NFC West: Brian leonard
One reason, actually.
Daryl Richardson, the Rams' rookie seventh-round draft choice, has given the offense a jolt with his speed and breakaway ability. He has 53- and 44-yard runs this season. Those are two of the Rams' three longest rushes since the start of the 2010 season. Jackson's 47-yard scoring run in the 2011 opener was the other.
Richardson has 246 yards and a 5.2-yard average through six games. If we watched the Rams play without knowing anything about the legacy Jackson has built in St. Louis, would we conclude through performance alone that Jackson was the Rams' best option?
We might, but it wouldn't be automatic.
Both backs are going to play, but this dynamic is a new one for the Rams. The team has not had a viable alternative to Jackson since Marshall Faul played his final down in 2005, Jackson's second season. The No. 2 back in St. Louis hasn't commanded many carries before this season.
Cadillac Williams, Kenneth Darby, Antonio Pittman, Brian Leonard and Stephen Davis have finished second to Jackson in rushing yards for the Rams since Faulk retired. They had between 152 and 361 yards rushing in a given season. Richardson is on pace to surpass 361 yards in the next three games and possibly sooner if Week 6 was an indicator. Richardson had 11 carries for 76 yards against the Miami Dolphins last week.
In the past, Jackson knew he would get enough carries over the course of 16 games to get his 1,000 yards. He has rightfully taken pride in the streak. There could be enough production to go around for Jackson to keep alive the streak even with Richardson playing a significant role in the offense. Both players were productive as the Rams amassed 462 yards against the Dolphins.
Through six games, Jackson is on pace for 861 yards. Richardson is on pace for 656. Jackson was on a slower pace at this point last season, but he caught up with at least 128 yards in three consecutive games beginning in Week 8. No other Rams running back got more than three carries in any of those games.
The chart shows production by down for Richardson and Jackson. The final column shows percentage of rushes resulting in first downs. The percentage is much higher for Jackson on third down because he has five carries on third-and-1, plus two others with fewer than four yards needed for a first down. Richardson's third-down carries have come with 7, 12, 13, 17 and 24 yards needed for a first down, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Note: Rams coach Jeff Fisher addressed the one-two combination in his conversation with reporters Thursday.
"It's been working and we'll continue it," Fisher said. "I'd still like to see 'Jack' get at least about two-thirds of the carries because he’s got the experience, and Jack is one of those that he almost needs to get rolling. He needs to get going, so we’ll continue to work with that, but we were pleased with the results last weekend."
Related: Rick Venturi's film review on the Rams' running backs at Miami begin at the five-minute mark of this clip.
The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
- Running back Cadillac Williams carried 19 times for 91 yards. Williams joined Marshall Faulk, Antonio Pittman and Brian Leonard as the only Rams running backs other than Steven Jackson to rush for at least that many yards in a game since Jackson entered the league in 2004. Faulk had two 100-yard games when Jackson was a rookie. Leonard had 102 yards in a 2007 game against Arizona. Pittman had 95 yards during a 2008 game against San Francisco.
- The Rams limited Eagles quarterback Michael Vick to 14 completions in 32 attempts. According to Pro Football Reference, this was the 14th time since at least 1960 that a Rams opponent had completed so few passes in so many attempts. The Rams roughed up Vick several times and forced him to hold the ball when receivers were not open.
- Steven Jackson broke free for a 47-yard touchdown run on the Rams' first offensive snap.
- Chris Long, Quintin Mikell and Justin King had sacks for the Rams. Mikell forced a fumble that James Laurinaitis recovered.
- Jerious Norwood had 49- and 29-yard kickoff returns.
- Donnie Jones had a 61-yard punt, and one downed inside the 20.
That happened in St. Louis when Steve Spagnuolo arrived as Rams coach for the 2009 season. Players drafted among the top 52 overall choices only two years prior suddenly didn't fit. Defensive lineman Adam Carriker (13th overall) and fullback Brian Leonard (52nd) were sent on their way before long.
It happened again in Seattle when Pete Carroll took over as head coach last season. Building the defense around Aaron Curry, chosen fourth overall in the 2009 draft, became less a priority once the people responsible for drafting him were no longer in charge.
I would expect similar disruption in San Francisco, where Jim Harbaugh has taken over for Mike Singletary.
"The simple effect is that nobody is guaranteed a position," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said from the NFL owners meeting this week. "A new staff comes in, we have a new system offensively, defensively and on special teams. Very few holdover position coaches. So, it's going to be competition at its finest. Roll out the ball and may the best man win."
The pressure will be on some of the less established players -- second-round choice Taylor Mays comes to mind -- once the lockout ends and players return to their teams. A prolonged lockout will hamper preparations, another challenge to overcome.
They've been in big games before, and frequently, thanks largely to shrewd drafting.
This is the Steelers' third Super Bowl appearance in the last six seasons.
The team made available James Farrior, Flozell Adams, Hines Ward, Brett Keisel, Ben Roethlisberger and LaMarr Woodley during its initial media session Monday -- just the opportunity I needed to produce an item corresponding to the one titled, "Draft hindsight: Aaron Rodgers and beyond".
The idea: to examine a Super Bowl team's featured players -- in this case, the ones made available Monday -- with an emphasis on draft status and the decisions NFC West teams made in the same rounds. Not every team held a choice in every featured round.
The Arizona Cardinals had a shot at Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but they came out OK.
Here goes ...
1997 Draft: James Farrior, LB, Virginia
Round: First (eighth overall, by the New York Jets)
NFC West spin: Farrior is a two-time Pro Bowl choice, but the NFC West offers no apologies for passing over him. Orlando Pace and Walter Jones became perennial Pro Bowl tackles. Jones became the best player in Seahawks history, in my view. Shawn Springs made one Pro Bowl trip and picked off 33 passes during a 13-year career. The Cardinals had no shot at Farrior. They chose Tommy Knight one pick later. He started 54 games in six NFL seasons. Rumor says the 49ers selected a quarterback in the first round of this draft.
First-round selections in the division:
- Rams (first overall): Pace, T, Ohio State
- Seahawks (third overall): Springs, CB, Ohio State
- Seahawks (sixth overall): Jones, T, Florida State
- Cardinals (ninth overall): Knight, CB, Iowa
- 49ers (26th overall): Jim Druckenmiller, QB, Virginia Tech
Round: Second (38th overall, by Dallas)
NFC West spin: Adams became a five-time Pro Bowl choice with Dallas. His career appeared finished, or close to it, until injuries led the Steelers to call on him this season. Arizona passed on Adams twice. Safety Corey Chavous, chosen five spots before Adams, went to a Pro Bowl with Minnesota. He was a productive player for roughly a decade. Tackle Anthony Clement, chosen two spots before Adams, started more than 100 games for three teams.
Second-round selections in the division:
- Cardinals (33rd overall): Corey Chavous, SS, Vanderbilt
- Cardinals (36th overall): Anthony Clement, T, Louisiana-Lafayette
- Rams (37th overall): Robert Holcombe, FB, Illinois
- Seahawks (47th overall): Todd Weiner, T, Kansas State
- 49ers (58th overall): Jeremy Newberry, C, California
Round: Third (92nd overall, by Pittsburgh)
NFC West spin: The Rams and Seahawks found Pro Bowl-caliber players when they passed over Ward in the third round. Seattle gave up on Ahman Green prematurely, however, after coach Mike Holmgren grew weary of early fumble problems. The 49ers missed on tackle Chris Ruhman three choices before Ward went to Pittsburgh. Ruhman played in six games with the 49ers, starting none. He played in 11 NFL games with two starts overall. The 49ers passed on Ward even though Jerry Rice had suffered a devastating knee injury in the 1997 opener.
Third-round selections in the division:
- Rams (65th overall): Leonard Little, DE, Tennessee
- Seahawks (76th overall): Ahman Green, RB, Nebraska
- 49ers (89th overall): Chris Ruhman, T, Texas A&M
Round: Seventh (242nd overall, by Pittsburgh)
NFC West spin: The 49ers drafted longtime starting guard and center Eric Heitmann three spots before the Steelers found Keisel. Pittsburgh could use Heitmann this week after the Steelers' starting center, Maurkice Pouncey, suffered a severely sprained ankle during the AFC Championship Game. Keisel became a Pro Bowl choice for the first time this season, distinguishing him from 2002 NFC West seventh-rounders. The Rams found their mainstay snapper in this draft. Keisel was gone when the 49ers found guard Kyle Kosier, who started 29 games for them and remains a starter with Dallas.
Seventh-round selections in the division:
- Cardinals (223rd overall): Mike Banks, TE, Iowa State
- Seahawks (232nd overall): Jeff Kelly, QB, Southern Mississippi
- 49ers (239th overall): Heitmann, C, Stanford
- Rams (243rd overall): Chris Massey, LS, Marshall
- 49ers (248th overall): Kyle Kosier, G, Arizona State
- 49ers (256th overall): Teddy Gaines, DB, Tennessee
Round: First (11th overall, by Pittsburgh)
NFC West spin: The Cardinals passed over Roethlisberger and came away with a potential Hall of Fame receiver. No complaints there, even though quarterbacks are more valuable than receivers. None of the other NFC West teams had a shot at Roethlisberger. Seattle and St. Louis were set at quarterback, anyway.
First-round selections in the division:
- Cardinals (third overall): Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh
- Seahawks (23rd overall): Marcus Tubbs, DT, Texas
- Rams (24th overall): Steven Jackson, RB, Oregon State
- 49ers (31st overall): Rashaun Woods, WR, Oklahoma State
Round: Second (46th overall, by Pittsburgh)
NFC West spin: The Cardinals could certainly use Woodley now, and badly, but they had already invested millions in the position heading into the 2007 draft. Free-agent additions Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry had combined for 14.5 sacks during the 2006 season. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they haven't gotten enough from their second-round investment in Alan Branch.
Second-round selections in the division:
- Cardinals (33rd overall): Branch, DL, Michigan
- Rams (52nd overall): Brian Leonard, FB, Rutgers
- Seahawks (55th overall): Josh Wilson, CB, Maryland
OK, all done, and just in time. ESPN.com teammates Mike Reiss, Kevin Seifert and I are heading out to the Packers' media session next. Seifert is driving and he doesn't wait for anyone. Gotta jam.
It was 2007 when Ken Whisenhunt joined an NFC West head coaching fraternity featuring Mike Holmgren, Mike Nolan and Scott Linehan. The landscape has changed dramatically since then, shifting further Tuesday when the Seattle Seahawks traded 2007 second-round draft choice Josh Wilson to Baltimore.
Wilson's departure leaves the Arizona Cardinals' Alan Branch as the only 2007 NFC West second-round choice still with his original team. The St. Louis Rams have only one player remaining from that draft class, fifth-round choice Clifton Ryan. That draft also featured Adam Carriker and Brian Leonard.
The San Francisco 49ers came away from that draft with Patrick Willis and Joe Staley. Jason Hill, Ray McDonald, Dashon Goldson and Tarell Brown also remain from that draft, making it easily the strongest 2007 class for an NFC West team.
The Cardinals still have Levi Brown, Branch, Steve Breaston and Ben Patrick. The Seahawks traded their 2007 first-rounder to New England for Deion Branch. They still have Brandon Mebane, Mansfield Wrotto, Will Herring and Steve Vallos from that class.
The chart takes a round-by-round look at how many 2007 NFC West draft choices remain with their original teams.
The move reunites Carriker with former Rams interim coach and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, now with the Redskins. I never sensed the Rams' current leadership disliked Carriker, but neither was the leadership ever personally invested in Carriker's career. Haslett has a better feel for what Carriker can become. Perhaps Carriker will fit better at defensive end in the Redskins' 3-4 scheme than at defensive tackle in the Rams' 4-3. A shoulder injury prevented Carriker from playing last season, perhaps hastening his departure.
The Rams made Carriker the 13th player chosen in the 2007 draft. His departure leaves restricted free agent Clifton Ryan, a fifth-round choice, as the only 2007 Rams choice still with the team. The current leadership previously traded second-round choice Brian Leonard. Other members from that class -- Jonathan Wade, Dustin Fry, Ken Shackleford, Keith Jackson and Derek Stanley -- are also gone.
Victor Adeyanju and Mark Setterstrom are the Rams' only 2006 choices still with the team.
The dismantling continues in St. Louis.
The natural question is whether the organization went too far in pushing out higher-priced veterans.
I suspected they might have gone too far when they released linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. I also thought they might have been premature in parting with Orlando Pace despite the tackle's steep salary and history of injuries.
The reality, though, is that the Rams got it right.
They have gone from being a bad, old team with significant salary-cap problems to being a bad, young team with a much brighter salary-cap future.
The younger players finding their way this season have a chance to help the team in the future. That wasn't the case in 2008, when losing got old, literally.
The Rams have the third-youngest roster in the league. They had the third-oldest last season. Their offense has moved the ball much better than I would have anticipated. A glaring lack of playmakers has turned the red zone into a dead zone, preventing the Rams from scoring enough points to compete on the scoreboard. But I think it's safe to say the Rams have the most promising young offensive line in the NFC West.
This team needs to find playmakers in the draft, plain and simple.
Kraig writes via Facebook: Sando, you pity the Rams, but you ridicule the Seahawks. You're a believer in the new 49er formula, although not always its execution. The Cards are an enigma, but undeniably talented. Interesting. But kicking the Seahawks when they're down is starting to stand out. What gives?
Mike Sando: Expectations frame the analysis. The Rams were a 2-14 team rebuilding. They parted with Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey, Brett Romberg, Chris Draft and others. This was a total roster overhaul. I thought the Rams might have gone too far with a couple of these moves, but once the moves were made, the expectations were set accordingly.
With a new head coach and a younger roster, the Rams were going to struggle for a while. I thought 0-7 was likely and said so on the blog. The fact that the Rams are 0-6 is bad, but not a shock. It's Year 1 of a total rebuild. The Seahawks did not see themselves in the same light. Holding them to the same standard as the Rams would have been a bigger insult to the Seahawks than holding them accountable as I have tried to do.
Seattle thought injuries were pretty much to blame for a 4-12 record. The team thought Walter Jones would be fine this season. The team thought depth at tackle would be fine after re-signing Ray Willis. I thought the team needed to do more to shore up the position. Sean Locklear had missed a few games in the past, Willis has had knee issues and Jones was coming off surgery at age 35. I questioned whether the team could stay healthy in predicting a 7-9 record when schedules came out, upgrading the outlook slightly when Matt Hasselbeck seemed to pass a few injury-related milestones.
The outlook for Seattle darkens when we consider advanced ages for some of these injured players. Jones and Patrick Kerney are into their 30s. Both needed to play at a high level for Seattle to succeed. The fact that both are dealing with injury problems should surprise nobody. It was entirely predictable even if there was a chance both might beat the odds.
I think it's an even worse sign for Seattle if we start judging them with the same standards applied to the Rams. It's not that bad.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Among the things I'll want to see when the Rams conclude their exhibition season Thursday night against the Chiefs:
- Prominent holdovers. Parting with recent first-round cornerback Tye Hill had to put other disappointing high draft choices on notice. After pushing out aging vets a few months ago, the Rams have targeted young underachievers, including Brian Leonard, Joe Klopfenstein and Hill. If the Rams valued Hill only as much as they valued a 2010 seventh-round choice, how much do they value, say, Adam Carriker?
- Backup receivers. The final exhibition game often helps shake out the final one or two spots at receiver. That appears true for the Rams. They sounded high on veteran Tim Carter earlier in the offseason. They acquired Ronald Curry from the Lions. Neither seems to have made a strong impression. Where do they stand?
- Special teams. The Rams had some problems defending returns in their previous exhibition game. Punter Donnie Jones can help solve that with better punts. Still, lapses in coverage could raise red flags.
- Jason Smith. The No. 2 overall draft choice gets another chance to prove he belongs in the starting lineup for Week 1. He could play extensively at right tackle.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Campfires: Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't afraid to make first-round draft choices earn their starting jobs. He benched Matt Leinart coming out of camp last season, then made talented rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wait until near midseason before becoming a full-time starter. The trend could continue this summer as rookie first-round choice Beanie Wells practices with the Cardinals for the first time.
Wells projects as the long-term replacement for Edgerrin James at running back, but Ohio State's late graduation prevented him from participating in minicamps and organized team activities. That means the adjustment period for Wells could take a little longer. Expect Tim Hightower to enter camp as the tentative starter.
Meanwhile, the situation at tight end remains a mystery. Arizona is carrying six tight ends on its roster, one behind the league high. Ben Patrick, the player coaches have tried to develop as a player versatile enough to help as a receiver and blocker, faces a four-game suspension to start the season. That could open the door for Anthony Becht, Leonard Pope or Stephen Spach to seize the starting job. I don't see a clear favorite, particularly with Patrick serving a suspension and Spach coming off knee surgery.
|Jeff Mills/Icon SMI|
|Will Beanie Wells be able to avoid the injuries that plagued him in college?|
Camp will be a downer if ... Wells doesn't immediately prove he can avoid the long list of injuries that affected him in college. Arizona needs a more dynamic runner to run its offense the way Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Russ Grimm want to run it. Wells has the physical ability to provide that missing element. Can he stay on the field and will he fight through some of the ailments that await every running back in the NFL?
The preferred scenario would include Wells breaking a few long runs during the preseason, setting up the play-action passing game that worked so well for Arizona when the team showed more balance in the playoffs last season.Camp will be a success if ... the reconfigured coaching staff takes control of the team and helps Arizona build on the momentum from its Super Bowl season.
Whisenhunt has stressed continuity during the first two years of his tenure. He kept the same five starters on the offensive line even though right guard Deuce Lutui had penalty problems and center Lyle Sendlein sometimes struggled while playing through a shoulder injury. While the approach worked, continuity wasn't an option for the coaching staff once the Chiefs hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley head coach.
Whisenhunt's decision to fire quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast shook up the staff considerably more.
Warner will miss the rapport he enjoyed with Haley. The two appeared inseparable at times and the relationship seemed to benefit Warner on the field. Can the newly configured staff fill the void or otherwise find ways to keep Warner and the offense rolling?
Franchise player rules will force Dansby to wait, and he should be content "settling" for a one-year franchise deal worth nearly $9.7 million. The volatile Dockett has also committed to letting his play do the talking, a good sign for the team.
While Boldin put aside his concerns to produce last season, his situation bears monitoring. Another year without a new contract probably equates to a higher frustration level. Boldin, generally the consummate pro, might have a harder time dealing with the situation -- particularly if the team fails to meet expectations.
San Francisco 49ers
Training camp site: 49ers headquarters (Santa Clara, Calif.)
|Kyle Terada/US Presswire|
|Can Shaun Hill distinguish himself to claim the starting QB job?|
Campfires: The 49ers have quite a few position battles for a team that finished strong and feels good about its chances for contending within the division.
The quarterback race will rightfully command the most attention. Coach Mike Singletary said the players will know whether Shaun Hill or Alex Smith should be the starter, at which point Singletary will merely affirm what they know. That means Smith's status as the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2005 will not afford him any advantage in the competition. Hill's 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter over the last two seasons gives him the edge.
On defense, Dashon Goldson would have to flop or suffer another injury for the older and less athletic Mark Roman to take back his job at free safety. Dre Bly has the edge over Tarell Brown at right corner. Kentwan Balmer, the 49ers' first-round choice in 2008, could push for a starting job at left defensive end.Camp will be a downer if ... both quarterbacks flounder and veteran Damon Huard appears to be the best option. Unlikely? Perhaps. But the scenario isn't as laughable as it should be. Neither Hill nor Smith distinguished himself during the competition a year ago. Even if Mike Martz was playing favorites when he installed J.T. O'Sullivan as the starter, the fact remains that O'Sullivan enjoyed the strongest preseason of the three.
The new offensive system should better suit Hill in particular, and the 49ers have declared this quarterback race a two-man affair, ruling out Huard as a contender. Still, after years of backing up Trent Green, Tom Brady and Dan Marino, Huard wound up starting three of the first five games in Kansas City last season when the unaccomplished Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen were his primary competitors.Camp will be a success if ... Hill validates his 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter, right tackle Marvel Smith makes it through training camp healthy and the push toward a full-time 3-4 defense validates Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson as promising pass-rushers.
Hitting on all three of those might be asking a bit much, but getting two of them right might be enough, particularly if the 49ers feel good about the quarterback situation.
On the receiving end: It's a little surprising to see the 49ers emerge with their deepest group of receivers in years after committing to Singletary's smashmouth approach. The change to Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was all about making smarter use of the players general manager Scot McCloughan and former coach Mike Nolan had acquired in recent years.
That meant -- and still means -- forging an identity in the ground game. Yet, while receivers Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce, Brandon Jones and Josh Morgan will not be battling Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for Pro Bowl berths this season, they do give the 49ers better potential than they've enjoyed recently.
Singletary's smashmouth roots should not and likely will not dissuade the 49ers from making frequent use of those receivers.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire|
|The Seahawks must get Matt Hasselbeck through training camp unscathed.|
Training camp site: Seahawks headquarters (Renton, Wash.)
Campfires: The Seahawks weren't going to pretend that first-round choice Aaron Curry would have to prove himself in camp to earn a starting job. They put the fourth overall choice in the lineup from the beginning. No suspense there.
Most positions in Seattle appear settled. The situation at receiver should produce intrigue with Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and rookie burner Deon Butler fighting to get on the field with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tight end John Carlson. Injuries will probably help sort out the situation. Burleson is returning from ACL surgery. Branch is entering his first full season since undergoing his own ACL procedure.
Don't be surprised if rookie second-round choice Max Unger pushes for playing time somewhere in the interior of the offensive line. He projects as the long-term starter at center if Chris Spencer plays out his contract and leaves following this season. If S
pencer holds the job, Unger figures to find his way onto the field in one of the guard spots, perhaps this year.
Camp will be a downer if ... quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's back injury flares up at any point along the way. Hasselbeck and the Seahawks say the quarterback has long since overcome the problems that helped limit him to seven starts last season. They didn't know the extent of the problem a year ago when they assured fans that Hasselbeck would be fine for the regular season. The issue is under control now, they say, but the very nature of back injuries should raise at least some concern heading into a pivotal season for the organization.
Camp will be a success if ... Hasselbeck, left tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney put to rest concerns about their long-term health. Beyond the obvious injury storylines, this camp becomes a success for Seattle if Curry validates coach Jim Mora's opinion that the linebacker's pass-rushing abilities are indeed far stronger than anticipated on draft day.
Seattle badly needs to restore its pass rush to better compete against the Cardinals' passing game in a broader effort to overtake Arizona in the division. Kerney is the key, but the Seahawks are also counting on pressure from other sources: Brandon Mebane, Cory Redding, Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp and possibly Leroy Hill. Significant pass-rush help from Curry would offset Julian Peterson's departure while making it easier for the Seahawks to justify having drafted a linebacker fourth overall.
Learning curve: By all accounts, the two years Mora spent in the background watching Mike Holmgren operate should leave him better prepared to handle his second head-coaching job. The way Holmgren handled everything from players to the media differed quite a bit from the more freewheeling approach Mora displayed with the Falcons.
Lessons learned? Yes, but it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks' leadership -- operating without Holmgren for the first time since 1998 -- will respond under pressure if things go wrong early.
St. Louis Rams
Training camp site: Rams Park (Earth City, Mo.)
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)|
|Will Marc Bulger be able to regain his old form behind a revamped offensive line?|
Campfires: The Rams need to figure out what they have at receiver, linebacker and left cornerback after overhauling their roster.
Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey and Brett Romberg were among the former starters and role players cast aside in the makeover.
None was irreplaceable. Getting rid of them was the easy part. Identifying and developing adequate replacements will take time.
Camp will be a downer if ... top draft choices Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis aren't ready to contribute right away. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has taken it slowly with both rookies, but he likely will not have that luxury once the regular season gets going. Smith and Laurinaitis probably must play and play well for the Rams to avoid trouble.
Laurinaitis' development is critical because the Rams appear so thin at linebacker after releasing Tinoisamoa. Even if Laurinaitis plays well, the Rams' depth at linebacker could betray them.
Camp will be a success if ... quarterback Marc Bulger finds comfort behind an upgraded offensive line. Bulger can be a highly accurate passer when opposing defensive linemen aren't pounding the confidence out of him. The player who topped 4,300 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions three years ago hasn't resembled even remotely the scared soul seen under center for the Rams too often over the last two seasons.
The Rams' should start to regain some swagger on the line with 320-pounder Jason Brown taking over at center and the personably intense Smith at tackle. Right guard Richie Incognito won't be the only starter with some snarl, in other words. That should help provide improved protection for Bulger and leadership for the offense.
Fantasy spin: Running back Steven Jackson should not hurt for opportunities now that the Rams have landed a 320-pound center (Brown, free agent from the Ravens) and a 258-pound fullback (Mike Karney, late of the Saints). The Rams will try to develop their young receivers, but rarely should any of them represent a more formidable option than Jackson. And if he gets some luck with injuries, look out.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams certainly never set out to amass 13 seventh-round draft choices, three more than any other team in the league. It just worked out that way.
Ronald Curry, a seventh-round choice of the Raiders in 2002, became the lucky 13th when St. Louis acquired him from the Lions by trade Wednesday.
Rosters are at their fattest this time of year, so the total will certainly shrink.
The Rams' failure in the early rounds of past drafts -- before the current regime took over -- has probably left more room for later-round players.
Billy Bajema's addition could help cost 2006 second-rounder Joe Klopfenstein a roster spot. At linebacker, the Rams have parted with 2003 second-rounder Pisa Tinoisamoa, 2004 fourth-rounder Brandon Chillar and 2006 third-rounder Jon Alston, creating room for seventh-rounders David Vobora and Chris Chamberlain. At running back, the Rams practically gave
away 2007 second-rounder Brian Leonard, making it more likely for seventh-rounder Chris Ogbonnaya to stick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams weren't an 8-8 team seeking a few tweaks to regain their footing. They needed a franchise overhaul after posting a 5-27 record over the past two seasons.
That overhaul has continued with Brian Leonard's trade to the Bengals on Thursday and Pisa Tinoisamoa's release Friday.
Changing over a roster means adding new players in key positions. Adding new players means losing existing ones, and the Rams have parted with quite a few this offseason.
The chart shows notable Rams players to leave the roster since general manager Billy Devaney spearheaded Steve Spagnuolo's hiring as head coach.
Some of the changes were difficult to miss. The releases of Torry Holt and Orlando Pace come to mind. Other changes have come via attrition. In this case, the Rams have decided against re-signing numerous unrestricted free agents. It's significant to note that quite a few of them remain unsigned.
The Rams could always re-sign a free agent or two as they set their roster for training camp. In most cases, however, the team appears eager to move on without them.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Moore of seattlepi.com says Seahawks second-round choice Max Unger was once a "gangly ninth-grader who had never played football." Why hadn't Unger played to that point? Moore: "Unger wanted to play, but his local Pop Warner league wouldn't let him because he was too big and would've crushed kids his age -- his dad said he was 5-10 and 200 pounds in the 6th grade." Unger's line coach at Oregon compared him to Gary Zimmerman. I like Unger's chances of earning a starting job.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks have not signed any of the nine players who participated in post-draft camps on a tryout basis. Those players helped the Seahwaks conduct practices while others rehabilitated injuries.
Also from O'Neil: Linemen Rob Sims and Chris Spencer face pivotal seasons in 2009.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says T.J. Duckett hopes his role in the Seahawks' offense grows as much as the running back's beard. Teammates are calling him Kimbo Slice and the comparison holds up from what I've seen at post-draft practices.
Also from Williams: Matt Hasselbeck is getting comfortable.
John Morgan of Field Gulls heaps praise upon Seahawks president Tim Ruskell for striking a "sweetheart deal" with linebacker Leroy Hill. No doubt, this deal came out in the Seahawks' favor. Instead of paying $8.3 million to Hill for one season or much more on a lucrative long-term deal, Seattle could pay as little as $13 million over two seasons before escaping the deal without negative salary-cap ramifications.
Michael Steffes of Seahawk Addicts likes what he sees from John Clayton, who graded the Seahawks' offseason as the best in the league.Les Carpenter of the Washington Post checks in with former Seahwaks coach Mike Holmgren, who says the Redskins should be patient with quarterback Jason Campbell. Holmgren was in Washington as Zorn's guest to see off his wife and daughter to Africa, where they plan to continue mission work. Anything Holmgren says publicly about the Redskins' quarterback situation on the matter would dovetail with Zorn's wishes.
David Fucillo of Niners Nation sizes up the 49ers' defensive line, placing Ray McDonald on the bubble for a roster spot. Justin Smith is very good. Aubrayo Franklin finished strong last season. As for the rest of the line? We need to see more. Fucillo: "I'd imagine the one that will draw the most contention is Ray McDonald. I'm pretty sure he'll make the 53-man, but his reconstructive knee surgery moves him temporarily to the bubble watch. One thing that does have me curious is the potential roster battle between McDonald and Ricky Jean-Francois."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals will release players before training camp. The team is carrying 84 players, counting unsigned draft choices. Teams can carry no more than 80 signed players at this point in the offseason.
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind quotes Mike Lombardi on the Anquan Boldin and Darnell Dockett situations. Lombardi: "I have covered the Boldin trade situation and his contract at length and the fact is clear, the market will not satisfy him or the Cards. As for Dockett, he is very well thought of in the NFL, but he is not going anywhere. They cannot afford to trade him for several reasons."
Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams gained depth on their defensive line in the Brian Leonard trade. We'll see if Orien Harris earns a roster spot. Leonard might be the winner in this deal after landing in Cincinnati. Agent Mike McCartney: "This is a great trade for Brian. I give the Rams credit for putting him in a great situation ... where he can be a running back." Also, the Rams released tackle David Oswald.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Could the Rams use a player with "great versatility, good power, leg drive and balance to break secured tackles" while displaying "outstanding character, excellent work habits" and the traits of a "good football player and a better person who will represent a team well"?
Of course the Rams could use players like that. Pro Football Weekly's 2007 draft preview book said those things about Brian Leonard. Was the assessment wholly incorrect? I doubt it. Has Leonard changed dramatically since leaving Rutgers? It seems unlikely.
The very best players transcend coaching staffs and schemes. Quite a few others need to find the right fit. Leonard's injury last season probably hurt his standing. But the Rams have changed more than Leonard has changed since St. Louis made him a second-round choice in 2007. The fit apparently wasn't right any longer.
I think that's an important point to remember when assessing players' careers. It's one reason I'm reluctant to apply the "bust" label in cases such as this one. Multiple factors beyond a player's control go into making a player successful.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Brian Leonard's two-year run with the Rams ended when the team traded him to the Bengals for defensive lineman Orien Harris. The move, which the Rams confirmed, was another reminder that the team is rebuilding.
Two years ago, Leonard was a promising second-round choice, a player then-coach Scott Linehan thought had the size to hold in pass protection as a third-down back in addition to getting carries as Steven Jackson's backup. Linehan envisioned Leonard as a durable backup and situational player. Instead, injuries slowed and sidelined Leonard, limiting him to two games last season.
In retrospect, the coaching change from Linehan to Jim Haslett to Steve Spagnuolo diminished Leonard's value to the Rams. In Harris, the Rams are getting a 300-pound defensive tackle who played sparingly for the Bengals last season. Harris entered the NFL as a fourth-round choice of the Steelers under Bill Cowher in 2006. Is he a 3-4 end or a 4-3 tackle?
Harris has bounced from the Steelers to the Browns to the Saints to the Bengals to the Rams in less than four NFL seasons. Perhaps he can earn a spot in the Rams' rotation.
For the Rams, this trade appears to be about getting something in return for a player who didn't fit into the team's plans under a new staff. Leonard was listed as a fullback, but at 226 pounds, he wasn't a bruiser in the Mike Karney mold. The Rams used a seventh-round choice on Chris Ogbonnaya from Texas. They also have Antonio Pittman, Kenneth Darby and Sam Gado behind Jackson. Jerome Johnson, a rookie free agent from Nevada, gives the Rams two true fullbacks.