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Minnesota 28 – St. Louis 7: The Good, Bad, and Ugly August 16, 2010

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The St. Louis Rams completed their preseason opener with a loss to the Minnesota Vikings 28-7.

The Good

Sam Bradford

St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford

So I’ll start with what everyone wants to hear about, which is Sam Bradford.  He didn’t disappoint, but he didn’t exactly light it up either.  Bradford completed 6 of 13 passes for 57 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions.  He made some really nice throws in his first series, with accurate completions to Laurent Robinson, Danny Amendola, and Chris Ogbonnaya out of the backfield.  He showed poise and accuracy, and remained calm amid a great Minnesota pass rush.  Athough taking 4 sacks wasn’t good, his shoulder held up, which was a question most fans had.

Highlights of Bradford’s play can be seen here.

1st Unit Defensive Line Play

If any part of the squad came to play Thursday night it was the Rams starting defensive line.  This was a good sign because they were going up against the Vikings starting offense, although they were missing receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, and Adrian Peterson dressed but did not play.  At the same time, Rams defensive backs Ron Bartell, James Butler, Bradley Fletcher, and Justin King also did not play.  In the first quarter, the Rams defense held Minnesota to 16 rushing yards on 8 attempts, although they gave up 75 yards passing, allowing 9 completions out of 15 attempts.  This is, however, somewhat good news.  It shows that defensive line play has improved in the second year under Coach Spags.

Defensive end Chris Long also registered a sack in the first quarter, although it was wiped out by an illegal hands to the face penalty in the secondary.  Not to be outdone, the backup defensive linemen played well also.  George Selvie continued his strong performance at the scrimmage by registering a sack, as did undrafted rookie Jermelle Cudjoe (DT).  Larry Grant also continued his improved play registering 4 tackles in his brief play.

The Bad

Offensive line play

Rams QB Sam Bradford tackled after making a pass

The only word that can describe offensive line play, specifically on the right side, is HORRENDOUS.  In all, the Rams offensive line surrendered 6 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.  Sam Bradford played for approximately one quarter.  While his first drive was successful, on subsequent drives he was sacked 4 times.  Hopefully last year’s first round pick Jason Smith simply had a bad game, as he was beat repeatedly by a no name defensive end.  The silver lining in their play was rookie tackle Roger Saffold, who held his own against Jared Allen, as well as the Vikings backups.

The Ugly

Offense….period.

The biggest gripe Ram fans had last season was vanilla play calling.  There were seldom long passes down field, almost no trick plays, and often times defenders knew what play was coming, according to Steven Jackson.  “Several times defenders called out plays,” Jackson said. “They knew what was coming.”

Fans who were looking for a deviation from that were sorely disappointed on Thursday night.  Fans in attendance, and those that waited until the 10 o’clock showing on television were treated to more quick slants and screens, with some check downs sprinkled in for good measure.  In addition to the lackluster play calling, the running game was non-existent, finishing up with a total of 33 yards on 13 carries.  Ogbonnaya had some good plays catching the ball out of the backfield, but that was about it.  This does not bode well for gaining confidence from fans and coaches that this current RB corps can get it done.

The offensive line woes have been documented, and this possibly contributed to the lack of a running game.  This also could have been a contributing factor to the fact that none of the wide receivers really flashed during this game.

All in all

The Rams simply have to be better.  No one is calling for them to turn into the 2009 Saints offense or the 2007 Giants defense, but we are calling for improvement from last year.  Looking at the Vikings game, there doesn’t seem to have been much.  Hopefully playing the woeful Browns in their next preseason game will offer a chance for better offensive play, more samples from Bradford.

St. Louis Rams vs Minnesota Vikings: What To Watch For August 13, 2010

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Football is finally here!  The Rams open their preseason schedule tomorrow against the Minnesota Vikings.  Here are a few things to watch for in the game.

How does Sam Bradford perform?

Rams Quarterback Sam Bradford

This is the question everyone wants answered.  Everyone wants the $50 million dollar kid to succeed, and all reports out of camp have him progressing ahead of schedule, albeit against a Rams defense that isn’t allowed to hit him.  Bradford drew rave reports after a good showing at Lindenwood University (my school) during the Rams intrasquad scrimmage.

However, how will he respond to being hit?  Realistically, Bradford has not played contact football in almost a year, and not at all since his shoulder surgery.  How will the shoulder hold up when he gets hit by a charging 275 pound lineman?  We’re soon to find out.

Who’s catching the ball?

The Rams’ lack of a go to receiver was evident last year.  This year, the team brings back many of the same names, while adding 4th round pick Mardy Gilyard to the fold.  Gilyard has been slowed by a nagging wrist injury that was suffered in minicamp and aggravated in camp.  Reports out of Rams Park have named Amendola as the receiver who has had the best camp.  Another WR to watch for is Laurent Robinson, who spent most of last year on injured reserve.  In 2.5 regular season games last year Robinson averaged 67 yards receiving, and scored a touchdown vs the Redskins.  Another name to watch for is Donnie Avery, who has gained 10 pounds since last year.  Avery put on the weight in an effort to avoid injury.  It will important to see if his speed has suffered as a result.

Rams WR Mardy Gilyard

The Rams currently have 10 WR on the roster, and look to carry only 5, maybe 6 into the season.  Keenan Burton, Brandon Gibson, Brandon McRae, and Jordan Kent are all receivers that need to have a great showing in the preseason in order to secure their spot on this team.  Burton has shown great hands in camp, while McRae has flashed the ability to make spectacular catches.  Gibson was a solid contributor last year after coming over from Philadelphia in the Will Witherspoon trade, and Kent has been a solid special teams contributor.

Where is the pass rush?

One of the biggest problems last season was a lack of pass rush on defense.  Leonard Little led the team last season with 6.5 sacks, while Chris Long appeared to come on strong towards the end of last year, finishing with 5.0 sacks.  The Rams are looking for this to be the year Chris Long finally develops into a premier defensive end, showing the ability to effectively get to the quarterback.  Long has routinely been a team leader in quarterback pressures.

Rams DE Chris Long

The problem has been the lack of interior line pressure, which allows the quarterback to simply step up in the pocket when pressured from the outside.  The Rams have attempted to fix this problem by bringing Fred Robbins in at defensive tackle from the New York Giants.  They are also hoping second year player Darell Scott will continue to get better.  The starters at defensive tackle this year will be Fred Robbins and Clifton Ryan, with James Hall and Long starting at defensive end.

Who’s running the ball?

Another of the questions about this Rams team is who the back up running back is.  Chris Ogbonnaya and Kenneth Darby return from last year, while Keith Toston was signed as a rookie free agent.  Steven Jackson, as we know, is the face of this franchise.  However, SJ39’s struggles to stay healthy have been well documented, missing nine games in the last three years, while still amassing 943 total touches on offense during that time.

Ogbonnaya had a good showing in brief duty last season, amassing 45 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in week 16, averaging 5.0 yards per carry.  He also excels in pass blocking and blitz pickup, which should be music to the Rams ears with their new investment at quarterback.

Rams RB Steven Jackson

The Vikings have a staunch run defense, so this will be a tough test for Ogbonnaya, Toston, and Darby.  With SJ39 sitting this game out, look for one of these three to attempt to separate from the pack.

Marc Bulger a Baltimore Raven June 23, 2010

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Marc Bulger, Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens

Per Adam Schefter’s Twitter, former Rams Quarterback Marc Bulger has finally signed with a team, choosing the Baltimore Ravens.  The deal is reportedly for one year, valued at 3.8 million dollars.

He should immediately step in as the no. 2 quarterback, and provide insurance in case incumbent starter Joe Flacco gets injured.  The Chicago Bears were also thought to be interested in Bulger, as well as the Cardinals.  The Bears might have been an ideal destination simply because of the glory days Bulger experienced in the Martz offense.  However, in the Ravens Bulger has chosen a team with a solid running game, a crop of reliable receivers, and a strong offensive line.  If forced to play, he should be successful.

Breaking News: Rams resign S-O.J. Atogwe June 23, 2010

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The ongoing saga that is O.J. Atogwe’s contract situation finally has closure.  Within the last hour the St. Louis Rams resigned their

Rams Safety O.J. Atogwe

best player in the secondary last year to a five year deal.  Terms of the deal have not been disclosed yet, but my guess would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.5 a year, much less than the $7 million plus he was rumored to be seeking.

The rumor mill has been abuzz with Atogwe all offseason, with rumors of the Vikings, Cowboys, Redskins and Seahawks all showing interest, but the expectation has always been that he would resign with St. Louis.  “It’s really important to stay here. One of the things I was thinking about through this process is my purpose with the Rams,” Atogwe said.

Atogwe was originally tendered with the right of first refusal tag, which is the lowest tender possible.  This tender means that the Rams had the right to match any offer to Atogwe, but if they chose not to, they would not receive compensation.  This tender would have also paid Atogwe, who has been seeking a long term deal since last offseason, significantly less than the $6.7 franchise tag amount he made last year.

Stay tuned for specifics of the contract…

“Ike” Bruce to Retire as a Ram June 8, 2010

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"The Reverend"

For years, “The Reverend” Isaac Bruce was one of the many players that helped build the glory that was “The Greatest Show on Turf.”  Bruce will return to the place of his glory days, as the San Francisco 49ers have traded him to the St. Louis Rams, so that he may retire here.  Bruce will retire ranked second in NFL history in receiving yards (15,208), fifth in receptions (1,024) and ninth in receiving touchdowns (91). Bruce played in 223 career games.

The Rams released Bruce after the 2007 season, at the time wanting him to take a pay cut and reduced role in the offense, then run under Scott Linehan.  In the offseason, he signed with the NFC West rival 49ers, and notched 835 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns, proving he had a little left in the tank.

Isaac Bruce, Future Hall of Famer, St. Louis Rams

During the second game of against the 49ers last season, Bruce was honored at the Edward Jones Dome, receiving many congrats from Rams and 49er players alike.  On Dec. 21, 2008, while playing for the 49ers, Bruce made his 1,000 career reception against the Rams.

Bruce is the only active player still “unretired” that played for the Rams franchise prior to it’s relocation from Los Angeles.  After being drafted 33rd overall in 1994 he had an immediate impact on the Rams, receiving for 3,391 yards in his first three seasons.  The only receivers to record more in their first three seasons were Jerry Rice (3,575) and John Jefferson (3,431).

O.J. Atogwe: Free Agent June 2, 2010

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As of midnight est. last night, St. Louis Rams Free Safety O.J. Atogwe became a free agent.  According to sources at Rams Park, talks are still ongoing between Atogwe and the Rams, but with the passing of the restricted free agency deadline, the Rams no longer have exclusive negotiating rights, and Atogwe is free to sign with any team he chooses.

O.J. Atogwe, Free Agent, Free Safety

The Rams, of course, are interested in retaining the 2005 3rd round pick, but this all depends on what interest he garners on the open market.  Teams thought to be interested include the Cowboys, Dolphins, and possibly the Vikings.  Sources say the 49ers are not thought to be interested in Singletary’s possible future son-in-law after the emergence of Dashon Goldson, and drafting of USC’s Taylor Mays.  Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has also been quoted as saying he’s happy with the safeties currently on his roster.

Jeff Darlington of the Miami Herald says that Atogwe landing with the Dolphins is a long shot.  You’ll remember that the Dolphins were in on the Antrelle Rolle sweepstakes during free agency.

Whomever he signs with, Atogwe will be entering the 2010 season as one of the league leaders in turnovers caused in the last few years.  He has 19 career interceptions, 8 fumbles recovered, and 14 forced fumbles.  He has been arguable the Rams biggest playmaker in the defensive backfield since Aeneas Williams.  Although he missed 4 games last year, he still finished the season as the Rams second leading tackler with 84.  He also had 2 interceptions, a sack, and 2 forced fumbles.

The Rams traded for Kevin Payne earlier this offseason from the Chicago Bears, maybe preparing for a future without Atogwe.  Other safeties on the roster include Craig Dahl, who filled in when Atogwe was hurt last year, and James Butler, a 2009 offseason signing from the New York Giants.

Tidbits from Rams OTA’s May 24, 2010

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Thanks to Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis, we have some notes coming out of Rams Park.

Prior to this morning’s OTA session, the Rams released the following players…

FB Kennedy Tinsley

LB Simoni Lawrence

WR Nick Moore

WR Roderick Owens

DT Chris Bradwell

The defense had the upper hand in most of the drills–Chris Chamberlain stood out with an interception, as did Fred Robbins batting down a pass.

Fendi Onobun had a rough go with several drops and the offense was flagged for at least four penalties for line infractions. Spags at one point got after that side of the ball, letting them know they were getting their “butts” kicked.

For the most part, jobs aren’t won or lost in OTAs but impressions can be made and the tone is certainly set. Today seems as one of those days which will provide good teaching sessions and pay dividends down the road.

-Mark Setterstrom got some work at left guard with the 1’s today.

-Keenan Burton was able to participate in some team drills as he continues to rehab back from being IR’d last year with a knee injury.

-Donnie Avery has added 14-15lbs of muscle this offseason by cleaning up his diet. Avery got back in the gym a couple week after the season ended, but stopped eating beef and started eating chicken and fish. He shared that Torry Holt used to tell him to put down the pizza and pick up a salad, but he is just now coming around to the healthier approach.

The added muscle should help Avery fight past corners, but especially linebackers and safeties–which he admits was difficult at times last year. His labrum and other injuries have healed and Avery has concentrated on several fast-twitch muscle exercises to ensure he hasn’t lost any speed with the added weight.

Last Ditch Effort?: Atogwe May 21, 2010

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I’m not normally one for the rumor mill, but the posters over on the Post-Dispatch Forums, and the good folks over at http://FANpeeps.com have provided us with a good one regarding O.J. Atogwe’s contract impasse with the Rams.

The rumor is as follows:

  1. The Rams made Atogwe a contract offer prior to free agency that would have paid him less than SS James Butler. The former Giants S imported as a free agent last year had a 4 year, $14 million deal that paid him $1.95 million last year, $2.5 million this year and $3 and $3.5 million in the last two years, with another $3 million possible through incentives.
  2. Said contract offer infuriated Atogwe, sending him to CA and shutting down talks with the Rams.
  3. Atogwe’s injured shoulder is fine, according to the post, having been worked on by unofficial team doctor James Andrews, and Togs would pass any physical.
  4. The Rams have told Atogwe that they will not sign him to the one-year, $6.9 million offer he’s entitled to as a RFA, but they would like the chance to match any offer he receives as a free agent.

O.J. Atogwe, Safety

If the first part of the rumor is indeed true, Atogwe has every right to be upset with Rams brass.  Atogwe is much more valuable to the team than James Butler, who was frequently the subject of blown coverages last season, and in this writer’s opinion, and underwhelming performer.  Nothing in this “rumor” however is outrageous.  I can understand why the Rams don’t want to pay Atogwe $7 million dollars this year, but I also understand Atogwe’s want for long term security.

The key to all of this, is the question of whether Atogwe is willing to even still negotiate with the Rams.  He would undoubtedly have several suitors if he reaches the open market on June 1.  If he’s pissed at the Rams, why negotiate?  At this point he is really in the position of power.  Rams fans, what do you think?

Bobby Carpenter Conference Call May 12, 2010

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http://www.stlouisrams.com/mobile/article/79223

(On what he’s most looking forward to about being a Ram)
“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to come here. They’ve got some great defensive minds and really a young team, so I think it’s going to be very enthusiastic, a lot of energy and I think we’re looking to hopefully accomplish some big things this year.”

(On how he’ll fit into the Rams’ defense)
“I sat down with a lot of the guys, defensive staff, today and just kind of ran through the carwash with them looking at what we’re doing and just kind of the overall, general schematic standpoint. Not necessarily looking at roles, who’s going to be doing what, and I think I’ll probably obviously be playing somewhere on the outside. Whether that’s strong or weak probably remains to be determined. It kind of depends how I fit within the scheme, and the more they see me, they’ll see what I can do and where I can play and how I can really help this team.”

(On his time in Dallas)
“In Dallas, I was given an opportunity there last year to come in and play in some of the sub packages. They’ve had a good team for a lot of years. It’s been tough to get on the field. Some coaching changes and whatever kind of contributed to that, but I’m excited to come up here. I did a tremendous amount of work on third down and second down last year, doing some pass coverage and some blitzing. I’m excited to be able to do that. I think that’s something that we’ll be able to work in. The scheme is extremely aggressive from what I’ve seen with Coach (Spagnuolo) when he was not only here but also in New York just from playing against him on the other side of the ball. I’m excited to be able to hopefully put some pressure on them and be active in coverage as well.”

(On if he views this as a fresh start to his career)
“Yeah, I think it’s going to be a fresh start coming to a new organization, new franchise, and it’s a really young group of guys. It’s a youthful, energetic group. The coaches are very passionate, and just being in the building today, there’s a ton of energy here. It’s something that I don’t know that you necessarily take for granted, but everybody in Dallas had been there for a while. They’ve got more of a seasoned group of players down there, but now coming up here, it’s a totally different feel and outlook. Everybody’s very optimistic and positive. It’s going to be a pleasure working up here.”

(On going from a playoff team in Dallas to a St. Louis team trying to rebuild)
“I would have been concerned had I not seen…the last couple of games at the end of the season, we had some common opponents (with the Rams) I believe, and just watching how hard that the defense played when they were 1-13 and they’d been on the field a lot. Those guys were still out there battling, playing hard with a great amount of effort. Then just coming in here today and watching how energetic everyone was…in the workouts everyone is bouncing around, a lot of energy. It’s something that I’m trying to stress here because it’s something that I was not necessarily taken back by, but it was refreshing to see that.”

(On being one of four Ohio State linebackers on the Rams’ roster)
“That’s definitely, I’d say, kind of an anomaly there in the NFL to have four guys in a position group all from the same school. I didn’t really play with Na’il (Diggs) at all. He left a few years before I got in there, but I was able to spend some time with James (Laurinaitis) and Larry (Grant) when I was in school and then also back in the offseason, in the winter when I’d be back in Columbus. It’ll be great to come in there and play with those guys and just being in the same room. I know James has done some great things here and Larry has come on as well. We have a talented group of linebackers, so it’s going to be exciting.”

(On taking the high road in Dallas the last couple of years)
“I don’t know if throwing mud at anybody does any good. I know I had the respect of a lot of my teammates down there in Dallas and respect in the locker room, that’s all that matters. What was said outside of the organization really wasn’t important to me. This year I was able to come in and play and contribute to the team and make some big plays down the stretch of the season that really had an impact on some games. So I was confident in what I was able to do and the ability that I had. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring that to the Rams here and really start to do something and help this team move forward.”

(On how he’d describe his style of play)
“Hopefully a fast, rangy, aggressive guy. I think I have a lot of athletic ability I can bring to the team and that’s something Coach Spags loves. A linebacker should be able to run, be able to play downhill and at the same time be versatile and be able to do some things. I think I kind of fit that mold.”

(On his ability to cover opposing tight ends)
“That’s something that I did a lot last year in Dallas and I think with a pretty good amount of success. We played a lot of teams with some tremendous tight ends and we were able to do a lot against them and I was able to cover them pretty well. Then in practice being able to work with Jason Witten every day the last four years has really helped my coverage skills grow. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue to do that here. If that’s something that I can do and the coaches see I can do it, I think they’ll try to utilize that. The way they made it sound today, whatever players can do, they’re going to try to fully utilize that within their scheme.”

First Round Swap of Players: Barron for Carpenter May 10, 2010

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A long awaited rumor of a trade between the Rams and Cowboys has finally come to fruition today.  The Rams traded former first round pick Alex Barron – OT, to the Dallas Cowboys for their former first round disappointment, linebacker Bobby Carpenter.

Bobby Carpenter, Linebacker, St. Louis Rams

This trade gives both “busts” a fresh start in a different atmosphere, while also filling a need for both teams.  Barron fills the void left after the Cowboys released Flozell Adams, while Carpenter should step in and start immediately at the weakside linebacker position, considered a weak spot for the Rams.

Carpenter has battled injuries since being drafted, and somewhat miscast as a 3-4 linebacker in Dallas.  In 5 years there, he only has 96 career tackles and 3.5 sacks, despite being a good pass-rusher at Ohio State.

Barron has long been a disappointment since being drafted out of Florida State.  He has consistently been the most penalized lineman in the NFL, often committing false start penalties at the most inopportune of moments.  He has all of the physical tools to be a dominating force at tackle, but lacks the desire.

In this blogger’s interactions with Barron, he often seems goofy, unfocused, and nonchalant towards wanting to be better.  He often appears indifferent after games, win or lose (mostly losses lately), which doesn’t bode well for the Rams being such a young team.  Personally, this blogger is glad to see him go, however it does leave some vulnerabilities on the Rams offensive line.  Jason Smith, last year’s first rounder, only played in 8 games last season.  There are questions about his durability (which is a problem Barron did not have.)  With the trade, 2nd round pick Roger Saffold is expected to step in and start presumable at right tackle.  This leaves a lot of inexperience blocking the edges for 1st overall pick Sam Bradford.

There is plenty of inside depth on the offensive line with the additions of Hank Fraley, as well as Adam Goldberg, Jason Brown, Jacob Bell, Roger Allen, John Greco, Mark Setterstrom, and Mark Lewis all in the mix.

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