As I mentioned in the big read on Kroenke versus Khan, only nine Rams remain on the 53-man roster that Billy Devaney inherited on February 2008. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at those final nine. And once again, I should note that I’m not including Leonard Little, who is pondering retirement and may or may not return to the Rams, or OJ Atogwe, who is in contract limbo.
RB – Steven Jackson
This shouldn’t be a surprise, as Spagnuolo said upon arrival that this was Jackson’s team, and the mission was to build around his formidable strengths. But two offseasons ago his status on the Rams was far from happy. He wanted more money, but had to deal with the contentious Jay Zygmunt to get it. We don’t know the extent of Devaney’s influence on the process, but it should be said that for once in his life Zygmunt played high stakes roster roulette and actually put his marker on the right number.
Jackson’s effort and leadership eclipsed his all-pro talent, and he never – ever – went down on first contact. Through week 14, before losing a game to a ruptured disc in his back, Jackson led the league in yards after contact.
OG – Adam Goldberg
He opened the season as the team’s handcuff for the rookie Jason Smith, and ended up becoming the ultimate fill-in on the Rams’ offensive line, and was the only starter besides Barron not to miss any time due to injury. Goldberg played at both tackle and both guard positions during the season, and held up well at all of them. Quietly, this former undrafted free agent is setting the standard for work ethic for the new generation of Rams linemen, Smith and Saffold.
Goldberg’s steady presence also gave the Rams insurance to finally cut ties with the perennially underperforming Alex Barron. And if Sam Bradford’s mom was thankful for picking up Saffold, she had to be yelling hallelujahs when #70 was booted.
OG – Mark Setterstrom
Groomed to be another Goldberg type super-sub, but with the ability to play Center, Setterstrom is still a work in progress. He’s lost most of two seasons to knee injuries, and suffered a torn triceps in a brutal game 17 — the same injury that felled Orlando Pace and hurried his decline from all-pro play. The Rams still like his versatility, and one has to hope that he can shed his “tough as glass” reputation. Given that reputation, though, and the amount of competition the Rams have brought in on the line, he likely starts camp on the bubble for 2010.
DT – Clifton Ryan
Three of the surviving players from this group are defensive linemen, not improbable considering that this is Spagnuolo’s area of expertise, and that he believes strongly in both growth and redemption. Of the group, Cliff Ryan may have the most upside. In April, the Rams re-upped with Ryan for another year
, who played in all 16 games and led D-linemen with 15 starts, earning his keep with stalwart run defense, recording a team-high nine tackles for loss. As the lone remaining player from the Rams 2007 draft, he at least is a productive starter, and perhaps with another year under Spags’ tutelage, could turn into something more.
DT – Victor Adeyanju
Adeyanju barely saw the field last season; it took a bad run of injuries to defensive tackles Gary Gibson and CJ Ah You before he was called up to active duty, and even then was used only rotationally. Perhaps Spagnuolo and company are trying to motivate him to tap some inner potential, or perhaps they aren’t willing to part with one of their two remaining players (Setterstrom is the other) from the disastrous 2006 draft. Not only are the rest of these draftees gone, few even have jobs in the NFL at this point. Adeyanju, who did start to come on at the end of the season, hopes to be the exception.
CB – Ron Bartell
Two seasons ago, Bartell’s physical play and ability to ball-hawk made him a rising star in the Rams secondary, even as Tye Hill (our favorite punching bag) suffered by comparison.
With Hill gone in 2009, though, Bartell got a lot more attention from fans and opposing quarterbacks alike. Trying to play through a thigh bruise that seemed to hobble his acceleration — a critical problem, since he likes to line up facing in towards the quarterback, reading the play or bluffing a blitz, rather than directly facing the receiver — Bartell struggled all season to live up to his own billing. The Rams are counting on him to return to form and help bring a secondary that was torched all year long back to respectability.
DT – James Hall
In a decision that speaks highly of the culture that Spagnuolo is building on defense, James Hall re-signed with the Rams after hearing offers from his hometown New Orleans Saints, champions of the football world. When I heard they were calling, I for one assumed he would jump immediately, perhaps ending his career after a one-year swan song on a playoff power. Instead, Hall came gratefully back to the 1-15 Rams
. He is one of the very few veteran players on this team, one that Spagnuolo leans on for locker room leadership as much as for his play on the field, which is still at a decent level. We have to wonder how many snaps, how many pass rushes he has left, but we can’t question his commitment to the team.
P – Donnie Jones
Perhaps it’s sad that some games Jones seemed like the MVP of the team — punting 8 times with a 50-yard average, as he did in the otherwise dreadful season opener against the Seahawks, will do that. Jones has been a Pro-Bowl caliber player game after game for the Rams since joining the team in ’07, but has undeservedly been snubbed from those honors while toiling in the basement of the NFC West. Not that he’s ever said a word of complaint about it to anyone.
And if you needed another reason to like him, he and kicker Josh Brown combined to throw the only touchdown pass in the Rams’ only victory of the season. If it were hockey, he’d get the assist for handling the snap and pitching to Brown to set up the score.
LS – Chris Massey
No one notices the long snapper until he screws up. Or gets injured, and has to be replaced in the game by a backup cornerback, which is what happened to Massey. I don’t have much to say about his game, other than that whatever he’s doing, he must be doing right because Jones and Josh Brown have been two of the steadiest contributors on the team.