Rams Season Preview
St. Louis Rams 2013 Season Preview
Itís been tough times for the Rams, who havenít had a winning season since 2003 with Mike Martz. But with Jeff Fisher coaching a young and talented squad, the Rams are clearly in the midst of a culture change. The positive momentum began last year, when the team signed Fisher traded out of the number 2 overall pick. With a franchise quarterback on board and Robert Griffin III available, the Rams were able to extract a kingís ransom out of the Redskins, setting them up with a great base of young talent. They still have extra picks in future drafts and may be a year or two from really coming together, but Fisher has them playing hard and they did manage to win seven games last year.
Sam Bradford has had an up-and-down career thus far, but the Rams feel they have their franchise QB in hand. The 2010 number one pick is a deadly accurate passer who throws well from the pocket, but he needs to lead a more explosive and efficient offense. The Rams did their best to help him by signing Jake Long to watch his blindside. The teamís offensive line got banged up last year, making life hard on Bradford, but the team hopes for improved line play this year. A perennial all-pro slowed by injuries, Long is looking to get his career back on track after a down year with the Dolphins. Roger Saffold, another player with injury concerns, will be moved to the right side, where he will be counted on as a starter. Joseph Barksdale has shown promise as a right tackle, and could end up playing before the season is over based on Saffold and Longís injury histories. The interior of the line remains an issue, with the Rams hoping to get some production out of veterans Scott Wells and Harvey Dahl.
The Rams are in the process of building an offense around Sam Bradford, and have a compiled a lot of young talent at the skill positions. It was out with the old this year, with HB Steven Jackson and WRs Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson all leaving as free agents, which will mean an increase in playing time fora lot of young guys. It all starts with rookie WR Tavon Austin, one of the most exciting offensive prospects to come along in some time. Austin could instantly become one of the most dangerous open-field runners in the league, and the Rams will work hard to find ways to get the ball in his hands. Chris Givens was a dynamic deep threat last year, and could step into the number one receiver role this year. Free-agent addition Jared Cook gives Bradford a big, athletic target that can be moved all over the field, but the young tight end needs to put the inconsistency that plagued him in Tennessee behind him. Brian Quick, Austin Pettis and Lance Kendricks will all have opportunities to carve out roles for themselves.
Position Battle: HBs Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead & Zac Stacy
The starting job likely belongs to Richardson, but Pead and Stacy will have ample opportunity to steal carries from him. The Rams could really miss Steven Jacksonís power running, as all these backs have talent, but none are considered power backs by any stretch. Richardson had an impressive year and has shown the ability to break long runs, while Pead has struggled to find his place in the offense.
Bottom Line: The Rams have a lot of exciting weapons on offense, but they could have a hard time moving the ball with consistency without a strong offensive line, a power run game, a legitimate go-to receiver, or a mobile quarterback.
The Rams defense played with intensity and improved fundamentals last year, leading to significant improvement across the board. At all three levels of their defense, the Rams have a nice mix of proven veterans and exciting young talent. Chris Long sets the tone on the defensive line, and will be looking to record his third straight double-digit sack season this year. Robert Quinn broke through last season by recording 6 sacks in the first 5 games, but faded down the stretch and only had 2 sacks in the final 7 games. DT Michael Brockers might be the most intriguing player in the group, possessing rare athleticism for a man of his size. Brockers missed the beginning of his rookie season with an injury, but came back strong and has the looks of a future star player. The concern for the Rams defensive line has to be a lack of depth, as there is a serious lack of proven performers after their three bright, young stars.
Rookie to Watch: WLB Alec Ogletree
The Rams have two highly productive linebackers in James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar, but both are at their best inside the box. The two combined for 257 tackles last year, but they lack speed and struggle to make plays on the perimeter. Dunbar especially struggles in coverage and would be best used as a 2-down linebacker. Ogletree is a great addition because he has the speed to make plays from sideline to sideline, and is exactly the kind of linebacker you want on the field on passing downs. Going to a 4-3 team in need of a weakside linebacker was the best situation Ogletree could have asked for, and the Rams are expecting immediate dividends.
CB Duo: Cortland Finnegan & Janoris Jenkins
The Rams have a pair of fearless, 5 foot 10, 190 pound cornerbacks who flat out know how to play football. Finnegan was a sixth round pick and had to fight for every bit of respect heís earned in this league, making him a great role model for Jenkins. In his rookie year, Jenkins showed he can make game-changing plays, but still needs to play with more toughness and consistency. If he can adopt Finneganís attitude and play with a bigger chip on his shoulder, he could be great. Trumaine Johnson, a 6í2íí corner coming off a strong rookie year, is a nice complement, as he can be used to cover bigger receivers.
The concern with this the Ramsí secondary is at the safety position, where they are planning on starting a completely unproven duo. TJ McDonald was a third-round pick as a rookie, and has a reputation for struggling in coverage. Darian Stewart is a 4th year undrafted free agent who hasnít shown himself to be anything special in the little bit of playing time heís had. Veteran Matt Giordano could end up seeing the field quite a bit, but his physical limitations make him a huge liability.
Bottom Line: There are some very nice pieces on the Ramsí defense, but it may not be a fully developed unit.
K: Greg Zuerlein
P: Johnny Hekker
RS: Tavon Austin
Tavon Austin is expected to make a big impact on special teams, as they will give him opportunities to make plays in space. It would not be at all surprising to see him score two or three return touchdowns this year. Greg Zuerlein was a liability in his rookie year, making only 74 percent of his kicks. He showed great leg strength by nailing a 60-yarder, but only went 7-13 from 50 and beyond.
Division Opponents: Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle
Interdivisional Play: AFC South, NFC South
Uncommon Opponents: vs Chicago, at Dallas
The Ramsí season starts with a very tough slate of games, and it doesnít get much easier as the season goes on. The AFC West is a brutal division to play in, and they have a lot of tough games on their schedule. If the Rams take a step backward in the win column, it wonít necessarily mean they have taken a step back as team.
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