The Rams’ massive 2012 draft class has seen plenty of action in the first couple of games of the preseason. Some player’s performances have solidified them in the starting lineup, while other have raised question marks about how they will perform on the “big stage.” It is still early, so we expect that they will learn, grow, and adapt to the pro game with more experience in the league. Here is my marks for their rookie report card so far in the preseason, and I am not the easiest grader:
Michael Brockers (Round 1, Pick 14) DT, LSU
Michael Brockers was bookmarked into the starting defensive line unit the minute his name was called in the first round. He was widely touted at the best run-stuffing defensive tackle, but had also been consistently labeled as “raw” and some questioned his abilities as a pass rusher. Luckily, the Rams just so happened to have two defensive ends that have a special niche for wrangling down opposing quarterbacks. The real question has been, can he improve our rushing defense that was ranked 31st in the league in 2011, giving up 152 yards per game and allowing 4.8 yards per carry to opposing running backs. Moreover, can he be a presence in the middle that demands a consistent double team, freeing up the linebacking unit and taking some of the pressure off of the opt-double or triple teamed Chris Long.
The defensive tackle position is hard to analyze based purely off the box score statistics, although he has accumulated a respectable 3 tackles so far. His true effectiveness can somewhat be determined by the improvement seen in the run defense. Currently, the Rams rank 11th in the league, allowing a little under 97.5 yards per game in their two preseason contests. More impressive than that is the fact that the Rams have yet to give up a rushing attempt over 20 yards, when last year they were among the worst in the league in allowing big gains, permitting 14 rushes of 20+ yards (T-9th) and 7 rushes of 40+ yards (1st). Of course, these number have to be taken with a grain of salt, as it is the preseason and the first team units are not seeing too much of the field. Brockers has been impressive so far in camp and throughout the preseason, but did get moved out of the play on the dump screen from Andrew Luck on his first play of his NFL career. And although he was brought in primarily as a run stuffer, the Rams are hoping that he can convert some of that raw talent into an effective pass rush, which we have yet to see come to fruition.
Brian Quick (Round 2, Pick 33) WR, Appalachian State
Brian Quick has been hot and cold in his rookie debute, fading from relevance with a lowly single reception in the Week 1 loss to the Colts, but springing back nicely against the Chiefs with 3 receptions for 20 yards before leaving the game in the 3rd Quarter with back spasms. Quick was praised this past week during practice by a number of people, including Head Coach Jeff Fisher and QB Sam Bradford. “Wow, it looked like the lightbulb came on today for him,” Bradford said following Thursday’s practice. “He had a great practice, made a lot of tough catches in practice.” Bradford’s statement mirrored what he had saw earlier in the preseason during the first couple of practices,
“I think Quick obviously has got a lot of talent. He’s made some big catches during camp. It’ll be nice to get him rolling. I’m really happy with where he’s at right now. Like I said, we’ve still got a couple weeks and I think if he can continue to make progress and make the strides that he’s already made, I think he’ll definitely be a major contributor for us during the regular season.”
We except that players at practice look spectacular, but we need to see those performances translate into production during a real game, against real teams. That means that he will need to continue to make his presence known on the field and, more importantly, stay on the field. The preseason is a time for the coaches to test out various players at various positions. Fisher is doing a great job of mixing player combinations, shifting player from the slot to the outside, and signaling pre-snap motions, even shuffling them into backfield at times. In shared time, Quick has shown he has can make the catches, but if he is truly our #1 receiver of the future, he will need to show that he can consistently get separation from the defender in man-coverage, and prove that he can find of the openings in zone coverage.
Janoris Jenkins (Round 2, Pick 39) CB, North Alabama/Florida
While the Rams cornerbacks were struggling to stay on the field in 2011, Janoris Jenkins was having his own troubles trying to stay out of jail. Jenkins was removed from the University of Florida football program following his third arrest as a member of the team, and was forced to transfer to North Alabama in hopes of keeping his dream of playing professional football alive. Prior to the draft there was no doubting his ability to play; rather, doubt that he would be eligible to play. Sports Illustrated had a tough time saying anything negative about Jenkins in his 2012 Draft Profile, describing him as a “talented cover corner with the ability to shut down opponents.” They go on to rave about his “fluid” movements and his quickness, while adding in that he is “tough defending the run.” If there were a checklist for the cornerback position, Jenkins has a thick, black mark in every single category. Luckily for the Rams, the “character issues” caused him to drop into the waiting hands of the Jeff Fisher, Les Snead, and the St. Louis Rams secondary.
Jenkins has been hit and miss so far in the Rams two preseason games, but for the most part has been every bit as good as advertised. Jenkins perfectly read Colts QB Andrew Luck on a quick out pattern, jumping the route, and setting himself up in good position for a, would-be, pick-6. Instead, the ball squeaked through his fingertips and into the hands of T.Y. Hilton for a first down. As expected, the Rams have run a lot of zone coverage, particularly in the opener where the defensive game plan was stripped down to it’s bare minimum. Jenkins did not record a tackle against the Colts, primarily because Luck was busy picking apart Craig Dahl’s blown coverage. However, Jenkins led the defense in tackles against the Chiefs with 4 tackles and 1 assisted tackle. More impressively, Jenkins showed off his play making ability on the Chiefs opening possession, forcing his first fumble by stripping the ball from the receiver, which was recovered by Craig Dahl.
Some also expected to Jenkins to contribute on special teams after watching him light up the field at North Alabama. If you have not seen the tapes, here is a highlight reel of some of this returns. Sadly, he has seen limited action on special teams, tallying 1 punt return for 1 yards, with no kickoff returns. Coach Fisher has employed a round robin format for selecting his return men, as there has seemingly never been the same player sitting back deep on consecutive tries. Already, four different players have recorded yards on kickoff return and three on punt return. However, with all the injuries sustained in the secondary last year, I have no problem keeping Jenkins out of the mix.
Overall Jenkins has played extremely well in coverage, made quick, sure tackles when his man makes the reception, and displayed his willingness to go out and attempt to make plays. Once the regular season hits, stability in the secondary and increased complexity in masking the coverage and in the blitz packaging should help Jenkins to continue his progression at the professional level. Still, until he is comfortable with the speed of the NFL, taking too many risks in favor of the “big play” could lead to big gains for the opposing offense. Even more important than his play on the field is his less-than-notable play off the field. No arrests, no crazy partying, no running through the rain in New York with his shirt off. As long as Jenkins continues to let the game come to him, and keeps his head out of the headlines and in the books, he should continue to receive good marks from across the league.
Grade: A-… but for staying headline-free, A
Thursday, grades will get handed out to Isaiah Pead, Trumaine Johnson, and Chris Givens. Go Rams!