posted on July 21, 2008 07:15
Usually, I'm not the kind of guy that blows his own horn, whatever that means.
But, today is a special day in several ways. It's three days until the Rams report for training camp almost 400 miles away in Wisconsin. In addition, this is my official debut as the Rams and NFL writer on this website.
I am grateful to Tim McKernan for giving me this opportunity to write on a daily basis, and interact with those as passionate about pro football and the Rams as I am. To top it off, today is my birthday. It was the perfect day to have this column debut.
For some, it might be just another day. But for me, it isn't. I won't reveal how old I am, mainly because I often find it hard to believe I've been around this long. I'll only say, when it comes to days, that I'm not very far from having been around for almost 21,000 in my life.
I sure won't be around for another 21,000 (I don't think), but let's hope there are plenty more to come, and that during each one, in one way or another, there's some football to talk about!
With Rams players reporting on Thursday, and the first practice Friday, this would be a good time to look at some key questions the Rams have to answer positively to make everyone forget the disaster that was the 2007 season. The beauty of the NFL is that every team has hope when camp opens, no matter what their record was the year before.
It was nine years ago that the Rams went to camp with a head coach on the hot seat (Dick Vermeil), a new offensive coordinator (Mike Martz), a receiver drafted on the first day (Torry Holt), a guard signed as a free agent (Adam Timmerman) and a new quarterback (Trent Green).
This year, you can replace those names in parentheses with Scott Linehan, Al Saunders, Donnie Avery and Jacob Bell. Green's name is ironically there again. Can history repeat itself? Only a dreamer would predict the Rams would duplicate the magic that occurred that season, but the reality is, in the NFL, crazy dreams often come true.
Here, then, is a six-pack of questions to celebrate this special day.
1. Is Orlando Pace healthy? Good question. Pace has played a total of nine games the last two seasons, and is tying to come back from a torn labrum. There might be no player more integral to the team's hopes for success this season than Pace. He participated on a limited basis during the offseason, and it was said he will be ready for the start of training camp. But will he be? We won't know that until Friday, and it's also uncertain how much he will practice during these dog days of summer.
There isn't much depth behind Pace, so his health and ability to play at a high level is paramount for quarterback Marc Bulger to maintain his physical and mental health. With Pace, the Rams can compete for a playoff spot in the mediocre NFC. Without him, it could be another very long season.
2. How about Leonard Little? Another good question. Little had one sack last season, and that came on the play that knocked him out for the year with a bad toe injury. He had surgery, but was running well in the offseason. However, he will be 34 in October (where did the years go?), so it's difficult to have confidence he will be back at the level he was before the injury.
The addition of rookie Chris Long should help the defensive line and Little, but his positive presence is as important to the defense as Pace's is to the offense.
3. Do the Rams have a legit backup to running back Steven Jackson? It doesn't appear there is. Coaches touted Antonio Pittman in the offseason, but would anyone feel good if he or Brian Leonard had to play extensively? Didn't think so. No one seems to know whether Leonard is a tailback or fullback, but he sure isn't a guy that will make a crushing block in short-yardage situations.
The bottom line is that Jackson must stay on the field for the offense to be productive and score points. It's often forgotten that Jackson led the league with 2,334 combined yards from scrimmage in 2006. It looks like he will be playing with a vengeance to secure a megabucks contract after the season.
4. Will Chris Draft or Quinton Culberson be the strong-side linebacker? Draft has the inside track on the job, but coordinator Jim Haslett wants to find a way to get Culberson on the field. He's one of those guys that makes things happen. Whoever starts comes off the field in passing situations anyway, unless Pisa Tinoisamoa has more injury woes. One of these years, Tinoisamoa has to show he can stay on the field.
5. Who is the surest thing on the Rams' roster? That's easy: kicker Josh Brown. Not only will Brown be "money" like Jeff Wilkins usually was on field goals, but his younger and healthier leg will make a difference on kickoffs. That will help field position for both the defense and offense. Even more important, the addition of Brown has weakened Seattle, and that's good news for the up-for-grabs NFC West.
6. Who is the most overlooked offseason addition, someone that is flying under the radar? Tight end Anthony Becht. Last season, the Rams wanted to use Randy McMichael more as a receiver, but they needed him to help pass protect because of offensive line issues. Having the underrated Becht around should alleviate that need. He should also help the blocking in the running game, and while he doesn't have great speed, he is a better receiver than the perception.
This is only a snapshot of questions there are about this team. If you have some more, ask away, either here or in the message board forum H-Ball. Feel free to email me as well, firstname.lastname@example.org.