Monday, April 28, 2008

Thomas/Iyer Analyze Rams Draft

War Room scouts, correspondent Jim Thomas and SN's Vinnie Iyer analyze the Rams' 2008 draft class:

2 (2) Chris Long, DE, Virginia (6-4, 266)

War Room scouts: The Rams made a tough choice between DT Glenn Dorsey and Long. Long was the right call because the team basically had nobody at the position except for Leonard Little, who turns 34 in October. Long can line up at all four positions along the line and will start immediately for the Rams.

Thomas: Long will be the Rams' instant starter at right end. Although not a natural pass rusher, to typecast Long as merely a high-motor "effort" guy would be inaccurate. Long is more athletic than given credit for, and despite his average size for the position, he holds up very well against the run.

Iyer: St. Louis got the best player in this draft. The Rams finally hit on a defensive lineman in getting Adam Carriker last year, and Long is another smashing selection. The Rams now have their answer to another explosive former Virginia end, Patrick Kerney of the division rival Seahawks.

2 (33) Donnie Avery, WR, Houston (5-11, 182)

War Room scouts: Rams officials say Avery is similar to ex-Rams great Isaac Bruce. Avery will bring the explosiveness and game-changing speed St. Louis needs to open up its offense.

Thomas: Avery being the first wide receiver drafted might have been a surprise, given the wideouts available from BCS schools, but Avery is a good fit for St. Louis. He has great speed with great change-of-direction skills. He also can return kicks and could open the season as the team's No. 3 receiver.

Iyer: Avery is a bit of a surprise, but he's been a big mover at the position because of his speed. I like him in St. Louis' mix with Torry Holt, Drew Bennett and Reche Caldwell, and I think he can make a few big plays for Marc Bulger right away.

2 (65) John Greco, T/G, Toledo (6-5, 303)

War Room scouts: The Rams were lucky that Greco dropped into the third round, and the team wasted only seconds drafting him. Greco is a virtual photocopy of the Patriots' Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins and will help their offensive line move in the correct direction.

Thomas: Greco is a tough, durable blocker who started 49 consecutive games in college. Greco started his final three seasons at left tackle but will be moved to the right side of the line. In theory, he will be the team's third offensive tackle and could eventually be a replacement for Alex Barron. Greco has good bulk, but his arms are shorter than ideal.

Iyer: A solid pick for St. Louis. It desperately needed some youthful help along its interior offensive line. Greco is one of the draft's top guards, and the Rams got a player who should have been drafted in Round 2.

2 (101) Justin King, CB, Penn State (5-11, 189)

Thomas: One of the fastest corners in the draft, King has some coverage skills but was burned in matchups against the Big Ten's top wide receivers. He needs to be more physical.

29 (128) Keenan Burton, WR, Kentucky (6-1, 203)

Thomas: Burton was very productive in college, with good change of direction skills. He showed toughness playing hurt in '07. He has added value as a punt and kickoff returner.

22 (157) Roy Schuening, G, Oregon State (6-3, 313)

Thomas: A hard-nosed, durable drive blocker, Schuening was a real value in the fifth round. He struggled some with quicker defenders, but he adds depth at right guard.

21 (228) Chris Chamberlain, LB, Tulsa (6-2, 226)

Thomas: He's a very productive tackler, but undersized. Chamberlain will provide depth at weakside linebacker and have a chance to be core special teams player.

45 (252) David Vobora, LB, Idaho (6-1, 234)

Thomas: Another depth pick who was a very productive tackler in college. Vobora has good range and will compete to be a backup at middle and strongside linebacker.

Iyer: Vobora is what you look for in a seventh-rounder: a high-character, highly intelligent and hardworking defensive player. Expect him to make the team and shine on special teams as a rookie.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rams Inside Slant

It can be a quick rise to the top of the heap in the NFL, but the fall can occur even faster.
Rams quarterback Marc Bulger understands that, and knows the importance of rebounding from a year he would like to forget.

"I'm just trying to get as far away as I can from last year," he said. "I'm focusing more on this year and what we're going to do better than reminding myself how terrible I was last year."
After being in the Pro Bowl after the 2006 season and parlaying that into a big contract last season, Bulger suffered broken ribs and a concussion, while the offensive line collapsed around him because of injuries. Bulger had a 70.3 passer rating and had more interceptions than touchdown passes after being intercepted just eight times the year before.

Everything was thrown off, including his mechanics.

"I was just doing the best I could to help the team win," Bulger said. "My footwork was off and I thought maybe I could get rid of the ball quicker. Whether it was right or wrong, I don't know, but at the time I was just trying to do something. (Now) it's April and we are already working on that stuff and I have five months to get into it to get back to the point where when September comes around, I am just playing. I am not thinking about footwork anymore, it's about reads and coverages and moving guys around.

"I have to play better, we can all say that. I have to do a better job of preparing — mentally, physically, everything. There's no reason to go back and beat ourselves up. We know how bad it was and we have to learn from last year but we are going to focus on this year."

Said coach Scott Linehan of his two years with Bulger, "We saw two ends of the spectrum. We saw his best year (in '06) and his toughest season (in '07). We'd like to get back to his best year.
"He got to the point — he's human — where he didn't even know who was in the game or whether those guys were going to be able to hold them off. Even he got to the point where you started seeing him get into (bad) habits. So I think by fixing that, getting our personnel back to where it needs to be, Marc Bulger's going to be back to the Pro Bowl level."

Linehan also believes the addition of Terry Shea as quarterbacks coach will help.

"Terry's a great teacher, No. 1," Linehan said. "I guess the biggest misnomer about quarterbacks and a guy like Marc Bulger is he's been to a couple Pro Bowls. He's 30 years old, and he's played a lot of high-level football in this league. But the bottom line is he still needs to be taught and coached just like as if he was a young player. I think some of that may have got away from us somewhat as I look at it. Marc would be the first one to tell you that he noticed some things about things about him technically that had fallen off from his '06 season and prior to that.

"Terry's one of those guys, meticulous, organized, he just has a great knowledge of the quarterback position and developing not only young quarterbacks, but also working with older quarterbacks or guys that have been in this league like Trent (Green), and to have them play at a high level. It's a great match, too, because he's worked very well with (offensive coordinator) Al (Saunders) in Kansas City. We're in a real similar position, where we've got a quarterback in his prime like Marc in our opinion. And if you build things around him, and get that line squared away for him, and get that run game dominant, a guy like Marc can be consistently at a Pro Bowl level, just like Trent was when he was in Kansas City."

Bulger said of working with Shea, even this early, "He's really thorough. Nothing's taken for granted, from the way I put my hands under the center's butt to how my stance is ... the smallest things.

"It's nice that it's early in April and we're already working on that stuff. We have time to get that to the point where once September rolls around, I can just play and I'm not thinking about (fundamentals) anymore. It'll be just ingrained in me."

Bulger, who just turned 31, also has been in St. Louis for virtually the entire offseason rather than going home.

"This is the first year I really didn't go to Pittsburgh, I stayed here all year round," Bulger said. "I don't know if it comes with age, (but) I'm happier treating it like this is my home and this is where I come to work. I have been coming in the last couple months pretty much five days a week. It's a routine that I've gotten into.

"When you're younger, you don't want to come back. You want to stay with your friends. I'm just trying to get as far away from last year — and get this year going — as I can."
He also understands how NFL quarterbacks are judged.

"You've got to prove yourself every year," Bulger said. "I'm two years removed from a Pro Bowl, but when you lose, it might as well be 10."

—Until injuries to Marc Bulger and Gus Frerotte last season, the Rams had just two quarterbacks on the active roster. Brock Berlin finished the season on the roster and Todd Bouman was around for two weeks.

After Trent Green was signed to back up Bulger, coach Scott Linehan said he plans to open the season with three quarterbacks this season.

"Yeah, we'll carry a third this year," Linehan said. "The guy's going to be an able capable guy. If it's not Brock Berlin, somebody else. I would like personally to get a young player, even draft a quarterback if possible. You'd like by the time Trent's about done to have this guy kind of there. That'd be a good scenario while Marc's still in the prime of his career."

—With a decision getting closer on where the Rams will have training camp this summer, a site in Madison, Wis., emerged as a possibility. The University of Wisconsin formerly worked at the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Center, which has the necessary facilities that includes dorms and practice fields.

What led the Rams to investigate is the fact that assistant coach Jeff Horton was an assistant at Wisconsin from 1999-2005.

—Call him prepared. When QB Trent Green arrived in St. Louis for the start of the team's offseason program, he was just that. Having played under Rams offensive coordinator Al Saunders in Kansas City, Green brought a few old playbooks with him.

"I have several of them from my years in Kansas City," Green said. "The terminology I'm sure will be very familiar for me. Some of it will be pretty familiar for Marc (Bulger), because it's similar to what Mike (Martz) ran when he was here.

"Al tweaked it a little bit when we got to Kansas City, just to make things work with o-line coaches and those kinds of things. And I'm sure Al's couple of years in Washington, and now with the coaching staff here, there are going to be tweaks here and there. But for the most part, it's going to be the basic offense than I ran in Kansas City."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Unfortunately, we are in the position we are, but I don't think there is a bad player in the top four or five picks. Whoever we get — there's (Glenn) Dorsey, there's Chris Long, there's Jake Long. I don't think we'll take (Darren) McFadden, and I hope we don't take a quarterback. One of the Longs or Dorsey, I don't think we can go wrong with that one." — QB Marc Bulger on prospects for the second overall choice in the draft.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Little: 'I can still do it'

By Bill Coats

Sunday, Mar. 30 2008 After being restructured and reconstructed, Leonard Little is eager to get back on the field and resume his career with the Rams.In an effort to create badly needed salary cap room, while also keeping Little around for an 11th NFL season, the Rams worked out a new salary structure with the former Pro Bowl defensive end. Little didn't forfeit any money; the impact of a $7.17 million bonus he was due was spread over two seasons instead of one, providing immediate cap relief.

Before the deal was struck in late February, Little, 33, wondered whether the club might simply release him because of his hefty contract, especially after coming off a major toe injury."I thought about it. I'd spent 10 years here, and it would've been good to end my career here," Little said. "But it's a business before anything else, and I kind of figured that if they were going to (redo the contract), they were going to do it. If not, then I was going to move on somewhere else. I was prepared either way it went."Little amassed 13 sacks in 2006, the second-highest total of his career. But he'd netted just one in seven games when he was placed on injured reserve Nov. 7.

Damage to his left big toe robbed Little of much of the speed and explosiveness that define his game, and left him constantly frustrated. Dr. Robert Anderson repaired torn ligaments on both sides of the toe during reconstructive surgery Nov. 12 in Charlotte, N.C. Little is ahead of schedule in his rehab, although he's restricted during the offseason conditioning program that began Tuesday at Rams Park."I've been running on it. ... It's coming along pretty good," Little said. "We're really trying to take a slow approach; there's no use rushing right now because we're still in the offseason. We're taking it day by day."Little said he's confident that he'll suffer no lingering effects from an injury that potentially could have imperiled his career. "

After the surgery and a couple of weeks when the swelling went down, it felt a whole lot better than it did before," Little said. "I'm not really concerned with hurting it again or anything like that."And, he added, he's also confident that he can return to the form with which he averaged nearly 10 sacks over the previous six seasons. That's important for the Rams, who collected just 31 sacks last year; only nine teams had fewer.

The Rams have been taking hard looks at defensive ends — most notably Virginia's Chris Long and Ohio State's Vernon Gholston — in preparing for the draft April 26 and 27. Defensive ends remaining on the roster are James Hall, Victor Adeyanju, C.J. Ah You and Eric Moore.A healthy Little obviously provides the team with additional options as it begins to rebuild after last year's 3-13 tumble. "I know I can still do it," Little said, "and obviously the team knows I can still do it. ... It's going to be a better deal than it was."