Monday, June 8, 2009

New-Look Rams Focusing on Division First

by: Mike Parker

New coach Steve Spagnuolo's St. Louis Rams are taking the approach that any team in the process of rebuilding would be well-advised to take: one game at a time.

And in taking this new approach to the 2009 season, Spagnuolo has said he's making the NFC West the first step of the journey, with the Seahawks being priority number one.

"Starting on Wednesday, Thursday and going into the following week, it will be concentrating on the NFC West teams," Spagnuolo said Saturday after the team's final practice of its second minicamp. "We'll take a team a day and probably two on Seattle since that's the opener, and we'll go from there."
While a lot remains to be seen in camp -- not only from the Rams, but also the revamped Seahawks -- Spagnuolo says he's tackling the intangibles first, and seeing how the rest pans out once the pads go on in August. This is a similar attitude to what Jim Mora & company are focusing on here in Seattle, capitalizing on Tim Ruskell's "win now" philosophy that he's exemplified in the offseason.

The Rams are a team that has had a fair amount of talent over the past few seasons, but former coach Scott Linehan never seemed to put the pieces together to form the right picture. The offensive line has been dreadful, but bolstered by the addition of Jason Brown and drafting Jason Smith. Though it pains me to say it, QBs Marc Bulger and Matt Hasselbeck are similar in that they've both been plagued by injuries. No matter how sick and tired we might be of hearing it by now, the Seahawks' success this season does largely depend on Hasselbeck's health. Rams LB Will Witherspoon made life difficult for Hasselbeck in recent years, and Witherspoon may benefit from the installation of a new defensive scheme.

However, since the Rams are making the Seahawks their first priority, the safe money goes to the ever-energetic Mora doing the same for the Rams. This season's opener in Seattle has a significantly larger amount of intrigue attached to it, mainly because the two teams involved are going to have a much different feel than last year. The Rams have had a horrendous time getting anything done at Qwest for a few years, and Spags will undoubtedly be thinking of some new tricks to remedy that. That said, some of the questions we can ask going into the matchup:

-What impact will the new faces make? Will Aaron Curry, Jason Smith and Deon Butler be instant difference-makers?

-Are both QBs going to play as sharply as they've been reported to in the offseason so far? (Insert usual "Hassle-back" question here.)

-What difference will the zone blocking scheme make? Will it pave the way for Julius Jones and TJ Duckett running through defenders?

-Will the Rams' offense be the same without Orlando Pace and Torry Holt in the mix?

-Will the Seahawks' pass rush be an improvement over last year?

-Is it September yet?