Aug 23, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher during warm ups before the game against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

St Louis Rams: Preseason Winners and Losers

Having waited since December 29th 2013, Rams fans now have less than a week to wait to see regular season football again. The draft, free agency, training camp and preseason are now all behind us, as we look ahead to the visit of the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Many associated with the organisation have had some ups and downs over the last few months, however some clearly more than others. Summarised here are my top three Rams winners and losers from the summer.
THE WINNERS
1 – Ethan Westbrooks. A few months ago, many Rams fans would be forgiven for thinking: ‘Ethan who?’ However, after a superb preseason showing which saw Westbrooks achieve two sacks and a team-leading 11 solo tackles, the undrafted rookie from Texas A&M finds himself with an unforeseen but highly deserved place on the final 53-man roster. NFL.com’s pre-draft assessment of Westbrooks described Westbrooks as follows: “Wild-card prospect with diamond-in-the-rough characteristics if a defensive line coach is able to refine the technical aspects of his game and stoke his fire”. On the basis of what Westbrooks showed in preseason, his fire looks to be well and truly burning.
2 – Trey Watts. Another undrafted rookie, Watts took full advantage of the opportunities given to him in preseason. Chase Reynolds shone in the first preseason game against New Orleans, however it was all about Watts from then on. Rushing for a very healthy 4.2 yards per carry over the course of the preseason and scoring a touchdown against the Browns, Watts also contributed in the passing game, taking in 5 receptions at an average of 10.2 yards. The season- (and possibly career) ending injury to Isiah Pead was, while sad to see, of considerable assistance to Watts in that it took away competition for playing time and a position on the final roster. In an offense that still looks to rely heavily on the run, a young back that has shown both passion and talent stands to achieve more than his undrafted status may initially suggest.
3 – Shaun Hill. Twelve months ago, Shaun Hill was keeping the bench warm in Detroit as understudy to established Lions signal caller, Matthew Stafford. Now with his fourth NFL franchise, Hill has spent the majority of his career as a backup quarterback. Prior to the draft amid thoughts from some observers that the Rams may draft Johnny Manziel, Jeff Fisher made it clear this would not be happening as Sam Bradford was the preferred option – and was true to his word. When Bradford was ruled out, media speculation about players like Mark Sanchez or even Tim Tebow (yikes) being brought to St Louis was similarly put down by the head coach. Hill is, at least for 2014, the starting quarterback of the St Louis Rams. He inherits an offense with an improved line, an exciting group of running backs and a talented and maturing set of receivers. Hill should also benefit from support on the other side of ball, with St Louis boasting an undoubted top ten defense that can hopefully be relied upon to give Hill a low points total to aim at for victory. The early comparisons to one Kurt Warner are probably evidence enough of how high Hill’s profile has risen.
THE LOSERS
1 – Sam Bradford. The 2010 number one overall draft pick was a furlong ahead of any other candidate here. Speaking as a huge admirer and supporter of Bradford, seeing him go down with the recurrence of the ACL tear was devastating to watch. Looking motivated, in tune with his receivers and achieving a QB rating of 104.9 across the two games he featured in, it seemed Bradford was picking up where he left off against Carolina in week 7 of a highly promising 2013 season. Sadly, it now looks likely that Bradford’s career numbers with the Rams of 49 regular season games, 11065 yards and 59 touchdowns will never be added to. Back in June in my first article for this site, I described Sam Bradford as possibly the NFL’s unluckiest player. Remembering Bradford prone on the Cleveland turf a couple of weeks ago, it remains almost impossible to think of another player more deserving of that title. Regardless of how the Rams fare in 2014, it would be a shock if their first or second round pick in the 2015 draft is not spent on the next franchise quarterback.
2 – Stedman Bailey. Toward the end of the 2013 season, Bailey looked to have found his feet in the NFL. Weighing in with 17 receptions at an average of over 13 yards per catch, plus a 27-yard rushing touchdown in the penultimate game against Tampa Bay, there was good cause to anticipate Bailey taking on a greater role in 2014. That all changed with a four-game suspension for a violation of the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. Clearly Bailey will return to the active roster once his suspension has been served, however this will be just time for a very difficult run of fixtures against Seattle, San Francisco, Kansas City on the road, the return game away at the 49ers and another divisional road trip to Arizona. Kenny Britt, Brian Quick (who looked vastly improved in preseason) and Tavon Austin all have a four-game headstart against lesser opposition to cement themselves as the preferred receivers for Shaun Hill. Will Bailey be relegated to a situational, Austin Pettis-type role on the roster?
3 – Isaiah Pead. With Steven Jackson recently departed for Atlanta, the 2013 season should have been the opportunity for the former 2nd round draft pick to step up and seize the number one back spot on the Rams roster after a disappointing rookie season in 2012 where he totalled a mere 54 rushing yards with no touchdowns. As it turned out, Pead was handed the ball only 7 times last season for a total of 21 yards, a total surpassed by both Sam Bradford (31) and Kellen Clemens (64). Even with the addition of Tre Mason in the 2014 draft Pead may have hoped that, with the desire of the coaching staff to have some rotation among the backs to take pressure off Zac Stacy, there was some hope he would see a meaningful number of snaps. Any chance of that ended on a kick return in the second preseason game against Green Bay where Pead tore his ACL. Given his poor production in his previous two seasons, that play may well have brought Pead’s short career with the Rams to an end.

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