Although his name currently appears on the roster, Tony Banks' days in St. Louis are over. The multi-year, multi-million dollar signing of Washington's Trent Green signals a new era for the Rams. Banks' inconsistency became too much for Dick Vermeil to handle, thus making the Green deal a necessity. Green was one of the league's most efficient passers in the season's second-half and it will be interesting to see what kind of carry-over he has in '99. Backup Steve Bono left to be reunited with former coach George Seifert in Carolina, leaving the Rams with depth problems at this point. Other than Green and Banks, who will probably be elsewhere once camp starts, the only other QB on the roster is journeyman Kurt Warner.
Once you get past Greg Hill, this group is nothing more than a bunch of role players. Hill, who played well in the first two games of '98, was the Rams' leading rusher until Week 14 and ended the season as the team leader with four rushing scores. Robert Holcombe, a rookie last year, and June Henley were disappointing but Henley at least gets the most out of his ability. Nickel back Amp Lee showed immense toughness by playing with broken bones in both hands and finishing with 64 receptions. Like at halfback, the fullback position needs some upgrading as well, with Derrick Harris and David Thompson as the options. Look for the Rams to go running back with their top pick in April.
Issac Bruce was off to a career-type year before a nagging hamstring injury slowed him down. Bruce will return to full strength for camp and probably be paired in the starting lineup with second-year player Az Hakim. It took a while for Hakim to earn playing time but once he got on the field he showed great quickness and could be a great complement to Bruce. With Bruce ailing, Ricky Proehl stepped up and played above expectations. The Rams should feel very comfortable using these guys in their three-receiver sets. Ex-Chief Joe Horne will provide an experienced and adequate No. 4.
Last season, injuries to starter Ernie Conwell hurt the Rams both on the ground and through the air. Conwell's healthy return in '99 should help stabilize the position. Roland Williams, who started nine games last year as a rookie, is a decent backup but the Rams would like to add a player or two here prior to camp.
LOT Orlando Pace is beginning to show signs that he will become an elite player. Pace dominated for stretches last year but also, because of his inexperience, has the propensity to dominated by veteran defensive ends. ROT Wayne Gandy isn't a great player but the market has dictated that he could end up elsewhere for big money. C John Flannery was the steadiest guy on the line last season but his chronic knee problems are a big question mark heading into next season. Vermeil likes young Ryan Tucker as a possible replacement for Flannery if he can't play but Tucker has yet to show much in two professional seasons. ROG Zach Wiegert underachieved this season and must step-up his play. Newly signed ex-Packer Adam Timmerman will step in at left guard and provide toughness and smarts.
LDE Kevin Carter had a breakout year with 11 sacks and is shaping up to be a fine all-around player. LDT Ray Agnew played the run very well in his first season as a Ram and made more plays than expected. D'Marco Farr will return as the inspirational leader of this defense and RDE Grant Wistrom, who didn't start as a rookie, should crack the lineup in '99. Mike Jones was lost to the Titans so depth is a real concern here.
Mike Jones was solid at LOLB with 103 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and 12 passes defensed. MLB Eric Hill was cut in the off-season (signed by San Diego) and ROLB Roman Phifer signed with the New York Jets, therefore Jones will be forced to acclimate himself to two new players. Ex-Patriot Todd Collins will take over for Phifer but the middle spot remains unmanned. If the season started today, the Rams would be forced to start backup Lorenzo Styles but look for the team to add some players in the draft and late in free agency.
Starting FS Keith Lyle's days appear numbered due to the pickup of Devin Bush from the Falcons. The Rams might opt to keep both players but that is unlikely. Corners Ryan McNeil and Todd Lyght helped the Rams rank No. 1 in pass defense but both had off years. McNeil is a free agent but hasn't received the interest he thought he would. Starting SS Toby Wright was injured for much of the season and his replacement, Billy Jenkins, led the team in tackles. Wright should enter camp at full strength, which should allow Jenkins to resume his backup role and help ease the loss of backups Gerald McBurrows (Atlanta) and Mike Scurlock (Carolina).
PK Jeff Wilkins had a solid season and showed a bigger leg than in previous years, connecting on a 57-yarder. P Rick Tuten had a bad mid-season slump but rebounded well to finish near the top of the conference in punting. PR Eddie Kennison was traded to the Saints so there should be open auditions for this role. Rookie KOR Tony Horne scored one touchdown and averaged over 23 yards per return.