During this time of year, players are workout warriors sprinting around the field without pads, you would almost think you’re watching a track meet. The Rams can now dictate the game with their possession of talent, youth and explosiveness on both sides of the ball. Those three words and the St. Louis Rams in the same sentence were unheard of only a few years ago. With OTAs all wrapped up and training camp looming, St. Louis could find themselves in uncharted territory if the answers to a few questions translate to a successful season for the Rams.
1. Will Austin Pettis become a starting receiver for the Rams?
This has been the topic of conversation around the water cooler for the past several days. Rams’ offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been giving the third-year veteran high praise for the duration of OTAs. Honestly, I’m not surprised Pettis is coming of age this off-season stemming back to his play from the 2012 season.
He has always possessed long arms and strong hands to snatch the ball out of the air, above-average route running and a knack for finding first downs. The bulk of Pettis’ success came within the slot and as a redzone threat for St. Louis last season. His numbers were eerie similar to his rookie campaign, but his 6’3″ frame allowed the Rams to exploit his nose for the endzone totaling four touchdowns.
However, that is it of Austin’ game. He’s not a downfield threat, lacks speed and separation and will fall to the ground often after a reception. In other words, not a great YAC receiver. True, Brian Quick may be listed as the teams’ fourth receiver as of now, but it’s the game is an entirely different beast when the pads are on. Quick has all the tools Pettis have with limitless potential if he can put it all together.
But that if seems like a hard pill to swallow for Rams’ fan. Unless Quick has an unforeseen injury, Chris Givens and Quick will be the Rams’ day one starters at the receiver position.
2. Can the St. Louis Rams become a top-10 defense?
An emphatic yes. In just one year, St. Louis jumped from the 22nd ranked defense in 2011, to the 14th ranked defense in 2012. The Rams’ upstart and tenacious defense improved in every facet of the game. They gave up fewer touchdowns, 16, compared to 21 in 2011, hauled in more interceptions, 17, to a measly 12 in the ’11 season. This transformation happened in large part of the addition of the pesky and physical Cortland Finnegan, DROY nominee Janoris Jenkins and the towering third-round corner Trumanine Johnson, and not to mention former Ram Quintin Mikell at safety.
Who stole the show was the 2012 version of the Fearsome Foursome. You can even thrown in William Hayes who’s not even a starter. The Rams’ defense tied first in the NFL in sacks, with 52. A defensive line featuring three first-round studs in Chris Long, Robert Quin and Michael Brockers accounted for 26 of the Rams sacks, and 33 if you add Hayes’ 7 sacks. Starting DT Kendall Langford will only get better in his second stint transition from a 3-4 defense to the 4-3 alignment.
The installation of last year’s free agent pick-ups and draft picks allowed the Rams’ to enjoy a jump of 8 spots in the defensive rankings. Now, with first-round linebacker Alec Ogeltree and third round safety T.J. McDonald along with other acquisitions, is it implausible to think the Rams can jump another 8 spots from the 14th overall defense to 6th overall?
Not at all.
3. How about on the offensive side of the ball? Can Schottenheimer create innovative plays to for the Rams’ new targets?
This is technically two questions in one, sue me. When the Rams made the decision to trade up and draft the most exciting playmaker in the 2013 draft, then to later on draft his record setting teammate Stedman Bailey to couple with last year’s duo of Givens and Quick, St. Louis made it obvious the wanted to shed the label of the “same ole Rams.” This skilled yet inexperienced group of receivers along with the prized free-agent signing of TE Jared Cook, has Ram fans reminiscing of the Greatest Show On Turf Days.
It all falls on the right arm of Sam Bradford and Schottenheimer. As an offensive coordinator, Schottenheimer’s highest offensive ranking was 11th overall in 2010 that featured the ground and pound.
|*with the Rams||2006||2007||2008||2009||2010||2011||*2012|
From 2006-2011, Schottenheimer was the offensive coordinator for the New York Jets. His playcalling were scrutinized in numerous situations and was the scapegoat for the Jets’ wilting offense. To his defense, his quarterback at the time was Mark Sanchez for four years. Schotty has new, sleek weapons to deploy in his arsenal and it’s his job to to get the ball into the hands of the dynamic talent on the Rams’ roster.
4. Is this a make or break year for Sam Bradford?
If it isn’t a make or break year for Bradford, it sure is a prove it year. Many fans have been calling for Bradford’s head saying saying he’s had too many excuses, too many chances, has to make players around him better, the same Heisman Trophy recipient who went on to become the no. 1 overall pick and the offensive rookie of the year? The do more with less argument is laughable. It’s about continuity and chemistry with your receivers and coordinators, constant repetition and real talent. Bradford had career high in yards (3,702) and touchdowns (21) in 2012 with considerably less talent than he does now.
In his first three seasons in the NFL, Bradford has been sacked a shameful 105 times. It’s almost a miracle he’s not shell-shocked by now. With the departure of Steven Jackson, Bradford is the heart and soul of this team now. The Rams will go as far as he will take them. Signing Pro Bowl LT Jake Long was music to Bradford’s ears as well as drafting Outland Trophy winner who anchored Alabama’s offensive line, Barrett Jones.
Bradford now has an immense amount of talent at his disposal with Austin, Cook, Quick, Givens, Pettis, Bailey and even 2nd-year TE Lance Kendricks. Bradford has all the measurables to become an elite quarterback in NFL. Now that Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have surrounded him with high caliber players, Bradford indeed has to prove he is who we think he can be.
5. Will the Rams make their first postseason appearance since 2004?
This is no longer the NFC Weak. This division is no longer the doormat of the NFL. This division is now home to two Super Bowl favorites and widely considered the best division in football. Even the Arizona Cardinals have greatly improved this offseason. The Rams managed to go 4-1-1 in the division last year, but can that stunning feat happen again?
The San Francisco 49ers are the bullies of the Bay area after reaching the NFC Championship in back-to-back seasons and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl last year. The Seattle Seahawks and their ‘Legion of Boom’ are the most menacing secondary in the NFL. They both have franchise signal callers in Colin Kaepernick (SF) and Russell Wilson (SEA) and formidable defenses, not to mention the veteran Carson Palmer in Arizona. According to CBSSports, the Rams have the fourth highest strength of schedule.
St. Louis has improved tremendously on both sides of the ball and they have the talent to compete game in and game out. If you ask me, I’d say St. Louis has a great chance to compete for a Wild Card birth. With all the youth on this team, they will have lapses here and there, but this talented group also ensures the Rams are making plans to become perennial playoff contenders.