St. Louis Rams safety Craig Dahl was kind enough to spend some time talking to us earlier in the preseason. Over the course of twenty to thirty minutes we covered everything from the various roles of the Rams' safeties to predictions for North Dakota State' season.
When the Rams signed Dahl as a free agent in March 2009, few paid much attention. Dahl broke into the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2007, under Giants' defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Mostly, it seemed like a move for depth, but Dahl made the roster. Late that season he was starting in place of an injured OJ Atogwe as well as James Butler. In 2010, he earned a starting safety job out of camp. This year, he's an incumbent, though not without some players who possess the potential to push him as they progress.
Below, you'll find a portion of our interview, which I'm going to break up into two parts. Some of what Dahl and I talked about with regards to Rams' defense, e.g. coverage and assignments, were on display in last night's game, so I want to use those two things together for a piece tomorrow.
Thanks again to Craig Dahl for taking the time to talk. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @CraighDahl43. Also a thanks to the Rams for their help.
I'm required to ask about the lockout. As you might have expected, it wasn't a huge hindrance to Dahl and the Rams defense.
[The defense] we just picked up where we left off last year. Guys stayed in tune with what was going on last year. You could tell guys were reviewing things before they got here. It's been very smooth installing the amount of defense we've put in so far...staying on top of things and being able to get us lined up and in the right coverages.
What safety position are you playing with Quintin Mikell here now?
So far in camp, we've played left and right safeties, so the guys that have been practicing have got a taste of both free and strong. [Playing free safety] it's something I've done before, when OJ [Atogwe] was unavailable. It's not something new to me.
How do the roles of the two safeties work in this defense? Are they really pretty interchangeable?
We play a quarter, quarter, half [coverage scheme]...really the only concept is a quarters concept that the free safety doesn't play a whole lot. We blitz off of both sides, we play two deep on both sides, we roll the free safety down [toward the line] just about as much as, if not more than, the strong safety. It leads to a very interchangeable safety position on our defense.
We'll have more on those safeties tomorrow, including illustrations.
The Rams have a pretty tough schedule this year. How does that impact your work?
Looking at it the offseason just got me more motivated to prepare myself for this season. I knew the labor dispute would get settled; I knew we'd be able to have a season. I was just prepping myself a little bit more than years past, and preparing myself to go into camp with a long list of teams to go up against, explosive offenses, great defenses. You look at some of the teams in our division and they've made some big moves. It just gets you more prepared.
Are you there higher expectations for the Rams this year?
All the guys would agree with me that we let one slip through last year. Seattle came out and played a very good game against us. We didn't play well enough to win; that really just stokes the fire to win. Guys definitely have expectations of themselves that supercede the way we played last year. And it wasn't just last year, when Coach Spagnuolo first got here, he held up one goal and that was the Lombardi Trophy. And that's always been our expectations, and in the past two years we haven't been able to meet that. Obviously it's been a let down.
Speaking of expectations, how about the expectations for when North Dakota State takes on Minnesota this season?Tough schedule for the Rams, thoughts?
I can guarantee you that North Dakota State will be prepared to play in the Metrodome. I've played there once before, and the outcome of the game didn't represent the battle within the game. We held them out of the end zone up until late in the game and let a tackle slip through.
When you talk about a team that had 33 guys from the state of Minnesota when I played there, those are kids that grew up dreaming of playing for the University of Minnesota. They've had a battle both times they've been down there.
What's been the reaction from fans attending training camp this year?
We've had a great reaction from fans at camp this year. I encourage everyone to come out, check out all the work we've done in the offseason and how this team's going to unfold this year.
Finally, what's it been like to have more veteran additions to the team this year, after it being such a young team in years past?
You know I wish I knew what was up Billy Devaney and Kevin Demoff's sleeve. They built a foundation of youth and incorporated into that some wise veterans who were able to teach the younger guys how to be a pro. You know it's just the little things you get from guys that have been around the NFL for that long that really pay dividends in the end. I can remember when I was a rookie. I played with all-pro CB Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters and those guys sat around and spent the extra time with the younger guys, and that helped our secondary tremendously.