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Rams hope turnaround starts in Wisconsin
MEQUON, Wis. -- Marc Bulger feels some responsibility for the St. Louis Rams moving their training camp 400 miles north.
Last year's 3-13 record was forgettable for almost everyone on the team, including their highly paid quarterback, who had only 11 touchdown passes to go with 15 interceptions. Bulger got a six-year, $65 million deal on the first day of training camp in 2007, a contract that put him among the top half-dozen quarterbacks, then followed up the best season of his career with a dud while missing four games due to various injuries.
"I really don't want to harp on last year, but I learned a lot," Bulger said. "It was a good kick in the butt. Everything had been great in my career up until then. I think I learned a lot from that, and I think our team learned a lot from that, the coaches learned a lot, and I think we'll be better for it."
The Rams are among three teams to train in Wisconsin, taking advantage of cooler weather and a pair of artificial turf fields identical to their playing surface in St. Louis, while giving players a chance to bond. They trained in western Illinois earlier in Bulger's career, but had stayed home the previous three seasons.
"It would be nice to be in St. Louis," Bulger said. "If we were 12-4 last year, I'm sure we would be again. At 3-13, you have to change something."
A bigger change is a new offense designed by coordinator Al Saunders, returning to St. Louis after playing a major role in the franchise's lone Super Bowl win after the 1999 season. The offense emphasizes quick tempo passing and is likely to help protect Bulger, who missed two games with a concussion and two others with broken ribs last year.
"It's a vertical game, it's fast," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "The tempo is good so it is exciting. I think everybody on the offensive side of the ball is enjoying it right now."
The offense has been fairly generic early in camp, but Bulger is looking forward to increased options as more pieces are installed and more players get involved. Rookie wide receiver Donnie Avery, a second-round pick, practiced for the first time Saturday after a brief holdout. The Rams were still waiting for running back Steven Jackson, seeking a new multiyear deal while entering the final year of his contract, to report.
"When we can get five guys out, it will get a lot more exciting," Bulger said. "Right now it's just a little bit of growing pains, but we know there's a lot of good stuff on the horizon."
Bulger said Saunders' style is similar to that of Mike Martz's, under whom the Rams thrived from 1999 to 2003. The quarterback noted that much of the language and the basic concepts are the same. Right now, though, Saunders is still learning the personnel.
That's not a problem for Bulger, who's been with the team since 2001. He's no longer so soft-spoken, as Rams stars of the past such as Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce have either retired or moved on to other teams. At times last season, he and Holt were critical of coach Scott Linehan's offense.
Bruce's presence made it difficult for Bulger to fully assert himself. The wide receiver was with the Rams from 1994, the year before the team moved to the Midwest, before getting released after last season.
"It was tough before when Isaac would run a wrong route or something," Bulger said. "I'd say something and he'd give you the Isaac look, so I kind of kept my mouth shut.
"I think now with some of the younger guys and even some of the older guys, they respect me now, because they think I have a better grasp of the offense than anyone in there. I have been in it for such a long time, and with knowledge you can have that confidence."