NFL Nation: Torry Holt

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- During his annual pre-scouting combine teleconference with reporters all over the country, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock completed a marathon of questions about various players and team needs.

Asked a question about which direction the Oakland Raiders should look with the No. 4 pick, Mayock made a reference to the St. Louis Rams in discussing the need for the Raiders to add at the wide receiver position.

Specifically, Mayock sees a lot of Rams legend Torry Holt in Alabama wideout Amari Cooper.

"I think Cooper from Alabama has got the highest score," Mayock said. "In other words, I think he's the safest pick of that group. Really good route runner, had over 100 catches last year, reminds me of some of those wide outs that played on the Greatest Show on Turf with Dick Vermeil in St. Louis, Torry Holt, for example, that type of wide receiver, whereas the other two, Kevin White and Devante Parker, are bigger bodied guys where you can throw it up and they can win jump balls. I would imagine that one of those three guys are going to be their pick, and I think any one of the three could be highly productive."

In many ways, the comparison between Cooper and Holt is easy to see. Cooper is listed at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds. Holt was listed at 6 feet, 200 pounds. Last spring, Cooper purportedly ran multiple 40-yard dash times just a shade under 4.4 seconds (unofficially). Holt clocked his 40-yard dash at 4.38 seconds.

Of course, Cooper has a lot of proving to do in the NFL to live up to the lofty standards Holt set in his time with the Rams. Holt was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, was first team All Pro in 2003 and second team in 2006. For his career, Holt finished with 920 catches for 13,382 yards and 74 touchdowns. He also holds the NFL records for most consecutive seasons with 90 catches and 1,300 receiving yards, marks he hit six straight times in the early 2000s. He's one of only three receivers, along with Marvin Harrison and Calvin Johnson to have two or more seasons with 1,600 receiving yards. He also holds the NFL record for most receiving yards in a decade, posting 12,594 from 2000 to 2009. His career average of 77.4 receiving yards per game is sixth all-time but No. 1 amongst players who aren't still active.

Considering the Rams haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver (or even one to exceed Kenny Britt's 748 this year) since Holt in 2008, it's understandable if some would like to see them use the No. 10 overall pick on a player like Cooper. It's unlikely the Rams will target another receiver, however, especially if they re-sign Britt, because they have more pressing needs.

Cooper would have to be a tempting option if he did somehow manage to slip to No. 10 and appealing offensive line and quarterback options are off the board. But if Cooper really does compare favorably to Holt in the eyes of NFL teams, it's unlikely that option will materialize.
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.

Greatest Show on Turf's legacy lives on

October, 13, 2014
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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

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.
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.”

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.
Kurt WarnerAl Pereira/Getty ImagesKurt Warner won two league MVPs and a Super Bowl title during the Rams' memorable run from 1999-2001.
Editor’s note: ESPN.com revisits the NFL’s most compelling teams since Y2K with a five-part “Most Dynamic Teams of the Century” series. We begin with the Greatest Show on Turf -- the 2001 St. Louis Rams.

The Greatest Show on Turf won one Super Bowl, lost another and unraveled so furiously that its epitaph requires some reassembly.

Dramatic narratives have sought to explain why the St. Louis Rams fell so hard after a 1999-2001 run featuring three consecutive MVP awards, a 37-11 record and an average of 32.7 points per game.

Coach Mike Martz’s ego swallowed the team, some say. Front-office infighting poisoned the culture. Quarterback Kurt Warner’s deteriorating health precipitated a controversial and regrettable departure. Draft failures wrecked the roster. The team lost its soul when key role players departed in free agency.

Whatever the reasons, the Rams were never the same after Adam Vinatieri delivered an 48-yard field goal to put the underdog New England Patriots past St. Louis 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI, launching one NFL dynasty at the expense of another.

Throw in spying allegations against New England as a Super Bowl subplot -- more on that in a bit -- and those 2001 Rams easily qualify on ESPN.com’s short list for "Most Dynamic Teams of the Century." They're relevant for what they accomplished and for what happened next: a 7-9 record in 2002 and just one additional winning season for the Rams to this day.

About that epitaph ...

"It's one that escapes me as to how, one, we didn't stay together and, two, how things from that point forward did not continue to roll on," Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk said recently.

If only the Rams could have known then what has become apparent now.

"Success is something that you have to know how you are going to deal with it before it hits you," Faulk said. "We ran into that in a sense of people wanted credit for putting the team together. Guys on the team who had roles, they wanted to move on and become the actual guy."

So, while some of the Patriots’ core players stuck around instead of chasing more prominent roles elsewhere -- Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi come to mind -- the Rams watched Grant Wistrom, Kevin Carter, London Fletcher and others cash in elsewhere. And who could blame them? Certainly not Faulk, who had escaped Indianapolis via trade and became an MVP in St. Louis. Teams look out for their own interests, and players often must do the same. But free agency has proven over time that money doesn’t always buy the right fit.

"That core group of guys that might not be the highest paid, might not be the most visible guys, their roles and them understanding the roles is kind of what keeps it together," Faulk said. "They might not be the guys who make it into the Hall of Fame, but they are for more or less a lot of the reasons why a lot of games are won, multiple championships are won."

Defensive back Aeneas Williams, himself a Hall of Fame finalist in recent years, was new to the Rams in 2001. The team expected Williams to do for the defense what Faulk had done for the offense. That wasn't far from what happened.

Williams famously picked off Brett Favre twice in the playoffs that postseason, returning both for touchdowns. He clinched the Rams' Super Bowl berth by picking off Donovan McNabb late in the NFC Championship Game.

With Williams and first-year coordinator Lovie Smith, that Rams defense ranked among the NFL's statistical leaders almost across the board, a reversal from 2000. They were third in yards, fifth in yards per play, third in rushing yards, sixth in net yards per pass attempt, second in first downs, sixth in third-down conversion rate and seventh in scoring.

"It was one of the best seasons I had, not just the winning but the amount of talent and the amount of humility that was on the team," Williams said. "That team was special."

The Rams knew it, too. They were 3-0 and coming off a 42-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins when Smith, recently hired away from Tony Dungy's staff in Tampa Bay, delivered just the right message. Players were reveling in the victory and newfound elite status of the defense when Smith stood up to address the team. He listed off the team's accomplishments and exulted in how good it all felt. Players exulted along with him.

Smith then delivered a message that resonates with Williams to this day.

"There are some of you who are still making the same mistakes, and I'm telling you that we are looking to replace you," Smith told the team.

Silence.

There was nothing condescending or demeaning about Smith's delivery or his message. He did not name names. But the message was clear.

"To have that sobering thought from your leader in such a respectful and honoring way, which was intentional as it relates to accountability, I'll never forget it," Williams said. "The teams that have coaches who hold the players accountable no matter how good they are will be the ones that consistently win."

And yet the way that 2001 Rams season ended, and what happened next, might always publicly define that team more than the 14-2 record or revitalized defense.

"That team was loaded," Faulk said. "But this is why we play the greatest sport. There is no Game 5. No Game 7. There is one game, and you have to get it right or it doesn't matter how great you were the rest of the year."

Williams, now a pastor in St. Louis, pointed to the Rams' relatively narrow 24-17 victory over the Patriots during the regular season in suggesting the fat Super Bowl point spread was more about perception than reality. He downplayed the Spygate angle while acknowledging that some teammates are more passionate about whatever advantages the Patriots might have gleaned through taping opponents' hand signals or worse.

"Without knowing, we can only speculate," Williams said. "I relish the moment and the other thing, once we played 16 games and two or three playoff games, rarely are you fooled by what a team does. In that game, it boils down to turnovers."

Faulk carries a different perspective as someone familiar with every aspect of the Rams' offensive plan. He questions whether the Patriots could have anticipated previously unused wrinkles without spying. He has alluded in the past to red zone and third-down plays. The Rams scored on their lone red zone possession. Pressed for specifics, Faulk cited the way New England adjusted to tweaks in the way Faulk went into motion, including on Warner's quarterback sneak for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"It's extremely hard to tell you what it was, or what we did, but I will say this," Faulk explained. "The play that Kurt Warner scored on, Mike [Martz] drew that up in the dirt. The motion that I used on that play, I would love to show it to you and love to show you other plays how I went in motion and what I did so you could see it. It's just talk when you talk, but here is what we normally do and this is what we put into this game."

Related comments from Faulk made waves during Super Bowl week. Then as now, Faulk wearies of charges he's pushing conspiracy theories.

"I didn’t make the news, I didn’t make up the news about what happened, but it is what it is," he said. "You accept the loss. They beat us. It happens. You are going to lose games. Is Bill Belichick a great mind? Yes.

"But when a guy like Aeneas Williams sits at home and has to wonder whether he lost the Super Bowl or was cheated out of it, that is who I feel bad for."

Faulk, Warner, Fletcher, Wistrom, Carter, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Leonard Little and others from that 2001 team can reflect knowing they won it all two years earlier. For some, that Super Bowl against New England would be as close as they came to football immortality. At least they can know the 2001 team will not be forgotten anytime soon.
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.

Superlatives for the Falcons

December, 23, 2012
12/23/12
7:19
AM ET
DETROIT -- With some help from ESPN Stats & Information and the Falcons’ media relations department, let’s take a by-the-numbers look back at how Atlanta defeated Detroit, 31-18, Saturday night at Ford Field.
  • The Falcons won for the fourth time on prime-time television this season. Since 2008, the Falcons are 8-4 in prime-time games.
  • Coach Mike Smith posted his 56th career win. Smith’s record is 56-23. That’s the second-best record in five seasons in NFL history. Former San Francisco coach George Seifert is No. 1 at 62-18.
  • Quarterback Matt Ryan completed 25 of 32 passes for 279 yards with four touchdowns and a 142.6 passer rating. That’s the exact same passer rating Ryan posted in last week’s win against the New York Giants.
  • The Falcons are 32-1 when Ryan has a passer rating of 100 or better. His passer rating is 100.2 for the season and he has a chance to become only the second quarterback in franchise history to post a passer rating of at least 100 for a season. Chris Chandler had a 100.9 passer rating in the 1998 season -- the only time the Falcons reached the Super Bowl.
  • The four touchdowns matched Ryan’s career high and he now is tied for the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (31) with Steve Bartkowski.
  • Ryan was especially good on play-action passes. He completed all seven of his attempts for 109 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Only three of Ryan’s passes (excluding throwaways) were incomplete due to an overthrow or underthrow. Ryan leads the NFL with only 13.4 percent of his passes falling off target.
  • Receiver Roddy White joined Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Reggie Wayne as the only players in NFL history to record six straight seasons with 80 catches and 1,000 yards.
  • White finished with eight catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns. It marked the 35th 100-yard game of his career, and White tied his franchise record for 100-yard games in a season (seven).
  • With one game remaining, White is 81 yards shy of breaking the franchise record for receiving yards in a season (1,389) that he set in 2010.
  • Detroit’s Matthew Stafford didn’t have a passing touchdown. That marked the fifth time in the last six games the Falcons have not allowed a touchdown pass.
  • The defense had three takeaways and the Falcons produced points each time. Atlanta now has 96 points off 29 takeaways this season.
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.
The St. Louis Rams' need for a wide receiver has not diminished in recent days.

But would the team really trade up two spots in the 2012 NFL draft to select Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon with the fourth overall choice? I do not think that is likely, but a recent report caught my attention.

"Rams and Eagles among about four teams interested in trading up to No. 4 with Browns, sources say," a headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer said Friday.

The story itself says nothing about the Rams expressing a specific interest in acquiring that choice to select Blackmon or anyone else. It refers to public comments from Rams coach Jeff Fisher suggesting Cleveland could be one potential trading partner.

"At the NFL owners meetings last month, Fisher said he'd consider trading up with the Browns depending on what they wanted in return," the story said. "He didn't specify which player he'd trade up for, but the Rams are believed to have interest in Blackmon. Fisher re-iterated Friday that he'll trade up, down or stay where he is."

If the Rams absolutely had to have Blackmon or any one player in this draft, they could have held onto the No. 2 overall choice. Instead, they traded that pick to Washington with an eye toward building for the long term. They are in position to choose from a group that could include Blackmon, tackle Matt Kalil, cornerback Morris Claiborne, running back Trent Richardson and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, among others.

We've discussed whether Blackmon would be worthy of such an early choice and, earlier, how the 6-foot-1, 207-pound prospect compares physically to wideouts drafted among the top three selections.

I've noticed a differentiation in physical attributes and career success among receivers based upon standing within the first round.

The first chart shows wide receivers drafted among the top three overall choices since 1990. All were at least 6-3. They averaged 220 pounds. Five of the six have been selected to a Pro Bowl as a wide receiver (as opposed to a returner).


The second chart shows receivers drafted fourth through sixth overall, also since 1990. Half were at least 6-3. They averaged 205 pounds. Two are just getting started, making it premature to evaluate their careers. One of the other four, Torry Holt, earned Pro Bowl honors as a wide receiver.



Todd McShay set off alarms as he considered if NFL teams drafting sixth (St. Louis Rams) and 10th (Buffalo Bills) might consider selecting wide receivers with those choices.

The alarms grew louder as McShay, speaking in the video above, noted that Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, widely rated as the top receiver in the 2012 NFL draft, did not possess prototypical size.

Blackmon, though obviously talented, doesn't fit the physical mold for receivers drafted among the top three overall choices over the past 25-plus years. We discussed the reasons back at the combine, when the Rams held the second overall choice and Blackmon was a consideration for them.

The Rams subsequently traded the second overall choice to Washington. They now hold the sixth overall choice. Blackmon would be a more logical value there than at No. 2, except for those alarms going off.

Consider recent draft history.

First, take a look at receivers drafted among the top five overall choices since 2000, listed in the first chart below.

Three of the seven are superstars: Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson. Another, A.J. Green, is coming off an impressive rookie season. Braylon Edwards has enjoyed sporadic success. The other two, Charles Rogers and Peter Warrick, fell far short of expectations.

Those seven players have combined for 12 Pro Bowl appearances (Fitzgerald 5, Johnson 5, Johnson 1, Edwards 1).

The next set of receivers, listed below, were drafted sixth to 15th overall. I selected that range because three NFC West teams -- the Rams, Seattle Seahawks (12th) and Arizona Cardinals (13th) -- hold picks in that area.

The 16 players listed in the second chart have combined for two Pro Bowls, one by Roy Williams and the other by Koren Robinson as a return specialist in Minnesota, long after Robinson had bombed as a receiver.

Receivers talented enough to command selection among the top few overall choices have fared better than the ones with enough question marks to push them down into the next tier.

That is something to consider when weighing how the Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals should use their first-round selections, even if the Rams did land Torry Holt with the sixth overall choice in 1999.
Torry Holt got the timing right for his retirement news conference Wednesday at St. Louis Rams headquarters.

The Rams' seven-time Pro Bowler offered a formal goodbye while NFC West teams searched for receivers with comparable skill.

The latest 2012 NFL mock draft Insider from Mel Kiper Jr., a two-rounder with explanations for every selection, sends three receivers to NFC West teams in the first round alone.

We get the hint even though this division features a couple all-time greats in Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald. The Rams in particular need upgraded weapons, but the other teams in the division could use help as well.

And while Kiper did not send a receiver to Seattle in the first round, knowledgeable Seahawks fans know their team hasn't had a Pro Bowl player at the position since Brian Blades in 1989 (another receiver, Alex Bannister, made it as a special-teamer in 2003).

The symmetry with Holt and the Rams is striking. The team drafted Holt sixth overall in 1999, and a trade-down with Washington this offseason has given them the sixth pick again this year. That is where we pick up the conversation, using Kiper's mock as a starting point.

6. St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St.

Kiper's give: The possibility remains that St. Louis could move off this spot, but if they stay here and get Blackmon, they'll immediately upgrade a huge weakness, which is the lack of talented options for Sam Bradford in the passing game. Blackmon's speed is adequate, but his smarts, ball skills, route-running and work habits translate to a guy that can contribute immediately, which is what this offense desperately needs.

Sando's take: Kiper had cornerback Morris Claiborne heading to the Rams in his previous mock. Blackmon went to Cleveland at No. 4 in that scenario, but with running back Trent Richardson working out impressively following knee surgery, Kiper has the Browns taking Richardson instead of Blackmon. That left Blackmon for the Rams. We've debated on the blog whether Blackmon would be a reach with the sixth pick. We do know Blackmon would address a primary need, and that most analysts consider him a legitimate choice among the top 10 selections. The Rams are trying to bolster the position in free agency to diminish the need heading into the draft, but they aren't going to find a young talent such as Blackmon on the market at this time. The Rams own the 33rd and 39th picks as well, giving them an opportunity to find playmakers beyond the sixth choice, should they prefer to do so. Kiper had the Rams taking Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and Ohio State tackle Mike Adams in the second round.

12. Seattle Seahawks: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

Kiper's give: Even if [Boston College linebacker Luke] Kuechly is still on the board, it would be tough for Seattle to pass on perhaps the safest 4-3 DE option available. Coples has prototypical size, can play every down as a pass-rusher and has a solid arsenal of moves to get to opposing quarterbacks, but with the size and discipline to be a force against the run. Seattle can't go wrong here with either the top LB or DE available. This defense is close to being considered among the NFL's finest.

Sando's take: The word "safest" isn't particularly comforting for Seahawks fans. Aaron Curry was considered the safest pick in the 2009 draft. Coples was my choice for Seattle in the recent NFL Blog Network mock. Then, Kuechly was not available. Kiper previously had Seattle taking Ryan Tannehill in this spot, but Tannehill was off the board this time and the Seahawks weren't in the QB market, anyway, after signing Matt Flynn. Some have criticized Coples for inconsistent effort. Pete Carroll constantly emphasizes competition, but the Seahawks have shown they can get good results from defensive players with varied résumés and reputations. Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Alan Branch come to mind. The draft plot thickens considerably for Seattle if Kuechly does slip past the top 11 choices. The word "safe" has applied to Kuechly as well. The Seahawks have obvious needs for a pass-rusher and a linebacker, so Coples and Kuechly make sense as projected picks. Kiper had the Seahawks taking Oklahoma linebacker Ronnell Lewis in the second round.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

Kiper's give: Another pick I'll stick with, Floyd is a great complement to Larry Fitzgerald and will help Arizona maximize the options for Kevin Kolb. The offensive line could use help, but Floyd has proven that he'd be a good value here. Think of Atlanta getting Julio Jones to take some pressure off Roddy White last year. Floyd could fill a similar role.

Sando's take: Some might recall Kiper sending Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin to the Cardinals a couple mocks ago. Martin fell from the first round entirely in Kiper's next version before resurfacing in the 20s of this one. The Cardinals need help at tackle after failing to address the position in free agency. (Demetress Bell's agreement with Philadelphia takes away one option under consideration for Arizona.) I get Kiper's thinking on Floyd. Arming Kolb with sufficient options is important. I've offered a counterpoint in the video posted atop this entry. In short, the Cardinals have already armed Kolb with highly drafted weapons at running back, receiver and tight end. The case can be made that Kolb needs to make better use of the existing weapons. To do that, he'll have to gain a stronger grasp of the playbook this offseason. He'll also need to stay on the field, something he hasn't been able to do. Improved pocket awareness would help. Landing a tackle seems like a necessity, but how? I sent Courtney Upshaw to the Cardinals in our Blog Network mock, figuring pass-rushers are more valuable than receivers or offensive linemen. Stanford guard David DeCastro was available to Arizona in Kiper's latest mock. Would the Cardinals draft him to play guard, then move Adam Snyder to right tackle? Kent Somers raised that possibility and it's an interesting one. I'm not sure Snyder projects as the long-term solution at guard, let alone tackle.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

Kiper's give: Hill is the biggest home-run threat in the draft when you combine his speed and size, and it's no secret the 49ers need some help at wide receiver, even with the additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. He'll need an adjustment period as he gets used to doing more in terms of scheme than he was asked at Georgia Tech, but he's the kind of weapon this offense needs to expand.

Sando's take: The thinking makes sense, but the 49ers have options in this spot. Players drafted this late in the first round will likely need time before developing into starters. There's no pressure to target the most immediate need on the roster. Landing a receiver does have appeal. Moss is 35 years old and might not offer much at this stage. But the 49ers can count tight end Vernon Davis as one of their receiving options. They use two tight ends frequently. This team does not run a spread offense requiring three top-flight wideouts, in other words. And there's still a chance Michael Crabtree will take another step forward after finally getting a full offseason in the 49ers' offensive system. The team has flexibility heading into the draft, in other words. San Francisco could target just about any position with the 30th choice (quarterback would be a surprise). The 49ers can sit back and wait to see which talented players with question marks fall to them. Kiper had the 49ers taking Brandon Brooks, a guard from Miami of Ohio, in the second round. The need for guard help could subside if the 49ers sign a veteran in free agency, however. They've visited with a few.
Hall of Famer Jerry Rice passed 11,000 yards receiving in his 133rd game.

Torry Holt needed 131 games, making him the fastest to the milestone in NFL history. He set another NFL record by reaching 1,300 yards in six consecutive seasons.

The St. Louis Rams made note of those milestones while announcing plans to honor Holt during a ceremony Wednesday. Holt, who last played in the NFL for Jacksonville in 2009, will sign a one-day contract with the Rams, then formally retire with the team that selected him sixth overall in the 1999 draft.

After filing a Holt appreciation piece last week, I've put together a chart comparing Holt's career numbers to those for the Rams' current receivers.

Holt
Holt
Holt was prolific, and not just a compiler of numbers over time.

The pace Holt set in getting the first 11,000 of his 13,382 career yards bears revisiting.

Larry Fitzgerald has 9,615 yards in 124 games. He would have to gain 1,385 yards in his next seven games -- 197.8 yards per game -- to reach 11,000 as quickly as Holt.

Andre Johnson, with 9,656 yards in 122 games, would have to gain 1,344 yards in his next nine games -- 149.3 per game -- to match the feat.

The Rams have provided comments from Holt and chief operating officer Kevin Demoff in advance of the news conference:

Holt: "I loved everything about being a Ram, and I feel blessed that I’m able to formally finish my career with the organization that drafted me in 1999. The fans and the city of St. Louis have been so good to me. I feel very fortunate that I was able to come to St. Louis and be surrounded by so many outstanding players and coaches. This is where it all started, and it’s fitting that this is also where it ends."

Demoff: "Torry's career achievements define him as one of the franchise's most exciting players, and it's only appropriate that he complete his remarkable career in a Rams uniform. As a key figure in one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, Torry spent an entire decade thrilling St. Louis fans with his clutch catches. We're proud to celebrate this special day with Torry and to welcome him back home."
Note: I've updated this item to include the second chart, provided by the Rams via Elias Sports Bureau. The total for Rice, 133 games, is one more than I had counted initially.

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