This preseason has been up and down in terms of overall play from the St. Louis Rams. Although little can be drawn from the preseason in terms of how the team will play during the regular season, it is a small glance towards how individual players may look once the real games begin in September. For the most part, the offensive and defensive playbooks will stay fixed in Chapter 1, but players can still be evaluated on the basics; their chemistry within their positional unit, route running, coverage, timing, or footwork. With all the bad media surround the Rams loses to the Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts, one would be pressured to believe that no one on the Rams has shown positive indications of progression or production. That is quite the opposite of the truth, with a number of players standing out their their individual play thus far in the preseason. Here are some players that St. Louis Rams genuinely hope will transfer their production into the regular season…
WR Danny Amendola:
We all caught a glimpse of what Amendola could be in 2010, when he paired with Bradford for a team high 85 receptions. After missed almost the entire 2011 season with a dislocated elbow and torn tricep, Amendola appears to be back to his old form, or maybe even better. In three preseason contests he has tallied 5 receptions for 68 yards and one extremely impressive touchdown. More importantly, Amendola is making those reception for an average of 13.6 yards per catch, which is far superior to the sub-10 yard per catch average from just two years ago. Amendola is getting shuffled from the slot to the outside and getting open down the field. If he can continue to do that, Bradford should pick up where he left off in 2010.
TE Lance Kendricks and TE Michael Hoomanawanui:
Between the two, they have raked in 7 receptions for 102 yards during the first three games. That is very impressive considering they have not seen much work on the field because of the heavy rotation of offensive linemen, tight ends, and wide receivers. “Illinois Mike” was one of Bradford’s favorite targets in the red zone in 2010, but, much like Amendola, was plagued with injury in 2011. Kendricks is repeating his preseason from 2011, which did not carry over into the regular season. If Kendricks remains consistent through the rest of the preseason into the regular season and Hoomanawanui can stay healthy, this could be the Rams version of the Hernandez and Gronkowski duo in New England.
CB Trumaine Johnson:
Johnson leads the Rams in tackle with 12 so far in the preseason, many of which are coming from reps at the third corner spot in the nickel package. Nickelbacks have to be solid in tackling, since they are typically locked up on a slot receiver on the inside or responsible for shallow coverages in zone. He also assisted in Matt Conrath’s first (and likely only) interception on a deflected pass. With Fletcher missing a majority of the offseason due to injury and Josh Gordy being traded away, the Rams will need Johnson to continue to progress in the defense.
OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar:
Coming in as the underwhelming favorite for the weakside linebacker position from New Orleans, Dunbar has made the most of the oppotunity. Dunbar has 7 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble and is showing a lot of passion and toughness on the field. There have been countless times that Dunbar has been shown getting into an offense players face or continuing to play after the whistle, but in a good way. He is getting in the heads of the offense, and doing so in a way that gets the rest of the defense hyped up. More importantly, he is drawing line and not racking up unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. If he can continue to produce on the field and play with that chip on his shoulder, Dunbar may be the steal of free agency for the Rams.
P Johnny Hekker:
Special teams was one of the many weak points on the St. Louis Rams last season. Changing a few outcomes on special teams could have gave the Rams at least another win or two during the season. Hekker has been punting like a veteran, averaging nearly 48.6 yards per punts. However, average yards is not the key indicator of punting talents since relative field position dictates how far a punter wants to boot the ball. The real highlight is the touchback to inside-the-20 ratio, meaning how often the punter can put the opposing offense in bad starting field position versus letting them starting with the ball at the 20 yard line. Hekker has landed 4 balls inside the 20 and kicked only 1 touchback in his 10 punts this preseason. If he can continue to keep the opposing offense starting inside the 20, the defense should be able to force some bad situations that will hopefully result in turnovers.