By John Clayton
ST. LOUIS -- Five observations from St. Louis Rams training camp, gleaned from the team's practices:
1. Carriker coming on strong
I can't remember the last time a college end moved to nose tackle, but first-round choice Adam Carriker looks like a beast in the middle of the Rams' defense. His development could be the key to the season. Carriker has added 20 pounds since the draft; he now weighs 310 pounds. He worked with former Raiders' star Howie Long on drills to learn how to use his hands better and the impact is certainly noticeable. In some drills, Carriker was throwing veteran interior linemen around. The thought is Carriker can anchor the line and improve the team's ability to stop the run, which has been a major weakness for the Rams in recent years.
2. Secondary concerns
The four-game suspension of cornerback Fakhir Brown will hurt the Rams a great deal. Although he's an unknown commodity around the league, Brown has the best coverage skills on the team. His experience and speed enable him to cover particularly well in the first 12 yards of a receiver's route. Brown is appealing the suspension, which stems from a drug screening he says he missed because he was confused about its location. Under league rules, a missed test is the same as a positive test, so the odds of Brown winning his appeal aren't very good. Tye Hill looks much more comfortable as the starter opposite Brown. A first-round pick in 2006, Hill is very good in man coverage. Ron Bartell will start in Brown's absence. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett uses a little more man coverage than most teams, so Brown's return is critical.
3. Hall to help end game
Defensive end James Hall looks like a good addition. Tired of losing in Detroit, Hall became a negative force in the Lions' locker room. His behavior in Detroit, however, doesn't mean he's a bad guy; years of losing can make good guys appear to be bad guys. The Rams think Hall will help their run defense as a base end on the left side. Leonard Little is the playmaker at the right-end position. He's the main pass-rusher and veteran leader along the line. At 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, Hall is expected to give the team its most complete left end in years. In recent seasons, the Rams have tried some undersized ends who were better pass-rushers than run-stoppers.
4. Jackson ready to break out
Steven Jackson looks sensational. His goal is to gain 2,500 total yards, and he has a great chance to do it. He reported to camp in perfect shape. At 231 pounds, Jackson is a big back with great moves and surprisingly good hands. Rams' coach Scott Linehan puts Jackson in the LaDainian Tomlinson-class and thinks he will be among the top five running backs in the league statistically. Over the past couple of years, Jackson has learned how to take care of his body. He works constantly in the weight room and has also tried to improve his speed. With Marshall Faulk retired, Jackson is in the spotlight in this offense. He has the potential to catch 100 passes and rush for 2,000 yards if given the touches. This should be his best season yet.
5. Safety in numbers
Anyone questioning whether Marc Bulger is worth $65 million needs to watch him in practice. He's perhaps the most accurate quarterback in football. Bulger signed a six-year, $65-million contract as camp opened. His receivers love him; he is so accurate, smart and he can place the ball exactly where they like it. What's fun is watching him work on one area of the game. Bulger spent a good portion of the first week of practice throwing precise, high passes to Drew Bennett and Randy McMichael in different parts of the end zone. Torry Holt is coming back from a minor knee surgery, so Bulger hasn't had many reps with his go-to guy thus far. With contract negotiations done and no worries about free agency, Bulger is focused on perfecting the efficiency of the offense.