Michael Silver: The Gameface

Summer heat has allowed Rams' Holt to thaw

Summer heat has allowed Rams' Holt to thaw
By Michael Silver, Yahoo Sports
August 8, 2008

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports
MEQUON, Wis. – When Torry Holt thinks back on the atrocity that was the St. Louis Rams' 2007 season, the memory that haunts him most was the not-so-fantastic finish. Playing a meaningless game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium, the seven-time Pro Bowl wideout grimaced as his former teammate, Kurt Warner, torched the Rams for 300 yards in a 48-19 victory, the kind of fast-paced beating St. Louis once lay on overmatched opponents.

Though Holt caught seven passes for 93 yards and ran his NFL record streak of seasons with 90 or more receptions to six, he was utterly miserable. The Rams, who'd lost their first eight games of '07, finished 3-13; Holt's right knee was throbbing from lingering cartilage damage that he feared would never improve.

Oh, and he felt underappreciated and underpaid.

"I just wanted it to be over," Holt recalled earlier this week after a training camp practice at Concordia University, the Rams' newest summer home. "Last year, my confidence was a little shaken, and I spent a lot of time being angry. Since camp started, I've gotten my passion and love back for the game. If you were to ask me how I felt in the offseason, I'd have said, 'Get the (expletive) out of my face.' "

If you were looking for Holt over the past offseason, the Rams' training facility was not a promising place to start. Some players skip OTAs, the offseason workouts that are allegedly voluntary but strongly encouraged by coaches, because they want to spend time in their hometowns or work with a trainer in another locale.

During many of the Rams' workouts on which Holt passed, he was a few minutes down the road at a "24 Hour Fitness," doing bikram yoga, swimming laps or playing in pickup basketball games.

This was partly because Holt felt his knee, which was plagued by swelling and stiffness last season after surgery to repair damaged cartilage the previous January, needed a break from football. But his general disgust with the way things went down in '07, underscored by a sideline shouting match with coach Scott Linehan caught by television cameras during a late-season defeat, had something to do with that decision as well.

His bosses, Holt said, "didn't give me any (expletive)" about skipping the OTAs. "They probably weren't happy," he conceded, "but hey, it's voluntary."

Said Linehan: "I told him, 'Torry, whatever you've got to do to be the best you can be this year, I'm all for it.' He feels a lot better, and his leg's in much better shape, than last year at this time. I predict he's going to have a heck of a year."

Holt, 32, is banking on it – literally. Like many elite players who signed long-term deals before the recent escalation of the salary cap, Holt, who signed a seven-year, $42-million extension before the 2003 season, has bristled as less-accomplished peers have surpassed him in the marketplace.

The Rams lured their other starting wideout, Drew Bennett, via free agency before the '07 season with a six-year, $30-million deal. Holt is due to earn $5.65 million this season and $6.65 million in '09, the final year of his contract. He made news in March when he said at a charity golf tournament that he wanted to "send in his resignation" to the Rams and join his brother, newly signed safety Terrence Holt, on the Panthers.

Holt insisted he was joking, but money clearly is an issue.

AccuScore on the Rams

The good news for Rams fans is AccuScore expects St. Louis to win twice as many games this season. The bad news: That's still just six wins. If Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson are healthy, the Rams are scoring 4 more points per game in simulations than they did in 2007. The Rams have used the No. 1 picks the past two seasons on defensive lineman and AccuScore expects a 3-point improvement in points allowed. The forecasted average margin of victory for the Rams is -4 points which is a full touchdown improvement from last year. This is a huge year-to-year improvement, but again, the team had such a long way to go that it is still making the playoffs in just 12 percent of simulations.

Obviously, the Rams need Bulger and Jackson to be healthy. In simulations, the Rams winning percentage declined by a full 25 percent when both players were injured. If you extrapolate 25 percent of 16 games, that is a full 4 wins. In other words, if injuries strike again in 2008, the Rams can expect another 3-win season.

Projected Record: 6-10
Playoff Probability: 12%
AccuScore

"You're a little taken aback at first," Holt said of his contract status. "But my thing is, I signed a deal, and I have to honor that deal. I'm just going to let it take care of itself. If we have the kind of year I think we can have and win some games, everybody can benefit."

Specifically, Holt believes another stellar season – and he is the NFL's all-time leader in yards per game with an 84.7 average – should land him a lucrative extension.

"Well, I hope so," he says. "I would like to think they would (pay me). If not, someone will."

Part of Holt's optimism about the Rams' prospects for '08 stems from the hiring of Al Saunders as offensive coordinator. Saunders was St. Louis' receivers coach in Holt's first two seasons, when the fleet, smooth No. 1 draft pick from North Carolina State helped the Rams win their first Super Bowl (during his '99 rookie campaign) and set numerous team offensive records.

Saunders, who later thrived as the Chiefs' offensive coordinator, brings a complex playbook. That and the coach's links to the Greatest Show On Turf glory days – with the offseason departure of wideout Isaac Bruce, who signed with the 49ers after being released, Holt is the last remaining skill player from the Super Bowl team – have Holt dreaming of a renaissance.

"As an offensive player, it's not just about lifting weights and learning the highlights of your position and recognizing the defense," Holt says. "It's about knowing every little detail about your position, and about the offense, and out-preparing your opponents. When we were called the Greatest Show On Turf, we had great coaches and great players. But one of the reasons we were so good was we paid great attention to detail. Now you see that with the Patriots and Colts and teams that have taken their offense to the next level. We're trying to get back to that – and to get our respect back."

Last year the Rams' offensive line was decimated by injuries, which kept quarterback Marc Bulger from replicating his Pro Bowl success of '06. With some decent health up front and a positive resolution to the contract impasse between the team and star halfback Steven Jackson, who is holding out for a new deal, St. Louis has a chance to avoid the misery it experienced a year ago.

The relentlessly steady Holt, one of two NFL players (along with the Colts' Marvin Harrison) to have more than one season with at least 1,600 receiving yards, is ready to do his part.

"When I got here last year, I saw what a professional Torry was, but I didn't see the mind-blowing skills I expected," Bennett says. "That's obviously because his knee wasn't right. What I see this summer is the real Torry Holt, and it's scary how good he looks."

Says Holt: "Man, my knee feels three times better than it did a year ago. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, and I still have some soreness and swelling, but it's really feeling strong. I'm going in thinking this is going to be an outstanding year, for our football team and for me personally. This offense fits right in with what I like to do – getting vertical, stopping on a dime, making quick cuts. It's almost like UNLV back in the day, or when Magic was with the Lakers. I just want to get out on the wing and do my thing."

Take it to the ATM

Thanks to the adaptable coaching approach of Pia Sundhage, the U.S. women's soccer team will bounce back from its 2-0 defeat to Norway in the Olympic opener and play for a gold medal. … In addition to starting the 49ers' first preseason game, J.T. O'Sullivan will be under center for the regular season opener. … Before his career is over, Chad Pennington will lead an NFL team to a significant victory over the Jets.

Lies, lies, lies

1. Minutes after describing the punch he took from teammate Steve Smith – and the resulting facial surgery he'll require – as "a blessing in disguise," Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas was stunned to learn that it was not, in fact, "Opposite Day."

2. Fed up with the "PR thing," Packers coach Mike McCarthy stormed out of a meeting room when the team's newly hired consultant suggested he refer to Vikings halfback Adrian Peterson as a "weapon of mass destruction."

3. After seeing extensive news coverage of Brett Favre's trips in and out of the Lambeau Field garage, a jealous O.J. Simpson purchased a burgundy Escalade.

Oxygen-deprived thought from above

Ever since I interviewed Ice Cube for the 1999 article on sports and music that landed him and Shaquille O'Neal on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I've considered the seminal rapper turned actor/filmmaker a sage when it comes to professional sports. So when I talked to Cube on Thursday morning about his upcoming movie, "The Longshots," in which he plays an Illinois youth football coach who rides a girl quarterback to the Pop Warner Super Bowl, I couldn't resist getting his take on the plight of his fellow O.G. Mr. Favre.

"I think Green Bay tripped," Cube said. "Green Bay should've kept him. So what if Aaron Rodgers got his lip poked out? Who gives a damn? This guy took you to the NFC Championship game last season. He's got something in the tank, and you're on the cusp. Why would you put in a guy who's basically a rookie – and I know he's going into his fourth year, but he hasn't played – instead of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever? If the Packers go 1-2, people are gonna have the kid's head. If they're 1-2 and the Jets are 2-1, he might have to get some protective custody." I floated my argument to Cube that Favre had been acting like somewhat of a prima donna throughout the process. "(Expletive), he wasn't acting like a prima donna – he is a prima donna," Cube said. "When you're that good, that's the way it is. This is the pros. This isn't little league. If the man quits and wants to come back, you've got to let him come back." Speaking of which, in addition to the Aug. 22 opening of "The Longshots," Cube has a CD, "Raw Footage," dropping Aug. 19. If there is a harder working, more talented entertainer out there, I haven't heard of him (or her).

Let's do some Don Julio Silver shots for …

Skip Caray, the longtime Atlanta Braves announcer who died in his sleep last Sunday, a man who rivaled his father, Harry, for shameless homerism that somehow wasn't insufferable. On Thursday night in Chicago my dad, Steve, and I toasted Skip's memory in the bar that bears his late father's name. My dad has been a mainstay on my training camp tours for many years now, and we began our day in Milwaukee, the city where he was born (thus his lifelong Braves allegiance), and proceeded to hit some serious traffic on the Edens Expressway. To pass the time, we listed our favorite classic-rock songs of all time and placed a call to Barry Switzer, who told us about his guest appearance as a person of interest on "Saving Grace" this coming Monday on TNT. (He has a scene with Holly Hunter.) And since it just wouldn't be right to leave you hanging on my dad's meticulously crafted top 10 list, I'll reveal it shortly, with the following disclaimer: "This is not a list of the best songs; it's a list of my favorite songs," he says. "The only rule is no duplication: one song per artist in the top 10. Oh, and no 'Stairway,' even though it's great." OK, music fans, here goes:

1. "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys," Traffic
2. "Lucrecia McEvil," Blood, Sweat & Tears
3. "Won't Get Fooled Again," The Who
4. "Takin' Care of Business," Bachman Turner Overdrive
5. "Cowgirl in the Sand," Neil Young
6. "I'd Love to Change the World," Ten Years After
7. "Sympathy For the Devil," Rolling Stones
8. "Born on the Bayou," Creedence Clearwater Revival
9. "River Deep – Mountain High," The Animals
10. "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," Crosby, Stills & Nash

Yahoo search words of the week

Paris rebuts McCain

Lyric-altered song dedication of the week

Because of the ubiquitous coverage of a certain legendary quarterback's departure from a certain storied franchise, just about everyone else in the free world had a tough time getting noticed over the past week. For Panthers wideout Steve Smith, that was very good news indeed. So Smitty takes his turn at the imaginary microphone this week, doing our send-up of the Isaac Hayes/David Porter composition originally recorded by Sam and Dave and later popularized by ZZ Top, "I Thank You." It's not hard to figure out who he's thanking.

You didn't have to save me like you did
But you did, but you did
And I thank you
You didn't have to come back like you did
But you did, but you did
And I thank you

Cuz you took your old ass somewhere else
I don't know what it means to be covered to death
You made it seem like I didn't exist
Like Ken Lucas's nose it never met my fist

You didn't have to squeeze Ted but you did
But you did but you did
And I thank you
You didn't have to text Mort but you did
But you did but you did
And I thank you

Every day was something new,
You loaded20up your plane and then you flew
At the Packers scrimmage Deanna joined you
Then Rachel Nichols came to town with yet another crew

You didn't have to flaunt it but you did
But you did but you did
And I thank you
You didn't have to taunt 'em like you did
But you did but you did
And I thank you

All my life I've been shortchanged
They said I was too short to play this game
And now no one gives a damn about
The fact that I punched my own teammate out
I want to thank you
I want to thank you
I want to thank you
Yes, I want to thank you

Michael Silver covers the NFL for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Mogotxt, Twitter and Facebook. Also check out ridewithsilver.com. Send Michael a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Friday, Aug 8, 2008 1:20 pm, EDT

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