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  • Kickoff coverage improves for Rams

    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
    who is leading the league in receiving yards (1,026) and is No. 4 in receptions
    (67), to remain as fresh as possible. Martz said it's not easy to keep Bruce,
    who also is nursing a sore wrist, off the practice field.

    "I didn't ask him, because I didn't want to get in that conversation with him,"
    Martz said. "I just said, 'You're not practicing. Just put a blanket on and
    stay warm. Sorry kid.' He's very, very competitive."

    Rams tinker with defensive line

    The look of the defensive line, which changed Monday when rookie Brian Howard
    started in place of four-year veteran Damione Lewis at tackle, could be in for
    further alteration.

    Although Howard received strong reviews, Jimmy Kennedy spent the bulk of the
    time with the first unit Thursday alongside Ryan Pickett. Martz said no
    decision had been made on Sunday's starters.

    On the offensive line, rookie Larry Turner shared first-team reps with Tom
    Nutten at left guard, and Blaine Saipaia and Grant Williams worked out at right
    tackle.

    M. Faulk, A. Williams listed as questionable

    Faulk was downgraded to questionable on Thursday's injury report. Guard Chris
    Dishman (knee) was listed as out, cornerback DeJuan Groce (knee) as doubtful,
    safety Aeneas Williams (neck) as questionable, and safety Adam Archuleta
    (back), Bruce and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (knee) as probable. . . . Rams
    wives will join U.S. Marine Corps personnel for the annual "Toys for Tots"
    collection Sunday. They will accept cash donations and new, unwrapped toys at
    all Edward Jones Dome entrances before the game.

    __________________________________________________________
    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

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  • RamDez
    "Other" Faulk Proves Special
    by RamDez
    "Other" Faulk Proves Special
    Tuesday, October 5, 2004

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    Overlooked in the joy of their second win and the overall dominance of the Rams against the ***** on Sunday night was one especially encouraging development.

    The much-maligned special teams, particularly the kickoff coverage that has struggled this season, had probably its best game of the season. San Francisco’s Jamal Robertson returned the opening kickoff just 16 yards to his 19 before linebacker Trev Faulk brought him down.

    Faulk made his return to the field after battling a series of hamstring injuries that started in training camp. Faulk strained it in the preseason and then tore it against Arizona in week one, sidelining him for the next two games.

    Rams’ coach Mike Martz said Faulk’s performance is a good example of the importance of having quality backups who can play special teams.

    “This goes back and reflects what I was saying earlier about special teams and its effectiveness,” Martz said. “When you have those kinds of players in your backup secondary and linebackers, who eventually can be starters, but when they are down and injured it does affect your special teams. You can see the impact that it has on any special teams to have those guys back and healthy. He certainly made his presence felt.”

    The backup middle linebacker ensured that running back Marshall Faulk wasn’t the only Faulk making a difference Sunday night. Trev Faulk finished with three solo tackles on kickoff coverage and one solo tackle in punt coverage. That output earned him the team’s special teams player of the week award. Faulk’s tackles on the kickoff left San Francisco in mediocre field position each time, with starts from its 19, 25 and 33. Faulk made those tackles on each of the three kickoffs the Rams booted in the first half.

    Martz said he sees a bright future for the former Butkus Award finalist from LSU.

    “He is certainly capable of starting for us as a middle linebacker,” Martz said. “He has probably had as good a camp as anybody that we have had on defense. He’s just been remarkable.”

    TERCERO STARTS: Playing in front of many members of his family and a lot of his friends, offensive lineman Scott Tercero made his first career start at left guard in place of the injured Chris Dishman.

    Tercero played collegiately at California, thus the loyal following at Monster Park on Sunday night. He did not disappoint in his debut, helping pave the way for 174 yards rushing. On a pitch play to running back Steven Jackson,

    Tercero picked up a linebacker that appeared to be out of his sightlines. Tercero made the block and Jackson carried it to the *****’ 7 for a gain of 8 yards.

    Tercero has bounced around the offensive line, serving as the group’s utility man for most of the season. He has...
    -10-06-2004, 12:00 AM
  • RamWraith
    Landeta defers to coach on critique of punting
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Thursday, Nov. 25 2004

    In his most recent attempt to explain the Rams' mounting special-teams woes,
    coach Mike Martz pointed a finger squarely at punter Sean Landeta.

    The day after Sunday's 37-17 loss in Buffalo, Martz said: "Sean didn't punt
    well at all. And he hasn't for some time now, so that's a major issue." Landeta
    averaged 39.8 yards on four punts against the Bills. His net average per boot,
    though, was 2.8 yards.

    Jonathan "Freddy" Smith returned a line-drive, 39-yard punt 53 yards to the
    Rams' 5-yard line, setting up Buffalo's go-ahead touchdown in the third
    quarter. Landeta's next punt traveled 54 yards but also had less-than-ideal
    hang time, and Nate Clements took it 86 yards to the end zone.

    "Those always come back at you, those rockets that go down the middle of the
    field," Martz said.

    Asked on Thursday whether he felt Martz's criticism was fair, Landeta said:
    "He's the head coach, and whatever he feels is what the deal is. If he feels I
    need to punt better, then I need to punt better." Asked, then, whether he felt
    he needed to punt better, Landeta said, "I just gave you my answer."

    When punters are struggling, they normally recheck their fundamentals and
    mechanics. "If you think you're not hitting them well, you do all that, yeah,"
    Landeta said.

    The amount of blame that should be shouldered by Landeta, a 20-year NFL
    veteran, is debatable, considering the Rams haven't covered punts or kickoffs
    effectively all season. They stand 31st in the 32-team league in kickoff return
    coverage (24.6 yards) and 30th in punt return coverage (15.5).

    Landeta, 42, started the season with a rush. He was named the NFC special-teams
    player of the week after averaging 50.2 yards on five punts vs. Tampa Bay. At
    that point, six games into the season, his 44.8-yard average ranked him fifth
    in the NFL. His net average was 37.0 yards.

    Since then, Landeta's punts haven't traveled as far, and the average length of
    the returns has increased. In the last four games, his average is 41.1 yards,
    but his net - skewed badly in Buffalo - is 25.6.

    Overall, his 43.3-yard average is tied for ninth in the league. But his net
    norm, 32.5, is second to last.

    Talking turkey

    Martz put his troops through a 90-minute workout Thursday, then headed to his
    upstairs office at Rams Park for added preparation work for Monday night's game
    in Green Bay. His Thanksgiving dinner would have to wait.

    But that didn't mean he wasn't thinking about it. "Turkey, gravy and potatoes.
    I'm...
    -11-26-2004, 04:25 AM
  • 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, 01:03 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams show big improvement with solid special-teams play
    by RamWraith
    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...
    -10-15-2004, 05:11 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
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