NFL Nation: Isaac Bruce

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- There's still a long way to go but for the four members of the Greatest Show on Turf Rams, the hope of going into the Hall of Fame together on the first ballot remains alive.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced 26 semifinalists for the 2015 induction class on Tuesday night (26 instead of 25 because of a tie) and the four most prominent remaining members of the 1999, early 2000s St. Louis Rams offense all made that cut. That includes quarterback Kurt Warner, left tackle Orlando Pace and wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.

[+] EnlargeTorry Holt and Isaac Bruce
Elsa/Getty ImagesTorry Holt and Isaac Bruce combined for 28,590 yards and 165 receiving TDs in their careers.
Another pair of former Rams, pass-rusher Kevin Greene and running back Jerome Bettis, also made the cut. Greene did plenty of damage as a Ram but Bettis is still more known for his work as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Greene and Bettis both made the cut to 15 a year ago but missed out on induction.

Regardless, the names that most Rams fans will be rooting for this election cycle are Warner, Pace, Bruce and Holt. All four are on the ballot for the first time and all have mentioned how much they'd love to go in as a quartet. The always-optimistic Bruce even believes there's a chance it could happen.

"That would mean we’d have to spend less money on the caravan bus," Bruce said. "We could just pack them all up and just go up together. Honestly, I don’t think I would be shocked. I played with that core of guys for five-plus, six years. That’s rare. That normally doesn’t happen because guys leave for free agency or other issues but I wouldn’t be surprised. I saw these guys' body of work. I saw these guys put in work. I saw these guys excel at their jobs and perfect their crafts every day, on a daily basis.

"The things they did and things they accomplished, I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys go in as first ballot Hall of Famers because that’s the path they were on. Just to see it happen, which I believe I will see it happen, it would be great. It would be an awesome time not only for myself but for my teammates, the city of St. Louis. It would be big, it would be huge in more ways than one."

It's generally believed that Warner and Pace have the best chance among the four new Rams on the ballot. That's nothing against the accomplishments of Bruce and Holt but more of a nod to the competition they face at the wide receiver position where the likes of Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison are also on the slate. But this might be a good year to get at least one of them in before even more receivers such as Randy Moss and Terrell Owens enter the fray.

Earlier this year, I offered a closer look at the candidacy of each of the four new Rams on the ballot. Here's the case for Bruce, Holt, Pace and Warner.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Whether it's Kurt Warner at his home in Arizona or in studio with Marshall Faulk at NFL Network, Isaac Bruce in Florida, Torry Holt in North Carolina, Orlando Pace in St. Louis, Mike Martz in California or really any other St. Louis Ram from the 1999 Super Bowl XXXIV champions, the average Sunday afternoon rarely offers much in the way of surprises.

In the 15 years since the birth of the Greatest Show on Turf, many elements of the dynamic offense that was so unique have become commonplace in stadiums all over the NFL. The Rams will celebrate that legacy on "Monday Night Football" against San Francisco when they remember the 15th anniversary of the championship season in a halftime ceremony. Most of that team is expected to attend, and the Rams will wear their 1999 throwback uniforms in homage.

Throwback uniforms aren't needed to see the lasting impact of that Rams offense. Turn on just about any game and you will see supposedly high-tech passing games with route combinations, protection schemes and athletes the likes of which have never been seen before.

[+] EnlargeKurt Warner
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceKurt Warner on playing QB for the Rams' passing offense and how new NFL rules have made it easier to pass: "I look at it like we were the first ones to do it. We did it just like that in an era where it wasn't popular or wasn't the norm."
But that is not really the case.

"All around the league you can see the innovation, the things that sprang from what we did as a group," Bruce said. "I see combinations we ran, I think just about every position coach, wide receiver coach, some offensive coordinators, guys that have been position coaches that are now coordinators or head coaches now that I’ve run into, they’ll tell me that they show their players our film, the way I ran routes, the way I came off the football, the way I blocked down the field, certain things like that. That was everything we learned in our meeting room. We really hammered that in every week as a unit to block for each other, be the fastest group, the most explosive group. I think we had the best group with the most creativity. So you see a lot of it just floating around the league. Not only in the NFL, but college as well."

The Rams were doing it in 1999, long before the league made rule changes that encouraged more passing and more scoring. Today, the NFL is viewed as a passing league, the next cycle in the evolution of the game. But , it's a cycle that started in part because of the 1999 Rams and in the years since, the "Greatest Show on Turf" has taken on a life beyond one championship season.

It was after the Rams' Super Bowl loss to New England in 2001 that the league began adjusting the rules to allow receivers more time and space to run free and put an emphasis on getting defenders to keep their hands off receivers. Like the rule outlawing the head slap trademarked by Deacon Jones, those rule changes are perhaps the most tangible way in which the Rams' offense changed the game.

"The thing you look at now is because of all the rule changes, it’s made it easier," Warner said. "What we did at a time where you could still grab and hold guys and you could still hit guys over the middle and all of those different things, now when you look at it, I think there’s a degree of success allowed in the NFL that has become a lot easier. I’m not really surprised by what guys are doing. I look at it like we were the first ones to do it. We did it just like that in an era where it wasn’t popular or wasn’t the norm."

Indeed, there was nothing conventional about how the Rams' offense went about its business. Rooted in the principles first wrought by Sid Gillman and Francis Schmidt, the Rams' vertical passing offense that sprang from the mind of Martz was a direct descendant of Don Coryell. Coryell's coaching tree would eventually include names like Joe Gibbs, Norv Turner, Ernie Zampese, Jim Hanifan and, of course, Martz.

At its core, the "Air Coryell" offense operates under simple ideals intended to create open spaces and favorable matchups. The offense supplied an endless array of motions, formations and personnel groupings that would allow the Rams to spread out defenses and mix deep and intermediate passes with power running. But the passes always came first.

"I think you get exposed when you start moving guys around in matchups and you can take control of the tempo of the game," Martz said. "When you do that, you force defenses into doing something they don’t want to be. Once you find out the rules a defense has and the more complicated a defense, the more you can take advantage."

Having superior talents like Holt, Bruce, Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl on the outside combined with Faulk's unique route-running ability at the running back spot nearly guaranteed Martz could get a matchup he liked on every play. Having a talented offensive line capable of allowing time to push the ball down the field and a fearless quarterback in Warner unafraid to stand in the pocket and deliver accurate passes made for the perfect mix of personnel and scheme.

"In terms of the depth of which we ran routes, the speed with which we ran routes, the creativity in how we ran routes, the kind of formations we posed to teams week in and week out, I feel strongly that we were a springboard to a lot of teams now and how coordinators now run the offense," Holt said. "A lot of teams don’t run full pumps and squirrel routes and running an out route then running up and running a comeback route. A lot of teams weren’t doing that, but myself and Isaac and Az and Ricky, our ability to run any route on the route tree gave coach Martz the flexibility to call anything."

And call anything Martz did. After working as quarterbacks coach in Washington in 1998 when the Redskins started 0-7, Martz realized his offense wasn't taking advantage of the best plays it had in its arsenal in a given game plan. Plays that were working well on third and long would go unused because there simply weren't enough opportunities to use them in a game.

"We’ve got these great third downs we don’t use, we started using them on first down, too," Martz said. "If we like them that much, why don’t we throw a 20-yard pass on first down, too? When we got going, the more success we had, the more fun we had, it was like throwing logs on the fire then."

The fire turned into a towering inferno as the Rams actually put up numbers more commonly seen in video games set to 'rookie' level.

That team finished first in the NFL in total yards per game (400.8), passing yards per game (272.1), scoring (32.9 points per game), and its 526 points was then the third-highest output in league history. Warner earned Most Valuable Player with Faulk finishing second in the voting and taking home the Offensive Player of the Year award.

To most members of the 'Greatest Show,' the circus ended too early, and that one championship wasn't enough to really cement the legacy that could have been built. But nobody can ever take away the title the 1999 Rams won, and if they need a reminder of their place in history, they need only to turn on the television on Sunday afternoons.

"I see a lot of plays, routes, schemes and protections offensively being run now that we ran then," Holt said. "That in itself shows you how people respected and admired what we were doing on the football field. I think our legacy is that. I think we were a springboard to this new era of offense that is now being played. The Greatest Show on Turf was the kickstarter for that."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- This year's Hall of Fame festivities wrapped up over the weekend with the annual preseason opener between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills.

For St. Louis Rams fans, the most memorable part of the weekend was the stirring Saturday night speech from former Ram Aeneas Williams. Williams has a close bond to St. Louis, where he still keeps a home and is pastor at a local church. Still, Williams is generally best remembered for his time with the Arizona Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeKurt Warner
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceKurt Warner and three of his 'Greatest Show on Turf' teammates will appear on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year.
But if things break the right way, the next few years could provide plenty of opportunities for Rams fans to celebrate and reminisce about the glory days. That's because four of the primary stars of the "Greatest Show on Turf" will first appear on the ballot beginning this year. Quarterback Kurt Warner, receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and left tackle Orlando Pace are first-time nominees this year.

I spoke to a handful of voters on each player's chances. While it's a small sample size, here's the impressions I came away with and a link to the case for each player:

Warner -- The one thing that apparently could hold Warner back is there still seems to be some trepidation about his body of work, or lack thereof. But it sounds like Warner is going to get in, probably sooner than later and might even end up as a first-ballot entry. One thing that works heavily in his favor, aside from the prolific numbers he put up in a short time, is the fact he took two previously moribund franchises to the Super Bowl and won one in St. Louis. Of the four players here, he and Pace sound like the two most likely to go in first.

Hall of Fame look ahead: Warner

Pace -- Pace was one of the first big names of the golden era of offensive tackles in the NFL. Although I get the sense that voters don't see him as being quite as dominant as the likes of Jonathan Ogden or Walter Jones, there's still seemingly little doubt that he's going to go into the Hall of Fame. Some late-career injuries kept Pace from tacking on additional Pro Bowl appearances, but he's still remembered for his part in changing the idea of what a left tackle could be. It sounds like it might be a bit of a stretch for him to get in on the first try, but it seems like it will happen within his first two or three years on the ballot.

Hall of Fame look ahead: Pace

Bruce -- Like so many other receivers, there's clearly a question about when and how Bruce can break through with a projected logjam of candidates at the position. While that has cleared up a but in recent years with the additions of Andre Reed and Cris Carter, the list of viable wideout candidates is only going to grow. Names like Marvin Harrison and Tim Brown are still waiting and other statistical monsters like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens will be added soon. Bruce is likely going to have to wait a bit before he makes it, though the general thought seems to be that he will eventually get in.

Hall of Fame look ahead: Bruce

Holt -- Much of the opinion on Holt is similar to that of Bruce, especially when it comes to the logjam of wideouts who are angling for induction. However, Holt's consistency and dominance over a decade seem to resonate a bit more than some of the others. Even if his resume isn't as long as Bruce's or someone like Jerry Rice, a legitimate argument could be made that Holt was the best receiver in the league over the first decade of the 2000s. It sounds unlikely that Holt will go in right away and, like Bruce, will have to wait a bit but should get in at some point.

Hall of Fame look ahead: Holt
Kevin DysonAP Photo/Michael Conroy
We have a winner. The voters picked Mike Jones' game-saving tackle as time expired in Super Bowl XXXIV as the Rams' most memorable play.

While I can certainly understand why The Tackle emerged victorious, I would cast my vote in a different direction. To me, the most memorable play in franchise history came moments before Jones brought Tennessee receiver Kevin Dyson down at the 1-yard line. Wide receiver Isaac Bruce's 73-yard touchdown catch to give the Rams the lead in that game is my choice for the top play in Rams history, narrowly edging Jones' tackle and Ricky Proehl's 30-yard touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.

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Really, you can't go wrong with any of the three plays that were nominated here. All of them were integral in the Rams' pursuit of a Super Bowl title. To differentiate is difficult, but I would argue for Bruce's catch because it's the one play of the three where I can argue that without it, the Rams wouldn't have won the world title.

Proehl's catch, as great as it was, came with the Rams in reasonable field goal range. If Proehl doesn't make the play, the Rams can line up for a 47-yard field goal and still take the lead. That's no chip shot or guarantee, but there was still a way for the Rams to win the game. And while Jones' tackle saved the victory for the Rams, many forget that if Dyson had slipped past him, the Titans would have had to kick an extra point to tie the game (or if coach Jeff Fisher wanted to get crazy, go for two and the win). Theoretically, the Rams still could have won the game in overtime, though momentum clearly was swinging in the Titans' direction.

But ultimately, Bruce's play stands above the rest to me because it most properly defines the greatest era in team history. The "Greatest Show on Turf" was known for its quick-strike ability to score from anywhere on the field at any moment.

After blowing a 16-point lead in the second half, the Rams were on the ropes. The personality of that team came directly from its no-fear approach to offense and coordinator Mike Martz's propensity for keeping the gas pedal pressed down for 60 minutes.

With the Rams reeling, it was fitting that Kurt Warner, the supernova quarterback who came from nowhere, connected with Bruce, the mainstay superstar who had been through all the bad times, to give the Rams a lead they would not relinquish and a championship they'd forever cherish.

Why Sammy Watkins needs to be a Ram

February, 23, 2014
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Sammy WatkinsAP Photo/ Richard ShiroClemson's Sammy Watkins could give the Rams the receiving threat they've been lacking since Torry Holt.

INDIANAPOLIS -- In 2012, the St. Louis Rams finally found themselves in position to draft the best wide receiver in his draft class.

They had the No. 2 pick in that draft and a clear shot at Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon before making a blockbuster trade with Washington. The move loaded them with picks but also cost them a shot at Blackmon.

It was a move the Rams could make because Blackmon wasn’t believed to be in the class of Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green or Julio Jones. He was best in class but not necessarily considered a surefire No. 1 receiver type.

Two years later, it appears that trade has put the Rams in position to land a receiver who is far closer to the Green/Jones class than any receiver who has come out in the past three years.

His name is Sammy Watkins, and he spent the past three years dominating the ACC as a member of the Clemson Tigers. In that time, he posted 240 catches for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns.

And Watkins is a player who, assuming everything checks out in terms of interviews, health and off-the-field issues, should be at the top of the Rams’ wish list in May.

In talking to a handful of scouts this week at the scouting combine, I heard almost nothing negative about Watkins. Here’s a small sample:

“He’s the real deal -- explosive, physical, strong, gets off the line of scrimmage, makes you miss. … He’s not a big 6-5 type of guy but he plays plenty big and he gets separation easily. … He should be a dominant player in the league and has the makeup to be a No. 1 guy. … The thing I love most about him is how competitive he is; he has a lot of dog in him and it shows up on almost every snap.”

Watkins showed no hesitation in declaring his desire to match those rave reviews and furthered his cause with an impressive 4.43-second 40-yard dash Sunday afternoon.

“What I love doing is dominating defenses,” Watkins said. “I think that’s what I bring to the game and I think that’s going to turn over to the NFL. When I come into the NFL, I think I can be that dominant receiver.”

Bingo. This isn’t about the Rams needing to draft a receiver. This is about the Rams needing to draft THE receiver.

They’ve taken a receiver in each of the past nine years. They’ve selected wideouts in every round, alternately hoping for a diamond in the rough to pay off and betting on a highly touted prospect to pan out.

For those who have followed the team in the five years since Torry Holt’s time in St. Louis came to an end, the lack of a top threat has been glaring. Since Holt and Isaac Bruce departed, the Rams haven’t had one. They haven’t even had one who's come close. No Rams wideout has reached even 700 receiving yards since Holt in 2008, nevermind 1,000 yards, which Holt hit in 2007.

Along the way, the Rams have been unable to find a top receiver for many reasons, not least of which includes some poor player evaluations, a lack of emphasis on the position and a little bit of bad luck.

For most of the past decade, the Rams have been one of the worst teams in the league. They’ve logged a 15-loss season, two 14-loss seasons and a 13-loss season, not to mention a 10-loss year in 2005.

Despite the lofty draft picks that go with those seasons, the Rams have never had the good fortune of having a high pick that corresponds to a season in which something as close to a can’t-miss receiver prospect has been in the draft.

In the 2007 draft, Georgia Tech’s Johnson was clearly one of the two best players. Had the Rams had one of those awful seasons before then, perhaps they could have taken the man now regarded as the best wideout in the league. Instead, they managed to finish 8-8, the only .500 record they’ve had since 2004.

Entering the 2010 season, the Rams were in the midst of one of the worst losing runs in league history. They’d posted a total of three wins in the 2008 and 2009 seasons but managed to take advantage of one of the league’s worst schedules in 2010 and nearly won the NFC West division before losing to Seattle on the season’s final day.

Instead of having a top-six pick in the 2011 draft with a shot at highly touted wideouts Green and Jones, the Rams picked 14th. They did just fine landing end Robert Quinn but settled for Austin Pettis and Greg Salas in Rounds 3 and 4 at receiver.

Sitting with the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, it appears the Rams are almost certain to have a shot at Watkins. The question is whether they’re willing to again spend a top-10 pick on the position, especially when they’ve consistently preached the need for patience with their young receiving corps.

While patience is a reasonable request given how young that group is, there’s nothing that says adding more competition and a potential true No. 1 wideout to the mix would do anything but help the cause.

General manager Les Snead, who in January said the Rams don’t “need” a No. 1 type of receiver, offered a little more flexibility when asked about it again on Friday.

“I'll say this: Any time in the draft, if you could add a really special player, that helps your team,” Snead said. “I think the biggest thing we need from the wide receiver group is experience, letting those guys get older. But, hey, it’s a deep wide receiver class. It seems like every time you get a pick, there may be a good wide receiver on the board.”

Players like Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, LSU’s Odell Beckham, Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and USC’s Marqise Lee are also considered potential first-round picks. Some might even turn out to be as good or better than Watkins.

But if Watkins is indeed the clear-cut best receiver in a strong class, why risk it? Considering how hard the organization has made it look to replace Holt and Bruce, wouldn’t simply drafting Watkins narrow the margin for error in evaluation or player development?

Maybe the Rams would love to trade down and still snag Watkins with a couple of more picks in their pocket. But again, if he really is that type of player, why not just make sure he’s a Ram?

“I don’t think you can ever say no because if that player can help you then pick him,” Snead said. “And competition is not a bad thing either, and having as many weapons as possible is not a bad thing either.”

Especially if that weapon is the one that’s been missing from your arsenal the longest.

Marvin Harrison should make Hall of Fame

September, 12, 2013
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The Indianapolis Colts could, actually I take that back, should be represented at the Football Hall of Fame next summer.

Former coach Tony Dungy and receiver Marvin Harrison are part of the 16- first-year-eligible modern-era candidates. The election will take place Feb. 1, 2014.

Dungy and the Colts won the Super Bowl in 2006.

Harrison
Harrison
Harrison fell off the map after he and the Colts parted ways in 2008. The only blemish on Harrison's resume is his alleged involvement in a Philadelphia shooting in 2008. The gun that was used belonged to him, but he was never charged.

That was off-the-field stuff. The numbers Harrison put up on the field are Hall of Fame-worthy.

Here is more proof that Harrison should be giving a Hall of Fame speech next summer (and his speech would be interesting, because he wasn’t exactly a media darling, according to those who covered him).
  • His 1,102 receptions are third behind Jerry Rice and Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is still catching balls today.
  • His 14,580 yards are sixth behind Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Rice.
  • Harrison’s 128 touchdowns are fifth behind Cris Carter, Owens, Moss and Rice.


So in other words, Harrison can go ahead and get sized for his tailored Hall of Fame jacket.
Torry HoltAP Photo/Chuck BurtonAfter years of feeling unwelcome by their old franchise, former Rams greats such as Torry Holt are making their way back to Rams Park at the invitation of St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Standing between two fields at Rams Park watching practice on Monday afternoon was a group that might as well have been a part of a reunion for Super Bowl XXXIV.

Former Rams receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce chatted it up with former Tennessee cornerback Samari Rolle, who is working in the team’s coaching internship program. That trio was joined at various times by Lance Schulters, another former Titans defensive back in the internship program, La'Roi Glover, a former Rams defensive tackle and now the team’s director of player programs, and former Rams tackle Grant Williams.

The sight of former Rams is nothing new around the team’s training facility these days. Since Jeff Fisher took over as coach in Jan. 2012, he’s made it abundantly clear that he’s happy to welcome back former players who might want to offer some advice to his young team or who might just want to watch practice.

In the two weeks since camp started, other former Rams such as defensive back Aeneas Williams, safety Keith Lyle and linebacker Chris Draft have stopped by. It’s not limited to Rams alumni, either. In addition to Schulters and Rolle, former Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck was also in town for a couple of days.

While it might be nothing new for Fisher to open the doors to past Rams, it does represent something of a departure from how things were in the not-too-distant past.

“This is home,” Holt said. “I should feel comfortable and good when I come here. Myself and others, we did a lot for this organization. So it feels good to be able to step back out on this field and not be looking over your shoulder or feel like you’re stepping on anybody’s toes and then to be able to provide information for guys to improve their game. It’s not about us, it’s just about sharing what we’ve learned to make this organization better and try to bring back championships to this organization.”

That’s a feeling that Holt shared with plenty of other former Rams who didn’t feel welcome or comfortable about being at Rams Park on a regular basis.

In 2011, Rams Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood told ESPN’s Arash Markazi that he didn’t feel like he had any connection to the team he once played Super Bowl XIV with while nursing a broken leg.

"We are their legacy but they forgot us," Youngblood said then. "They don't have anything to do with us, really. I find that unfortunate because you look at other franchises, even those that have moved, and they use their alumni in their marketing and in their organization. They use their Hall of Famers as an example for the players who are there today. They use their alumni, but the Rams have cut us out of the picture."

At the time, the Rams had begun to make inroads in their alumni program, which has taken off in recent years. As part of those efforts, the Rams signed Holt and Bruce to one-day contracts so each could retire as Rams. Most notably they welcomed back 20 prominent players from their past to celebrate the team’s 75th anniversary last December.

Included in that group were a number of Los Angeles Rams, including Rosey Grier, Vince Ferragamo, Dennis Harrah, Jackie Slater, LeRoy Irvin and Youngblood.

That’s just the tip of iceberg. Holt is back in St. Louis this week in preparation for his work as a color analyst on the team’s preseason broadcasts. He joins another former Ram, Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, in the booth for those duties.

Fisher’s open-door policy should come as no surprise given his experience in the league. He’s entering his 28th year coaching in the NFL and his 18th as a head coach.

Surrounded by a veteran staff with plenty of experience of its own, Fisher is undeniably comfortable in his own skin. The paranoia that can sometimes accompany first-time head coaches has long since evaporated and Fisher clearly views the opportunity to bring in any former player with wisdom to share as a positive for a team that again figures to be one of the youngest in the league.

“It feels good to be back, it feels good to be welcome and Coach Fisher gets it,” Holt said. “He welcomes us. He knows the value and the importance of the guys talking to veteran guys who have been there, done it and done it at a high level because you can gain so much from that as a player. I’m thankful that I’m able to come back and coach Fisher is an excellent coach who understands the game, understands what it takes to improve his roster and he’s allowing us to help out.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Isaac Bruce holds nearly every meaningful receiver record in Rams franchise history and during his 16-year career earned a reputation as one of the game’s savviest wideouts.

When the Rams hired Jeff Fisher as coach in January of 2012, Fisher made it clear that alumni would be welcomed to Rams Park with open arms. Bruce was right at the top of the list.

[+] EnlargeIsaac Bruce
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireFormer Rams receiving great Isaac Bruce likes the team's young receivers. "I'm pretty impressed," Bruce said.
Considering the fact that the Rams don’t have a single wideout on the roster who has more than two full years of NFL game experience, any additional presence that can help receivers coach Ray Sherman is a welcome addition.

So Bruce has spent the better part of the past week observing, offering advice and generally serving as a resource for the young wideouts.

Bruce has been participating in many of the team activities since his arrival in St. Louis. He attends meetings, sits in on film sessions, works with players during practice and has even spent time getting in extra work with the young wideouts after those sessions are over.

“I think they wait on and listen to my opinion,” Bruce said. “I just tell the guys what I think and how I would run a route against this coverage or how I would attack the football versus that pass being thrown. They just sit on it and kind of wait for it. I sit in the back and I sneak up and then all eyes start looking at me.”

The Rams will keep five or six receivers on the final roster and Bruce offered me his thoughts on the five that are almost certain to make it.

“I’m pretty impressed,” Bruce said. “I think they’ve added some speed, some quickness, some separation, some guys who have a lot of room for growth but they are willing to make those steps to improve. I like the group as a whole.”

On Chris Givens: “To me, he’s not as herky jerky as he was last year,” Bruce said. “He’s made up his mind on who he wants to be as a football player. He’s a guy who can explode off the line of scrimmage. His transition from running the route to catching the football has gotten a whole lot better and his confidence is up.”

On Austin Pettis: “He is a starter right now,” Bruce said. “He’s not a guy who is just kind of glad to be here anymore. From what I see, I think he’s got the mentality of a No. 1 receiver and that’s big. If you are going to be a dominant guy in this league, I think that’s the right mentality to have.”

On Brian Quick: “That’s what we are working on right now is having him be more consistent,” Bruce said. “Like I said, for that guy we are just building an identity of just coming in every day and figuring out who he is and what type of football player he is and letting him know he can play at a high level and he belongs. I think that’s working out for him.”

On Tavon Austin: “The thing that blows me away is his willingness to learn,” Bruce said. “He’s pretty hungry as far as knowledge is concerned. From my background of playing this game, the more wisdom you have, I think the more success you’ll have, even over talent. Your talent starts to fade but the more you know, you can stay in this game a long time and have a lot of success.”

On Stedman Bailey: “The guy is from my hometown and he knows what it is to play competitively as far as football is concerned,” Bruce said. “I think the guy is going to make big plays. I keep telling him every day you are here for a reason. They drafted you for a reason so go ahead and tap into that potential and be all you can be.”

Bruce will attend one more practice Tuesday afternoon before departing Wednesday.

Evening Rams' practice notes

August, 5, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The Rams returned to the practice field Monday afternoon after a day off Sunday.

Unlike last week when they returned to the practice field on the heels of a day off, Rams coach Jeff Fisher was pleased with how his team did in bouncing back from a little down time.

“(It was) better than the last time we had a day off,” Fisher said. “Last time it took us awhile to get ‘em going. We talked about it and they came out and started making plays to start practice. I was pleased.”

The turnaround this week will be short as the Rams prepare to travel to Cleveland for the preseason opener on Thursday night.

As is the norm, there won’t be a whole lot of planning or scheming over the next couple of days.

“We are just going to carry some basic things into the game,” Fisher said. “We have to prepare for their defensive front out of fairness to our guys and the quarterback so we’ll do that and then try to keep things pretty simple.”

In other Rams' news:
  • Safety Matt Daniels came off the physically unable to perform list and returned to practice Monday afternoon for the first time this camp. He’s returning from a knee injury suffered against New England on Oct. 28 of last year but is unlikely to play Thursday night.
  • Receiver Nick Johnson (hamstring) and defensive tackle Al Lapuaho (hand) also returned for Monday’s workout.
  • Isaac Bruce, the team’s all time leader in nearly every receiving category, is still in town working with the team’s young receivers. Torry Holt, Bruce’s long time running mate, is also in town as he prepares to provide analysis for Thursday night’s broadcast. Former Rams tackle Grant Williams was also in attendance Monday.
  • Wideout Brian Quick has been up and down in camp but Monday was one of his up days. He caught a long pass down the middle in team drills in which he elevated over cornerback Quinton Pointer for a big gain and followed with catch deep down the sideline in a soft spot in the zone.
  • It was running back Isaiah Pead who made the catch of the day, outmuscling linebacker Alec Ogletree for the ball and tapping his feet in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown during red zone work.
  • Cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who has had some major battles with receiver Chris Givens during camp, came up with an interception after battling Austin Pettis for a pass. Jenkins batted the ball a few times before ultimately hauling it in.
  • The Rams continue to take precaution with some of their veteran offensive linemen. Center Scott Wells, guard Harvey Dahl and tackles Jake Long and Rodger Saffold get regularly breaks during the course of practice in an effort to keep them fresh.
  • There will be one more practice Tuesday afternoon before the Rams depart for Cleveland on Wednesday.
METAIRIE, La. -- Very quietly, and it’s hard to imagine he’d want it any other way, Marques Colston turned 30 on Wednesday.

Colston
Not even receivers coach Henry Ellard was aware his best receiver was celebrating a significant birthday.

“Really?" Ellard asked when a reporter informed him it was Colston’s birthday. “OK, well, all the young guys will have to sing 'Happy Birthday' to him in the meeting room.’’

None of that is surprising. In a sport where there is a long history of wide receivers with diva personalities, Colston is the anti-diva. He’s quiet and shies away from attention.

“He’s truly special,’’ Ellard said. “I can’t really put it into words. The things he does are special. He doesn’t care for the hoopla. He just comes to work and aims to please, and you couldn’t ask for a better guy than that.

“I was blessed to have a Torry Holt (when Ellard coached for the St. Louis Rams) and Isaac Bruce was the same way. They were very quiet, went about their business and took a lot of pride in what they did, and Marques is the same way.’’

But a 30th birthday isn’t always a great day for a wide receiver. Many people say receivers tend to start slowing down once they hit their 30s.

Ellard doesn’t see any signs that Colston is ready to slow down.

“No, not at all,’’ Ellard said. “He takes great care of himself. He’s lasted a long time, and he’s going to last a lot more time. The weight program we have going on this year I think is going to make him a little more stronger, and more durable, and I think that’s really going to pay off.’’

Plus, there is tangible evidence that Colston isn’t anywhere near the end of his career. He caught 83 passes for 1,154 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. That yardage total was the best Colston has produced since 2008.
Just a quick note here on a fairly significant milestone within the division.

Larry Fitzgerald stands 48 yards short of 10,000 for his career heading into the Arizona Cardinals' game against Buffalo on Sunday. He has averaged 67.4 yards per game this season. Fitzgerald has reached or exceeded 48 yards in 95 of his 129 regular-season games (73.6 percent).

The Bills have allowed 48 or more receiving yards to eight players through five games this season.

Five players have reached 100 yards against Buffalo in 2012: Wes Welker (129), Michael Crabtree (113), Vernon Davis (106), Rob Gronkowski (104) and Dwayne Bowe (102).

Fitzgerald is coming off an eight-catch, 92-yard game against St. Louis.

The chart shows the four youngest players to reach 10,000 career receiving yards before age 30. All four have played for current NFC West teams. Former Seattle Seahawks receiver Steve Largent ranks fifth. He was 31 years and 83 days old when he passed the milestone.

No, Cowboys don't want Chad Johnson

August, 15, 2012
8/15/12
5:15
PM ET
Sometimes I just have to shake my head.

Every time a player of whom anyone has ever heard of gets cut, fans want to know if their team will go and sign him. So I guess it's no real shock that Dallas Cowboys fans, unnecessarily panicked about the No. 3 wide receiver situation, would ask whether the team would be interested in former Dolphins receiver Chad Johnson. The Dolphins, who need receivers about 500 times worse than the Cowboys do, just released Johnson after he was arrested last weekend on domestic violence charges. And while he would make no sense whatsoever for the Cowboys to even consider, somehow Jason Garrett found himself answering a question about his team's interest in Wednesday's news conference. Per Tim MacMahon:
"We haven't had any discussions about Chad Johnson," Garrett said.

Rough translation: There is a zero percent chance of Ochocinco joining the Cowboys.

Seriously, folks. Enough. Nothing's changed since the last time Johnson was on the market except his last name and his police record. Only one of those changed for the better, and it wasn't the right one. There's no chance whatsoever that the Cowboys, who already have Dez Bryant, would want to have to stand there and explain why they seem to be collecting receivers who've been arrested on domestic violence charges in the past couple of months.

Johnson also has not become any younger since the last time he was available, nor has he been a good NFL player since 2009. There's nothing whatsoever to suggest that he's a better option than Kevin Ogletree or Andre Holmes or Cole Beasley or any of the other guys currently competing for the Cowboys' No. 3 receiver spot. He's not good, he's a huge potential headache, and there would be no reason for the Cowboys to even consider it. I doubt they did, and I have no problem believing Garrett spoke for the entire organization when he shot it down without hesitation.

No word on whether he was also asked if they had any interest in Isaac Bruce or Rod Smith.

Here's some actual, real, relevant news about the Cowboys' receiving corps.
METAIRIE, La. -- I just finished a news story for our main NFL page on this, but it’s well worth sharing here.

Suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton still is watching the team. Well, not really. A huge photo of Payton was put up in the team’s indoor practice facility. It’s on a sideline wall right about midfield and it shows Payton with a glare on his face. At the bottom of the photo are the words, “Do your job."

“That was Dallas Clark’s third-quarter catch in the Super Bowl and [Payton was] looking at me,’’ assistant head coach Joe Vitt said with a chuckle when asked to describe Payton’s look. “Every player on our team has gotten that look.’’

Vitt said putting the Payton photo up was the idea of team owner Tom Benson. Vitt said numerous players said to him that they had the same reaction -- that Payton was watching them. Although Payton is not allowed to have any contact with anyone employed by the Saints during his suspension, his presence still is felt beyond the photo. The team’s media guide features Payton’s photo and biography near the front and he’s still listed as head coach on the official training camp roster.

The “Do your job’’ message is the same one Vitt said Payton gave him as he left to begin his suspension. Apparently, the photo is a way of reminding all the players and coaches to do their jobs.

I’ll have much more on Saints’ camp on Monday when we run our Camp Confidential profile on the team, but I’ll share a couple quick notes from Friday’s practice here.
  • Long-time NFL receiver Isaac Bruce, a close friend of Vitt’s visited with the team for the second straight day. Vitt called Bruce one of the best players and people he ever has coached.
  • The Saints practiced indoors, due to weather, for the second straight day. Vitt said he’s hopeful the team can get outside in front of its fans on Saturday.
  • Tight end David Thomas sat out practice with a lower-back strain. Vitt said Thomas is expected to return to practice soon.
  • Running back Mark Ingram did not take part in team drills. Vitt said that was by design and the team is proceeding cautiously with Ingram as he comes back from knee and foot issues.
  • Backup tight end Michael Higgins had several nice catches and drew praise from Vitt after practice.
On the surface, Joe Vitt’s tenure as an interim head coach in St. Louis doesn’t look very pretty.

But dig beneath the surface a little bit and you’ll find a different story. I spoke with several people who observed Vitt’s time as the Rams’ head coach in 2005, and they said he did a nice job of weathering the storm.

Vitt will be taking over as the interim head coach of the New Orleans Saints on Monday when Sean Payton begins his season-long suspension. Vitt, who has been Payton’s assistant head coach since 2006, will run the team through the offseason program, training camp and the regular season. But Vitt will have to step away at the start of the regular season and serve a six-game suspension for his role in the Saints’ bounty program. After that, Vitt will return as head coach.

[+] EnlargeJoe Vitt, Sean Payton
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireJoe Vitt, left, who will lead the Saints while head coach Sean Payton serves a suspension, dealt with similar circumstances while with the Rams in 2005.
General manager Mickey Loomis will serve an eight-game suspension to start the season. The Saints also could have players suspended.

There are turbulent times ahead for the Saints, but Vitt has experience in handling situations like this.

Back in 2005, he was the assistant head coach and linebackers coach in St. Louis. The Rams already were ending “The Greatest Show on Turf’’ era. With Mike Martz as the head coach, the Rams got off to a 2-3 start and there was a well-publicized feud brewing between Martz and the front office. Martz came down with a bacterial infection in his heart after five games, and Vitt was elevated to interim head coach.

By that point, injuries already were piling up. With quarterback Marc Bulger injured, the Rams had to go through a lot of that season with Jamie Martin and Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Wide receiver Isaac Bruce was dealing with injuries and near the end of his career, and nothing was easy. The Rams went 4-7 under Vitt, but several people that were associated with the team or observed the Rams closely in those days said Vitt made the most out of a difficult situation.

They said Vitt kept his players playing hard. He’s known as a motivator in New Orleans, and it was the same way in St. Louis. Vitt used to show the Rams a movie the night before a game, and it always was tied to a motivational message. One movie was “Gladiator,’’ which emphasized the importance of sticking together. Under Vitt, the Rams started off 3-3, highlighted by Fitzpatrick coming off the bench to rally them to a 33-27 victory against Houston.

After that, the Rams endured a four-game losing streak, but most of those games were close. The last two were a one-point loss to Philadelphia and a four-point loss to San Francisco. Vitt wrapped up his tenure with a season-ending victory against Dallas, a team that included Payton on its staff. After that, Payton got hired by the Saints, and one of the first moves he made was hiring Vitt.

On Monday, Payton will hand over his team to Vitt. It’s not an ideal situation by any means. But Vitt has made the most out of a tough situation before, and the Saints are counting on him to do it again.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Thirteen modern-era NFL players were finalists for enshrinement Saturday in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Only one was named offensive or defensive player of the year during his career.

That was the Seattle Seahawks' Cortez Kennedy. His eight Pro Bowls, all-1990s selection and overall dominance made my job as his presenter quite simple. State the facts and let Kennedy's career do the talking. Picking the final five out of 15 modern-era finalists is always tough, however, because it usually requires leaving off worthy candidates.

[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
The 43 other selectors and I met for more than seven hours before identifying Kennedy, Chris Doleman, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf as the class of 2012. Jack Butler made it as a seniors candidate.

A few thoughts on the process and the results:

  • This class made it through at a good time. Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Bryant Young, John Lynch and Steve McNair become eligible for the first time in 2013. Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren join the list in 2014. Isaac Bruce, Edgerrin James, Walter Jones, Junior Seau, Chris Samuels, Kurt Warner, Ty Law and Orlando Pace are among those eligible beginning in 2015.
  • Former St. Louis Rams
    and Arizona Cardinals
    cornerback Aeneas Williams should feel great about cracking the final 10 in his first year as a finalist. Williams had 55 career interceptions and scored nine touchdowns. He was a big-time playmaker for bad and good teams alike.
  • The situation at receiver remains a mess and it's not going to get easier with Harrison becoming eligible in a couple years. Voters are having a tough time deciding between Cris Carter and Andre Reed. Both made the final 10 this year. Reed made the final 10 last year as well. Having both crack the final 10 this year made it harder for one of them to break through. Voters were more likely to choose one wideout when forced to pick only five players.
  • Former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. did not make the reduction from 15 to 10. I think it's tougher for voters to quantify how owners and even coaches -- think Bill Parcells, who missed the cut from 10 to five -- contributed to their teams' success. The discussions for Parcells (55-plus minutes) and DeBartolo (42-plus minutes) were more than twice as long as the discussions for other candidates. Hall bylaws prevented voters from considering the legal troubles and suspension that preceded DeBartolo's exit from the game.
  • DeBartolo was a finalist in part because he hired Bill Walsh, promoted a winning culture, cared tremendously for his players and helped win five Super Bowls. He spent this weekend with former 49ers player Freddie Solomon, who is in the final days of a battle with cancer. The 49ers' renewed success this past season also reflected well on DeBartolo, who has become a tremendous resource for current team president Jed York, his nephew.
  • Electing one pass-rusher (Doleman, who spent part of his career with the 49ers) to the Hall could give former 49ers and Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Charles Haley an easier time in the future. But with Strahan joining the conversation in 2013, Haley faces stiff competition again. Former Rams pass-rusher Kevin Greene did not make the final 10 despite 160 career sacks.

It's been a whirlwind day. Hall bylaws prevent me from sharing specifics about what was said in the room during the proceedings. The Hall also asked voters not to reveal their votes outright. I voted for five of the six players enshrined on the final cut and supported others. As always, however, reducing to only five in the end required leaving off candidates I hope will make it in the future.

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