When the Rams’ minicamp opened on April 2, it was expected that quarterback Gus Frerotte would be on the field as the backup to Marc Bulger.
But minicamp came and went without Frerotte, and within a few hours after the final practice was over, the Rams had their new backup. But it wasn’t Frerotte. Instead, it was Kyle Boller, who quietly had a tryout April 3 and signed a one-year contract the next day.
Boller was Baltimore’s first-round pick in 2003, and during an inconsistent career with the Ravens, he started 42 games, played in 53, passed for 7,846 yards with 45 touchdowns and 44 interceptions. He spent all of the 2008 season on injured reserve with an injury to his throwing shoulder.
The injury was a partially torn labrum, and after it happened in the preseason, he opted to have surgery immediately. He was throwing by the end of the season and now proclaims the shoulder to be “100 percent.”
Boller had an anchor put in his shoulder, similar to the surgery New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees had in 2006.
Boller told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “It’s one of those deals where I feel very confident that the surgeon that did it, did it fine. I was talking to Drew Brees because he’s one of the guys I work out with in San Diego and he told me he had 10 anchors put in his shoulder and I only had one so if he can come back from that, I’m sure I’ll be just fine.”
“One of the things is you work so much shoulder strengthening that my arm actually feels stronger than it did before just by all the rotator cuff stuff you do and working your biceps tendon so it does feel stronger.”
Said general manager Billy Devaney, “We think he’s a good fit for us backing up Marc. He’s a young guy that still has a ton of ability and a lot of upside. This is a really good pickup for us.”
Boller’s arrival had some irony because of comments center Jason Brown made after signing with the Rams early in free agency. Talking about the importance of protecting the quarterback, the former Baltimore center said, “That relationship between the quarterback and the offensive line, it’s more important than what people think because we give that guy confidence. Kyle Boller with the Ravens, I love him to death, but you see what getting hit one too many times early in your career can do to you.
“He became gun shy instead of getting the ball and standing back there with poise and then being able to step up. If there was a flash of anything, something, it might have been far to the edge, he was like (flinching). And he started to scramble. You have to have the faith in your offensive line to where you say, ‘Hey, I know these guys are going to give me the seconds that I need in order to get this ball off.’ “
Boller acknowledged he was disappointed when he heard what Brown said, and added that Brown “was surprised to see me” when he showed up for his tryout.
But, Boller said, “I talked to Jason. I’ve been with Jason for the last four years, and I don’t have a bad thing to say about him. I think if you talked to him, we’ve never had any problems. So we cleared that up right away. It wasn’t a big issue at all.”
Asked about the “gun-shy” accusation, and whether it was accurate, Boller said, “No. I don’t think so at all. I’ve never had anybody tell me I was gun-shy before. I’m not afraid to go back there and throw that thing.”
What Boller is most excited about is getting a new opportunity and working in the West Coast offense being implemented by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
“(It’s) an offense I have always wanted to be in,” he said. “You get the ball out of your hand fast, run the football and get your downfield shots. It’s something I am excited about. Coach Shurmur said this was an offense he thought I would thrive in. I’m looking forward to picking his brain and trying to learn as much as I can from him and go from there.”
As for the new beginning, Boller concluded, “I’m ready for a fresh start. I could’ve gone back to Baltimore. But with the situation and stuff, I was just ready to get out of there. I was ready for a clean start, new faces, new places - everything.
“It’s a tough business and there’s a lot of stuff you have to go through but I think that’s what separates guys that make it and have long careers and guys that don’t. You have to be mentally strong; a huge part of it is the mental part. If you let the little things scare you and bother you, you don’t have a chance. I was thrown in early, learned my lessons and hopefully my next 10 years will be the best years of my football career.”
• When Rams general manager Billy Devaney was with the Falcons in 2007, they drafted WR Laurent Robinson in the third round. As a rookie, the 6-2, 194-pound Robinson started six games and caught 37 passes for 437 yards and a touchdown.
However, hamstring problems affected him last season, and he played just six games and had 52 yards on five receptions. He was placed on injured reserve Dec. 16.
Robinson has rejoined Devaney as the Rams and Falcons swapped fifth- and sixth-round picks. The Rams moved down 22 spots in the fifth round and 20 in the sixth round to acquire Robinson.
“He showed a lot of potential his rookie year,” Devaney said. “Good ball skills, smooth route runner. He’s got some size, too.”
• There was a strange disconnect between coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney when the team’s recent minicamp ended.
Asked if the five practices assisted the evaluation process when it comes to draft plans, Spagnuolo said, “Yeah, no question. And that was one of the reasons why Billy and I decided to have a camp before the draft. I think that will be huge. It will be huge for him; I think it’ll be huge for me. It’s important.”
However, Devaney had a different take. Asked how much the minicamp helped the draft plan, he said, “Not much. We’re not going to alter our draft board based on what we see out here, guys kind of running around in shorts and t-shirts. That wasn’t the intent. We didn’t think going in that with these couple of practices we’d find out about guys and say, ‘OK, you know what? Forget about drafting this position, we need to move on to this position based off the practices.’ It was more just to get our feet wet with the players and coaches and really has no effect on the draft.”
• Last summer, coach Scott Linehan moved the team’s training camp from St. Louis to Wisconsin in hopes of turning things around from a 3-13 record in 2007. Running back Steven Jackson was absent because of a contract impasse, and the Rams sputtered out of the gate. Linehan was fired after the fourth game of the season, and the Rams finished 2-14.
As it turns out, Spagnuolo was hoping to have the first part of camp away from the team’s training facility, just not as far away as Wisconsin. While with the Eagles, the team trained in nearby West Chester, and with the Giants, camp was held in Albany.
After investigating options at Lindenwood University, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Southern Illinois-Carbondale, the decision was made this week to hold camp at their Russell Training Facility.
However, efforts will be ongoing to see if a move makes sense in 2010. Logistics made it difficult to go somewhere this year.
“We looked at and considered a lot of different options,” Spagnuolo said. “And ultimately, we decided that for this year and this summer, this was the best place for us and our fans.”
Added Kevin Demoff, the team’s executive vice president of football operations, “In the end, we just felt that this was the most practical option for 2009, from a football standpoint and also from a fan standpoint.
“Nobody had ever really taken the time to research local options, at least not in the past few years. It’s possible in 2010 we could go elsewhere. But in the end, all of our research this year led us to want to stay here.”
Part of the problem involved camp starting later than normal this year and bumping into the time when students arrive on the various campuses.
As Demoff further explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “By the time we started seeking out schools, it was a little late in the process for them to be able to commit. This will give everybody lead time of a year to really give us a proposal that makes sense. And for us to consider what makes sense.
“But, we’d also like to see how it plays out here … and really get a sense for how fans react to practice here, and the advantages that come with that.”
When the Rams camped at home from 2005-2008, night practices were closed. In addition, the facility isn’t equipped to handle large crowds. It’s possible a scrimmage will be held at either Lindenwood or Washington University.
Concluded Demoff, “Our goal is to make as many practices as possible open to the public, if not all practices.”
• Added to the list of draft eligible players expected to visit the Rams next week are OTs Eugene Monroe (Virginia), Michael Oher (Mississippi) and William Beatty (Connecticut).
Others known to be visiting are OT Jason Smith (Baylor), WRs Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech), Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland), Jeremy Maclin (Missouri) and Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate (both North Carolina); QBs Thomas Brandstater (Fresno State) and Mark Sanchez (Southern Cal); LBs Aaron Curry (Wake Forest) and Rey Maualuga (Southern Cal); DT Ziggy Hood (Missouri); CB Mike Mickens (Cincinnati); DE Tyson Jackson (Louisiana State); DEs Connor Barwin (Cincinnati) and Lawrence Sidbury (Richmond).
Quote To Note: “They’re very detail oriented. Very team oriented. I’m glad to be a part of it. I’m going to put my best foot forward and show ‘em I’ve bought in.”—DT Clifton Ryan on Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams’ new coaching staff.
Strategy And Personnel
TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
The Rams have made some key additions, but there were holes created with the release of tackle Orlando Pace, wide receivers Torry Holt and Drew Bennett, backup quarterback Trent Green and blocking tight end Anthony Becht.
The departures of Pace and Holt created $14 million in salary-cap space, which the Rams used some of for quarterback Kyle Boller. They also could possibly add depth at defensive tackle and running back. The draft could also be used for those spots, including wide receiver, where Laurent Robinson was acquired from the Falcons. They will need about $6 million in cap space for their draft picks.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo would like to get bigger on the defensive line, where the Rams ended 2008 without a nose tackle behind starter Clifton Ryan.
The draft could also be the place where the Rams find a back capable of taking over for Steven Jackson during games or if is injured, which has been the case the last two seasons.
1. Tackle: With left tackle Orlando Pace having been released and Alex Barron entering the final year of his contract, a revamping of the position is possible. In the short term, the Rams plan to move Barron from right tackle to left tackle, the position he played in college and for 15 games in 2007 when Pace was injured. That still leaves a void on the right side, where Adam Goldberg worked in the team’s recent minicamp.
2. Wide receiver: With Torry Holt and Drew Bennett released, there is no real veteran presence at the position. Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton return for their second season, and it’s possible the Rams could add a receiver in free agency while still going for another young player in the draft. They did add third-year pro Laurent Robinson in a trade with Atlanta.
3. Middle linebacker: Will Witherspoon is moving from the middle to the outside where it is believed he will be able to excel. For now, Chris Draft is the starter, but he is not a long-term answer. The Rams have been looking for excellence in the middle ever since London Fletcher left after the 2001 season.
Medical Watch: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: S Oshiomogho Atogwe: Tendered at $6.342M.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
• CB Fakhir Brown was a favorite of former coach Jim Haslett, and is not expected to return.
• CB Jason Craft was acquired during the 2008 season and made some valuable contributions. Could be back at the right price.
• OT Anthony Davis didn’t play after being signed during the season, but might be back to compete for depth.
• DT La’Roi Glover played with a bad knee for most of the second half of the season and is contemplating retirement.
• OT Brandon Gorin missed the entire 2008 season with a shoulder injury and is unlikely to return.
• WR/KR Dante Hall has experienced leg injuries the last two seasons, and his age is catching up to him.
• WR Dane Looker has always gotten the most out of his ability, but coaching change might means it’s the end of the line for him.
• CB Ricky Manning played five games before going on injured reserve, but could compete for a spot if recovered from his injury.
• RB Travis Minor has contributed on special teams, but it seems to be a longshot that he’ll be re-signed.
• OT Rob Petitti never made it to training camp after being injured in offseason workouts. Very unlikely to be back.
• LB Gary Stills added leadership to the special teams before being slowed by a knee injury. It’s unknown how the new coaching staff views him.
• C Cory Withrow is another undersized lineman added to the roster because of injuries. Not expected to be re-signed.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
• DE Victor Adeyanju (tendered at $1.01M with fourth-round pick as compensation) has showed steady progress in his three seasons, and he is needed for depth on the line.
• OG Richie Incognito (tendered at $1.01M with third-round pick as compensation) has ability, but has to curb his emotions during games. The question is whether he’s worth a $1 million tender.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
• CB Ron Bartell: UFA; $25M/4 yrs, $4.1M SB/$8.6M base guarantees; 2009 cap: $5.35M.
• QB Brock Berlin: Potential ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
• LB Quinton Culberson: Potential ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
• T/G Adam Goldberg: UFA; $1.52M/2 yrs, $100,000 SB; 2009 cap: $670,000.
• DE Eric Moore: UFA; terms unknown.
• OG Mark Setterstrom: Not tendered as RFA; terms unknown.
• TE Billy Bajema: UFA 49ers; terms unknown.
• QB Kyle Boller: UFA Ravens; $1.5M/1 yr.
• C Jason Brown: UFA Ravens; $37.5M/5 yrs, $11M SB/$9M base guarantees; 2009 cap: $6.2M.
• SS James Butler: UFA Giants; $12M/4 yrs, $1.075M SB; 2009 cap: $2.194M.
• S Craig Dahl: Not tendered as ERFA by Giants; terms unknown.
• FB Mike Karney: FA Saints; $3.5M/3 yrs, $275,000 SB/$225,000 RB; 2009 cap: $1.017M.
• WR Laurent Robinson (trade Falcons).
• TE Anthony Becht (released).
• WR Drew Bennett (released).
• S Corey Chavous (released).
• QB Trent Green (released/failed physical).
• WR Torry Holt (released).
• C Nick Leckey: UFA Saints; 1 yr, terms unknown.
• OT Orlando Pace (released).
• C Brett Romberg: UFA Falcons; terms unknown.