Two years ago the St. Louis Rams released fullback Madison Hedgecock.
While Hedgecock went on to win a Super Bowl with the New York Giants, the Rams missed the fullback as the running game suffered, and the team floundered to a three-win season.
Let's just say the Rams have realized the errors of their ways and, this offseason, lured free-agent fullback Mike Karney away from New Orleans.
The addition of Karney to a beefed-up offensive line is expected to inject some muscle into the St. Louis running game.
New head coach Steve Spagnuolo knows which side of the bread is buttered, and his best offensive player is running back Steven Jackson.
To prevent quarterback Marc Bulger from getting pounded, the Rams need Jackson to return to his 2006 form when he ran for more than 1,500 yards and had more than 2,300 yards from scrimmage with 16 touchdowns.
Karney, as well as the free agent signing of center Jason Brown and the drafting of tackle Jason Smith should help. The release of longtime Ram and former No. 1 pick Orlando Pace, who eventually signed with Chicago, showed the Rams' commitment to Smith.
Putting Smith at left tackle will allow Spagnuolo to slide veteran Alex Barron to the right side, a spot which he's more comfortable.
Brown, who came over from Baltimore, brings four years of leadership to the middle of the line. At 26, he's still young enough to be a stalwart on the line and solidify the middle with Richie Incognito and a bulkier Jacob Bell.
The top priority for St. Louis has to be to establish the running game, to make it easier on Bulger. Sort of a 1-A on that priority list will be to keep the signal caller healthy.
After giving up 52 sacks in 2007, the Rams allowed 45 (nearly three per game) in 2008. Keeping that number less than 30 would be ideal. Should Bulger be injured, the Rams did sign a more than capable backup in former Raven Kyle Boller.
While the Rams addressed their offensive line needs, they did not do much to shore up a green receiving corps.
Sure, they acquired Laurent Robinson from Atlanta and signed Horace Gant off the Redskins practice squad. But did you just read that? Gant has no NFL game experience and Robinson has only 42 catches and one touchdown in two seasons.
This is a group without any real veterans, and the release of Torry Holt magnifies the problem. Entering just his second season, speedster Donnie Avery is the most productive Rams wideout—with just 53 receptions and four total touchdowns.
Where St. Louis concentrated the bulk of their free agent signings was on the defensive line.
The Rams traded for Orien Harris, re-signed Victor Adeyanju, and signed Michael Marquardt. They also drafted Clemson defensive tackle Dorell Scott in the third round.
Already a talented, but young, group with Adam Carriker and Chris Long, the St. Louis front seven should be much improved, despite the fact that Spagnuolo shocked many by releasing the team's leading tackler from 2008, linebacker Piso Tinoisamoa.
Chris Draft and Will Witherspoon now lead a young squad that looks to only improve with the drafting of James Laurinaitis. The former Ohio State linebacker comes off a highly productive college career and joins second-year player David Vobora, Quintin Culberson, and Larry Grant behind the line.
The front seven has to be good because the Rams secondary is far from stellar. They lack a true cover corner and will probably play with smoke and mirrors and try to disguise coverages to compensate for their lack of top-tier ability.
There's no question that Coach Spagnuolo has brought a new attitude and has cleaned house in St. Louis.
He will be successful...in the long run.
This year, however, there are still too many holes and not enough fingers to plug them.
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