It was the worst of times. As dreadful as the St Louis Rams have been over the past decade, the nadir of this period – and of the history of the franchise – was the disastrous 2009 season. With only one win in Steve Spagnuolo’s first season as head coach, the Rams hit rock-bottom with the worst record in the League. Terrible coaching and awful execution made the team a laughing stock and drove fans to despair. Good days.
Fast-forward five years and the Rams seem on the brink of finally regaining some semblance of dignity as contenders in the National Football League. But, with so much hope and expectation on such young shoulders, how do today’s Rams compare to the team that plunged Rams Nation into depths normally reserved for Browns fans?
The starting quarterback at the time was Marc Bulger. A plucky over-achiever and one-time crowd-favorite, Bulger was clearly in the decline of his career and ended the year on Injured Reserve, with Kyle Boller and Keith Null taking the reins, neither of them with much success. Bulger’s Week 9 appearance against Arizona was his last as a Ram, and he was let go in the off-season, sadly failing to see the field again. However polarizing a figure he might be, Bulger’s eventual replacement – Sam Bradford, whom the Rams drafted with the first overall pick that was the reward for their catastrophic season – is clearly a more natural talent with more significant experience following his days at Oklahoma. Bradford may also be inconsistent and might not have delivered on his potential, but he is undoubtedly better placed to lead a franchise than his predecessor.
Of course, Bulger’s falloff may have had much to do with the fact that he had spent most of his last few years running for his life behind a leaky offensive line that comprised Alex Barron and his false starts, Richie Incognito and his anger management issues, backup-caliber Adam Golberg, and Jason Brown and Jacob Bell, the latest in a string of over-paid, under-achieving free agents (more on those later!). This was a horrific motley crew of offensive linemen that are easily outmatched by the current crop, little aided by first round pick Jason Smith, who spent more of the season injured before going on to achieving next to nothing.
As for receivers, the Rams’ starters were oft-injured Donnie Avery and rookie Brandon Gibson, with occasional contributions from Laurent Robinson, the memorable Keenan Burton, and a yet-to-blossom Danny Amendola. Randy McMichael was the starting tight end (remember what I said earlier about free agents?), while Mike Karney was, perhaps, the Rams’ last true fullback. And while today’s receivers and tight ends might be under-performing, they are certainly no worse than this lot, with ten more touchdowns between them last season.
But carrying the load of the offense, of course, was running back Steven Jackson. 39 carried the ball for over 1,400 yards that season as he continued to put his body on the line for a sake of a moribund franchise. It was Jackson’s continued efforts to make the offense relevant that made him every fan’s favorite and will ensure him a perennial place in Rams Nation’s affections.
The defense was not much better. A fading Leonard Little and the tenacious James Hall somehow kept Chris Long from being a starter, and the defensive wall provided by Gary Gibson and Clifton Ryan is a far cry from what we expect from today’s incumbents. Perhaps the main comparison is that, last season, Robert Quinn single-handedly gained more sacks than the whole of the 2009 defensive line. The linebackers were not much better either, comprising promising rookie James Laurinaitis, Mr Irrelevant David Vorbora and…Paris Lenon? Current starters Laurinatis, Alec Ogletree and Jo-Lonn Dunbar would have these guys for breakfast.
And, as for the secondary…it might be best to avert your gaze. The starting cornerbacks were Ron Bartell and a forgettable Quincy Butler, while the safety positions were manned by James Butler (there’s another one of ‘those’ free agents!) and hard-hitting O. J. Atogwe before the Redskins spoiled him. The fact that this quartet managed to snag no more than five interceptions between them goes some way towards explaining why the Rams lost fifteen games that season.
Apart from Jackson and his successor Zac Stacy, and Atogwe and Lamarcus Joyner (mainly by virtue of the fact that the latter is still to play a down for the Rams and is more of an unknown quantity than fellow rookie projected starters Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald), I would argue that EVERY position is stronger heading into next season than back in 2009, in some cases significantly so. This shows how far the Rams have come since those days, a source of great joy for every Rams fan who sincerely hopes that those dreadful times are far behind.