1 St. Louis Rams New coach, new-look offensive line, same old bombs-away philosophy: It all adds up to another run deep into January

August 27, 2000

The question hangs in the air, seemingly stumping offensive line
coaches Jim Hanifan and John Matsko: Having lost two starters
from last year's unit--a group that kept Kurt Warner upright and
healthy despite his penchant for holding the ball until the last
possible moment--is it fair to say that the line is an area of
concern? Hanifan, the renowned O-line coach entering his 28th
year in the NFL, furrows his brow while Matsko stares straight
ahead, stone-faced. Finally, Hanifan offers a response.

"Well...no," he says, almost apologetically. "Actually, we
expect very little drop-off with the new guys."

Such is the measure of the Super Bowl champions, for whom concern
is a fleeting concept. Yes, the loss of center Mike Gruttadauria
and right tackle Fred Miller to free agency might have hurt at
first. But team officials see the workmanlike Andy McCollum as an
upgrade over Gruttadauria, who left for Arizona; if he isn't,
first-year coach Mike Martz can turn to eight-year veteran Steve
Everitt, a cap casualty from Philadelphia. In Adam Timmerman and
Tom Nutten, the Rams have one of the top guard duos in the game
(witness Nutten's jaw-dropping performance against Warren Sapp in
the NFC Championship Game), and Orlando Pace will be an All-Pro
left tackle for the next decade.

Ryan Tucker, who replaces Miller, is the closest thing to a
question mark. Drafted out of TCU as a center in 1997, he played
only sparingly at tackle last year, and his ability to handle
speed-rushing ends is an unknown. The Rams, though, expected to
lose Miller (who signed with Tennessee shortly after the Super
Bowl), and in matching Miami's three-year, $8.25 million offer to
Tucker have placed their trust firmly in the gritty fourth-year
man. "He's a warrior," says Matsko, "and he's gonna fight like
hell. He'll be fine."

He'd better be, because other than at center, the Rams have
little experience in reserve. Third-round pick John St. Clair
looked lost early in training camp, and while fourth-rounder
Kaulana Noa was impressive, he tore a ligament in his left wrist
and might not be ready until November. For the rookies--and
newcomer Everitt--ingesting Martz's offense, with its countless
looks and numerous responsibilities for each player, has not been
easy. "Just when you think you've got something down, they add 30
plays the next day--every day," a wide-eyed Everitt said in the
second week of camp. "As a lineman here, there's 10 times more
stuff to remember than other places. This system really dwarfs
anything else I've seen."

It also petrifies opposing defensive coordinators. After scoring
526 points (third-highest in NFL history) last year, the offense
looked just as formidable in camp this summer. In tailback
Marshall Faulk, wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and
return man Tony Horne, St. Louis possesses an array of skill
players that no team could match--or catch--in 1999. "I was shocked
after I got in here and saw how fast we are," Everitt says. "It
really makes the line's job so much easier. With Philly last
year, if the offense completed just one 20-yard pass in camp
during drills, there'd be hollering all around. Here, they
complete bomb after bomb in practice, and it's no big deal." Such
daunting proficiency will surely be augmented by a schedule that,
thanks largely to the weakness of the division, is the league's
second-easiest.

Still, with the improvements of NFC rivals Tampa Bay and
Washington, the Rams are often overlooked as Super Bowl
favorites. Despite the whippet-quick offense, a solid, attacking
defense led by 1999 NFL sack leader Kevin Carter and Pro Bowl
corner Todd Lyght, and two game-breaking return men in Horne and
Az-Zahir Hakim, St. Louis has not earned the respect befitting a
Super Bowl champ. "That surprises me a little bit," Martz says,
"especially with 19 starters back. But people will think what
people will think. We know what we have."

Ultimately, what the Rams have is a palpable sense of calm and
purpose. As an example, Timmerman points to Warner's surprising
decision to report to camp without the big-money contract he'd
hoped for (one he would sign a week later, for $46.5 million over
six years). "Kurt's coming in says a lot about him and about this
team," Timmerman said in late July. "We have faith in what we're
doing."

Just then, Warner and Faulk emerged from a nearby locker room
door. Timmerman nodded at both as they walked past. "Those guys
are awesome," he said. "Those are guys I wanna block for."

--J.E.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER BATTERING RAM Faulk was equally punishing as a runner (1,381 yards) and a receiver (87 receptions) last season. COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES

SCHEDULE

Sept. 4 DENVER (Mon.)
10 at Seattle
17 SAN FRANCISCO
24 at Atlanta

Oct. 1 SAN DIEGO
8 Open date
15 ATLANTA
22 at Kansas City
29 at San Francisco

Nov. 5 CAROLINA
12 at N.Y. Giants
20 WASHINGTON (Mon.)
26 NEW ORLEANS

Dec. 3 at Carolina
10 MINNESOTA
18 at Tampa Bay (Mon.)
24 at New Orleans

FAST FACTS

1999 Record 13-3 (1st in NFC West)

NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 5/1/1; defense 1/20/6

2000 Schedule strength
NFL rank: 30
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .430
Games against playoff teams: 4

PLAYER TO WATCH

In October 1998, on his way home after a night of drinking to
celebrate his 24th birthday, linebacker Leonard Little ran a red
light and drove his car into another vehicle, killing its driver.
Little pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served 90
overnights in prison. In addition to missing the rest of the '98
season, he was suspended for the first eight games of last year,
and upon his return he played sparingly on special teams. This
year, Little--who is adept at playing the run and rushing the
passer--inherits the fourth linebacker spot, behind London
Fletcher and veterans Todd Collins and Mike Jones. Little's
internship will not last long, though. "Leonard Little," says
coach Mike Martz pointedly, "is our next outside linebacker."

PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS

Coach: Mike Martz
First season with Rams (0-0 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Kurt Warner 1 499 att. 325 comp. 65.1% 4,353 yds.
41 TDs 13 int. 109.2 rtg.

RB Marshall Faulk 3 253 att. 1,381 yds. 5.5 avg. 87 rec.
1,048 yds. 12.0 avg. 12 TDs

RB Trung Canidate(R)[1] 210 253 att. 1,643 yds. 6.3 avg. 30 rec.
253 yds. 8.4 avg. 12 TDs

FB Robert Holcombe 197 78 att. 294 yds. 3.8 avg. 14 rec.
163 yds. 11.6 avg. 5 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

[PVR*]

WR Isaac Bruce 16 77 rec. 1,165 yds. 12 TDs
WR Torry Holt 50 52 rec. 788 yds. 6 TDs
WR Az-Zahir Hakim 96 36 rec. 677 yds. 8 TDs
TE Roland Williams 160 25 rec. 226 yds. 6 TDs
K Jeff Wilkins 174 64/64 XPs 20/28 FGs 124 pts.
PR Az-Zahir Hakim 96 44 ret. 10.5 avg. 1 TD
KR Tony Horne 183 30 ret. 29.7 avg. 2 TDs

LT Orlando Pace 6'7" 320 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Tom Nutten 6'5" 300 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
C Andy McCollum 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 2 starts
RG Adam Timmerman 6'4" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Ryan Tucker 6'5" 305 lbs. 16 games 0 starts

Defense

LE Kevin Carter 34 tackles 17 sacks
LT D'Marco Farr 39 tackles 8 1/2 sacks
RT Ray Agnew 32 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
RE Grant Wistrom 39 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
OLB Mike Jones 65 tackles 4 int.
MLB London Fletcher 90 tackles 3 sacks
OLB Todd Collins 49 tackles 0 int.
CB Todd Lyght 69 tackles 6 int.
SS Devin Bush 44 tackles 2 int.
FS Keith Lyle 30 tackles 2 int.
CB Dexter McCleon 45 tackles 4 int.
P Rick Tuten 32 punts 42.5 avg.

[1] New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)

THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Rams

"Why are people picking anyone but the Rams for the Super Bowl?
They're deep and just as talented as they were last
year....Their offense looks as if it's in a 7-on-7 drill,
against air....Fred Miller's gone at right tackle, but Ryan
Tucker came in for him when he got hurt in the NFC title game,
and they didn't miss a beat....Steve Everitt was a good pickup
because it gives them versatility. Tom Nutten has a bad back, so
they could move center Andy McCollum, who I've always liked,
over to left guard and play Everitt. The only potential problem
could be if a tackle gets hurt, but everyone is in that
situation....Name a team with two better quarterbacks. Trent
Green could start for most of the teams in the NFL. So could
their third wideout, Az-Zahir Hakim....They lost their power guy
on the defensive line, Jay Williams, but I like Sean Moran, whom
they got from Buffalo....Devin Bush replaces Billy Jenkins at
strong safety, but I like Bush better anyway. He's better in
space....And they're loaded at the corners. Dre' Bly is going to
be terrific....They'll go 8-0 in the division.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)