come fast. Nearly every player the Rams signed in free agency is capable of contributing in some way on special teams. Almost every player the team drafted also has special teams abilities.

      The Rams hope that a unit that was once a major weakness will become strength. The special teams makeover wasn’t limited to personnel changes, either. Coach Mike Stock became the third special teams coach to lose his job since Martz became head coach.

      Hoping to add intensity and youth to the coaching position, the Rams hired Bob Ligashesky on January 21. Ligashesky was the assistant special teams coach for Jacksonville last season and has 20 years of coaching experience. With Ligashesky’s help, the Jaguars had one of the best special teams units in the league last year.

      The coaching changes didn’t end there. In a perfect example of just how dire the special teams situation was last year, the Rams didn’t hire just one special teams coach, but two.

      St. Louis hired Charles Bankins as assistant special teams coach on February 17. Bankins comes to the Rams from Hampton University, where he was the running backs coach from 2000-2004. The commitment to special teams started with the two coaches, but as the previous three coaches proved, there is only so much you can do when you aren’t on the field.

      With that in mind, the Rams signed a number of players that can contribute as much to the special teams as they can to the defense. Heading that list is former Arizona Cardinal Michael Stone.

      Stone was the team’s top target for the secondary in...
      -05-05-2005, 01:53 PM
    • RamDez
      Nothing Easy for Rams' Playoff Drive
      by RamDez
      Nothing Easy for Rams' Playoff Drive

      Friday, December 3, 2004


      By Nick Wagoner
      Staff Writer

      It doesn’t quite have the same feel as the usual 49er-Rams matchup, but that doesn’t make this week any less important for St. Louis.

      The Rams are sitting squarely on the bubble for the NFC playoffs despite a 5-6 record. They have the best record in NFC West divisional play at 4-0 and have a chance to go undefeated and win the division again. With their biggest rival coming to town Rams coach Mike Martz said this game still has meaning.

      “It’s 49er week,” Martz said. “It’s a big week. We are excited about being back in this division with this game… we’re ready to go.”

      If only things were similar for the *****, Sunday’s meeting at the Edward Jones Dome would have meaning to both teams.

      On the other hand, this season can pretty much be chalked up for San Francisco. Sitting at 1-10, the ***** have little to play for besides draft position. That record is the worst in the league and the injuries have continued to mount. Coach Dennis Erickson’s job might be in trouble and there could be plenty of changes to the offense in the offseason.

      Tight end Eric Johnson said his team has to embrace the role of spoiler if it wants to have any kind of a finish to the season.

      “We always want to beat the Rams,” Johnson said. “It’s a rival from years back. We wouldn’t mind taking them out of the playoff (race). It should be a good battle. We are looking to get our first win in a long time here.”

      All of the problems San Francisco has had might make it a dangerous task for the Rams. With not much to play for except pride, the ***** have nothing to lose heading into Sunday’s game. They can let it all hang out and do whatever they want. Erickson probably will do just that with his job on the line. Playing the role of spoiler down the stretch would probably be the best way to stay employed.

      None of that matters much to Martz, though. He is well aware of the dangers of any game in the league.
      “I don’t think that ever has anything to do with anyone when you lineup,” Martz said. “Whoever it is, whether it’s the ***** or anyone else, when you coach or play in this league long enough, you understand that it’s hard every week no matter who you are.”

      EDWARDS SET FREE: Free safety Antuan Edwards made his debut against Green Bay and played well, finishing with eight tackles. Edwards didn’t start in that game, but Martz said Thursday that he would get his first start against San Francisco.

      “Antuan Edwards did a real nice job,” Martz said. “I was very pleased with him.”

      Edwards is the third free safety to start this season, joining Aeneas Williams and Rich Coady. Coady started against the *****, but is better suited to strong safety.

      SPECIAL TEAMS MAKES STRIDES: The Rams special...
      -12-04-2004, 02:03 AM
    • 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, 06:18 AM
    • Nick
      Burwell - Martz finally understands need for special teams
      by Nick
      Martz finally understands need for special teams
      By Bryan Burwell
      Of the Post-Dispatch
      Saturday, Apr. 30 2005

      So here we are at the start of May, deeply immersed in the flow of a bustling
      sports menu full of meaningful early-season baseball showdowns and riveting pro
      hoop playoffs. Yet somehow, your friendly neighborhood sports columnist found
      himself drawn to the friendly surroundings of Rams Park, where Mike Martz's
      newest flock of football disciples were gathered for a three-day indoctrination
      of their one-week-old professional football lives known as rookie mini-camp.

      Who knew that one of the most startling news events of the millennium would
      occur on a windy Saturday afternoon at a Rams mini-camp? In case you missed all
      the subtle signs that have transpired over the past few months leading us to
      this astonishing event, let me be the first to start spreading the
      earth-shattering news:

      In a remarkable turn of events, the Post-Dispatch has learned . . . (dramatic
      pause for gasping and swooning) . . . the Rams suddenly really care about
      special teams.

      THUD!!!!!!

      Ah yes, that peculiar loud noise would be the sound of all you devoted Mike
      Martz bashers falling off your couches this early Sunday morning.

      But I was there on the edge of the outdoor practice field Saturday when I not
      only heard Martz admit that one of his biggest past failings was ignoring
      special teams, but then produced tangible evidence that he has changed his evil
      ways.

      It began after the morning session of two-a-day workouts, when Martz began
      talking about the new collection of fast and aggressive young defenders and
      free agent pickups who have joined the Rams in recent weeks. From the veteran
      free agents to the most inexperienced rookie draftee, they all share one common
      trait - an ability to make plays on punt and kickoff teams.

      "That's a mistake I've made in the past when we've gone after defensive
      players," Martz said. "We've spent so much time looking for ability only on
      defense, but really didn't go into the next phase of that (special teams). You
      have to be equally significant on special teams. We made an issue of it this
      year both in free agency and the draft. So hopefully, we'll make a quantum
      leap."

      The Rams have nowhere to go but up. They ranked last in the NFC in punt
      returns, last in the conference in kickoff returns, last in the NFL in kick
      return defense and next-to-last in the league in punt return defense. Of
      course, Martz fired his third special teams coordinator (Mike Stock), and hired
      his fourth in six years (Bob Ligashesky). The funny thing is, the two things...
      -05-01-2005, 12:19 AM
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