EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Changing a style, a mentality, a belief that not only brought Super Bowl success but also brought years of entertaining football is not an easy thing to do.
Yet that's exactly what's happening with the St. Louis Rams, even if it might be a hard sell at times.
Pretty, exciting, pass-oriented offense that inspired cool nicknames, flashy receivers and innovative, if not eccentric, offensive wizard Mike Martz, is gone, replaced by the new hit-you-in-the-mouth mentality.• Roster | Depth Chart | Camp tour
Up-tempo is how new coach Steve Spagnuolo runs practices, not how his offense is run.
For "Spags," as the players call the uber-hyper coach, it's run the ball, make plays off play action and play tough, attacking, relentless defense. Expect that side of the ball to be the exciting part of the Rams team.
That was a joy to watch -- and a pain to defend.
"For so many years, it was the Greatest Show on Turf and all about the offense," Rams cornerback Ronald Bartell said. "But now we're trying to turn into a defensive, hard-nosed football team. We're going to run the ball and we're going to stop the run on defense."
Spagnuolo comes over after two years as defensive coordinator with the New York Giants. He brings an innovative style on defense that is bound to be better than what the Rams put out in 2008 under the previous regime.
They were so bad they came up with this battle cry:
Thank God for the Detroit Lions.
While the Lions were going 0-16, their defense was giving up a league-worst 32.3 points per game. You know who was second worst, don't you? It was the Rams, who gave up 29.1 points a game. In fairness to then-coach Jim Haslett, he was playing shorthanded much of the season, the talent pool thinned by injuries and bad drafting.
"It was brutal," Bartell said. "There's no other way to describe it."
Sleeper ... Randy McMichael: McMichael fell off the Fantasy map last year after catching 11 passes in four games, then breaking his leg. After two subpar years with the Rams, McMichael hopes the third year is the charm. Playing in the West Coast offense will give McMichael, who is healed, the chance to catch a lot of short- and medium-area passes and make plays. Seeing as how McMichael is far more of a receiving tight end than a blocking tight end, this should be a good fit. Furthermore, with the Rams' receiving corps a weak spot, McMichael might have a shot at leading them in receptions. If you find yourself in the market for a backup Fantasy tight end on Draft Day, McMichael is a good choice.
Breakout ... Donnie Avery: Avery had a smashing October, catching 14 passes for 291 yards (a 20.8 avg.) and two touchdowns, with 163 of those yards coming against the Patriots in New England. It was believed that Avery would take off from there and finish the season strong. Instead, he didn't score again until Week 17 and topped 65 yards receiving once for the rest of the year. But Avery is alone as the best potential receiving weapon in St. Louis and fits into what the West Coast offense wants out of their wideouts: Excellent speed and quickness, good hands and playmaking ability. Those factors give Avery a shot at being a useful Fantasy option this season.
Bust ... Marc Bulger: Even with an improved offensive line and emerging receivers, Bulger isn't close to regaining the form he once possessed as one of Fantasy's best quarterbacks. The past two years have been brutal for him, as he's thrown 11 touchdown passes in each of his last two seasons with more interceptions than scores. Furthermore, the Rams should continue to employ Steven Jackson and push the run game as much as they can, taking the ball out of Bulger's hands. The point is that there are far better, and safer, No. 2 Fantasy quarterbacks to go around than Bulger, making him a non-issue on Draft Day. -- Dave Richard
Current Draft Averages
QB: Marc Bulger (167th overall)
RB: Steven Jackson (9th)
WR: Donnie Avery (117th)
|Rams Fantasy outlook | '09 Draft Prep|
Linebacker Will Witherspoon simply won't describe it. He buried the season a long time ago. Don't even ask about it. It's erased from his memory bank.
"We can't worry about what happened last season," Witherspoon said. "Unless they invent a time machine to take us back, there's not a lot we can do about it."
If they did have a time machine, they might go back to the Los Angeles Rams days, when the Fearsome Foursome led a nasty defense. This unit doesn't quite come close to that type of front four, which is why blitzing will be a big part of what the Rams do.
Spagnuolo is a disciple of the late Jim Johnson, the creative former defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. He spent eight years working under Johnson before taking over the Giants defense in 2007.
All the Giants did in his first season was win a Super Bowl. That defense was the main reason the Giants upset the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
"We will definitely have the mindset of being aggressive," said Rams safety James Butler, who played under Spagnuolo in New York. "That's his style. That's what he does."
The Giants finished sixth in points allowed last season under Spagnuolo, giving up 18.4 per game. That's 10.7 fewer points than the Rams allowed last season. If the Rams can get their number down to the low 20s, it will be a good season for the defense.
For that to happen, the pressure has to be better. The Rams had 30 sacks last season while the Giants had 42.
"You do what's best with your personnel," Spagnuolo said. "We'd like to be aggressive, and I think we will, but you don't just do it for the sake of doing it. It takes good players to be able to do it well."
The Giants had the rushers up front. The Rams might not. The key for the Rams might be second-year defensive end Chris Long. They used the second overall pick on Long last year and he flashed at times as a rookie, but he has to be a double-digit sack player in 2009.
The new system might help, creating some good one-on-one rush chances for Long and fellow end Leonard Little.
The X-factor in the defense could be veteran James Hall. Spagnuolo has used him a lot like he used Justin Tuck in New York, moving him up and down the line, playing him some with his hand down and standing up. Hall isn't Tuck, but at least he might provide more pass-rush help.
Rammer: How do you see Adam Carriker as an important part of the defensive line? As in, what are the strengths that he brings to the table?
Steve Spagnuolo, head coach:
It is hard to single out just one player. I have been really pleased with how the entire roster has worked through the offseason program and in training camp. I think it is going to be fun to watch the team mature as they learn the new offense defense and special teams schemes. I like the way this group works.
Have a question for your team? Ask it here!
Anything is better than last season.
"That was tough," safety O.J. Atogwe said. "But we stuck together even if things didn't go so well. There was no quitting on our team."
Just thinking of the Rams as a defensive team is a tough sell. It's especially hard for me -- a pass-happy offensive guy -- because I always appreciated what Martz did when he was in St. Louis, showing a league of stodgy coaches that you can win with the pass. But that isn't the Spagnuolo way, which is why change is here.
It will be run it with Steven Jackson and play good defense.
"When you have guys like Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger, of course it's going to be about the offense," Bartell said. "But we're building to something different now. We're going to be about defense and running the ball. It might not seem right for the Rams we've known for a while, but that's what we're about now."
The fun stuff is gone. The Rams are blue-collar now.
It just doesn't seem right.