2006 season recap
Peaks and a valley
It was an up-and-down season in St. Louis under first-year head coach Scott Linehan, despite strong individual offensive performances by Marc Bulger, Torry Holt and Steven Jackson. The team won four of their first five games but lost five straight during the middle of the season before finishing with four victories in the final six games.
Key camp questions
Will the run defense improve in defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's second season?
With an already potent offense, any chance St. Louis has at success in 2007 will hinge on the defense's performance, particularly against the run. The unit ranked 31st overall in 2006, but will feature two new starters along the defensive line in ends Adam Carriker, a rookie, and James Hall, a free agent from Detroit. An improved performance by the defensive line will free up undersized linebackers Will Witherspoon, Brandon Chillar and Pisa Tinoisamoa -- in their second season together as starters -- to make more plays.
Can the offensive line rebound from a difficult season?
If running back Steven Jackson is to reach his stated goal of 2,500 total yards in 2007, he'll need his offensive line to come together. The banged up line showed promise down the stretch, when the Rams averaged 32.7 points over the final three games, and Jackson rushed for 139.7 yards per game in that span. The return of center Andy McCollum, who missed all but one game last season, and left tackle Orlando Pace, who missed eight, should bolster the play of the three less-experienced starters -- guards Mark Setterstrom and Richie Incognito, and right tackle Alex Barron.
Can the passing game continue to threaten opposing defenses?
The Rams lost receivers Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald to free agency but found more-than-suitable replacements in Drew Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael. Bennett will fill the No. 3 receiver slot vacated by Curtis, bringing an element of size and deceptive speed as an ideal red-zone target. Bennett will have a sizable role behind Torry Holt, who is expected to enter camp fully recovered from offseason knee surgery, and Isaac Bruce, who is entering his 14th season. McMichael is an effective receiver and blocker and is familiar with second-year coach Scott Linehan from their 2005 season together in Miami. McMichael averaged 65 receptions over the past three seasons, and along with Jackson out of the backfield, could flourish against underneath coverage.
Key position battle
Andy McCollum vs. Brett Romberg
McCollum, returning from a major knee injury suffered in the 2006 season opener, worked with the first-unit offense during a June minicamp and should enter camp at 100 percent. The 37-year-old had started 104 consecutive regular-season games before the injury. Romberg, entering his fifth season, performed well while starting the final three games of 2006. Linehan has pledged that no position along the interior of the offensive line is guaranteed.
The Rams drafted Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker at No. 13 with the expectation he could be a run-stopping presence at nose tackle. The Rams also added tackles Cliff Ryan and Keith Jackson via the draft and traded former first-round pick Jimmy Kennedy, meaning Carriker is penciled into the starting lineup opposite veteran La'Roi Glover at the under tackle. At 6-foot-6 and close to 300 pounds, Carriker isn't a natural at the position, but he possesses strength and size. He practiced with the first-team defense during minicamp and will get every opportunity to stay in the starting lineup.
Player on the spot
Bulger passed for career bests in yards (4,301) and touchdowns (24) last season. He also had eight 300-yard games and only eight interceptions in his first season under the offense-minded Linehan. Now the 30-year-old is entering the final season of his four-year contract in one of the league's top offenses, which added wide receiver Drew Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael to an already potent group. Although he doesn't have the name recognition of other starting quarterbacks, Bulger is now at the top of his game in an ideal offense under Linehan, which makes 2007 a pivotal year.
One of the most consistent wideouts to grace an NFL gridiron, Holt has recorded 1,100-plus yards in seven consecutive seasons. While he did have an arthroscopic procedure on his knee in the offseason, Holt should be 100 percent for the start of the season and remains a surefire early-round choice.