by Ryan Dodson
on March 9, 2006 @ 16:00:00
2005 FINISH: 6-10 (2nd Place - NFC West), Non-playoff Team
2006 DRAFT PICK: 11th Overall
KEY POSITION NEEDS: S, LB, TE, OG, FB, WR, DT, RB, QB
Head Coach: Scott Linehan
Offensive Coordinator: Greg Olson
Defensive Coordinator: Jim Haslett
FREE AGENT(S): WR Isaac Bruce (UFA), S Adam Archuleta (UFA), C Andy McCollum (UFA), RB Arlen Harris (UFA), RB Aveion Cason (UFA), DE Brandon Green (RFA - tendered), P Bryan Barker (UFA), TE Cam Cleeland (UFA), CB Chris Johnson (UFA), LS Chris Massey (UFA - re-signed), CB Corey Ivy (UFA), DT Damione Lewis (UFA), RB David Allen (UFA), CB DeJuan Groce (RFA - tendered), QB Jamie Martin (UFA), WR Kevin Curtis (RFA - tendered), S Mike Furrey (UFA), OT Rex Tucker (UFA), TE Roland Williams (UFA), Shaun McDonald (RFA - tendered), DT Ryan Pickett (UFA), CB Terry Fair (UFA), OG Tom Nutten (UFA), LB Trev Faulk (UFA - re-signed), DE Tyoka Jackson (UFA), OL Blaine Saipaia (ERFA - re-signed), QB Jeff Smoker (ERFA - re-signed), OT Matt Morgan (ERFA), LB Jeremy Loyd (ERFA)
The 2005 season was a complete disaster for the St. Louis Rams on all fronts. QB Marc Bulger played extremely well before succumbing to injuries to his shoulder. He threw for 2,297 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. However, his offensive line continued to struggle, and he took his share of hits.
WR Kevin Curtis came into his own last season with 60 catches for 801 yards and six touchdowns. The always steady WR Torry Holt continued his stellar career with 102 catches for 1,331 yards and nine scores. RB Steven Jackson recorded 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season of starting as well. The sole bright spot on defense was LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, as he led the team with 94 total tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Where do we begin? The Rams looked completely inept on defense and special teams all season. The Rams were 30th in the National Football League in total defense last season, and they have had trouble covering kickoffs for years. The offensive line play was lackluster, and the team was among the most penalized teams in the league. Much of the penalties came on the offensive side of the ball, where OT Alex Barron struggled immensely with false start penalties.
Jackson struggled at times in his first year as a starter, and he showed some in the organization an unwillingness to play through injuries. The team sparingly used RB Marshall Faulk, who also faltered this season in pass protection. Faulk has been known to be one of the best blocking backs over the course of his career, but it's clear he is at the end of his illustrious run.
POSITION ANALYSIS - OFFENSE
As previously mentioned, Bulger played extremely well in his limited action. He missed eight games total due to a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder before re-injuring the shoulder again late in the year. He threw for 2,297 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions with a 66.9-percent completion percentage. Bulger feels healthy and is excited about the potential under new head coach Scott Linehan. Bulger is expected to resume his role as the starting quarterback in 2006.
No. 2 QB Jamie Martin had pretty good numbers without a lot to show for it. He completed 70 percent of his passes with 1,277 passing yards and five touchdowns against seven interceptions. Martin is a free agent and isn't expected to return.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick put on quite a show in his NFL debut, subbing for an injured Martin. He went 19-for-30 for 310 yards, three touchdowns and one interception along with 23 rushing yards on three carries. Fitzpatrick quickly came back to Earth, as he threw seven interceptions and just one touchdown the rest of the year. He could serve as the backup to Bulger in 2006, but the Rams are best served finding a viable backup due to Bulger's inability to stay healthy.
QB Jeff Smoker re-signed as an exclusive-rights free agent, and he could serve as the No. 3 quarterback this season.
The Rams aren't likely to assess the quarterback situation in the draft, but it would be wise for them to grab an experienced backup.
As mentioned, RB Steven Jackson had a rather rocky season last year. Some questioned his ability to hit the holes timely and said he tried to cut too many runs to the outside instead of being the punishing runner his frame indicates he should be. He was inactive for Week 17 due to a hip pointer, and he struggled with a bruised chest earlier in the season. Jackson recorded 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns in 2005, but he has a lot to improve upon in '06. He's slated to be the starting running back.
Future Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk grew frustrated with his limited role in the offense in 2005, and though he showed signs late in the year, he appears to have very little left in the tank. Faulk rushed 65 times for 292 yards and no touchdowns. He caught 44 passes for 291 yards and scored once. His output has decreased every year since 2001, and one must wonder if Faulk will retire. There seems to be very little chance he will be with the Rams in 2006.
FB Madison Hedgecock is slated to be the starting fullback right now. He's strictly a blocker, as he had one rush for no yards in 2005. The team may look to upgrade the position in the offseason.
Look for the Rams to address each running back position during the offseason. At tailback, expect added depth, as Jackson is clearly the starter.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
No. 1 WR Torry Holt had a banner year in '05. He had 102 catches for 1,331 yards and nine scores in 14 games. He missed two games due to an injured right knee. Holt turns 30 before the beginning of the season, but he's showing no signs of slowing down. He's recorded 1,300 receiving yards in six straight years with at least 81 catches. He'll be the No. 1 receiver again in 2006.
No. 2 WR Isaac Bruce struggled through an injury-plagued 2005 season. He had 36 catches for 525 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games. His yardage was the lowest output since hurting his leg in 1998 and only playing five games. Bruce's cap number was $10.04 million for 2006, and he and the team couldn't agree to a restructured deal, so the team cut him. However, they are hoping to re-sign him. Stay tuned.
WR Kevin Curtis had a big season as the team's No. 3 receiver. However, he struggled after a quick start to the '05 season. His 60 catches for 801 yards with six touchdowns were all career highs, and Curtis could step up to the No. 2 slot if the team fails to re-sign Bruce. The team has tendered Curtis a $1.5 million offer, and they will receive a first-round pick if they fail to match an offer sheet.
WR Shaun McDonald has had some big catches in his career (for instance the game-winning touchdown against Seattle two years ago), but those single moments have defined his career thus far. He caught 46 balls last year for 523 yards and no touchdowns, in what was a bit of a sluggish year considering the amount of injuries to Rams receivers. The team tendered him a $720,000 contract, and they will receive a fourth rounder if they fail to match an offer sheet to him.
WR Dane Looker continued his role as the No. 4 receiver and pitched in with 23 catches for 237 yards with no scores. He's not guaranteed a job next season, and some think WR Brandon Middleton may take his slot after returning from NFL Europe.
TE Brandon Manumaleuna has been very difficult to figure out. He's a huge tight end, nearing 300 pounds, and a good blocker with decent hands. However, he can't find consistency with either part of his game. He caught 13 passes for 129 yards with one score last year and is under contract for three more years after the team matched his offer sheet before the '04 season. The team would like to use the tight end position more this year, so he could benefit if he gets his act together.
Backup TE Cam Cleeland caught five passes for 17 yards and one score in 2005. He's an unrestricted free agent, and it's likely the team will look to upgrade.
The team will need to address their wide receiver position with either Bruce or an incumbent. It's also possible that they could use a draft pick on a tight end in the middle rounds of the draft.
POSITION ANALYSIS - DEFENSE
DE Leonard Little quietly had a pretty good season in 2005. He set a career high with 56 total tackles, 9.5 sacks (up from seven the year before), three passes defensed and four forced fumbles. Little will turn 32 in October, and he may start experiencing reductions in speed as he ages. This doesn't bode well for the undersized Little. For now, he's safely entrenched as the starter.
DE Anthony Hargrove had a good sophomore season with 51 tackles, 6.5 sacks and two passes defensed. This upcoming season could be a breakout year for Hargrove if he continues to progress through the offseason. He looks pretty safe as the starter opposite Little.
DT Ryan Pickett had a good year on paper with 65 tackles (fourth on the team), two sacks and three passes defensed. However, the interior linemen were constantly sucked up by run blockers, and the team was near the bottom of the league against the run. Pickett's agent made a pretty steep demand, and he is likely on his way out of St. Louis via free agency.
DT Damione Lewis had another disappointing season with just 34 tackles, one sack and one pass defensed. It's evident that foot injuries early in his career has stunted his growth, and he's likely on his way out via free agency.
The Rams signed DT La'Roi Glover to fill one of the vacancies at defensive tackle. The other spot will probably be filled by third-year man Jimmy Kennedy. Kennedy showed signs of life last year after two disappointing years after being selected in the first round. He had 33 tackles with three sacks, and if the team plans on going anywhere, he needs to step up to be a factor, as the team simply has too many needs to continue to stop the line's bleeding.
The reserves along the line include DE Clifford Dukes, DT Brian Howard and DT Jeremy Calahan. DE Brandon Green was tendered a $720,000 offer, and the team will receive a sixth rounder if he signs with another team.
The team will definitely need to fill the depth void on the defensive line in the later rounds of the draft or via free agency.
Tinoisamoa was the defensive standout last year, but he was manhandled by fullbacks and pulling guards in the running game. He still recorded 94 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions and seven passes defended. He will return as the starting strong-side linebacker in '06.
LB Trev Faulk re-signed on a one-year deal after the 2005 season and right now is the starting middle linebacker. However, look for the team to seek an upgrade here. Faulk had 40 tackles last season, as he split time on defense and special teams.
WLB Dexter Coakley has been declining since his career season in 2002. He recorded just 38 tackles in 12 games last year (both career lows), with two sacks, one interception and one pass defensed. He figures to return this year with someone pushing him for the starting position.
LB Brandon Chillar had a good season last year with 52 tackles, one fumble recovery and one pass defensed. He could push for a starting job this season in his third year.
The Rams secondary was severely banged up in 2005 beginning with CB Jerametrius Butler (knee) tearing his anterior cruciate ligament before the season began. If he can come back strong this season, it will really help tie up the loose ends in this porous bunch.
CB Travis Fisher has shown signs of being a capable cover-corner. However, he continues to get hurt. He had 37 tackles and three passes defensed in eight games. If both come back healthy, look for them to continue starting.
CB Ronald Bartell was thrown to the wolves in his rookie season, and he had 34 tackles with four passes defensed in 10 games. Keep an eye on his development.
CB Corey Ivy was third on the team in tackles with 69 last year, but he was picked on by nearly every quarterback in the league. He had two sacks, one interception and four passes defensed, but he was clearly in over his head. His being forced into action was the telltale of the Rams' season.
CB DeJuan Groce played well in nickel packages, but when he was forced to become a starter, he was torched. He finished the year with 48 tackles, two interceptions and nine passes defensed. The team tendered him a $720,000 offer and would receive a fourth rounder if he bolts.
FS Mike Furrey led the team with four interceptions and three fumble recoveries to go with it; one of which came late in the season on an acrobatic play for a touchdown. He had 48 tackles and four passes defensed to go along with it. However, he struggled with open-field tackles, and he may not return in 2006.
SS Adam Archuleta clearly has suffered too many injuries in his career to be a factor. He was run over and missed countless tackles last season. Though he was second on the team with 70 tackles, he had 3.5 sacks, an interception for a score and two passes defensed; he's unlikely to return this year.
Rookie Jerome Carter had 38 tackles last year and could see more time in 2006.
Rookie O.J. Atogwe had 10 tackles, one sack and one interception in 12 games last year, and he, too, could see more action this year.
The team needs serious help in the secondary, and it's possible they could look for a shutdown corner or a hard-hitting safety in the first round of the draft.
PK Jeff Wilkins continued to live up to his nickname "Money" in 2006. He went 27-for-31 in field goal attempts for 87 percent and made all 36 of his extra points. He was 6-for-7 from 20-29 yards, made all eight from 30-39 yards, went 9-for-11 from 40-49 and made four of five from over 50 yards. The team signed him to a long extension during the season, and he'll be back in '06.
Punter Bryan Barker came in and took over for Reggie Hodges last year, and he kicked 50 punts for a 42.7-yard average. His net was 35.6 yards, and he hit 13 inside the 20-yard line with a long of 63. Barker is a free agent, and it's unknown what the Rams will do here.
Long-snapper Chris Massey signed a four-year deal worth $2.73 million and included a $300,000 signing bonus during the offseason. He'll return in '06.
RB Arlen Harris wasn't tendered a contract after playing mostly on special teams in 2005. He's an unrestricted free agent and may not return to the team.
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About Ryan Dodson
Dodson is a KFFL Contributor and has been with KFFL since 2002.
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