St. Louis Rams: Gregg Williams

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Finding new St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on the practice field is only as difficult as the ability to hear. Even if you don't spot him right away, you can follow the voice.

Whether it's the guttural scream of "Come onnnnn" at the outset of every snap or the occasional not fit for print dressing down for whichever player made a costly mistake after the play, Williams isn't too hard to find.

"I love it personally because it eliminates the margin for error," rookie defensive back Lamarcus Joyner said. "You need someone that is going to help you chase perfection knowing that it will never be caught, but in the process excellence will be achieved. He says that all the time. You need people like that in the driver’s seat."

That Williams is back in the driver's seat was a surprising offseason revelation, one that didn't seem possible after his close friendship with coach Jeff Fisher seemed to cool after Fisher's first attempt to bring Williams to St. Louis didn't work out. Any remaining hope seemed further removed when Fisher fired Blake Williams, Gregg's son, after a season together in 2012.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Gregg Williams
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson"He's the main voice in the room," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Gregg Williams. "He can coach every position."
But here they are at this week's final organized team activities, about to put the finishing touches on Williams' first offseason program in St. Louis. And in the four-plus months since Williams has arrived, he's wasted no time putting his imprint on the defense. He's worked so fast that Fisher has even asked him to pump the brakes on occasion.

"He’s the main voice in the room," Fisher said. "He can coach every single position. You can see the change. You can see the energy. I’ve had to back him down just a little bit.”

If what's been patrolling the sidelines during OTAs is Williams in toned down mode, one can only wonder what it would like without the governor on. In creating what Williams likes to call the "organized chaos" of practice, Williams likes to push the tempo and intensity as much as possible.

At a couple of recent practices, Rams defenders have participated in a number of old-school drills under Williams' watchful eye.

One such drill emphasizing ball pursuit requires five players to do up-downs -- dropping to the ground, bouncing up -- hitting a blocking sled and then asked to sprint to the sideline where three footballs are lined up about 10 yards apart.

Any player who doesn't get to the ball is punished by having to do 10 more up-downs. It's a grueling drill but one that certainly tests the mettle of those involved.

Make no mistake, when the Rams aren't doing drills, Williams is concocting ways to best deploy his new group. That's been his top priority during the OTAs considering those practices have provided his first chance to work with his new players up close.

Williams is pleased with the talent he sees on the field, but he's also working through ways to be flexible if a player does something better or worse than he initially suspected. This is the time of year when Williams can discover what his players can and can't do, and instead of shoehorning them into roles they might not be capable of handling, he can adjust those roles accordingly.

“Until I’m out there with them, I really don’t get a good feel of, ‘How do you maximize the personnel?’" Williams said. "I think the best coaches in the league -- and I’ve always been able to do some of these things -- is how do you maximize the strengths of each and every guy? Everybody’s got weaknesses -- you, me, them, all of us do -- and everybody has strengths. That’s why we play so many packages of people.

"We’re going to package to situations, package to personnel the other team is bringing on the field and then package to our strengths. It’s a young group of guys but it’s fun to see them have tremendous strengths that I didn’t know about until I got out here and had a chance to compete with them.”

While Williams and Fisher are like-minded in their approach to defense and the scheme will remain similar, there are plenty of tweaks that come with Williams' presence. Even during OTAs, the Rams defense has been using a variety of different alignments, formations and personnel in the course of an average practice.

Aggressive and attacking are the two adjectives most commonly associated with a Williams defense and there are no signs that the descriptors will change in St. Louis.

"He’s old school in a way, but he’s updated in all the ways that matter," end Chris Long said. "His schemes are just awesome and unique. He puts us in positions to make plays and confuse the offense. That’s what you want to see on defense because you can play as well as you want, but if the scheme is not exactly right it can be hard sometimes. You just have the faith that with him the calls are going to be the right calls and he’s intense and he’s going to bring it."

As for any lingering hard feelings about the initial fallout in 2012 or anything that happened in the interim, there doesn't appear to be any leftover residue. Other coaches speak glowingly of Williams, and Blake Williams even paid a visit to Rams Park for a recent practice.

A Missouri native, Williams clearly feels comfortable in St. Louis in more ways than one.

"I can't tell you guys how happy I am to be back in Missouri and how happy I am to be back in St. Louis with a good group of guys to coach and a good group of guys to coach with," Williams said. "It's a lot of fun. And being out here on the grass and getting into the actual practices and getting into the competitions makes me even happier than I can ever get."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Like the rest of their NFL brethren, the St. Louis Rams are closing in on the completion of organized team activities. Some have already finished but those that haven't will do so this week.

For the Rams, that means a busy week including four OTAs. But in a different approach than the rest of the league, the Rams will not cap the week with a mandatory minicamp. They also didn't do a rookie minicamp, per se.

That's because coach Jeff Fisher has a slightly different philosophy when it comes to the offseason program. In years past, Fisher has mentioned that he likes to find a balance between doing enough to get the requisite work in while also not pushing his players too far in the spring. Beyond that, the Rams get mostly perfect attendance for all of the "voluntary" portions of the program. That allows them to get most of what needs to be done accomplished in the 10 OTAs they are allotted.

Now in the third year under Fisher, the Rams also have some sense of stability which also makes skipping the minicamp a little easier to understand. The fact is that OTAs are the football practice equivalent of the NFL scouting combine. Players aren't wearing pads and contact is almost completely forbidden. The important part of the OTAs is installing schemes on both sides of the ball.

It's important for the rookies and newcomers to get a chance to translate what they see in meeting rooms on the field but the majority of the roster already has a working knowledge of the scheme. When training camp arrives, the Rams will do it all again but get to do it with pads on in a more realistic facsimile of actual football.

There are, however, still a few things that will be worked out this week. Here's some of what we'll be watching entering the final four (two open to media) practices.

1. The biggest tweak in terms of the installation and understanding of the schemes is the addition of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The base defense is similar as Williams and Fisher share similar ideals when it comes to defense, but Williams is undoubtedly adding some wrinkles to the mix. While the Rams won't get into specifics of what those wrinkles are, some have popped up repeatedly during the OTA practices with occasional confusion apparent.

Williams' early imprint on the defense is obvious for most of the practices whether it's old school ball pursuit drills or his own unique style of "encouragement."

"There’s no doubt," Fisher said. "He’s the main voice in the room. He can coach every single position. You can see the change. You can see the energy. I’ve had to back him down just a little bit.”

2. For the most part, Williams has had his primary defensive pieces in place for the OTAs, but the Rams have been a little thin at one spot: safety. Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald are the projected starters and they've been steady in their spots but injuries to Matt Daniels, Christian Bryant and Maurice Alexander have left little in the way of depth. Cody Davis has gotten some valuable reps with the second-team defense and even rookie Lamarcus Joyner is getting work at safety while the others work their way back. Nobody is going to win a job or a roster spot at this time of year but those extra reps can be valuable in getting a little head start for training camp.

3. There's probably not much more that needs to be said on the recoveries of quarterback Sam Bradford and tackle Jake Long as they bounce back from knee surgeries. But that doesn't mean we won't monitor them as we go through the week. Bradford has been doing his share in practice and the Rams believe he'll be ready to start training camp. Long's workload is harder to judge but he's done some work on the side that appears encouraging, especially when it comes to lateral movements. Fisher has said Long's targeted return is midway through the preseason. We'll keep tabs on both players as we go through this final week.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams got back to work Thursday with their fourth organized team activity open to the media.

As always, it should be noted that much of what happens in these organized team activities should be taken with a grain of salt (especially for the linemen). The players are not in pads and contact must be extremely limited. It's best not to get too excited or too down on anything that happens.

Williams fired up: New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams isn't hard to find on the practice field. If you can't see him, take a moment and listen and you'll be able to spot him soon after. Williams regularly yells "Come onnnnnn" at the snap to get his defenders going and then offers an array of "encouragement" throughout the practice.

At one point during Thursday's practice after the offense hit a nice completion, Williams yelled "If you're afraid to compete, go home." That's one of the more print-friendly comments he offered but you get the idea.

[+] EnlargeLamarcus Joyner
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonLamarcus Joyner has been taking reps at slot corner and safety during OTAs.
So far, it seems the players are embracing Williams, too. Rookie defensive back Lamarcus Joyner offered praise for his new coordinator after the workout and he's not alone in that praise, either.

Speaking of Joyner: Rams coach Jeff Fisher has repeatedly indicated that Joyner's primary function would be as a slot corner this year. While Joyner is getting plenty of work there, he's also taking reps at safety. Of course, the Rams are a little thin on numbers at safety for the time being so it's possible those reps will evaporate when some of the walking wounded return.

Receiver tally: There were some highlight-reel moments for the receivers during Thursday's practice. During a 7-on-7 period, Tavon Austin ran a seam route from the slot that turned the corner outside and then came in front of safety Cody Davis for a leaping 17-yard touchdown catch. Later on, Emory Blake made a diving catch on a slant route that drew some loud cheers from his fellow wideouts. Brian Quick had a drop early in practice during 1-on-1s but bounced back with a couple of contested catches after. Consistency is still the word of the day for him.

He's not a receiver but undrafted rookie tight end Alex Bayer had a good day catching the ball. And Kenny Britt continues to make plays, even getting it done after getting his left leg wrapped during practice.

Sitting it out: Tight end Jared Cook returned to practice Thursday but the rest of the names not practicing matched up with Tuesday's group. WR Jamaine Sherman, S Christian Bryant, S Maurice Alexander, RB Chase Reynolds, S Matt Daniels, DE Sammy Brown, LT Jake Long, DT Michael Brockers and DE William Hayes did not practice.

Brockers was also missing Tuesday and he watched Thursday's practice with his right ankle wrapped.

Bradford's day: Thursday was one of quarterback Sam Bradford's designated practice days and he did a similar amount of work to what he did in front of the media last week. Bradford participated in a pair of 7-on-7 sessions and again did work in the hurry-up team drills. He had some good moments, including the aforementioned touchdown to Austin and another scoring pass to wideout Austin Pettis. He also threw an interception to cornerback Janoris Jenkins during the 11-on-11 drills as pressure surrounded him.

Sam makes a play: As practice came to a close, defensive end Michael Sam made a nice play for the second-team defense. He read a pass, jumped to the outside and knocked it down, narrowly missing an interception. He continues to get reps with the second-team defense as Hayes sits out.

Up next: The Rams have now completed six OTAs with four remaining. All four of those will come next week with two more sessions open to the media on Tuesday and Thursday. There is no mandatory minicamp to complete the offseason.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams have an extensive history of working together. Their defensive philosophies are similar and, now that they are reunited in St. Louis, the scheme isn't expected to change much at its core.

Sure, there will be tweaks here and there, but for the most part, the roles of the 11 defenders will be the same. But there is one player on the defense who figures to have much more on his plate in 2014 if Williams' history is any indication.

Second-year safety T.J. McDonald stepped into a starting role immediately as a rookie and Fisher clearly trusted him to take on a lot of responsibility in the defense. That role will almost certainly expand for McDonald in Year 2.

[+] EnlargeT.J. McDonald
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceSafety T.J. McDonald figures to be a useful piece in coordinator Gregg Williams' scheme for the Rams.
“When T.J. got going early in the season before the injury, you didn’t look at T.J. and see a rookie," Fisher said. "You saw someone that played like an experienced player. With that being said, Year 2 is completely different. He understands, he’s in great shape right now. Gregg’s going to be able to do a lot of things with him on defense.”

For evidence of how that might manifest itself, one need only to look at how Williams has used big, athletic safeties in his recent past. While serving as the defensive coordinator in New Orleans, Williams was able to take veteran safety Roman Harper and turn him into a two-time Pro Bowler. He did so by using the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Harper like a sort of safety Swiss Army Knife.

Harper spent plenty of time in the box, blitzing frequently and essentially serving as a de facto fourth linebacker. In three years with Williams as his coordinator, Harper posted 287 tackles, 12 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and 16 run stuffs.

After learning of Williams' hiring, McDonald, the son of six-time All Pro safety Tim McDonald, quickly took to studying how Williams had deployed his safeties in the past. He immediately liked what he saw and began envisioning himself doing many of the things Harper once did.

"That is me," McDonald said. "I feel like that fits my game pretty well and it is me right now. Once I get a grip on it and everything comes together, I’m confident I’ll be able to make plays."

At 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, McDonald actually cuts a more imposing figure than Harper, but it's easy to see how he could fit into a similar role. While McDonald has flashed some solid cover skills, he's probably best used closer to the line of scrimmage, especially so long as the smaller and speedier Rodney McLeod is playing more of a center field spot on the back end.

The Rams plugged McDonald into the 2013 starting lineup right away, a move that belied his third-round draft status and served as clear evidence of his football acumen. After starting the first four games of the season, McDonald suffered a fracture in his right leg against San Francisco on Sept. 26 but didn't need surgery and was placed on injured reserve with the "designated to return" label.

McDonald returned to the lineup on Nov. 24 against Chicago and played in the final six games. A solid start was interrupted and McDonald struggled to get back on track upon his return.

"It was hard," McDonald said. "Especially having to sit out those eight weeks. That was tough not being able to play with the guys. Coming back, I was trying to get better every week but not just mentally, but also physically and making sure I was getting back to 100 percent. I was just happy I got to play."

For what it's worth, McDonald spent his offseason back home in California, working out at USC with some former teammates. He says he's back at full strength during these organized team activities and has his eye on making up for the time he lost in his rookie season.

"There’s definitely ways that I wish I would have done some things better," McDonald said. "Based off the injury, it made things a little bit difficult. But I came back out there, put myself in position to make some plays and as a rookie you are always going to have things you want to improve on. For me, I am just focusing on a lot of those things and coming out this year hoping I can capitalize on everything I learned last year."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Before the NFL draft and free agency, the St. Louis Rams made what could turn out to be the most important addition of the offseason, hiring Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator.

Late last week, ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando took a look at some newly-hired coordinators around the league and their potential impact Insider on their new teams.

Sando spoke to an offensive coordinator about what Williams could do for the defense in his first season in St. Louis. The answer should provide plenty of hope for the Rams and their fans.

"Gregg Williams is a nightmare coaching with St. Louis because they have a great front," the coordinator told Sando. "He has multiple packages. It will not be just those guys sitting in a straight 4-3. They will be kicking them and moving them. Now they also have an inside rusher with the kid they drafted."

As the Rams continue through organized team activities, Williams can regularly be seen buzzing around the practice field and putting his imprint on the defense. The emphasis on takeaways is perhaps most evident as Williams pushes his defenders to go after the ball regardless of circumstance.

There's still much for the defense to learn from Williams in the offseason and he has more to learn about how to best deploy his new players, but to compete in the NFC West division Williams' impact must be felt sooner than later.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of the weekend's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... Saturday's Ram-blings previewed the Jeff Fisher softball game. ... From there, we sought your help on finding the top three plays in Rams history. ... We finished the weekend with a look at second-year offensive lineman Barrett Jones' return to health.

Elsewhere:

In his weekly mailbag, John Clayton hits on a variety of topics around the league.

At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas returned for his weekly chat.

Joe Lyons explores Mason Brodine's move from defensive end to tight end.

At 101sports.com, Sam Bradford discussed OTAs with the Fast Lane.

Tony Softli writes that the Rams have raised their intensity level in the early OTAs.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams will officially open their version of organized team activities on Tuesday, making them the last in the league to do so.

Tuesday's session is not open to the media, so we won't get a chance to see the Rams on the field until the first open session on Thursday. But as the OTAs finally begin, here's some things I'll be looking for.

Bradford
Bradford
Whither Bradford: According to the team, quarterback Sam Bradford has been well ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Bradford has been moving around and throwing for awhile now and there are realistic expectations he will participate in OTAs.

The question doesn't seem to be whether Bradford will participate but the extent of that participation. It's unlikely he'll be at 100 percent or be asked to do everything since there's no need to rush him back, but his presence will likely be felt. It's no secret 2014 is an important season for Bradford. Every rep counts but the last thing the Rams want to do is rush him and risk a possible setback to his return.

Long
Line dancing: The status of left tackle Jake Long participating in OTAs is up in the air. Long's surgery didn't take place until January, so it's only natural that he'd be further behind in his own knee rehab. The Rams have remained insistent that Long can and will be back for the regular-season opener but in the meantime, someone is going to have to take the snaps at left tackle.

The most obvious options on the roster are rookie Greg Robinson and Rodger Saffold, who are projected to start the season at left and right guard, respectively. Indications from the Rams are that both players will get some reps at left tackle during OTAs and into training camp so the Rams can have a couple of options ready to go in the event that Long can't. We'll be sure to monitor how those reps are divvied up, and keep an eye out for Long to see if he does any work on the side during these early summer sessions.

Beyond that, there are plenty of other offensive line issues to watch, including the development of interior swingman Barrett Jones and the return to health of center Scott Wells.

Sorting out the secondary: The top five defensive backs heading into OTAs appear to be pretty well set with Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald at safety and Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner (nickel) expected to handle the primary duties in the secondary.

But the Rams have a lot to sort out beyond that group as they look to set the roster for next season. Assuming the Rams keep nine or 10 defensive backs, that would leave room for four or five more defensive backs. At corner, there will be plenty of competition amongst a group that includes Brandon McGee, E.J. Gaines, Greg Reid and some other youngsters including Marcus Roberson. At safety, names like Maurice Alexander, Matt Daniels, Cody Davis and Christian Bryant will jockey for position.

Williams' wrinkles: New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has spent most of the offseason in the lab coming up with ways to deploy his new players. But most of that has been based off film study without the benefit of seeing his players working up close on an actual football field.

OTAs offer Williams his first chance to do just that and make determinations on how he wants to go about using the talent in place. The majority of work in OTAs is centered on installation on both sides of the ball so much of the legwork is already done, but there is plenty of time for tweaking if, for example, Williams views his players' skill sets different than he first suspected.

Britt
Britt
Likewise, it will give the defense its first chance to get used to what Williams wants to do and get comfortable with what will likely be a more aggressive approach in 2014.

Receiver rundown: Aside from the free-agent addition of Kenny Britt, the Rams stood pat at wide receiver in the offseason, choosing to bet heavy that their young receiver corps will be up to the task of taking the next step up the developmental ladder.

Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis return to the fold. Much is expected from Givens, Austin, Bailey and Quick, and Britt will get a chance to make a positive first impression on the field. The competition appears mostly wide open, making receiver a position full of intrigue as we head toward training camp.

Williams' work will be in the lab

February, 14, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As new St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams stepped to the dais to meet the media for the first time Thursday afternoon, he quickly joked that the rest of the defensive staff was pleased to get a respite from him while he answered a few questions.

"I know this week as we’ve started meeting as a staff, that they’re probably great and they’re enjoying the fact there’s a little bit of a break in the staff meetings downstairs and I’m here with you instead of with them because we have a lot of work to do," Williams said. "We started early this week and we’ll be working hard and doing that knowing that you all want a winner.”

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesGregg Williams "is not going to do a lot of player evaluations," Jeff Fisher said. "I want him to take this defense and run with it and let us handle that part."
Soon after a relatively brief news conference, Williams went back to work evaluating the current Rams defensive talent, meeting with his staff and getting the ball rolling for the 2014 season. Between now and the start of the season, that's going to be Williams' primary function, according to coach Jeff Fisher.

Even before the Rams officially hired Williams as defensive coordinator, many began wondering what his addition would mean to the Rams in terms of player evaluations and needs in the NFL draft and free agency.

By all indications, Williams isn't going to spend the next few months poring over tape of college prospects or traveling all over the country to pro days. Instead, Williams will spend his time in a sort of football laboratory, cooking up coverages, blitzes and more in an effort to help the Rams defense take the next step in its development.

"I told Gregg that this time around he’s going to be the mad scientist," Fisher said. "So he’s not going to do a lot of player evaluations. I’m not going to take his time up in evaluating unrestricted free agents and getting ready for the draft. I want him to take this defense and run with it and let us handle that part."

Fisher brought Williams back with the sole intention of helping the Rams move from a top 15 defense to a top 10 or better group. For most of his coaching career, Williams has had a reputation for aggressive, ball hawking defenses which feature aggressive press coverage and exotic blitz packages. Part of his job during this time will be figuring out how those principles mesh with what the Rams already have in place.

For example, the Rams finished third in the NFL in sacks in 2013 and seem to have a knack for generating pressure with just the front four. That would seem to alleviate the need to come with extra pass-rushers as much as Williams might be used to. That could allow him to concoct some different and unique ideas for third-down situations.

That isn't to say Williams is going to abandon what he believes in. Fisher wanted him all along for a reason, because they have similar beliefs on how to attack opposing offenses.

After Williams and Fisher were done speaking Thursday, Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis discussed what Williams' addition means for the defense. He's well aware that Fisher envisions Williams as one of the final pieces toward making the Rams a top 5 or so defense. He understands the expectations.

"We wouldn't have it any other way," Laurinaitis said. "You want to have that expectation way up there, and he has it and we have it. Quite frankly, there's no excuses for this defense not to be there. That comes from myself, from all the guys, talking to them. We're fired up, and I think it's just really an understanding that we have to elevate our game. There's absolutely no excuses. We should be a top 5 defense."

What Dr. Williams cooks up in the lab over the next six-plus months will go a long way in helping them get there.

Williams, Fisher finally join forces

February, 13, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams' and coach Jeff Fisher's decision to hire Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator should serve as a compelling reminder that speaking in absolutes when it comes to the NFL is the quickest path to being wrong.

On Thursday afternoon, Fisher and Williams stood before a large crowd of media and Rams employees smiling from ear-to-ear and basking in a moment that was two years in the making. It was a moment that didn't seem possible as recently as a month ago, let alone over the course of the past 24 months.

When Fisher stepped to the podium on Thursday, nobody was quite certain what he was going to say or how he was going to address the elephant in the room. So much had happened in the past two years that it was hard to envision Williams and Fisher rekindling a once close friendship.

But Fisher wasted no time acknowledging this wasn't a decision he came to lightly. In fact, he answered about five questions in his opening statement.

"I reached out to Gregg in late January and we spent several days together, discussing the past, putting the past behind us, discussing the present and the future and direction of where we wanted to go with our defense," Fisher said. "I also had a conversation with the commissioner (Roger Goodell), who not only endorsed Gregg but felt Gregg would be a good move for this organization. Gregg and I came to terms with a lot of things. We worked out an agreement."

At this time of year, most agreements center on signing bonuses, performance incentives and guaranteed money. This one had nothing to do with any of that.

This was about two old friends getting back to where they once were, to rebuilding trust that had once yielded one of the league's most dominant defenses and a whole lot of victories.

When Fisher initially tabbed Williams to be his defensive coordinator in 2012, he was taken aback soon after when the NFL suspended Williams for his role in the bounty scandal with the New Orleans Saints. The news made the difficult process of hiring a coaching staff that much tougher. Williams was not allowed to have contact with the coaching staff and Fisher was left short-handed.

It would be understandable if Fisher was still bitter about finding himself without any strong coordinator options in his first year on the job. He already had enough on his plate trying to re-shape the franchise.

By Fisher's own admission, he rarely spoke to Williams after his suspension and even last year when Williams was in Tennessee.

"I had very little discussion with Gregg when he left," Fisher said.

With Williams out of the picture, his son Blake became the sort of de facto coordinator, calling the plays for the defense with Fisher's guidance. The younger Williams was regarded by players as a bright football mind who struggled with his bedside manner. On the Rams' experienced and veteran coaching staff, Blake Williams wasn't a fit and Fisher let him go at the end of the 2012 season.

The Rams moved on and named Tim Walton as coordinator for 2013. Meanwhile, the relationship between Fisher and Williams didn't seem to improve. In the week leading up to the Rams' meeting with Tennessee on Nov. 3, Fisher shed little light on the situation.

"[We last spoke] probably sometime last fall," Fisher said that week. "We were prohibited to have contact with him but we got permission from the commissioner and we had a conversation or two."

Fisher said he'd probably speak to Williams before the game but that was about all he had to say about Williams. Tennessee beat the Rams 28-21 that week and Fisher noticed traces of Williams' influence all over Tennessee's defense and in watching the film before the game.

With the Rams' defense failing to take the next step to becoming a top-10 group and Tennessee enjoying a major turnaround from being one of the worst defensive units in the league, Fisher began his postseason evaluations. He kept coming back to the original blueprint he brought with him to St. Louis. He even knew that reaching out to Williams had potential to be awkward.

"I just felt really strongly about just pulling it together," Fisher said. "I think I caught him by surprise by initiating the conversation and the contact but again like I said, we spent a couple days together and at that point I was convinced it was going to work."

Undoubtedly, Williams wasn't the only one caught by the surprise of his potential return to St. Louis. During the course of his comments Thursday afternoon, Williams hit on the heart of the matter.

"We’re in the winning-games business," Williams said. "This is a great game. It’s a production business."

Above all else, the chance to win cures all; even friendships that once seemed beyond repair.
ST. LOUIS --Three of the league's top seven scoring defenses in 2013 resided in the NFC West. Seattle was No. 1, San Francisco was No. 3 and Arizona was No. 7.

And then there were the St. Louis Rams, who finished a respectable 13th in the league in points allowed but finished fourth in the division in terms of record and defense. That isn't preventing some NFL analysts from looking at the Rams' defensive foundation and seeing a group capable of unseating the Seahawks on the NFL's defensive throne.

In fact, over at NFL.com, Gil Brandt named the Rams his "defense on the rise," just behind five other defenses capable of becoming the next dominant group in the NFL.

Brandt writes that the Rams have "two thirds" of the needed parts to become an elite defense, citing the strength of the front seven but acknowledging the need for help on the back end. There's no doubt about that. The Rams' greatest needs defensively this offseason include a rangy free safety type and potentially even another starting caliber cornerback. An outside linebacker to complement Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis would also make sense.

Of course, another reason for Brandt's optimism as it comes to the Rams defense is the pending addition of Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator. Brandt writes that Williams should help take the defense to the next level.

That's an opinion shared elsewhere. SI.com's Don Banks called Williams the best coordinator hire of the offseason.

I'm inclined to agree with both takes as the Rams have been building toward a dominant defense since the arrival of coach Jeff Fisher. Many of the pieces are in place. Now, they need to add the final touches and let Williams mold it all together to maximize an extremely talented young group on a consistent basis.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Thursday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we took a look at the latest round of rumors and speculation concerning the Rams and Los Angeles. ... Next, it was my column on why the time has come for the Rams to stop spending big in free agency and keep developing their young players. ... From there, we continued our series on possible future Hall of Fame Rams with a look at receiver Isaac Bruce. ... Finally, we offered some thoughts and reaction to the mock drafts of Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.

Elsewhere:

Speaking of the mock drafts (both links are ESPN Insider content):

Here's Kiper's latest offering.

Here's McShay's updated picks.

Tavon Austin joined ESPN's Toni Collins with thoughts on a number of topics relating to the memorabilia industry.

SI.com has its own updated mock draft following a similar blueprint as the Kiper/McShay takes.

NFL.com's Adam Schein ranks the Rams No. 8 as one of the most interesting teams to watch this offseason.
ST. LOUIS -- Three former prominent St. Louis Rams coaches found more work this week in some form or another, each under different and intriguing circumstances.

Linehan
Linehan
In Dallas, former Rams head coach Scott Linehan was named the team's play caller. Yes, that's his official title.

In Baltimore, former Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo was moved from a defensive consultant position to secondary coach.

And of course, former Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was hired by the Rams to be their defensive coordinator. All of that in just a few days time.

For as strange as some of those moves seem on the surface, the only one that doesn't make much sense in my eyes is the Cowboys adding Linehan.

Spagnuolo
Spagnuolo
It's not outrageous that Dallas hired Linehan. He has a long history as an offensive coordinator. Of course, he's not the offensive coordinator. Linehan is walking into a job as the offensive play caller on a staff that already has a coordinator in Bill Callahan and a head coach with offensive background in Jason Garrett.

For now, at least, all three of those coaches figure to be in place next year. It's a strange situation and one that has led to plenty of head scratching. Beyond that, Linehan's track record running offenses is questionable when you look beyond the basic numbers. Linehan's success as a play caller has largely been based on having a strong-armed quarterback and an elite wide receiver.

In Minnesota, Linehan had Daunte Culpepper throwing deep to Randy Moss. In Detroit, it was Matthew Stafford tossing it up to Calvin Johnson. Even in St. Louis, the Rams had Marc Bulger throwing to Torry Holt in the first couple of years of Linehan's tenure.

The Rams' offense in 2006 was by far the best of his tenure with the team but it also functioned at its best when offensive coordinator Greg Olson was handling play calling duties. When Linehan reclaimed those duties, the offense sagged.

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyGregg Williams' return to St. Louis is the strangest hire involving former Rams coaches this week, but it also makes the most sense.
Likewise, Linehan has a history of ignoring the running game. The good news for Linehan in Dallas is he will have a talented quarterback and receiver combo in Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, but it's not like that duo has struggled to produce. The onus will fall on him to find ways to get the most out of the rest of his offense or this verse will be the same as the first.

Meanwhile, the man who replaced Linehan is taking on a much lower profile job with the Ravens. Spagnuolo made his bones in the league as a secondary coach, moving up through the ranks to Giants defensive coordinator after coaching the secondary as part of his tenure in Philadelphia. Like Linehan, Spagnuolo's tenure in St. Louis was not successful and he was unable to right the ship as defensive coordinator in New Orleans in 2012.

Spagnuolo was able to step away this year and now is back in a comfortable spot with Baltimore. His role won't require him to focus on anything but coaching up the secondary, and he should be able to settle back in and do just fine.

We've covered plenty of how Williams fits in with the Rams. It's a natural fit, one that has been more than two years in the making. While the circumstances of Williams' hiring are the strangest of the three moves, it's also the most logical and the one that should make the biggest difference.

Let's chat about the Rams

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
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ST. LOUIS -- Coming today at 1 p.m. ET, I'll be hosting our weekly chat to discuss all things St. Louis Rams.

It's obviously been a busy week in Rams-land with the news of owner Stan Kroenke purchasing land in Los Angeles and the hiring of Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator. Beyond that, free agency, the draft ... anything you want to cover we'll talk about it for an hour. You can submit questions now and/or join me when we go live. Hope to see you there.


ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams and Gregg Williams have agreed to a deal to make Williams the team's defensive coordinator.

It's a move two years in the making after Williams originally accepted the same role in 2012 but never did the job after serving a suspension for his role in the bounty scandal with the New Orleans Saints.

Williams served as a defensive consultant for the Tennessee Titans in 2013 but technically hasn't been a defensive coordinator for a game since his time in New Orleans.

There will be no sweeping changes in terms of the general defensive philosophy but Williams will certainly add his own flavor. To get a handle on how we got here and what Williams brings to the table, ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett discussed the move.

Wagoner: Mike, it's been a long, strange trip to get to this point where Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams can finally reunite. You were there during the ups and downs of Williams' time in New Orleans. First, what are some of the things he can bring to the table from solely a coaching perspective?

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsGregg Williams, a senior defensive assistant with the Titans this past season, will preach an aggressive style of play as Rams defensive coordinator.
Triplett: Williams made a huge impact on the Saints -- especially in his first year in 2009. For one thing, he was a creative and versatile coordinator who was great at tailoring his defense around players' individual strengths. One example that stands out most was the way he made safety Roman Harper into a two-time Pro Bowler by using him as a frequent blitzer and pseudo-linebacker. Williams would also mix and match between a 4-3 and 3-4. His most famous example was the Super Bowl win over Indianapolis and Peyton Manning when he had different plans for the first half, the third quarter and the fourth quarter.

What stood out even more was the way Williams lit a fire under his players as a passionate leader and motivator. And he noticeably instilled confidence in them. He brought a lot of the same qualities in his first season that we talked about this past year with Rob Ryan. Obviously you can't ignore the bounty scandal, though, when describing those traits because Williams took it to such extremes.

Do you think it was hard for Fisher to make this move with the bounty scandal still so fresh in Williams' past?

Wagoner: In all honesty, I was under the impression that this ship had sailed. Fisher was hesitant to even talk about Williams during the week leading up to the Titans game this season and he fired Williams' son, Blake. But apparently their friendship survived all of those things or they were at least able to reconcile enough to give it another go. When Williams first got suspended, Fisher seemed to be a bit taken aback by it. I wondered if Williams didn't provide all of the information. It put the Rams in something of a difficult spot that first season. The timing of all this seems a bit strange because Williams shook loose from Tennessee a while ago. I wonder how much time has been spent working out the details. At the end of the day, this was clearly what Fisher wanted all along so perhaps now the Rams can finally have some stability at defensive coordinator.

You mentioned the bounty scandal. One thing that raises a red flag with this hire is the lack of discipline the Rams had in 2013. They drew a lot of silly penalties. That's always been a part of Fisher teams and it doesn't seem Williams' style will do much to harness that. What were your impressions of his ability to walk the line between instilling discipline in his players while not taking away their edge?

Triplett: I don't ever remember penalties being a big problem with the Saints. In fact, many people pointed out during the bounty debate that the Saints had one of the league's least-penalized defenses during Williams' tenure. But I still think that's probably a fair concern since I wouldn't exactly characterize Williams as "disciplined." He wants to create big plays, and he blitzed a ton while he was in New Orleans. And sometimes that gambling nature led to breakdowns and big plays for the offense. It worked wonders in 2009, when the Saints led the NFL in combined turnovers in the regular season and postseason. But they had playoff blowups at Seattle and San Francisco the next two years.

The same goes for big hits, obviously. Williams saw the value in what he always called "remember me" shots, and sometimes that led to unnecessary roughness penalties. But it was never a case of the Saints playing "dirty" on defense or taking cheap shots to hurt guys. The philosophy was to be aggressive as possible within the rules (though the reward program was where they went too far).

You'll see that philosophy on display right away during summer practices. The defensive guys will annoy the offense by constantly swatting at the ball and trying to pry it loose and diving on every ball that hits the turf. And you'll hear Williams shouting often. The energy level will be unmistakable.

Wagoner: It should be a good thing for the Rams to have some stability at the position, finally. One more thing while I've still got you. One area that drove Rams fans nuts this year was a commitment to a lot of "off" coverage with corners playing soft zones. It would seem Williams doesn't abide by that approach. Can you shed some light on his approach to coverage schemes and how it might alter the type of players for the secondary the Rams will be looking for this offseason?

Triplett: You're right. His corners played a ton of man-to-man coverage in New Orleans -- often times pressing -- while doing a lot of blitzing. But I'm not sure that's always his approach. It's just how he decided to do things in New Orleans since he trusted the defensive backs' ability to cover more than the front four's ability to generate pressure without blitzing.

When he was here, he had corners like Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter and safeties like Darren Sharper and Malcolm Jenkins, who all played very well during those years. Greer and Porter weren't very big or physical, so he doesn't necessarily require a big, physical corner. But he'd obviously like to find guys he can trust in man coverage.

Wagoner: There's no doubting the move makes sense for the Rams. Given the caliber of defenses the Rams face in the NFC West division, Williams' hire should help nudge them toward the elite status necessary to close the gap on Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona.

ST. LOUIS -- As the St. Louis Rams announced Wednesday that they fired defensive coordinator Tim Walton, the easy reaction wasn't necessarily to wonder why he was fired but why the Rams waited so long to do it.

It took all of about 10 minutes to understand. The Rams already had their replacement lined up, and technically, the replacement is the replacement's replacement. Got that?

ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen reported that the Rams will hire Gregg Williams to be their new (old?) defensive coordinator only moments after the team sent out a release announcing it was parting ways with Walton.

What a long, strange trip it's been for Williams and the Rams.

A brief history: Soon after the team named Jeff Fisher as head coach in January 2012, Fisher hired Williams as his defensive coordinator. Fisher and Williams were best friends and had worked together in Tennessee, where the Titans were regularly among the league's best defenses.

Not long after that, the Rams and Williams were forced to part ways because the NFL suspended Williams for his role in the bounty scandal in New Orleans. The Rams allowed Williams' son, Blake, to serve as a de facto coordinator in addition to his role coaching the team's linebackers.

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesGregg Williams will be hired as the Rams' defensive coordinator, reuniting with Jeff Fisher, sources said.
The Rams' defense was middle of the pack in 2012, but the younger Williams struggled to mesh with the coaching staff and was let go after the season. St. Louis hired Walton from Detroit, where he worked with Fisher disciple Jim Schwartz, because of his familiarity with Fisher's defense.

Walton's defense struggled mightily early in the season, especially against Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco. Rumors persisted that Fisher took on a larger role in calling the defense around midseason, and the group finished in the middle of the pack once again.

But Walton's contributions were questionable as the secondary struggled with passive coverage schemes and the defense allowed a completion rate of 68.1 percent, tied for worst in the league.

Despite those struggles, Walton was in his first year as a coordinator and Fisher said he didn't anticipate making any changes to the coaching staff this offseason.

Perhaps Fisher didn't anticipate the Titans making wholesale changes to their coaching staff, where Williams served as a defensive consultant in 2013.

Which brings us to Wednesday and the report that Williams and Fisher are set to reunite. Given the way things ended between the two sides the first time around, it was fair to wonder if the bridge had been burned and reconciliation was even possible.

Fisher said in 2012 that he wouldn't rule out bringing Williams back at some point, but it seemed plenty had changed since. When the Rams and Titans played in November, Fisher didn't exactly offer up warm fuzzies when asked whether he talked to Williams much.

“I really never talked to him during the season anyway,” Fisher said then. “I'm sure I'll see him on Sunday.”

From Williams' side, one had to wonder whether his son's firing would create a wedge between the two sides.

Apparently, none of that was enough to damage the long and close friendship forged by Fisher and Williams.

From a pure football perspective, the move makes sense. Williams and Fisher built the attacking, aggressive defensive scheme favored by both coaches and will continue to deploy it in St. Louis.

Williams' involvement in the bounty scandal is sure to bring questions, but there's no denying his positive impact on Tennessee's defense in 2013. The Titans finished 14th in total yards allowed and 16th in scoring defense with Williams helping out after finishing 27th in total yards and last in scoring defense in 2012.

With Williams back on board, it's safe to expect the Rams to take on the personality that Fisher wanted to see from the get-go -- less of the soft zone, huge cushion coverage calls paired with relentless pressure from the front four and exotic blitz packages.

Those are all calling cards of a Williams defense and will almost certainly be staples of the Rams' scheme in St. Louis.

Given the state of the NFC West, where elite defenses are the rule, the Rams' middle-of-the-pack finish in the first two seasons under Fisher simply hasn't been good enough. While the unit didn't take any steps back in 2013, it also didn't make the leap forward to the top-10 group many hoped it would become.

To reach that level, Fisher appears poised to bring back the man he wanted all along.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Gregg Williams will coach a defense at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday but it won't be the one that he probably envisioned as recently as January of 2012.

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyGregg Williams, one of Jeff Fisher's first hires with the Rams, is instead leaving his stamp on the Titans' defense after his return from a season-long suspension.
Williams was one of Rams coach Jeff Fisher's first hires when he took over the job last year, brought on to be the team's defensive coordinator. That never panned out how either side envisioned when the NFL suspended Williams for the year because of his role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal. Williams faded into NFL oblivion and resurfaced in Tennessee this year as a defensive consultant.

As the Rams and Titans prepare to face off this week, much has been made of Fisher's knowledge of Tennessee and head coach Mike Munchak's system but it's certainly a two-way street, at least on defense. Although Jerry Gray is the defensive coordinator, Williams' imprint on the defense -- lots of blitzing, plenty of press coverage -- is obvious.

"Absolutely, you can see Gregg's fingerprints on that," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "I think Jerry Gray does a great job. I think they're very well-coached. It will be a good challenge for us. The good news is there is some carryover from what we saw last week with Seattle coming off the Monday night game in terms of the eight-man front and some of the stuff we'll have to block. So, that does help you."

Fisher and Williams were once thought to be close friends, a relationship likely strained by what happened with Williams' status in St. Louis and the Rams parting ways with Williams' son Blake after one season last year.

Asked about Williams earlier this week, Fisher told the Tennessee media that he hasn't spoken to Williams much in the past year. Asked again Wednesday by St. Louis media, he didn't offer much more.

"I really never talked to him during the season anyway," Fisher said. "I'm sure I'll see him on Sunday."

I.C.Y.M.I.

A morning roundup of Friday's Rams stories appearing here on ESPN.com. ... We began the day with a look at why Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan is getting the last laugh on the success of Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner. ... Next, we looked at the Rams' need to keep the momentum on defense after a dominant outing against Seattle. ... On the injury wire, we looked at the potential for new looks at running back with three backs listed as questionable. ... Finally, we discussed the news about Jacksonville receiver Justin Blackmon with a look back at what might have been had he slipped to the Rams at No. 6.

Elsewhere:

At stltoday.com, columnist Bryan Burwell provides this video look at the Rams-Titans game.

Joe Lyons dives into the breakthrough performance of rookie running back Zac Stacy.

Jim Thomas provides the comments from offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer on the final play against Seattle.

Stacy stopped by to chat with fans at stlouisrams.com.

Tickets for Sunday's game can be had for as low as $9.

One former agent provides a list of likely cap casualties this offseason, including Finnegan.

An interesting look from cbssports.com on the trade that sent Eric Dickerson from the Rams to Indianapolis.

Double Coverage: Titans at Rams

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Alterraun Verner and Chris LongUSA TODAY SportsTitans CB Alterraun Verner and Rams DE Chris Long are two of the league's best at their positions.
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Any time the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans meet, memories of Super Bowl XXXIV are sure to come to the fore. In one of the greatest Super Bowl finishes of all time, the Rams emerged with their lone championship during their time in St. Louis.

A lot has changed since, but neither team has managed to get back to the promised land and it seems like a long shot either will this season. This week, the Rams and Titans renew acquaintances at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. ESPN.com Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky discuss some things worth watching, including an interesting role reversal for one of the key figures in that Super Bowl.

Wagoner: Well, it's pretty obvious what the big story is going to be this week. Jeff Fisher is facing his former team for the first time since taking over as the coach in St. Louis. As is to be expected, Fisher is downplaying that whole angle, but you were around him a lot in his years in Nashville. Do you expect Fisher to have a little something extra for his old team this week?

Kuharsky: It would be so much better if it were in Nashville. Then we’d have the crowd reaction as a part of it, too. Still, it’s intriguing. He will definitely have something (or some things) drawn up that he feels will uniquely exploit the schemes and styles of his former underlings Mike Munchak, Jerry Gray and Gregg Williams. If those things work, I’d expect Fisher will then talk about how one of his assistants who was once in Tennessee -- Chuck Cecil, Dave McGinnis or even Ray Sherman -- was instrumental in the design. Fisher didn’t leave with hard feelings, and I believe he wishes the organization well. Still, any proud former employee in this sort of circumstance wants to outperform the former employer. He’s talked about it meaning more for the guys on the roster who were once Titans.

Jared Cook had a monster opening day but has been quiet since. Cortland Finnegan missed some time hurt. What’s the status of those guys?

Wagoner: Cook has really struggled dealing with teams giving him more attention and, more specifically, being physical with him at the line of scrimmage and downfield. He stopped on a route last week against Seattle, and it resulted in an interception. The Rams have gone back to more of a power running scheme that has also limited his snaps because he doesn’t bring much to the table as a blocker. Finnegan won’t say it, but I believe he was banged up at the beginning of the season; his first four games were downright brutal. He returned last week against Seattle, and for now he’s working exclusively in the nickel as the team’s third corner rather than just bumping inside in those situations. Given that he’s only a little more than a year into a monster contract, it’s hard to categorize him as anything but a disappointment for the price.

A lot will be made of the Fisher-Tennessee connection, but I’m more intrigued by the Gregg Williams situation. The way things went down with him and the Rams, and between Williams’ son Blake and the Rams, had to have created some tension on all sides. What has Williams’ impact been down there in Tennessee, and what exactly is his role?

Kuharsky: By title, he’s senior assistant/defense. In practice, he’s not-quite defensive coordinator. Gray is still calling the plays, but Williams’ influence is undeniable. This defense had no personality or attitude last season. Now it’s the backbone of the team. It mixes it up and disguises its looks up front, it blitzes more often and it plays far more man-to-man. Bernard Pollard has been a great fit who has talked with swagger and backed it up. Some guys most people have never heard of -- defensive end Ropati Pitoitua and middle linebacker Moise Fokou -- have been very good additions. Williams certainly had a say in bringing those guys in. He has stayed in the background and seems comfortable there. I would imagine he and Gray are excited to put together a plan to make Kellen Clemens uncomfortable.

How do you think Clemens will respond in his second start since Sam Bradford went down?

Wagoner: To paraphrase one of the great philosophers of our time, Mr. Dennis Green, Clemens proved last week against Seattle that he is what we thought he was. He’s a tough, gritty, consummate professional who can occasionally extend plays with his legs and make something happen. He’s also consistently inaccurate, a bit indecisive and has a knack for costly turnovers (though his two interceptions Monday night weren’t completely his fault). Another week to work with the starters should help, but he was a bit sore after Monday night’s game against Seattle. The Rams don’t need him to throw for 300 yards and five touchdowns, but they do need him to convert in the red zone and not turn the ball over.

There are something like 16 players from the Fisher era remaining in Tennessee, one of whom is running back Chris Johnson. The Rams have been better defending the run the past two weeks, but they need to prove they can keep doing it. It appears Johnson has struggled after the team made efforts to help him in the offseason. What’s going on with Johnson, and is he (and the Titans' offensive line) capable of taking advantage of the Rams’ run defense?

Kuharsky: The Titans are built on a philosophy of throwing it when they want to, not when they have to. That’s a mistake because the revamped line and Johnson are not equipped to run it they way they think they can. Jets fans get a kick out of this, but to a large degree the Titans' hope things will get better comes from Shonn Greene. The bigger back was brought in as a compliment to CJ, but he got hurt in the opener and made it back only the week before the bye; he has hardly played. They need him to emerge and contribute. Based on current numbers, the Rams are the third-softest run defense the Titans will have seen this season. If they can’t run Sunday, it will really speak to their issues.

Chris Long and Robert Quinn looked really good against Seattle. Have they been giving everyone problems like that?

Wagoner: Quinn certainly has. Through the first half of the season, he’s really starting to realize his immense potential. I believe he’s the Rams’ best player right now, and have felt that way since the beginning of the season. He’s an athletic freak who gives slower tackles problems. He feasts on inferior players, but he can get it done against good tackles as well. Long was banged up earlier in the season but has battled through it and is starting to find his stride. Given the situation on offense right now, the Rams need this duo to take over games on a regular basis and set the tone for a defense that, before last week, had largely disappointed this season.

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