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2 St. Louis Rams

Sept. 04, 2006
Sept. 04, 2006

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Sept. 4, 2006

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2 St. Louis Rams

The Greatest Show on Turf is sticking closer to earth as a new coach puts a renewed emphasis on rushing and defense

THE BELIEF Whilethe Rams retain much of the arsenal from the pass-crazy offense of former coachMike Martz, rookie head man Scott Linehan will balance the attack, clearing thelanes for talented tailback Steven Jackson. The bigger change, however, willcome on defense, where St. Louis hired former Saints coach Jim Haslett ascoordinator and spent most of its $100 million in off-season acquisitions. Itis potentially the Rams' best defense since the 2001 season-the last time theyreached the Super Bowl.

This is an article from the Sept. 4, 2006 issue Original Layout

THE REALITYThough Linehan doesn't have an alliterative moniker like Mad MikeMartz-"I'm too boring a guy to have a nickname," he says-he hasoverseen explosive, pass-oriented systems in Miami and Minnesota as anoffensive coordinator. Guiding the attack for the fifth season is the NFL'smost underappreciated quarterback, Marc Bulger, whose career passer rating of90.6 is sixth best in NFL history. Problem is, he has injured his throwingshoulder three times since 2004-an occupational hazard when you throw as manyas 62 times in a game, as Bulger did against the Giants last year.

Now Bulger willlean heavily on Jackson, who has a dazzling blend of speed and power. Plus,Linehan's emphasis on short, quick passes should help. And for a backup, St.Louis acquired 13-year vet Gus Frerotte, who won nine of 15 starts last seasonin Miami and also played for Linehan in Minnesota. The No. 1 wideout is stillTorry Holt, who last year became the first player in NFL history to have sixstraight seasons of 1,300 or more receiving yards.

Before the Ramschallenge for a wild-card berth, however, they have to remake a defense thatranked 30th in the league. They did that in a single season once before: In2000 they allowed a franchise-worst 29.4 points per game, then hired LovieSmith to be the coordinator and gave up only 17.0 a year later. (Smith is nowthe Bears' coach.) Haslett, a former linebacker who brings aggressive schemes,will have at least six new starters to engineer similar improvement. The keyaddition will be Will Witherspoon, an athletic linebacker who is strong againstthe run and pass. He was overshadowed in Carolina by linebacker Dan Morgan anddefensive end Julius Peppers, but he has an opportunity to draw attention whilemaking the transition from the weakside to the middle.

Defensive tackleLa'Roi Glover, who went to his sixth Pro Bowl last season, with the Cowboys,will bolster the run defense and complement Leonard Little (9 1/2 sacks) on thepass rush. The secondary, which yielded the third-most passing touchdowns inthe league, also has to tighten the screws. Free-agent signee Corey Chavous, acerebral safety with the Vikings, should be better on pass coverage thanheavy-hitting Adam Archuleta, who left for the Redskins.

Says Witherspoon,"We're not going to be guys who say, 'Hey, we know the offense is going toscore 50, so as long as we hold [the other side] to 48, we're good.'"

The attack underLinehan won't get close to 50 as often as it used to, which perhaps makes himMartz Lite. It's not much of a moniker, but that doesn't matter. It's thedefense that must make a name for itself if the Rams are to return to theplayoffs.

2006 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

10 DENVER

17 at SanFrancisco

24 at Arizona

OCTOBER

1 DETROIT

8 at GreenBay

15 SEATTLE

22 Bye

29 at SanDiego

NOVEMBER

5 KANSAS CITY

12 at Seattle

19 atCarolina

26 SAN FRANCISCODECEMBER

3 ARIZONA

11 CHICAGO(M)

17 at Oakland

24 WASHINGTON

31 atMinnesota

(M) Monday

SCHEDULESTRENGTH

NFL rank T15

Opponents' 2005winning percentage .508

Games againstplayoff teams 6

ENEMY LINES

AN OPPOSINGTEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE RAMS

> I don'tunderstand the trade of Brandon Manumaleuna, the big tight end, to theChargers. He had the rap about not working and getting heavy, but he's abanger. He's like an extra offensive lineman. If they want to run the ballmore, that big tight end would have come in handy.

> LeonardLittle had a good year with 91/2 sacks, but he's a liability versus the run.He's solid, but he's not worth all the attention that he gets.

> With IsaacBruce getting older, I bet Kevin Curtis is going to have a big season. I lovehis speed. He was a little raw when he came into the league, but he's reallydeveloped into a reliable threat.

> WillWitherspoon is a winner. He's a solid, consistent linebacker who bringsbig-game experience.

They'll be betterwith ex-Viking Corey Chavous at safety. He doesn't make many mistakes.

BREAKOUTPLAYER

StevenJackson

RUNNING BACK

He was thegiddiest player in training camp. With coach Mike Martz and running backMarshall Faulk gone, the third-year veteran will finally have an expanded role.Last year Jackson rushed for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns, but his 254carries were the fewest among the NFL's top 15 rushers, and he groused abouthis lack of touches. He's capable of sprinting outside, but he reallyflourishes between the tackles. Now-coming off rib and hip injuries lastseason-he must prove that he's durable enough to handle the extra work.

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2005STATISTICS

COACH SCOTTLINEHAN (0-0 in NFL), first season with St. Louis

OFFENSE

TORRY HOLT
POS WR
REC 102
YARDS 1,331
TD 9

STEVENJACKSON
POS RB
RUSH 254
YARDS 1,046
TD 10

MARC BULGER
POS QB
ATT 287
COMP 192
PCT 66.9
YARDS 2,297
TD 14
INT 9
RATING 94.4

AARON WALKER* --NEW ACQUISITION
POS TE
REC 10
YARDS 115
TD 0

ISAAC BRUCE
POS WR
REC 36
YARDS 525
TD 3

JEFFWILKINS
POS K
FG 27-31
POINTS 117

JOE KLOPFENSTEIN(R)
POS TE
REC 32
YARDS 463
TD 4

ORLANDOPACE
POS LT
HT 6'7"
WT 325
G 16

RICHIEINCOGNITO
POS LG
HT 6'3"
WT 305
G 0

ANDYMCCOLLUM
POS C
HT 6'4"
WT 300
G 16

ADAMTIMMERMAN
POS RG
HT 6'4"
WT 300
G 16

ALEX BARRON
POS RT
HT 6'7"
WT 315
G 12

DEFENSE

PISATINOISAMOA
POS WLB
TACKLES 94
SACKS 1 1/2
INT 2

LEONARDLITTLE
POS LE
TACKLES 56
SACKS 9 1/2

LA'ROI GLOVER --NEW ACQUISITION
POS LT
TACKLES 28
SACKS 3

JIMMYKENNEDY
POS RT
TACKLES 33
SACKS 3

ANTHONYHARGROVE
POS RE
TACKLES 51
SACKS 6 1/2

BRANDONCHILLAR
POS SLB
TACKLES 52
SACKS 0
INT 0

MATT TURK* -- NEWACQUISITION
POS P
PUNTS 98
AVG 41.7

FAKHIR BROWN --NEW ACQUISITION
POS CB
TACKLES 34
INT 0

COREYCHAVOUS
POS SS
TACKLES 71
SACKS 0
INT 2

WILL WITHERSPOON-- NEW ACQUISITION
POS MLB
TACKLES 81
SACKS 2 1/2
INT 2

OSHIOMOGHOATOGWE
POS FS
TACKLES 11
SACK 1
INT 1

TRAVISFISHER
POS CB
TACKLES 37
INT 0

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (college statistics) *2004 statistics

2005 RECORD6-10
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL)
OFFENSE 22/4/9
DEFENSE 28/23/30

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PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (WITHERSPOON)CENTER POINT Moving from outside linebacker to the middle, Witherspoon is tough against the run and pass. PHOTOPETER NEWCOMB/WIREIMAGE.COMCHAVOUSPHOTOAL TIELEMANS PHOTOHELMET PHOTO BY DAVID N. BERKWITZ TWO PHOTOS