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3 St. Louis Rams It may be the third year of Dick Vermeil's coaching reign, but it's Day One for an offense that has a fresh arm and new legs after a major off-season makeover

Aug. 30, 1999
Aug. 30, 1999

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Aug. 30, 1999

1999 NFL Preview

3 St. Louis Rams It may be the third year of Dick Vermeil's coaching reign, but it's Day One for an offense that has a fresh arm and new legs after a major off-season makeover

While on vacation in his hometown of Calistoga, an earthy
enclave at the northern end of California's Napa Valley, the
Rams' 62-year-old coach, Dick Vermeil, treated himself to a mud
bath and massage in mid-July, just before his team reported to
training camp in Macomb, Ill. Vermeil's masseur wanted to talk
football--or, more specifically, to talk Marshall Faulk, the Pro
Bowl halfback St. Louis acquired in a predraft trade with the
Colts--and the extremely relaxed coach couldn't hold back his
excitement.

This is an article from the Aug. 30, 1999 issue Original Layout

"Having Faulk changes everything," Vermeil told the masseur.
"We've got weapons this year like you wouldn't believe. Isaac
Bruce, when he's healthy, is the best wideout there is, and we
drafted [North Carolina State wideout] Torry Holt, who'll be an
instant playmaker. When we split Marshall wide, we'll line up
Greg Hill at halfback, and he was ripping up defenses before he
got hurt last year. For the first time since I came back we'll
have four players on the field who are capable of scoring at any
time."

Two weeks later, with training camp in full swing, Vermeil
wasn't quite as relaxed as he was that day in Calistoga. But he
was still optimistic that St. Louis, after going 5-11 and 4-12
in his first two years as coach, was capable of having its first
winning season in a decade. Time is of the essence for Vermeil,
who coached the Eagles to their only Super Bowl appearance
following the 1980 season, quit two years later because of
burnout and spent the next 15 years enjoying the cushy life of a
college football TV analyst before the Rams wooed him back into
the fray.

Though his contract runs for three more seasons, Vermeil knows
his five-year plan is in danger of being scrapped if the Rams
don't blossom this season. That was one reason he went after
Faulk, a three-time Pro Bowl participant coming off the best of
his five NFL seasons, rather than attempting to snag Ricky
Williams or Edgerrin James in the draft. "I felt we had to be
more aggressive going into this season--not for me, but for the
sake of the organization, because people here deserve to see
improvement," Vermeil says. "Hey, they can fire me anytime they
want: I'm 62, I didn't ask for this job, and I'll be fine
without it."

Vermeil overhauled the offense during the off-season, bringing
in a new coordinator, Mike Martz, and a new quarterback, Trent
Green, both of whom were with the Redskins last year. Green, who
was signed to a four-year, $16.5 million free-agent deal, is
expected to be a steadier performer than his predecessor, Tony
Banks, whom St. Louis traded to Baltimore after three erratic
seasons as the starter. "Trent is a complete quarterback," says
Martz, who replaces the fired Jerry Rhome. "He sees the field
well, makes good decisions, doesn't panic and is an accurate
passer. And he has no ego."

At their best, Vermeil's offenses have revolved around a
workhorse running back. He had one in Philadelphia in Wilbert
Montgomery, now the Rams' running backs coach. Vermeil thought
he had one in Lawrence Phillips, whom the Rams drafted three
years ago, but Phillips couldn't cut it, on or off the field.
Last year only the Saints had a worse rushing attack than St.
Louis did, but Vermeil, who added former Packers guard Adam
Timmerman (four years, $18.75 million) to an offensive line that
already included 1997 No. 1 pick Orlando Pace at tackle, has
options galore in the backfield: a reliable backup in Hill, who
last year rushed for 240 yards in the Rams' first two games
before suffering season-ending leg and ankle injuries in Week 2;
a superb pass catcher in third-down specialist Amp Lee; and a
versatile second-year back in Robert Holcombe, who has bulked up
to 233 pounds (about 15 more than he carried last season) and
will be used to spell either Faulk or starting fullback Derrick
Harris.

Last year Faulk ran for 1,319 yards, more than all but five NFL
backs, and caught 86 passes, the league's third-highest total,
for 908 yards. He may be even more active in '99. "With Marshall
Faulk on the field, there are no limitations," Martz says.

"We'll line him up at wideout in some formations, and in others
we'll motion him out of the backfield," Vermeil says. "Plus, we
can do the same things we've been doing in the past, only this
time we'll be giving the ball to the right guy. He's the kind of
player who makes us all look smarter."

There's no question Faulk will make an impact. The question is,
Will it be enough to turn the Rams around? --M.S.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS The 29-year-old Green cut his teeth in Washington, but he gets a better shot at success in St. Louis.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO

SCHEDULE

Sept. 12 BALTIMORE
19 Open date
26 ATLANTA
Oct. 3 at Cincinnati
10 SAN FRANCISCO
17 at Atlanta
24 CLEVELAND
31 at Tennessee
Nov. 7 at Detroit
14 CAROLINA
21 at San Francisco
28 NEW ORLEANS
Dec. 5 at Carolina
12 at New Orleans
19 N.Y. GIANTS
26 CHICAGO
Jan. 2 at Philadelphia

FAST FACTS

1998 Record 4-12 (5th in NFC West)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 29/22/27; defense 24/3/10

1999 Schedule strength NFL rank: 29 Opponents' 1998 winning
percentage: .454 Games against playoff teams: 4

CATCHING IN THE CLUTCH

In Marshall Faulk and Amp Lee, the Rams have two of the most
dangerous pass-catching backs in the league. Last year only two
running backs had more than 22 catches that were good for first
downs: Faulk and Lee. Those two also led NFL running backs in
first downs on third-down receptions.

third-down
Running back, receptions for Running back, receptions
team first downs team for first downs

Marshall Faulk, Colts 44 Marshall Faulk,
Colts 16
Amp Lee, Rams 31 Amp Lee,
Rams 14
Warrick Dunn, Buccaneers 22 David Palmer,
Vikings 14
Larry Centers, Cardinals 22 Warrick Dunn,
Buccaneers 13

PLAYER TO WATCH

Thrust into the lineup after starter Eric Hill hurt his right
biceps before the season finale against the 49ers, middle
linebacker London Fletcher did a decent imitation of Adam
Sandler's Bobby Boucher in The Waterboy, making a team-leading
12 tackles. "He played at a different speed than anyone else,"
says John Bunting, the Rams' co-defensive coordinator and
linebackers coach. Fletcher is listed at 6 feet, but, says
Bunting, is "maybe 5'10" in hockey skates." His lack of height
and big-time collegiate experience--Fletcher attended tiny John
Carroll University in Ohio--has prompted comparisons to former
Saints and Panthers standout Sam Mills, an old teammate of
Bunting's in the USFL. Fletcher had to persuade Bunting to sign
him as a rookie free agent in the spring of '98, telling the
coach, "If you bring me in, there's no way you'll be able to cut
me." Now Bunting says, "This guy's much more than a diamond in
the rough."

PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1998 STATISTICS

Coach: Dick Vermeil
Third season with Rams (66-74 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Trent Green[1] 34
509 att. 278 comp. 54.6% 3,441 yds. 23 TDs 11 int. 81.8 rtg.

RB Marshall Faulk[1] 11
324 att. 1,319 yds. 4.1 avg. 86 rec. 908 yds. 10.6 avg. 10 TDs

RB Greg Hill 193
40 att. 240 yds. 6.0 avg. 1 rec. 6 yds. 6.0 avg. 4 TDs

FB Derrick Harris 363
14 att. 38 yds. 2.7 avg. 12 rec. 57 yds. 4.8 avg. 2 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
[PVR]

WR Isaac Bruce 53 32 rec. 457 yds. 1 TD
WR Torry Holt (R)[1] 65 88 rec. 1,604 yds. 11 TDs
WR Ricky Proehl 182 60 rec. 771 yds. 3 TDs
TE Roland Williams 231 15 rec. 144 yds. 1 TD
K Jeff Wilkins 200 25/26 XPs 20/26 FGs 85 pts.
PR Az-Zahir Hakim[1,2] 221 3 ret. 22.7 avg. 0 TDs
KR Tony Horne 336 56 ret. 23.3 avg. 1 TD
LT Orlando Pace 6'7" 334 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Tom Nutten 6'4" 295 lbs. 4 games 2 starts
C Mike Gruttadauria 6'3" 295 lbs. 12 games 3 starts
RG Adam Timmerman[1] 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Fred Miller 6'7" 306 lbs. 15 games 15 starts

Defense

LE Kevin Carter 60 tackles 12 sacks
LT D'Marco Farr 45 tackles 7 sacks
RT Ray Agnew 64 tackles 5 sacks
RE Grant Wistrom 20 tackles 3 sacks
OLB Mike Jones 84 tackles 3 sacks
MLB London Fletcher 12 tackles 0 int.
OLB Todd Collins[1] 57 tackles 0 sacks
CB Todd Lyght 67 tackles 3 int.
SS Devin Bush[1] 19 tackles 0 int.
FS Keith Lyle 82 tackles 3 int.
CB Dexter McCleon 29 tackles 2 int.
P Rick Tuten 95 punts 44.2 avg.

[1] New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 122)
[2] 1997 college statistics