The story in St. Louis this season won't be
about which Ram is starring on the turf of the Edward Jones Dome. The story will be about the former Ram who isn't. Quarterback Kurt Warner, arguably
the face of the most prolific period in Rams history, was released in the spring and is now a New York Giant. The three- time Pro Bowler, two-time NFL
MVP, and one-time Super Bowl MVP fell prey to nagging injuries that sapped his effectiveness during the last two years in St. Louis, and Warner was
made expendable by the strong play of one-time understudy Marc Bulger. This is Bulger's team now, and he will be charged with the tall task of
duplicating the Rams' 12-4 record of a year ago, while directing the team past the level it reached when it fell to upstart Carolina in the NFC
Coming off a 12 win season, the Rams have done little in the free-agent market to alter their team. Offensively they were awesome in 2003, racking up
447 points, good for the second most in the league. (QB) Marc Bulger will once again lead this impressive unit with (RB) Marshall Faulk, (WR) Torry
Holt and (WR) Isaac Bruce. Holt showed that he is one of the games best receivers leading the league with 117 receptions for nearly 1,700 yards and 12
touchdowns. While Faulk and Bruce are getting on in years, they are both still potent weapons that can make big plays, combining for over 2,000 yards
and 16 touchdowns last year. The Rams did move up in the draft to take (RB) Steven Jackson from Oregon State in the first-round (who was arguably one
of the best running backs coming out of college last year).
Torry Holt, WR, 6th year, 6-0, 190; Isaac Bruce, WR, 11th year, 6-0, 188; Marshall Faulk, RB, 11th year, 5-10, 211; Marc Bulger,
QB, 3rd year, 6-3, 215; Orlando Pace, LT, 8th year, 6-7, 325; Adam Timmerman, RG, 10th year, 6-4, 310; Aeneas Williams, FS, 14th year, 5-11, 200;
Leonard Little, LDE, 7th year, 6-3, 263; Jeff Wilkins, PK, 11th year, 6-2, 205.
Steven Jackson, RB, 1st round pick 2004, 6-2, 231
Grant Wistrom, DE, Signed by Seattle, 6-4, 272; Kurt Warner, QB, Cut June 1, Signed by N.Y.Giants, 6-2, 200; Kyle Turley,
RT, I.R.(BACK), 6-5, 309
Jerametrius Butler, CB, 4th year, 5-10, 181; TE Brandon Manumaleuna, TE, 4th year, 6-2, 288
Now that Warner is in New York, the issues at quarterback appear to be settled. Starter Marc Bulger will no longer have to look over his shoulder to
see if he is going to be replaced every time he makes a mistake, which should only add to his confidence. Bulger's ability to make quick reads is a
good fit for this offense, but he tends to force the ball at times. He must cut down on the 22 interceptions he threw last season if this team is to
become a legitimate contender again.
When healthy, Marshall Faulk is still one of the
best running backs in the league, but he's had two knee surgeries in the last year and is 31-years old, which is why the Rams used their first-round
pick in this year's draft on Steven Jackson out or Oregon State. Lamar Gordon, who is recovering from ankle surgery, figured to be the backup this
season, but his lack of receiving skills make him a poor fit for this offense, so Jackson will likely take the No. 2 role from Gordon simply because
he fills their needs better. He has good size at 6-2 and 230 pounds, yet is still elusiveness enough to make defenders miss. He has mid 4.4 speed with
a quick first step and a good burst through the hole. He displays good balance and power, runs low to the ground, and isn't afraid to take on would-be
tacklers. He also picks up a lot of yards after initial contact and catches the ball effectively out of the backfield. Starting wideouts Isaac Bruce
and Torry Holt will once again make up one of the NFL's most potent receiving duos. Holt is in his prime and is probably one of the top three or four
receivers in the game. Bruce is on the down side of his career and may have lost a step, but he is still better than most No. 2 receivers in the
league. Second-year player Shaun McDonald looks to be a nice fit in the slot and Kevin Curtis, also in his second season, will come in when the Rams
run four-receiver sets. Dane Looker and Mike Furrey will battle for the job as the fifth receiver. Brandon Manumaleuna will start at tight end, but he
is not much of a weapon and will probably not be utilized a whole lot in this offense.
St. Louis still has a good number of first-rate skill players, and Bulger, Faulk, Holt, and Bruce should continue to be effective. But the Rams are
showing plenty of signs of decay. The offensive line, even if Pace returns as expected, has a patchwork look. The defensive line stands to lose
Little, and won't be able to generate the same heat without him. The corners are suspect, especially without Fisher, and Aeneas Williams, one of the
marquee names on defense, is 36 years old. The only silver lining for Martz's team is that it plays in the NFL's weakest division, where only Seattle
looks like a serious threat to take away the Rams' title. St. Louis is no longer a Super Bowl contender, and could be one year away from serious
rebuilding, but can still expect to win about 10 games and be in the hunt for a playoff berth.