The May 20, 1996, issue of Financial World calculated the value
of the Rams' franchise at $193 million, some $58 million more
than the team was judged to be worth two years ago, when it was
playing to an indifferent Los Angeles. According to the
magazine's rankings, St. Louis is the seventh-most-valuable
franchise in professional sports. Not bad for a team that has
averaged five wins a season over the last five years.
With improvement as their goal and a vigilant eye on principal
(not to be confused with principle), the Rams made the
controversial decision to select Nebraska running back Lawrence
Phillips in April's draft. The 21-year-old was tabbed by experts
as the consensus No. 1 overall pick. But Phillips, who blithely
chose to characterize his assault of a former girlfriend as a
"slipup" (he pleaded no contest to the charge and was placed on
one year's probation), slipped down to the sixth spot, at which
point rushing-poor St. Louis snagged him. In the politically
incorrect words of the Rams' Georgia Frontiere, the NFL's only
female owner, "If it helps our team, that's all I care about."
But is Phillips worth the risk? Given his early performance,
that's what St. Louis is wondering. On April 28 Phillips
overslept and missed a meeting at the team's minicamp. "On the
stupidity scale, this is right up there," said one Rams insider
of the first-rounder's absence. Then, on June 13, Phillips was
pulled over for speeding in Rosemead, Calif. He was subsequently
arrested and charged with drunk driving when he failed a
sobriety test. A conviction could lead to the revocation of his
probation, and he could face time in jail.
Phillips's first pro season is in obvious jeopardy. But his
transgressions are likely to be overlooked if he someday
produces anywhere near the level he did in college (6.2 yards
per carry and 30 touchdowns in 27 games). Last year St. Louis
running back Jerome Bettis averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in
pacing the league's sixth-worst ground game (it's no wonder
Bettis was shipped off to Pittsburgh on draft day once the Rams
had secured Phillips). As a rookie in 1993, Bettis gained 1,429
yards, a first-year performance St. Louis wouldn't mind seeing
repeated, but Phillips won't have the benefit of the offensive
line Bettis had that season. Line coach Dan Radakovich was fired
following the '95 season, but other than the June signing of
former Raiders tackle Gerald Perry, little was done to alter an
outfit that allowed 43 sacks last season. St. Louis used eight
of its 10 draft picks on offense, but seven of those picks were
July 31, 1996
Someone certain to be interested in the quality of the Rams line
play this year is quarterback Steve Walsh, who replaces Chris
Miller as the team's starter. Walsh's best attribute may be what
he isn't, namely the type of quarterback who makes foolish
mistakes. In 1,191 career passing attempts, Walsh has thrown
just 39 interceptions. By comparison, Miller and backup Mark
Rypien were picked off 27 times last season. "You look at the
first part of our season," says coach Rich Brooks. "We were a
team that didn't make mistakes, and we were winning. At the end
of the season we made mistakes that cost us the opportunity to
Walsh might not beat himself, but there is concern that his lack
of arm strength will allow opposing teams to ease off on their
coverage of wideout Isaac Bruce (page 56) and increase pressure
on the running game. "Everybody says that I don't have a strong
arm," says Walsh. "But there are other ways to get it done in
this league. You have to be equipped to keep the defense honest."
If the Rams are holding their breath on Phillips and Walsh,
they're breathing more easily on defense. In the off-season St.
Louis improved itself in its three weakest areas. The team
signed former Patriot Maurice Hurst, a good cover corner, and
Dallas middle linebacker Robert Jones, a better run stopper than
Shane Conlan, the man he replaces. And though defensive end Sean
Gilbert was traded to the Redskins for the draft pick that
ultimately became Phillips, the pass defense was bolstered by
the signing of free agent Leslie O'Neal. The former Charger, who
has averaged 12 1/2 sacks over the last seven seasons, netted a
three-year, $9.5 million deal in March.
But as the Rams' dalliance with Phillips may very well attest,
money can't buy everything.
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Yards per Game (NFL rank in parentheses)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 89.4 (25) 237.8 (9) 327.3 (15)
DEFENSE 104.8 (13) 215.1 (13) 319.9 (12)
Not Exactly Ram Tough
The Rams allowed the 12th-fewest yards in the NFL last season,
but they gave up the second-most points. They permitted a
league-high 10 return touchdowns last year, which is why the
team surrendered more points per 100 yards than any other (the
league average was 6.53).
Points Allowed per 100 Yards
The Worst Yards Points Pts. per
allowed allowed 100 yds.
Rams 5,118 418 8.17
Jets 4,756 384 8.07
Cardinals 5,704 422 7.40
Jaguars 5,515 404 7.33
Eagles 4,638 338 7.29
The Best Yards Points Pts. per
allowed allowed 100 yds.
Chiefs 4,549 241 5.30
Falcons 6,088 349 5.73
Cowboys 5,044 291 5.77
Buccaneers 5,712 335 5.86
49ers 4,398 258 5.87
PLAYER TO WATCH
At 6'1", 270 pounds, D'Marco Farr is small for a defensive
tackle. But the undrafted free agent has excelled in the Rams'
Jet defense, a system that places a premium on speed. In March,
Farr, who led the team with 11 1/2 sacks in '95, signed a
seven-year, $10.2 million contract extension. He still has some
unfulfilled dreams to tackle. The Mini-Hulk, as he is known,
would like a chance to wrestle his idol, Hulk Hogan. "I want a
shot at the immortal one," Mini-Hulk says.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Head coach: Rich Brooks
QB Steve Walsh*[**] 343 att. 208 comp. 60.6%
2,078 yds. 10 TDs 8 int. 77.9 rtg.
RB Lawrence Phillips (R)[**] 71 att. 547 yds. 9TDs
FB Ernie Conwell (R)[**] 0 att. 0 yds. 0 TDs
TE Troy Drayton 47 rec. 458 yds. 4 TDs
WR Isaac Bruce 119 rec. 1,781 yds. 13 TDs
WR Alexander Wright 23 rec. 368 yds. 2 TDs
WR Eddie Kennison (R)[**] 45 rec. 739 yds. 2 TDs
LT Gerald Perry[**] 6'6" 305 lbs.
LG Zach Wiegert 6'4" 305 lbs.
C Bern Brostek 6'3" 300 lbs.
RG Dwayne White 6'2" 315 lbs.
RT Darryl Ashmore 6'7" 310 lbs.
PK Chip Lohmiller[**] 11/13 XPs 8/14 FGs
LE Kevin Carter 6 sacks 1 fum. rec.
LT D'Marco Farr 11 1/2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
RT Jimmie Jones 0 sacks 0 fum. rec.
RE Leslie O'Neal[**] 12 1/2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
OLB Carlos Jenkins 1 1/2 sacks 0 int.
MLB Robert Jones[**] 1 sack 0 int.
OLB Roman Phifer 3 sacks 3 int.
CB Todd Lyght 4 int. 0 sacks
SS Toby Wright 6 int. 1 sack
FS Keith Lyle 3 int. 0 sacks
CB Maurice Hurst[**] 1 int. 0 sacks
P Sean Landeta 83 punts 44.3 avg.
PR Todd Kinchen 53 ret. 7.8 avg.
KR Eddie Kennison(R)[**] 17 ret. 21.8 avg.
[**]New acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)