I did NOT write this. It’s by Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It’s a nice short questionnaire.
1. Can the “D” get it done?
Any discussion on the Rams in 2007 begins and ends here. Only four teams allowed more points last season than St. Louis. Entering training camp, nine of the Rams’ 11 projected defensive starters ended the 2006 season as starters. That means coordinator Jim Haslett must rely more on improvement by returning players than on contributions by newcomers if things are to get dramatically better.
2. Can the “D” stop the run?
The defense finished 31st against the run a year ago and allowed 2,327 rushing yards — the third-highest total in franchise history. With underachieving DT Jimmy Kennedy gone, the Rams are counting on rookie Adam Carriker to shore up the interior. James Hall, the new starting right end, should help. So will a healthy Pisa Tinoisamoa and the addition of Chris Draft at LB. Will it be enough?
3. Can Carriker play DT?
Barring some preseason move, the Rams sink or swim with Carriker at defensive tackle. Carriker has the size, strength, attitude and work ethic to be a successful NFL player. But he was an end in college at Nebraska. Having him play DT — in a scheme where he frequently will play nose tackle — is a bit of a projection.
4. Same old sorry special teams?
For years, the only reliable performer here has been K Jeff Wilkins. With rare exception, the rest of the unit has been a disaster. This year, there’s a new high-energy coach in Al Roberts, and a new return man in former Pro Bowler Dante Hall. The Rams have only one TD on punt or kickoff returns since 2002. That will change if Hall regains some of his past magic.
5. What does Jackson do for an encore?
Steven Jackson quietly had a monster season in 2006, leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,334), including 1,528 yards rushing. His 436 touches were just six shy of Eric Dickerson’s franchise record. So much for concerns about his durability. Scott Linehan wants to ease that workload some, but Jackson still needs to be a productive focal point for this offense to work.
6. How will Bennett and McMichael fit in?
At 6 feet 5 inches, Drew Bennett easily is the Rams’ tallest wide receiver since the move to St. Louis. Similarly, Randy McMichael is the most accomplished receiving tight end since the move. Both will help the passing game over the middle and in the red zone. Linehan and offensive coordinator Greg Olson must find ways to get them the ball without diminishing the impact of WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
7. What’s my line?
During the 1999 Super Bowl championship season, Rams offensive line starters missed only two of a possible 80 regular-season starts due to injury. During the 2001 Super Bowl runner-up campaign, the O-line missed three of 80 starts. Last year, the total ballooned to 26 starts missed to injuries. Obviously, good health is essential up front, particularly with veterans Orlando Pace and Andy McCollum coming off surgeries.
8. McCollum or Romberg?
Speaking of McCollum, he will try to hold off youngster Brett Romberg for the starting center job in what should be one of the best position battles in camp. The offense, particularly the running game, clicked with Romberg starting the final three games of 2006. But McCollum, the Rams’ starting center for most of this decade, appears to have made a strong recovery from knee surgery at age 37.
9. What can Brown do for you?
Barring a successful appeal of his four-game suspension, Fakhir Brown won’t do anything for the first month of the season. That means some combination of Ron Bartell and Lenny Walls must hold the fort at cornerback until October. In all probability, Bartell will open those games at cornerback and then slide inside to the nickel slot (with Walls coming in at corner) against three-receiver sets.
10. Can you feel the Draft?
Last year for Carolina, Chris Draft had a team-high 111 tackles, plus 5 1/2 sacks playing for the league’s seventh-ranked defense. On paper, he begins his first season in St. Louis backing up all three linebacker spots. But the Rams need to find a way to get him on the field and contributing other than on special teams. If they do, Draft could be one of the steals of the most recent free agency.