NFC West: Tyson Clabo

2012 NFL Preview: St. Louis Rams

August, 31, 2012
Five notes on the St. Louis Rams from our recently published 2012 preview page:
1. Fourth place not a given: One year ago, the Rams were riding a wave of positive feelings. They were a near-consensus choice to win the NFC West title. They finished 2-14 instead. Injuries and a tougher-than-expected schedule played a role in the Rams' demise. The team is clearly more talented at this time. Quarterback questions elsewhere in the division give the Rams a chance to surprise by finishing outside the cellar this year. For that to happen, however, the Rams will need to build some continuity on the offensive line. That has been a huge challenge to this point.

2. The offense has come full circle: The Rams were determined to lean on the ground game when Sam Bradford was a rookie in 2010. They wanted Bradford to carry the offense last season. Now, under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the Rams hope to be more run-oriented again. This will be the most run-oriented scheme the Rams have run since Scott Linehan was head coach, and probably longer. Running back Steven Jackson feels a responsibility to "set the tempo" for the Rams' offense to a degree he hasn't had to do in the past. He's going to get his carries. Only an injury figures to prevent Jackson from topping 1,000 yards rushing for an eighth consecutive season.

3. MLB has a chance to grow: London Fletcher, Antonio Pierce, Jonathan Vilma and Mike Singletary are among the middle linebackers to play in the general defensive system Jeff Fisher has brought to the Rams. James Laurinaitis is next in line. Laurinaitis has been a good player already. The Rams have gotten bigger at defensive tackle. Their new defensive system should let Laurinaitis grow. Laurinaitis: "When the quarterback makes a check, the mike 'backer has to be able to counter. When the quarterback makes a check, the mike 'backer has to be able to make a countercheck and just get a feel for a football game. I relish that role, I relish that responsibility. I love the fact that the coach is going to say to me, 'If you see something on the field, you make the call. You're not going to be wrong, you're the one playing, you make the call.'"

4. Onward and upward: The Rams weren't the only team to whiff with their first-round choice in 2009, the year they made Jason Smith the second overall pick. Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry and Andre Smith haven't exactly lit up the league as players drafted among the top six. The Rams' decision to trade Smith for Jets tackle Wayne Hunter shows that new offensive line coach Paul T. Boudreau was serious about playing the best five players, regardless of draft status. Boudreau never catered to early draft choices while with Atlanta, where Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo rose to prominence as undrafted players. The Rams are following a similar path.

5. Plenty of action for Jenkins: If the preseason is any indication, opposing quarterbacks will be firing quite a few passes Janoris Jenkins' way. The rookie cornerback has impressed during camp, but Tony Romo and others have had their moments against the second-round choice from North Alabama. Teams could be more willing to test Jenkins than veteran Cortland Finnegan on the other side. Jenkins has the talent to capitalize on the opportunities. He might need to be a little more patient, however.
Earlier: Rams Camp Confidential.

Parting shot from Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: "They had as good an offseason as anybody out there. They had a good free agency. The draft did not treat them perfectly but the trade with Washington was huge. They can build the team in Jeff Fisher's likeness. This defense has a chance to be quite good now, and only get better. Offensively, I still have my questions. The line is a mess. Is Sam Bradford going backward? I'm questioning that for the first time in his career. The receivers, they've thrown so much at the fan and I'm not sure it's going to stick. The vibe long term is favorable but they are in for a long year."
Jason SmithJeff Curry/US PresswireJason Smith has had his hands full working against Chris Long (91) during training camp.
The St. Louis Rams hired Paul T. Boudreau as offensive line coach in part because they hoped he could help 2009 first-round draft choice Jason Smith realize his potential.

That remains the plan even though veteran Barry Richardson has started siphoning off first-team snaps from Smith heading into the Rams' exhibition opener Sunday at Indianapolis. Richardson, 26, started Kansas City's last 32 games.

The move to get more snaps for Richardson so early in the evaluation process affirms Boudreau's commitment to putting the five best linemen on the field no matter what. It's a bad initial sign for Smith, who has had his hands full in camp against defensive end Chris Long in particular. But it's a good sign for the Rams that their line coach isn't going to prop up a highly drafted player at the expense of the team.

"We're going to play the best five," Boudreau said during an interview at Rams camp last week. "Don’t matter if you're a draft choice, doesn't matter if you’re a free agent, doesn't matter if you've been cut by four teams."

Boudreau, who was with Atlanta through last season, drove home that message early in his tenure with the Rams. He pointed to Rams guard Harvey Dahl, one of his former Falcons players, as proof. Dahl and tackle Tyson Clabo became mainstay starters in Atlanta even though neither was drafted and both had been released repeatedly.

Smith's status as the second overall choice of the 2009 draft isn't going to get him anywhere. To win the starting job, Smith will have to improve in pass protection.

"His whole thing that he needs to work on the most is understanding angles in protection, understanding he has long arms but he doesn’t use them and try to get his length back in protection," Boudreau said. "Try to use his hands. He wants to hit a guy all the time and you don't have to hit a guy in pass protection. You just have to stay in front of him. When he does it right, you have to really emphasize it on the tape."

Smith, 26, started six games last season, missing the final 10 games after suffering a severe concussion while making a tackle following a turnover against Dallas in Week 7. He started 15 games the previous season and five as a rookie.

The Rams' previous leadership drafted Smith as a left tackle, but the right side is a better fit for players with limitations in pass protection.

Boudreau, who coached the Rams' line in 2006-2007 as well, put together an Orlando Pace highlight video for Smith to study. Pace, the first overall choice of the 1997 draft, was a seven-time Pro Bowl choice and five-time Associated Press All-Pro selection.

"I had a bunch of snaps of Orlando in one-on-one pass protection situations, showing him how patient Orlando was, and his angles, the things he did to just kind of ride a guy by the quarterback," Boudreau said. "He didn’t kill the guy. You don’t have to beat 'em up. It’s like playing basketball. Stay between your guy and the hoop. And so when I showed him Orlando and showed him how smooth he was, and it all was because of his patience, and I said we’ve got to slow this thing down for him. He's a work in progress."

Around the NFC West: Cards 'in the tank'

September, 24, 2010
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Adrian Wilson considers the Arizona defense to be "in the tank" following it's soft showing against the Falcons. I don't use the word "soft" lightly here, either, but I cannot recall an Arizona defense getting pushed around to this degree. At one point, Falcons receiver Brian Finneran decked Wilson with a left to the head. Wilson had appeared to take a swing at Finneran. Finneran fired back quickly and Wilson went to the turf. Shouldn't it be the other way around out there? Also, Falcons tackle Tyson Clabo moved Darnell Dockett off the line repeatedly. I also thought the Falcons' line shoved around the Cardinals' nose tackles, Bryan Robinson and Dan Williams. It was just an ugly day all the way around for Arizona. Wilson: "I don't really have anything nice to say. We got whupped. We didn't even put up a fight, so it's hard for me to even say anything right now. Anything I say is going to be negative, so I don't want to go that way."

Also from Somers: an expanded look at the defensive problems.

Darren Urban of says Ken Whisenhunt wasn't very specific in terms of what to expect from Beanie Wells in Week 3. Wells said Wednesday that he will "definitely" play against Oakland.

Also from Urban: Larry Fitzgerald prepares to face Nnamdi Asomugha by going against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in practice.

Clare Farnsworth of says Philip Rivers is used to hearing play calls in his headset from Charlie Whitehurst. The two will be on opposite sides Sunday.

Also from Farnsworth: Deon Butler has six receptions in two games after catching 15 passes all last season.

Brian McIntyre of breaks down playing time for the Seahawks against Denver in Week 2. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu played every snap.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times passes along a transcript from offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates' weekly in-season interview session. The Chargers' defense is similar in approach to the one Seattle faced in Week 1. Bates: "You know, San Francisco came from the San Diego family so definitely, each 3-4 is different. San Francisco and San Diego are a lot alike, and there's the New England (style), kind of a mind of their own. You've got the Jets and you've got Baltimore, and they're unique. Then you've got Pittsburgh. A lot of people outside of football say, 'Hey, you're playing a 3-4 team,' but everyone has their own identity, their own style. And it's a challenge that each week you play a 3-4 team, you've just got to crack the code."

Also from O'Neil: Colin Cole is playing well for Seattle.

Greg Johns of looks at the Seahawks' shifting offensive identity. The team used three wide receivers extensively in Week 2, partly because Seattle fell behind.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says new Seahawks president Peter McLoughlin should follow Tod Leiweke's lead. Leiweke has basically hired himself to take over some of the duties he has handled for years.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole wants more pressure from his front four. That's easier to generate at home. Thomas: "This Sunday's opponent, Washington, presents a pass-rushing challenge because not only is quarterback Donovan McNabb still mobile at age 33, but head coach Mike Shanahan likes to have his QBs throw on the move with bootlegs and rollouts." The schedule sets up favorably for the Rams from a preparation standpoint. They face Shanahan in Week 3 and Shanahan's former understudy, Jeremy Bates, in Week 4.

Also from Thomas: Steven Jackson offers thoughts on exploiting mismatches. Jackson: "If we want to spread a team out and run in a nickel package where it's three receivers, and they want to keep their big guys in, I think we should take advantage of the mismatch. So if you have a linebacker guarding Danny (Amendola), you should take advantage of that mismatch. If we're going to spread them out and (they) go small, then you do vice versa and run the ball. So we've just got to figure out what the defense's trying to do, what's their game plan. And once we figure that out, I think that's what we should do, take advantage of that."

Nick Wagoner of says it's looking as though Brandon Gibson will be active for the Rams in Week 3 while Laurent Robinson deals with a foot injury. I'm interested in seeing Gibson get some snaps. His absence from the 45-man roster would have been unexpected based on what Gibson showed in 2009.

Also from Wagoner: more on Gibson and Mardy Gilyard.

Matt Maiocco of offers this in a chat transcript: "(Ted Ginn Jr.) did not practice Wednesday, and it's questionable whether he'll be available to play Sunday against the Chiefs. Kyle Williams did practice, so he will definitely be available. I think Ginn will be held out another week." Getting Williams back to return punts sounds great in theory, but the 49ers should be a little nervous about sending a rookie into his first regular-season game at Arrowhead Stadium. Rookies Walter Thurmond (Seattle) and Phillip Adams (San Francisco) muffed punts last week. Another rookie, Golden Tate, fared better.

Also from Maiocco: He disagrees with the thought that the 49ers ran their two-minute offense without using enough clock time Monday night. I'm with him on this one. The 49ers needed a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie. Leaving time on the clock for a potential onside kick would have made little sense, because the Saints could have recovered with good field position, setting up a field goal. Leaving time on the clock would have made more sense if the 49ers had trailed by a margin other than eight.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye is looking forward to a Kansas City return. Raye is not the only one. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky played for the Chiefs. Offensive line coach Mike Solari coached for Kansas City.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers rookie Nate Byham is earning more playing time.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News is having a hard time finding Michael Crabtree in the 49ers' offense. I thought Crabtree would catch four or five passes per game. He still might. It's early.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Alex Smith began to change perceptions about himself with that two-minute drive against New Orleans.