2006 Team Report: St. Louis Rams
Starter: Marc Bulger
Backup(s): Gus Frerotte, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dave Ragone
Starting QB: Marc Bulger ran former HC Mike Martz� pass-happy offense with fluidity. He is a calm, rarely flustered passer who has learned to minimize the mistakes that plagued him in 2003. He had more INTs than TDs in only one game in both 2004 and 2005. Bulger is competent in leading comeback attempts and his 65% career completion percentage is a testament to the accuracy of his passes. He puts up lofty yardage numbers (271 per game), but merely pedestrian touchdown totals (1.6 per game). Bulger�s most glaring weakness is a tendency towards injury. He has never completed a 16 game season and he missed 8 games in 2005. After returning in week 10 from a week 6 shoulder injury, he injured the same shoulder in week 11, thereby ending his 2005 season. Reports indicate Bulger will report to training camp fully recovered from the injury. The level of talent around him on offense is well known, but new HC Scott Linehan will implement a new offensive scheme. While Linehan likes to pass almost as much as Martz did, he employs different methods. Linehan will use the TE more, and will use four wide receiver sets and seven step drops less. Linehan will also allow his quarterback to audible plays. Martz was dictatorial in not allowing his quarterbacks to change his plays. Bulger reads defenses well, and often checks down to the third and fourth reads, but calling his own plays will be new for him.
Backup QB: The Rams are set at reserve quarterback after signing veteran Gus Frerotte. Frerotte is well versed in Linehan�s offensive scheme and has demonstrable starting quarterback skills. If Bulger is injured, the offense could not be in better hands. Incumbents Ryan Fitzpatrick must battle newly acquired Dave Ragone for the third quarterback spot. While Fitzpatrick has familiarity with the Rams personnel, Ragone shouldn't be counted out because of his history in Scott Linehan's offensive system -- remember, Linehan was his offensive coordinator at Louisville.
Starter: Steven Jackson
Backup(s): Stephen Davis, Moe Williams, Tony Fisher, Fred Russell
Fullback(s): Madison Hedgecock, Paul Smith
Starting RB: As the full-time starter in 2005, Steven Jackson put up 1,376 total yards and 10 total TDs. His 1,046 rush yards gave the Rams their first 1,000-yard rusher since 2001. He also proved to be quite a capable receiver as he caught 80% of his 55 targets for 43 catches and 320 yards. Moreover, he clearly supplanted Marshall Faulk as the team�s red zone threat. Jackson had 39 carries and scored 7 TDs from inside the 20 in 2005. Faulk had only 9 carries, scored no TDs and averaged a meager 0.3 yards per carry. Jackson was also thrown to 8 times in the red zone and caught 7 of those passes for 46 yards and 2 TDs. Jackson has an excellent chance to blossom into an upper echelon runner with Linehan running the show. Under Mike Martz, the Rams were consistently near the bottom of the league in rush attempts. Jackson had only 254 rush attempts in 2005. That number should increase under Linehan, who, as offensive coordinator, took Miami's 31st ranked ground game in 2004 to the 16th best rush offense in 2005. His 2002 Minnesota Vikings offense had the 8th most rush attempts in the league and, in 2003, it had the 7th most rush attempts. Jackson's rushing statistics should see a significant bump, and there is no reason to believe he will have fewer targets in 2006 that in 2005.
Backup RBs: Marshall Faulk was slated to be the primary backup RB, but major knee surgery has sidelined him for the season and quite possibly his career. With Faulk's injury, the Rams have scrambled to find veteran depth to back up Jackson. Among the signees are Stephen Davis, who if healthy could be a serious threat to Jackson's value at the goal line. But Davis is coming off a season-ending injury last year with Carolina and signed a veteran minimum contract; so he's no guarantee to play a major role. Moe Williams, another veteran with goal-line prowess is in the mix, having played under Linehan in Minnesota. Long-time Green Bay Packer Tony Fisher will also play a role, more likely as a change-of-pace option and 3rd down specialist. Fisher played sparingly in Green Bay the last three years, but actually performed quite well as a fill-in starter in 2002.
Fullback: Madison Hedgecock is an outstanding blocker, but he will only rarely see the ball in his hands. The second year player will be used as a lead blocker and as a pass protecting fullback to hopefully keep Bulger upright and uninjured this season.
Starters: Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce
Backups: Kevin Curtis, Shaun McDonald, Dane Looker, Dominique Thompson
Starting WRs: Torry Holt made the Pro Bowl for the third year in a row in 2005 with 102 catches, 1331 yards and 9 TDs despite successive injuries to St. Louis quarterbacks. Those numbers ranked him 4th in the league in receptions and 6th in receiving yardage. In Linehan�s stretch-the-field offense, Holt could easily jump back into double digit receiving TDs in 2006 (down from 10 in 2005 and 12 in 2004). It is likely he will match, or exceed, his receiving averages for the last four years of 101 catches and 1425 yards. In March, Isaac Bruce resigned with the Rams to a contract that likely insures he will end his career with the team. Bruce is 12th on the all-time receiving yardage list, 14th on the all-time receptions list, and 20th on the all-time receiving TDs list. Those are numbers verging on a Hall of Fame career, and he will likely cement his spot in the Hall over the next two or three seasons. Bruce�s numbers took an extreme nose dive in 2005, but, in 2004, he was able to post 89 catches for nearly 1300 yards and 6 TDs. Bruce is 33 years old and younger than Marvin Harrison, Jimmy Smith, Rod Smith, and Joey Galloway. Wide receivers are able to maintain high levels of production into their mid thirties, so Bruce is expected to return to the level of play that made Holt and Bruce one of the top WR tandems in the NFL.
Backup WRs: The Rams built one of the deepest WR corps in the league under Mike Martz. Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald both signed their restricted free agent tenders and will remain with the team this year, but both will be unrestricted free agents next spring. Curtis is a big play receiver who topped Isaac Bruce�s numbers while playing from the WR3 spot, though his numbers dipped markedly over the last five games. Shaun McDonald was the team�s PR and WR4, yet was still able to post 46 catches for 523 yards, which gave Curtis and McDonald combined totals of 106 catches and 1324 yards as secondary receivers. Linehan�s new offensive system, however, will use fewer four-wide sets and will incorporate the TE into the offense, so the backup receivers are unlikely to have as many opportunities in 2006. The back up wide receiver crew is rounded out by veteran possession receiver Dane Looker, second year developmental prospect Dominique Thompson, and rookie Marques Hagan, who played quarterback in college and is more of a �Slash� type of do-it-all player than a true wide receiver. The Rams have one of the best, if not the best, receiving crews in the NFL. It is certainly the deepest.
Starters: Joe Klopfenstein [R]
Backups: Dominique Byrd [R], Jerome Collins, Aaron Walker
HC Scott Linehan will resurrect the tight end as a receiver in the St. Lois Rams� offense. For the last four years under Mike Martz, the Rams averaged 34 catches, 352 yards, and 2 TDs per year from the tight end position. Under Scott Linehan as offensive coordinator, the Dolphins and Vikings averaged 71 catches, 686 yards, and 4 TDs per year from the tight end position. The Rams kept Aaron Walker and Jerome Collins from last year's unit; and both have played well in camp particularly as blockers. The receiving duties should go to a pair of rookies: Joe Klopfenstein and Dom Byrd. Klopfenstein, a 6� 6�, 256 lb., 2nd round pick out of the University of Colorado, has an excellent combination of speed, size, soft hands, and toughness. He is a smart player with a tremendous work ethic and should be able to pick up the pro game faster than the other rookie TEs. Klopfenstein needs to add weight to his frame to become an effective blocker. He will give the team a nice target in the red zone and in the seam of the defense. In the 3rd round, the Rams selected 6�2�, 256 lb. Dominique Byrd out of the University of Southern California. Byrd has explosiveness, great concentration on the ball, athletic ability for acrobatic catches, and elusiveness in the open field. He is not known for breaking tackles or bulling over defenders, and his durability and work ethic are question marks.
: In his 12th NFL season last year, Wilkins produced very good numbers. He connected on 27 of 31 FGs (87.1%), including 4 of 5 from 50+ yards. He did not miss a PAT, and hasn�t since 1998, a streak second only to Matt Stover. The alternating up and down annual ranking continued for the Rams in kicker scoring as they returned to the top ten last year: 7th, 26th, 1st, 24th, 1st, 12th, 5th, 26th.
Kick and Punt Returners
Kick Returners: J.R. Reed; Kevin Curtis; Steven Jackson
The Rams did not tender an offer to their top KR of last year, RFA CB Chris Johnson. They signed J.R. Reed just prior to the start of the regular season, after he was released by Philadelphia. WR Kevin Curtis had limited experience returning kickoffs back at Utah State, however the Rams tried him at the position this pre-season. RB Steven Jackson had four returns as a rookie, but is not likely to resume that role.
Punt Returners: Shaun McDonald; J.R. Reed; Dane Looker; DeJuan Groce
WR Shaun McDonald was the Rams leading punt returner in 2004 (30 returns, 4.8 avg.). WR Dane Looker had the best average (8.6 yards) of all the members of the Rams' punt-return-by-committee crew last year. He'll probably compete with newcomers Brad Pyatt and Marques Hagans for the primary role this year. CB DeJuan Groce last returned punts in 2003 (19 returns, 7.1 avg.). As a team, the Rams ranked 20th in fantasy return points, which is not great but was an improvement on 2004's ranking of 30th.
Projected Starters: RT Alex Barron, RG Adam Timmerman, C Andy McCollum, LG Richie Incognito, LT Orlando Pace
Key Backups: OG/C Blaine Saipaia, T Todd Steussie, G Mark Setterstrom [R]
The Rams are blessed with an elite left tackle in Orlando Pace but the rest of the offensive line does have some question marks. Both guard Adam Timmerman and center Andy McCollum will be 35-years old at the start of the season and are not the players they once were. Impressively though they managed to start every game for the club last year. Timmerman has only missed one game in his entire 11-year career while McCollum hasn�t missed a game in six seasons. They will remain serviceable starters for the next year or two but this team must begin looking towards the future. Guard Claude Terrell was lost for the season, forcing workout warrior Richie Incognito into the starting lineup at left guard. A 1st round pick last year, tackle Alex Barron learned his craft on the fly last year as a rookie and should continue to grow this year. He has great athleticism and could become a superior player with improved technique and focus. There is some hope that this group can round into form if the older players can continue to play at a high level and the young players can continue to make improvements. Any offensive line with a player as good as Orlando Pace will be good, but there is some hope for more out of this unit.
Rookie HC Scott Linehan has brought a much needed calmness and talent for consensus building to the organization which stands in stark relief to the turbulent, dysfunctional reign of exiled Mike Martz. His hiring of a former HC (the fiery Jim Haslett) with greater seniority as the new DC showed a lot of confidence, and was a clear sign that his entire focus is on making the Rams more competitive on BOTH sides of the ball. The STL front office, coaching staff and scouting department should be commended for putting together one of the the best combined free agency/draft efforts in the entire league, and one of the franchise's best in recent memory. They appear to have completely transformed the team's ability to compete within the division just one year removed from an alarming downward spiral and implosion. The Rams are now far better positioned in their hopes to be the last man standing after the divisional shootout expected in the NFC West, home of the incumbent NFC champs the Seahawks, as well as the up 'n coming Cardinals (who finally look ready to take flight after adding coveted Edgerrin James in free agency and QB of the future Matt Leinart in the draft). The personnel hondos did an excellent job increasing overall team speed and talent at every level of the defense. The Rams have not been a very good defense for a few years now, springing a lot of leaks under Martz's watch. Haslett should be a massive upgrade over his predecessor, the abyssmal Larry Marmie. He is expected to bring more competent schemes better suited to the players strengths, as well as inspire his charges to play with a greater sense of urgency. Like the customized amp in Spinal Tap, he will twist the intensity knob to 11.
Starters: DE Leonard Little, DE Anthony Hargrove, DT La'Roi Glover, DT Jimmy Kennedy
Backups: DT Claude Wroten [r], DT Brian Howard, DE Victor Adeyanju [r], DE Brandon Green
Starting DL: Pro Bowler Little is still capable of being one of more explosive and dangerous pass rushers in the game (though he has regressed from the monster sack/FF numbers posted from 2001-2003). It is hard to tell if he is a player on the downside of his career (turns 32 this season), or if his uncharacteristic sluggish production of late is the result of a nightmarish past two years off the field. If he can rebound it would give a big boost to the entire defense. Little is still one of the fastest DL in pursuit in league history (at times he looks like the fastest player on the field when running down ball carriers downfield). This is a contract year, so expect him to be highly motivated. Hargrove oozes athleticism (his combine numbers were nearly indistinguishable from first rounder Will Smith), but he is very raw... former prep QB who played just two seasons of Div. I ball at Georgia Tech. Glover is one of the most prolific sack artists among DTs in NFL history. Not as fast as when he was in his prime with NO (he also turns 32 in 2006), he is still better than he showed in DAL most recently as an out of position 3-4 NT, and should be a marked upgrade in STL. His presence and anticipated inside push should make life a lot easier for Little, and he brings a much needed influx of veteran leadership to a young defense. It is too early to write off Kennedy. He is being counted on to hold up against the run with fellow first round DTs Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis leaving in FA. Staying out of the training room would be a start.
Backup DL: The Rams war room rolled the dice on talented but tarnished rookie DT Wroten (with the high third rounder DEN paid to move from 15 to 11... the Broncos got their franchise QB and the Rams got their target Tye Hill anyway, just four picks later, effectively adding a pick for free to gamble on a huge upside player they may not have otherwise... kind of like playing with the house's money). He is reminiscent of Warren Sapp in his physical traits, atleticism, skill set as well as their well documented penchant for Cheech and Chong movies. If he can stay clean, Wroten can be a difference maker immediately and groomed to be the eventual replacement of Glover. He has an impressively fully formed and complete game for a youngster, and can both stone the run and get after the QB. Howard is strictly a rotational player and for depth. Rookie Adeyanju has size, run stuffing ability and upside. STL hopes his career continues to retrace that of a fellow Nigerian transplant and Indiana alumni with greater notoriety... Adewale Ogunleye. He will start the season backing up Little and could be his heir apparent. Green has a nice motor and also serves a rotational role.
Starters: WLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, MLB Will Witherspoon, SLB Brandon Chillar
Backups: SLB Raonall Smith, MLB Trev Faulk, OLB Dexter Coakley
Starting LBs: Prized new MLB Witherspoon was a gift in free agency (where some bad contracts precluded the team from being active players in recent seasons... and which saw talent flowing in the wrong direction and departing more often than joining, a state of affairs not helped by some questionable draft picks in the Martz era). He was one of the most coveted FAs from the defensive side of the ball (along with fellow LBs Julian Peterson and LaVar Arrington, but he is younger and without injury questions). He finally fills the gaping hole that was left in the wake of London Fletcher's departure several years ago. He is the consumate three down LB and can run, hit and cover. While most recently playing the Will or weak side LB role in CAR, he has the athleticism and versatility to have play the MIKE (MLB) earlier in his career with the Panthers, performing very well in one of Dan Morgan's annual injury absences. Expect Spoon to make this transition smoothly... he has similar physical traits and skill set to the Jaguars Mike Peterson, one of the top MLBs in the NFL after beginning his career as a WLB with the Colts. Tinoisamoa (Hawaii 5-0) was identified early on by Linehan and the incoming staff as one of the Rams best incumbents on defense, along with Little. He has led the Rams in tackles three years in a row. After a sensational debut in which he made a lot of All Rookie lists (with multiple sacks, INTs & FFs), he had a rough sophomore season in which he reportedly separated his shoulder more than a half dozen times... Tino had surgery prior to the 2005 campaign to clean the shoulder up and didn't appear to have a problem with it during the season. He is a gifted athlete who is only player in San Diego county history to be awarded CIF Player of the Year on both sides of the ball. He had DB like 40 splits and agility drill times at his combine, and is an explosive tackler in the open field. Like Little, he has additional motivation of a contract year. At this point, Rams LB personnel is a big upgrade for Haslett. Chillar (first player of Indian descent in league history) will battle it out with the talented but oft-injured ex-Viking Raonall Smith for the vacant SAM (strong side) LB role.
Backup LBs: Smith is the second defensive player (along with SS Corey Chavous) to come over from the Vikings where Linehan was familiar with their work. He was a relatively high pick (sixth pick in round two of the 2002 draft) whose career has been repeatedly stalled by a frightening litany of injuries... he makes Evil Knievel look like a model of health in comparison. He does represent a nice combination of size and speed (6'2" 245 and reportedly clocked close to a 4.4 earlier in his career). The Rams do have a gaping hole at SLB, so if Chillar falters, the opportunity is wide open to seize the starting gig. Faulk is not starter caliber but is a solid backup and will help on ST. Coakley was an excellent LB for many years with the Cowboys but is in the twilight of his career, returning from a nasty broken leg injury that landed him on IR last season. Along with the since cut fellow LB Chris Claiborne, in retrospect they were ill-advised signings.
Starters: SS Corey Chavous, FS Oshimogho Atogwe, CB Jerametrius Butler, CB Fakhir Brown
Backups: CB Tye Hill [r], CB Travis Fisher, CB Dejuan Groce, CB Ronald Bartell,
SS Jerome Carter, SS Jon Alston [r]
Starting DBs: The secondary could easily have three new starters by the time the upcoming season rolls around. Draft savant Chavous came early in free agency. His encyclopedic knowledge of players abilities and tendencies will be a big help in getting a young secondary lined up right. The ninth year veteran has a well rounded skill set, and at various times during his career (including four year stints with the Cards and Vikings) has played CB, FS and most recently SS. He is just a few years removed from a ball-hawking 8 INT Pro Bowl season. While not a blow up tackler or as explosive as the talented but flawed Adam Archuleta who he replaces, he shouldn't whiff as much, either, and should be a steadier open field tackler and more reliable last line of defense. Atogwe is an ultra-bright former Stanford Card (where he was a biological sciences major) and has a multi-faceted skill set, too. He was a collegiate sprinter, has ball skills and led Pac-10 in FFs his junior season. Butler looked like an ascendant player before going down with a knee injury last season. Brown comes from the Saints where he alternated between playing nickle CB and starting for Haslett. He is likely to beat out incumbent Travis Fisher, and can slide back to nickle as soon as Tye Hill is ready to start.
Backup DBs: Prized first round shut down CB and future starter Tye Hill was the fastest prospect at the combine. This could prove to be an inspired choice in the pass wacky Wild, Wild (NFC) West. Tighter coverage will allow Haslett to unleash his preferred aggressive blitz packages. Fisher could start but has been constantly hurt past two years and has generally underwhelmed in that time (like Groce, he is in a contract year and may not be back with the team in 2007). Ron Bartell was the team's second round pick last year. He is a physical specimen that was both the biggest AND fastest DB at the 2005 combine. He has the athleticism and versatility to play CB or FS if needed. Small school product (Howard) with a lot of upside but also comes with level of competition concerns... still greener than a St. Patrick's Day parade, and may be another year away from making a bigger contribution. Carter is a vicious striker who has limitations in coverage, looked lost most of last season and could be the victim of a numbers game in the secondary. Third rounder WLB Alston is another former Stanford Card . After clocking a ridiculous 4.4 at combine the Rams will attempt the same WLB/SS conversion as Archuleta (and Michael Boulware), where he could be an upgrade and reunited with Atogwe after Chavous hangs up the cleats. If Tino isn't re-signed in 2007, he could also evolve into the WLB of the future.
Last modified: 2006-09-04 19:15:16