NEW ORLEANS – He probably won't start Sunday, but one possible impact player for Super Bowl XXXVI is St. Louis nickel back Dre' Bly, the third-year cornerback out of North Carolina.
While Aeneas Williams, Dexter McCleon and safety Adam Archuleta get a lot of the attention, Bly is just as much a play-maker as the rest. Despite starting just four games this season he led the Rams with six interceptions, including two returns for touchdowns.
"I always heard about Dre' Bly while he was in college, and watching some of the plays he made, I wondered why he wasn't a top-10 pick," Williams said. "When I got here, I learned that Dre' is willing to work on the small details of the game. With the help of [defensive backs coach] Ron Meeks he has hustled and always demanded of himself that he get to the ball and then know what to do."
It's not just that Bly intercepts passes, but when he does it. Of his six interceptions, two came in his own end zone to thwart possible touchdown passes, one came at his own 1-yard line and another came at his own 7, which he returned 93 yards for a score. The Patriots will have to be wary of his presence in passing situations, as they can't afford any critical turnovers.
Pressure up front
Part of the reason for the improvement of the St. Louis defense is the ability of the defensive line to create substantial pressure in the pocket.
The Rams got nearly 80 percent of their sacks from the linemen, led by Leonard Little (14.5 sacks) and Grant Winstrom (nine sacks). The defensive line combined for 37.5 sacks all together, while the rest of the defense tallied 9.5 sacks.
Throughout the week Little and Winstrom both said they were motivated during the offseason after St. Louis dealt Kevin Carter to Tennessee. While most football experts expected Carter and Jevon Kearse to dominate opposing offenses, the tandem of Little and Winstrom nearly doubled the combined sack total of the Titans ends.
While praising the work of Little and Winstrom, Head Coach Mike Martz pointed to the work of defensive line coach Bill Kollar with the entire line as the main reason for the strong play.
"They have met the expectations of Bill Kollar," Martz said. "Bill is the primary reason, along with the innate ability Leonard and Grant have, for their meteoric rise this season. Bill deserves a great deal of attention and credit for the entire defensive line, not just those two guys."
Greek to me
Asked about the origin of his unusual name, Williams said his father wanted his sons to avoid the hassle of having common names. Lawrence Williams named Aeneas and his brother Achilles after characters in Greek mythology, which he studied at Southern University.
"While in high school growing up, he'd have guys in his class with the exact same name," Williams said. "He didn't want people having the same name as us, and we definitely haven't had that problem."
Williams continued the trend of unique names with his own children. His daughters are Saenea (his first name backwards) and Tirzah, and his son is Lazarus.
The name Aeneas means "praise worthy," which is something his play has been throughout the season. He earned the seventh Pro Bowl trip of his 11-year career, and Martz said this week Williams is just as much an MVP for St. Louis as quarterback Kurt Warner and running back Marshall Faulk.
Bruce tweaks groin
Martz said the Rams were fine on the injury front, with all players, including left tackle Orlando Pace, expected to go this Sunday.
A potential big hit did come up though. Wide receiver Isaac Bruce suffered a slight groin injury that caused the team to pull him from practice Thursday. He was expected back on the field today.
"On the grass out there, Isaac is not used to the looseness of the soil and sand, and he got a little bit tight," Martz said.