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Online Rams Lines & Predictions - St. Louis Future Odds - Free NFL Betting Previews

2006 St. Louis Rams Season Preview

2006 Rams NFL News - September 1st, 2006
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2006 NFL Previews - By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

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A defensive guy. That's what the Rams were after once they finally and mercifully released Mike Martz into the wild at the conclusion of the 2005 season. The perception was that Martz didn't care much about defense,

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and it showed, as St. Louis has finished in the bottom half of the league in points scored in five of Mad Mike's six years on the job. And since it would be tough to screw up the still-amazing confluence of talent on offense, the Rams brass targeted a guy that could bring the other half of the ball into compliance with the 21st century.

Didn't quite work out that way, did it?

Oh, team president John Shaw and his cronies in the Rams front office interviewed "defensive minds" like the Bears' Ron Rivera, Giants' Tim Lewis, and Cowboys' Mike Zimmer, and even made a play for vaunted Buccaneers coordinator Monte Kiffin, who declined to discuss the position.

But Shaw and company shocked the NFL pundits by tabbing Scott Linehan for his first head coaching position, looking past his relative youth (42 years old), inexperience (just four years as an NFL assistant), and the fact that he had spent his entire career on the offensive side of the football.

Those who have grown to love the franchise's annual scoreboard assaults cheered. Those who have long lamented the team's inadequacies on defense jeered. And though the team made a concession towards improving the defense by hiring former Saints head coach Jim Haslett to oversee that side of the ball, his presence shouldn't alleviate all of the concerns.

Martz's offensive leanings were seen as having a profound effect on the team's draft approach and free agent dealings, and who's to say another "offensive guy" won't operate in exactly the same manner over the long term?

At present, Linehan is saying and doing all the right things, and both the players and the fan base seem to be encouraged about the beginning of a new era in the land of the Arch. On paper, the Rams have the talent to get back to the postseason. But if things begin to unravel as they did in 2005, and opponents begin running up and down the field on the Rams, will Linehan have the expertise to go on the defensive?

Below we take a capsule look at the 2006 edition of the St. Louis Rams, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2005 RECORD: 6-10 (2nd, NFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2004, lost to Atlanta, 47-17, in NFC Divisional Playoff

COACH (RECORD): Scott Linehan (first season with Rams, first overall)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Olson

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Haslett

OFFENSIVE STAR: Torry Holt, WR (102 receptions, 1331 yards, 9 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Leonard Little, DE (56 tackles, 9.5 sacks)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 22nd rushing, 4th passing, 11th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 28th rushing, 23rd passing, 31st scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: at San Francisco (9/17), at Arizona (9/24), Detroit (10/1), Seattle (10/15), at Seattle (11/12)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Gus Frerotte (from Dolphins), QB Dave Ragone (from Bengals), RB Tony Fisher (from Packers), RB Paul Smith (from Lions), TE Joe Klopfenstein (2nd Round, Colorado), TE Dominique Byrd (3rd Round, USC), T Todd Steussie (from Buccaneers), DE Victor Adeyanju (4th Round, Indiana), DT Jason Fisk (from Browns), DT La'Roi Glover (from Cowboys), DT Claude Wroten (3rd Round, LSU), LB Raonall Smith (from Vikings), LB Will Witherspoon (from Panthers), OLB Jon Alston (3rd Round, Stanford), CB Fakhir Brown (from Saints), CB Tye Hill (1st Round, Clemson), S Corey Chavous (from Vikings), P Matt Turk (from Dolphins)

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Jamie Martin (to Saints), TE Brandon Manumaleuna (to Chargers), G Rex Tucker (to Lions), DE Tyoka Jackson (to Lions), DT Ryan Pickett (to Packers), DT Damione Lewis (to Panthers), LB Chris Claiborne (released), CB Corey Ivy (to Ravens), S Adam Archuleta (to Redskins)

QB: Marc Bulger (2297 passing yards, 14 TD, 9 INT) is one of the great underrated quarterbacks in the NFL, possessing a strong arm, feathery touch, and outstanding decision-making ability. Bulger posted a 94.4 passer rating in eight starts last season, and the team missed his presence when he was absent for the other eight with shoulder problems. The 29-year-old Bulger has shown no lingering effects of the injury in the preseason, but the team should rest easier with Gus Frerotte (2996 passing yards, 18 TD, 13 INT with Miami) now in the fold as his backup. Frerotte started 15 games with the resurgent Dolphins last season, barely missing the 3,000-yard barrier while thriving in Linehan's system. The third quarterback job will go to either holdover Ryan Fitzpatrick (777 passing yards, 4 TD, 8 INT), who started three games as a rookie a year ago, or ex-Texan Dave Ragone, who played under Linehan when he was the offensive coordinator at Louisville.

RB: Linehan immediately indicated a desire to strike a better run-pass balance on offense than the team featured under Martz. Steven Jackson (1046 rushing yards, 43 receptions, 10 TD) will be the beneficiary of the new approach, and figures to build on his first career 1,000-yard season. Marshall Faulk (292 rushing yards, 44 receptions, 1 TD) will miss 2006 and is considering retirement due to knee problems, meaning ex-Packer Tony Fisher (173 rushing yards, 48 receptions, 2 TD with Green Bay) will likely fill the role of third- down back. Former Viking Moe Williams (20 rushing yards, 8 receptions with Minnesota) is in line to hold down the third running back job. Second-year man Madison Hedgecock (9 receptions) was slated to be the starting fullback before suffering a high ankle sprain early in camp, leaving the door open for former Lion Paul Smith (6 receptions with Detroit) to win that job.

WR/TE: Though Torry Holt (102 receptions, 9 TD) and Isaac Bruce (36 receptions, 3 TD) are both getting a little long in the tooth, both are still greatly productive when healthy. The 33-year-old Bruce struggled with a toe injury during the 2005 season, and was bothered by a hamstring problem in '06 training camp, though the team expects him to be ready for the start of the regular season. St. Louis has good receiver depth behind that duo, with Kevin Curtis (60 receptions, 6 TD) and Shaun McDonald (46 receptions) both coming off solid campaigns, and Dane Looker (23 receptions) and Dominique Thompson (1 reception) also possessing experience. Looker will probably make the team because of his abilities as a holder, but Thompson was battling fifth-round draft choice Marques Hagans (Virginia) and ex-Colt Brad Pyatt for the sixth receiver job during camp. The Rams did not use a traditional tight end often during the Martz regime, so they spent two first-day draft picks on Joe Klopfenstein (2nd Round, Colorado) and Dominique Byrd (3rd Round, USC). Ex-49er Aaron Walker and second-year holdover Jerome Collins were both vying for the third tight end job during camp.

OL: The Rams are looking for some consistency within this group, after injuries hampered the front line in each of the past two seasons. The team looks stable at tackle, where perennial Pro Bowler Orlando Pace is a fixture on the left side and 2005 first-round pick Alex Barron appears close to becoming a star on the right. Center Andy McCollum and right guard Adam Timmerman are both set to begin their eighth season as starters with the Rams, and don't appear to be going anywhere despite being well into their 30s. The starting left guard is likely to be second-year pro Richie Incognito, a third- round pick out of Nebraska in 2005 who missed all of his rookie season following kneecap surgery. Holdovers Larry Turner (7 games played in 2005) and Blaine Saipaia (3 starts), ex-Buccaneer Todd Steussie (15 games with the Buccaneers) and 2006 draft picks Mark Setterstrom (7th Round, Minnesota) and Tony Palmer (7th Round, Missouri) are among the players vying to make the 53- man roster as backups.

DL: St. Louis made significant offseason changes to this group in an attempt to improve upon the league's 28th-ranked rush defense of a year ago. Gone are regulars like Ryan Pickett, Damione Lewis, and Tyoka Jackson, and in are the likes of ex-Cowboy and six-time Pro Bowler La'Roi Glover (28 tackles, 3 sacks with Dallas), ex-Browns tackle Jason Fisk (39 tackles with Cleveland), and draft picks in tackle Claude Wroten (3rd Round, LSU) and end Victor Adeyanju (4th Round, Indiana). Glover will step immediately into a starting job alongside Jimmy Kennedy (33 tackles, 3 sacks) on the interior, while Fisk, Wroten, and Adeyanju project as backups. Leonard Little (56 tackles, 9.5 sacks) and Anthony Hargrove (51 tackles, 6.5 sacks) both of whom had their moments in 2005, are back to serve as the starting ends. Brandon Green (19 tackles, 3 sacks), who played in all 16 games for the Rams last season, will add depth at end.

LB: The Rams' linebacking crew has been perceived as one of the league's weakest in recent seasons, prompting the team to target Will Witherspoon (81 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 INT with Carolina) and Raonall Smith (35 tackles, 1 sack with Minnesota) via free agency and use draft picks on Jon Alston (3rd Round, Stanford) and Tim McGarigle (7th Round, Northwestern). Witherspoon is expected to start in the middle, with holdovers Pisa Tinoisamoa (94 tackles, 2 INT, 1.5 sacks) and Brandon Chiller (52 tackles) on the outside. Dexter Coakley (38 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) is also back, though at 33 years old and coming off a fractured fibula, there is a chance he could be excised in the interests of a youth movement.

DB: Linehan and Haslett were attempting to sort out a crowded situation at cornerback during the preseason, with five players seemingly fighting for two starting spots. Holdovers Travis Fisher (37 tackles), Jerametrius Butler, and DeJuan Groce (48 tackles, 2 INT) were battling first-round draft choice Tye Hill (Clemson) and former Saints starter Fakhir Brown (34 tackles) for starting positions throughout August, with Fisher, who has missed 14 games over the past two seasons with groin and arm injuries, and Brown, who struggled with a knee problem while playing under Haslett last season, seemingly in the lead for those jobs. Hill will be on the field sooner rather than later, Butler is trying to return to the fold after missing all of '05 with a knee injury, and Groce, who opened 15 games last year, looked like he might be the odd man out. There are significant changes at safety, as 2005 starters Adam Archuleta (70 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT) and Mike Furrey (48 tackles, 1 INT) are both picking up paychecks elsewhere and ex-Viking Corey Chavous (71 tackles, 2 INT with Minnesota) is now a major part of the team's plans. Chavous will start at strong safety alongside 2005 third-round pick Oshiomogho Atogwe (11 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), who was a backup to Furrey a year ago. Two more '05 draft picks, Jerome Carter (38 tackles) and Ron Bartell (34 tackles), were in line for backup duties along with fellow holdover Dwaine Carpenter (2 tackles with 49ers and Rams).

SPECIAL TEAMS: Set to begin his 10th season in the Gateway City is kicker Jeff Wilkins (27-31 FG), the all-time leading scorer in Rams history. The acquisition of former Dolphin Matt Turk, who missed all of 2005 with a groin injury, is supposed to put a stop to the revolving door the franchise has experienced at punter. The team appeared set to use its talented backup receivers as return men, with Shaun McDonald (4.1 punt return avg.) handling punts and Kevin Curtis kickoffs. Long snapper Chris Massey is back for a fifth season.

PROGNOSIS: After the weekly soap opera the Rams had to endure under the Martz regime, it will be interesting to see what a new leader will do for team chemistry. Linehan is a rookie head coach, but he also seems to be in command of his faculties at all times, which couldn't always be said for Martz. The hiring of Haslett was a genius move, and his leadership plus the addition of playmakers like Glover and Witherspoon should make the defense better instantly. The fresh approach on offense may not take hold immediately, with Bulger's struggle to lead scoring drives in the preseason evidence of that fact, but there is way too much talent on that side of the ball for the team to be held off the scoreboard for any significant amount of time. Is this a great team? No, but it's a pretty good one from top to bottom, and if the Rams can win early and pick up some momentum, they could challenge the Seahawks in an otherwise shaky NFC West.


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