Monday, June 29, 2009

Inside Slant

--When Billy Devaney took over as general manager of the Rams and started his search for a new head coach, he knew whoever he hired would be dealing with a roster that needed a major overhaul.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo has spent the offseason getting the roster younger and trying to fill as many holes as possible. They also knew everything necessary wouldn't happen in one offseason.

With training camp approaching, the area that appears to be in most need of upgrading is at wide receiver. Releasing Torry Holt and Drew Bennett, along with the decision not to re-sign Dane Looker and Dante' Hall, left the Rams with a group headed by second-year players Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton, Laurent Robinson, who was acquired in a trade from Atlanta, Derek Stanley, who is battling back from a torn ACL suffered during the 2008 season, and fifth-round pick Brooks Foster. Tim Carter, a former second-round pick of the Giants, was signed in May after not playing during the 2008 season.

The offense will be built around running back Steven Jackson, and quarterback Marc Bulger will have to distribute the ball to everyone. That includes tight ends Randy McMichael and Daniel Fells, Jackson, and fullback Mike Karney.

OFFSEASON STANDOUT: Tight end Daniel Fells showed some flashes in 2008 after being signed off the Buccaneers' practice squad, and showed he might be a dangerous weapon during OTAs. Fells has good size, speed and hands, and the West Coast offense being implemented by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will utilize the tight end. The question is whether he will able to produce on the field during games like he has in practice.

LINEUP WATCH: During OTAs rookie tackle Jason Smith and linebacker James Laurinaitis were both working with the second unit. Adam Goldberg was the first-team right tackle, with Chris Draft at middle linebacker. Both rookies are expected to be starting by the beginning of the season. On defense, that could result in Draft becoming the strong-side linebacker. During the offseason, Larry Grant and David Vobora got most of the snaps with the first team on the strong side.

ROOKIE IMPRESSIONS: Aside from Smith and Laurinaitis, cornerback Bradley Fletcher showed his athletic ability. When the team puts on the pads this summer, he will be watched closely to see how physical he plays at this level. Defensive tackle Darell Scott is being counted on to provide depth in the rotation. Foster also showed flashes at times, and could have competition from street free agents like Chad Lucas, Nate Jones and Jarrett Byers.

INJURY WATCH: Wide receiver Keenan Burton missed most of the OTAs because of a slight hamstring injury. He was bothered all last season by a knee injury, so he has to avoid being labeled as injury prone. Wide receiver Derek Stanley should be ready for the start of camp after rehabbing from a torn ACL.

CONTRACT TO WATCH: Tackle Jason Smith was the second pick in the draft, and followed quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has already signed with Detroit. The same firm that represents Stafford (CAA with Tom Condon and Ben Dogra), also represent Smith. Also, free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe participated in the entire offseason program without having signed his franchise tender of $6.342 million. July 15 is the last date when franchise players can sign long-term deals.

Notes and Quotes
--Wide receiver Derek Stanley was a frustrated player during OTAs. He would work in individual drills, but as soon as they were over, he would go to the sideline to ride the bike and do other conditioning exercises with the strength coaches.
Stanley suffered a torn ACL during the ACL season, and was anxious to show the team's new coaches what he can do.

Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "We didn't want to do anything with him throughout the OTAs. The hope is that as soon as we open up training camp, he'll be full-go."

--Spagnuolo stated the obvious when asked about the importance of having rookie tackle Jason Smith signed in time for the start of training camp.

Said Spagnuolo, "Yeah, that's probably a no-brainer. It's important for all the players to be here on time. I think they understand that. There is a business side of this business, so we'll let it run its course. But I'm confident in Jason's group that is representing him and (executive vice president of football operations/chief operating officer) Kevin (Demoff) certainly here."

When asked if he has talked to Smith about the contract situation, Spagnuolo said, "I had an initial conversation back when we drafted him, but that's really the business end part of it. I try to stay away from that."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's probably a philosophy thing. I guess what I believe in is, you earn anything that you should get. These guys haven't even played in a game yet. We have a lot to find out. We still haven't put the pads on." -- Coach Steve Spagnuolo on first- and second-round picks Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis working with the second team during OTAs.

Strategy and Personnel
The Rams were awarded tackle Renardo Foster on waivers from the Falcons June 19. Although Foster played seven games for Atlanta in 2007, started two, and spent the 2008 season on physically unable to perform, he would be eligible for the practice squad if unable to make the Rams' roster.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: S Oshiomogho Atogwe: Tendered at $6.342M.

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