Familiar Faces Abound for Rams, Jets

Posted Nov 15, 2012

When a head coach or a coordinator relocates to a different NFL team, it’s entirely normal to want to bring along a host of players from the previous stop.

Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer wasn’t any different after joining coach Jeff Fisher’s staff in St. Louis during the offseason. In addition to basic relationships with former players, coaches also like having at least a few players who are familiar with their system and can fit seamlessly into certain roles while also providing some knowledge to their teammates.

So when free agency began, Schottenheimer and the Rams front office staff identified a few key players who would make ideal additions, even if they didn’t pack much in the way of star power.

This week, those players and Schottenheimer himself figure to come in handy as the Rams prepare to take on those very same Jets and head coach Rex Ryan.

Ryan and Schottenheimer had a strong working relationship in New York and won a whole bunch of games together. When asked about his former coordinator, Ryan couldn’t help but reminisce on what they accomplished together.

“It is funny because we’ve picked each other’s brains so much that it’s like, ‘Oh, man, I shouldn’t have told him this,’ or, ‘I should’ve have told him that,’ right now,” Ryan said.  “But clearly, Brian was outstanding. He was here with me for the three years. We accomplished a lot of things. We never accomplished the ultimate prize, but we were pretty close for two years in a row. The thing I really appreciate about Brian is he’s got an outstanding work ethic. Like I say, one day this guy’s going to be an excellent coach in this league as a head coach and follow his dad that way. It was great. It is going to be challenging, going back and forth at each other. You’re going to try and set each other up thinking, ‘Well, he’s going to think this,’ or, ’He’s going to think that.’ That should be an interesting matchup.”

Joining Schottenheimer in St. Louis are five former Jets, including quarterback Kellen Clemens, running back Terrance Ganaway, tackle Wayne Hunter, center Robert Turner and tight end Matthew Mulligan.

Of that group, only Ganaway did not play for Schottenheimer in New York. He was a late waiver claim after the final round of cuts. The Rams traded Jason Smith for Hunter near the end of training camp and the other three signed with the Rams as free agents though Clemens finished the 2011 season in St. Louis.

Leading the charge of former Jets in preparation for their old team is Schottenheimer himself. Following his third season in New York, Ryan and the Jets decided to go in a different direction, hiring Tony Sparano as coordinator and making Schottenheimer available to the Rams.

In Schottenheimer, the Rams gained a talented young coordinator who had helped the Jets become one of the most fearsome running teams in the league. That offense was good enough to get the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship games before struggling in 2011.

Despite his long history in New York, Schottenheimer said he doesn’t want a win anymore than he normally does which is to say he really wants to win.

“It wouldn’t count twice,” Schottenheimer said. “Would I enjoy it like I do all the other wins? Absolutely.”

According to Schottenheimer, the best part of a game like this one is getting to coach against friends – both players and coaches – on the other side. None more so than the gregarious Ryan.

“He’s a fun guy to play cat and mouse with,” Schottenheimer said. “He’s a dangerous guy to play cat and mouse with but we enjoyed it for three years and it will be fun on Sunday in the Edward Jones Dome.”

Schottenheimer won’t be the only Ram looking for a win against his former team though none of the Rams harbor any ill will toward the Jets.

Of the five Rams on the roster who have been Jets in the past, only Turner is a current starter though Mulligan and Hunter have played key roles at various points this season.

Of course, Hunter would seem the most likely to consider this week a grudge match but he doesn’t really view it that way. After coming under heavy scrutiny as he struggled in 2011, Hunter took plenty of undue criticism despite the struggles of his entire team.

But Hunter keeps it all in perspective and recognizes that none of that came from his teammates or coaches. So he refuses to view this week’s game much different than most others.

“About as much as I look forward to every week,” Hunter said. “To be honest with you guys, it doesn’t matter to me. No big deal. Those guys are my friends. The coaches are my friends. I built a good family within the Jets organization but this is the next chapter in my life and they’re the next opponent down the road.”

Having so many players familiar with the Jets can be an advantage for the Rams but it also could be a bit of a negative. While the Rams know what Ryan likes to do in a general sense, teams change much of what they do from year to year as does personnel.

Still, there is at least a superficial sense of familiarity with certain players’ skill sets that can be useful in game planning.

“The personnel, the guys I know, absolutely,” Turner said. “Philosophies slightly change year to year as much as personnel does. So the guys that are remaining there I played with and against in practice, I know their strengths and weaknesses at least if there were. They probably worked on those weaknesses. And likewise here, there are quite a few guys here that were up there. It’s not like player-wise we don’t know each other. There’s a little bit of carryover from team to team. I know guys’ tendencies; I know how they rush maybe or how they attack the ball.

“But we have to see what they are doing this year. What they did last year or two years ago or three years ago doesn’t have anything to do with it because players change. The way they play is different. They may be coaching something up different even though it’s a similar scheme. So I think there’s some information you can bring but it’s not an end all, be all because I played with a guy for awhile.”

Having been around his team and his coordinator all week, Fisher doesn’t see anything but the usual resolve and effort put into winning a game. He expects that the goal, no matter the opponent, will remain the same.

“He’s been around long enough to know you don’t get caught up in the personal things,” Fisher said. “He wants to win just like everybody else wants to win.”