Your 2009 St. Louis Rams: The New (Mid)West Coast Offense

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Your 2009 St. Louis Rams: The New (Mid)West Coast Offense
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Marc Bulger would be the first to tell you he's not Donovan McNabb.

McNabb, after all, is strong, mobile and possesses a cannon for a right arm. Bulger is a pocket quarterback who thrives on accuracy and would probably rather wilt like Brett Favre in the face of an NFL sack record than try to shed a defender.

So it's safe to say new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur can remove the naked bootleg from his playbook.

Shurmur left the Philadelphia Eagles after being with the team since 1999 to become the offensive coordinator for new Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Shurmur most recently served as quarterbacks coach for the Eagles.

The biggest thing Shurmur brings with him is the West Coast Offense system.

The offense is pass-first and places an emphasis on gaining small chunks of yards each down, thus eliminating the ideology that first and second down are necessarily running downs.

Instead, short, quick and often precisely timed passes help set up the run by forcing the defense to stretch themselves along the defensive line.

This sort of play-calling has been employed by the Eagles in recent years with much success and goes back to Bill Walsh's days with the Cincinnati Bengals and later the San Francisco 49ers.

It's a system that Bulger should excel in. Bulger has always relied more on his accuracy than his arm strength, so the quick three-and five-step drops will allow him to get rid of the football quicker and (hopefully) avoid taking so many sacks.

One thing the system does require, though, is quick decision-making, something Bulger has had some trouble with in recent years. In the West Coast Offense he will have to think fast and throw to empty spaces, trusting that the receiver will be there.

That trust may be easier said than done in 2009. Bulger will be throwing to a very young group of receivers led by sophomore Donnie Avery, and it remains to be seen how the existing group will adapt to the new system.

It will be interesting to see how the new system fits into Coach Spagnuolo's plan to play a more smash-mouth style of football on offense. The commitment was reinforced when the Rams took offensive lineman Jason Smith with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft.

In an ideal world, Bulger will have a return to his 2004 form, when he completed 66 percent of his passes. The young receivers wouldn't miss a step, catching everything thrown their way and showing promise for the future as well.

And, of course, Steven Jackson would average six yards-per-carry with the defense being unable to put nine men in the box.

Hey, everyone can dream.

On the opposite side of the ball, new defensive coordinator Ken Flajole will team with Spagnuolo to tighten up a defense that hasn't been respectable since Lovie Smith left.

Flajole was most recently the linebackers coach for the Carolina Panthers. Under his tutelage, Jon Beason has become one of the better linebackers in the NFL.

Of course, Spagnuolo came to the Rams after two years as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants.

Spagnuolo is from the Jim Johnson School of Blitzing, so it won't be a surprise if the Rams bring pressure considerably more than they have in recent years.

That includes bringing linebackers, which explains the recent release of Pisa Tinoisamoa. Tinoisamoa led the team in tackles in 2008 but lacked the size to be successful in Spagnuolo's system.

It may also explain the choice the Rams made with the 35th pick in the recent NFL Draft. When the Rams' turn to select came up in the second round, both top-flight middle linebackers were still on the board and they had a choice to make: Rey Maualuga or James Laurinaitis?

The Rams went with Laurinaitis. It may have been due to concerns about Maualuga's character that scared the team away, but Laurinaitis was also considered the better tackler and leader of the two.

Whatever the reason, Laurinaitis will now more-than-likely be roaming the middle for Spagnuolo when the season starts.

The new system may also produce more playing time for Leonard Little, who specializes in getting to the quarterback. In a defense that preaches the importance of pressure, Little should see a lot of playing time with his ability to rush the passer.

It's fair to say Rams fans will see a lot of different things from the team in 2009.

Hopefully for the Rams faithful the sum of all those parts will produce one more new thing: wins.

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