ST. LOUIS, MO.  (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – The Rams will not have starting Pro Bowler this year, to the surprise of few.  However, DE Chris Long, MLB James Laurinaitis and RB Steven Jackson will serve as alternates.  The Rams haven’t had a starter in the NFL Pro Bowl since 2007 – wide receiver Torry Holt.  The Rams had three Pro Bowlers that year: Holt, QB Marc Bulger and RB Steven Jackson.

In 2008, Holt was the lone Rams representative.  The Rams had none in 2009.  Jackson was selected as an alternate, but did not play due to injury.

So even though things didn’t exactly work out for the Rams this year, if you’ll excuse the understatement, they had individual contributions from three players who truly deserved recognition.  Long, Laurinaitis and Jackson all had very good seasons despite a not very good season for the team.  Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo said “to me you get recognized in this league at all in the conversation of Pro Bowl I think is something we all ought to be proud of. The landscape, the way they have it now with the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl, there’s a decent chance that one, two, three of those guys might find their way into the game.”

Steven Jackson (244 carries, 1069 yards, 5 TDs) needs no introduction; he has been the heart of the Rams for some time now.  Jackson’s seventh straight one thousand yard season puts him in the history books, but his one hundred yard rushing game against the Steelers in a lost cause shows how he isn’t history.  Jackson still has some great football in him, and hopefully the Rams will put a good enough team around him to make a run before it’s too late.

 

Long has had a breakout season.  The Rams were 16th in total sacks this year (36), but Long is tied for sixth in the NFL with 13.  He had one-third of the team’s sacks.  Long has become someone whom teams have to prepare for, and he’ll be the first to tell you he has room for improvement.  This is the beginning of a great career.

 

Laurinaitis is tied for fifth in the NFL in tackles this season, with 133.  He also has three sacks and nine pass deflections.  He had one interception on top of all that.  Laurinaitis is a team leader who knows the game as well as any middle linebacker in the game.  And this is only his third season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAMS SECONDARY FINALLY CORNERED

ST. LOUIS, MO.  (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – It’s official – all five of the cornerbacks that the St. Louis Rams started the season with are gone for the season.  After Jerome Murphy, Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher all were put on the Injured Reserve, the Rams were left with veteran Al Harris and young corner Justin King.  Then Harris fell, and King was the last man standing.  Finally, ailing with a bad shoulder after fighting through several minor injuries, King was shut down for the season.

Ron Bartell

This has been a punishing season for the Rams cornerbacks, with…11, 12…we lost count…cornerbacks going down for the season.  It’s where cornerbacks go to disappear.  ESPN’s Mike Tirico made a joke during the Rams Monday Night Football game against the Seattle Seahawks about how Justin King should go on the show “Survivor” because of how he’s survived the injury pandemic on the Rams roster.

You have to feel bad for the cornerbacks whose season has ended, but the guy you really must have sympathy for is Rams Defensive Coordinator Ken Flajole.  Whatever plans he had for his secondary went out the window when he had to tutor several new players not even on the Rams roster when the season began.  Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo, a master blitz planner, and Flajole have been limited as to who and how often they send blitzes because they’ve had to supplement the ailing secondary with extra linebackers and safeties playing pass defense.

Not many coaches, if any, can just sign a d-back and expect him to perform up to task in a complicated Spagnuolo/Flajole defense.  But that’s what the two defensive schemers had to do.  It is admirable how they have made the best of what they had every game.  “You know,” Flajole said last week, “we’ve had some freak injuries and some unexpected turns.”  But they just go back at it every week with new blood. “The guys that we’ll put in, they’ll go play hard and they’ll give it their best shot.”

Flajole further explained, “As you guys know this league is all about matchups and we spent a lot of time trying to find out if we can get guys in position where we don’t get a bad matchup in our mind, for us. Sometimes that’s not always doable, but we work on it. I think sometimes it forces you to play maybe more coverages, different types of two-deep coverages that you maybe weren’t planning on because you’re trying to make sure that you can hold up in the back end. But the young guys again, I take a guy like (CB) Josh Gordy, I know Josh is not going to get elected into the Hall of Fame but I would say this,  that kid has improved in my opinion more in the last three or four weeks since he’s been in it. I think he gets as much out of his God given ability as anybody does. And those are things you look for as a coach. If guys are getting better, that’s what you look for and I think you can hang your hat on it. I’m proud of a guy, (there are) other guys on our football team, but Josh Gordy comes to mind because we’re addressing the secondary and I think he’s done a marvelous job and I’m proud of him.”

Justin King

Even Gordy has had to fight through bumps and bruises – the fill-ins of the fill-ins have gotten hurt at cornerback this season.  But the good news is that the Rams have found a way to – for the most part – get things done.  The future at cornerback doesn’t look as tragic because of how some newbies have played.  Rod Hood, for instance, certainly hasn’t embarrassed himself out there.  Spagnuolo said about Hood’s play on Saturday, “He was very productive. He broke up, certainly the pass on our sideline, then they went to throw a rocket screen, tackled him for a negative play. Supported really well on a run play, backside. Like I just said, chased the ball carrier down on that one play and gave us a chance to line up in red zone goal line. Who knows you hold them to a field goal there, I think they scored right on the next play, but you’re always looking to line up and play the next defensive play and keep them out of the end zone. He had a good game.”

Nate Ness and Chris Smith have contributed, as well.  Spagnuolo said “those guys have been scrambling learning-wise, obviously. But Nate’s been here a little bit and Chris has gotten some reps here since Gordy hasn’t been in there and Nate’s kind of sprinkled in. Right now we’re relying on those two guys to help us on special teams. That’s where they’ve got to surface for us. It’s a scramble for them. The coaches are trying to get them up to speed and they’re trying to get up to speed.”

With the NFL Draft already the talk of the St. Louis Rams fans, at least they can take solace in the fact that even if the Rams lose all five cornerbacks they start the season with, there are some guys who can still get the job done.  Justin King has played well enough to earn a sure spot on the team, and he was the fourth CB on the depth chart coming into preseason (if Al Harris was considered the fifth).  A position of drastic need this season might be one of the few positions they don’t have to worry about so much next year in the draft.

 

NEXT UP

The Rams (2-13) face the San Francisco 49ers (12-3) Sunday.  Game time is noon CST.

 

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