The St Louis Rams entered the 2013 preseason with a roster full of very talented, but very young players on both sides of the ball. The Rams depth chart is loaded with rookies and second year players, players that are being counted on to contribute as either starters or primary backups at their position. First and second year players that the Rams need an impact from include, Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Trumaine Johnson, Rodney McLeod, Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson, Zac Stacy, Tavon Austin, Alec Ogletree, TJ McDonald, Greg Zeurlein, and Johnny Hekker. That is quite the list of young players that the Rams are hanging their hopes on this season, which is probably one reason you wont see many NFL “experts” predicting the Rams to win more than 7 or 8 games this season. I can’t remember a preseason where there was the same level of excitement in the Rams fanbase. The potential of this team has Rams fans eager for the regular season and a chance to forget nearly a decade of embarrassing defeats. Now that the preseason is nearly over it is time to look back at the Rams young players and see if we can detect progress from potential to production. We will do a two part player by player rundown of this offseason/preseason starting with the more “established” 2nd year players.
Chris Givens. Chris Givens could have been hands down the steal of any other teams 2012 NFL Draft, but with the Rams also snagging players like Janoris Jenkins and Greg Zeurlein and Daryl Richardson its a tough call as to who you give the award to with the Rams. Givens had a very productive rookie season which included setting a rookie record for most consecutive games with a 50+ yard reception. Givens made it a point to work hard on his route tree during the offseason, and even added a little bit of muscle weight in hopes of increasing durability while running the shorter and intermediate routes. During the preseason Givens has been sensational showing that he still has that blazing deep speed, but also he has shown his hard work in the offseason paid off as his route running has been impressive. Givens has had the look of a #1 wide receiver with the ability to be the first Rams receiver since Torry Holt to break the 1,000 yard mark in a season. Rams fans should expect big things from Givens with no signs of a “sophomore slump”.
Michael Brockers. Last years 14th overall pick could also be considered a steal, and if he hadn’t been sidelined early in the season with the high ankle sprain its likely he would have been considered one. After recovering from his ankle injury and acclimating to the NFL game Brockers really began to come on for the Rams defense. Brockers even showed flashes of being a dominant DT, which is perhaps the most rare of all football players. During the offseason Brockers worked hard to improve his strength and it has really shown. During training camp he has been unblockable, and while the vanilla playcalling in preseason games has limited the statistics he has shown more than once that double teams will be required to slow him down. For a player in one of the least flashy positions in the NFL Michael Brockers has the potential to be one of the most talked about players on the Rams in 2013. Brockers and Langford will give the Rams a formidable run stopping duo in the middle, but Brockers’ ability to rush the passer has been impressive and he could even threaten the double-digit sack mark this season.
Janoris Jenkins. Janoris Jenkins was a top 10, possibly top 5 talent in the 2012 NFL Draft if he had remained at the University of Florida. His off the field issues that led to his release from the Gators program subsequently lead to him dropping into the second round. Jenkins had a very up and down rookie campaign that saw a little bit of everything. Jenkins set NFL rookie records for his incredible playmaking ability at times, and at other times was victimized by opposing quarterbacks, he even served a 1 game suspension for violation of team rules. Through it all though Jenkins talent was always on display, it was his discipline and technique that seemed to be lacking. So far in the 2013 offseason/preseason Jenkins really hasn’t done anything to stand out but that’s not always a bad thing for a cornerback. The Rams vanilla playcalling has likely prevented Jenkins from playing his preferred aggressive man to man style. There is no reason to expect anything but a step forward from the Rams young defensive playmaker.
Greg Zeurlein. Greg “The Leg” had an incredible start to his rookie season, and even though he sort of fizzled down the stretch still posted some impressive numbers for a rookie kicker. During the offseason Zeurlein was told not to practice any kicking but just to rest his leg, as fatigue was determined to be a primary cause for his decreased accuracy down the stretch. During the first preseason game it appeared as if that extra rest resulted in a little bit of rust, but since then Zeurlein has looked very impressive. No reason for Rams fans not to be confident this season if “Young GZ” is called upon for a game winning kick.
Johnny Hekker. Johnny Hekker was an undrafted free agent punter who struggled with his consistency during his rookie season, but showed big time ability as well as a little versatility on special teams. During the offseason Hekker starred in a trick shot video with the guys from Dude Perfect which was definitely worth a watch. Other than the one punt against the Cleveland Browns where he out kicked his coverage, Hekker has been phenomenal in the preseason. If he can continue to blast 50+ yarders and down better than 40% of his punts inside the opponents 20 yard line than the Rams could have a big year.
Trumaine Johnson. Trumaine ”Tru” Johnson is one of my favorite young players on the roster, a little known kid out of the University of Montana he eventually earned the nickel cornerback role in his rookie season. While technically the nickel corner isn’t a “starter” it might as well be given the pass happy NFL of today. Johnson has the size and ability to match up on just about any receiver on the outside while Cortland Finnegan slides inside to the slot. During this offseason/preseason there was some discussion about rookie Brandon McGee pushing Johnson for the nickel role but it appears as if those talks have died down a little. Again Johnson hasn’t been impressive during the preseason, but given the types of coverages the Rams have been running that’s no surprise. There is no reason to believe that Tru can’t continue his ascension towards being the eventual starting outside corner opposite Janoris Jenkins.
Daryl Richardson. How can you not root for the second to last pick of the 2012 NFL draft? Only one selection away from being Mr. Irrelevant Richardson was the second runningback that the Rams drafted in 2012 as they looked for a compliment/eventual replacement for Steven Jackson. To the surprise of many Richardson supplanted 2nd round choice Isaiah Pead on the depth chart as the #2 RB behind Jackson. With Jackson’s departure to the Atlanta Falcons during the offseason the starting RB job has been handed to Richardson. The Rams have committed to a running back by committee approach, but Richardson will be the first guy in the rotation and should see some opportunities to shine again this season. As the Rams #1 back some of Richardson’s shortcomings have come under greater scrutiny, most notably his limited elusiveness and poor blitz pickup abilities. Richardson is best as a one cut and go type runner with adequate burst to get to the outside at the NFL level, and decent hands. Expect to see Richardson a lot on early downs with Stacy likely to take over in short yardage situations and Pead possibly playing passing downs.
Brian Quick. The first pick in the 2nd round of the 2012 Draft Quick has been compared to the likes of Terrel Owens and Vincent Jackson. The Rams knew they were taking on a project when they took him, but his physical gifts and potential as a big time playmaker forced them to pull the trigger. Quick still hasn’t displayed the consistency that it takes to be a good NFL receiver in the preseason games, but he has made huge strides in that regard on the practice field. Quick hasn’t played many snaps with the first team offense in the preseason, which probably means the Rams coaching staff still isn’t counting on him for big contributions in 2013. If Quick does have a breakthrough during the 2013 season and overtake Austin Pettis as the WR lined up opposite Chris Givens then the Rams could have a very dynamic receiving corps.
Isaiah Pead. Pead had what he described as a “miserable” rookie season, after missing most of the early team activities due to ridiculous rules regarding rookie involvement prior to their university’s commencement Pead fell behind early and never caught up. When watching Pead play he seems to be doing too much thinking and not enough relying on his natural abilities, which were impressive enough to earn him a 2nd round draft slot. In terms of abilities Pead is the most gifted runner on the Rams roster, but so far he hasn’t been able to get out of his own way. His first carry in the 2013 preseason resulted in a fumble inside the Browns 30 yard line which killed a potential scoring drive. He hasn’t done a whole lot since then to challenge Richardson for the #1 RB role having just 59 yards on 19 carries (3.1 ypc). Part of the problem with Pead, and the Rams runningbacks in general, has been a lack of consistent push in the run game from the offensive line. Another area that may be limiting Pead is a lack of creativity from the Rams offensive playcalling, Pead is a dynamic receiver and shifty runner in the open space whose talents have partially been hidden by the vanilla playcalling. Then there is the 1 game suspension Pead will be serving and it appears to be an uphill climb for Pead to be the type of impact player many envisioned him being on draft day 2012.
The Rams will be relying heavily upon 2nd year players to produce at a high level if they are going to challenge for a playoff spot in 2013, something that most Rams fans can’t help but think about as the season draws closer. Most signs point to these 2nd year players building on what was an incredible rookie year across that board that played a huge part in the Rams surge from 2-14 to 7-9-1 and 4-1-1 in the NFC West. Next time we will take a look at the 2013 Draft class and their progress through this preseason and their potential impact on the Rams regular season. Thanks for reading and as always Go Rams!! If you like what you read make sure to follow me and the rest of the Ramblin Fan writers on Twitter!