5 Key Items On Rams' To-Do List
5 key items on Rams' to-do list
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
After months of deliberation, the Rams organization made its Big Decision.
Kevin Demoff, Billy Devaney, Steve Spagnuolo, et al took the $50 million plunge on rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. They decided to bet on his impressive talent, intelligence and work ethic.
Now they must make sure the huge wager pays off.
The process is under way. Last weekend’s rookie camp went well, by all accounts. Bradford threw the ball around Rams Park and some of the kids looked promising in T-shirts and shorts. Bradford and rookie receiver Mardy Gilyard developed instant chemistry on the practice field.
But the heavy lifting remains. Between now and Week 1 of the NFL season, the Rams must coach up their players, upgrade their talent base and revamp their offensive scheme.
Here is how to the “to do” list shapes up:
1. Strengthen the offensive line. The Rams are ready to install Jason Smith at left tackle. The team drafted him last year to fill this role for the long haul and the coaching staff believes he is ready to take the step.
Maybe he is. Or maybe he isn’t ready to assume that critical pass blocking responsibility. We won’t be able to assess his near-term potential at that position until three or four games into the regular season.
He can work on his technique during the OTAs. He can polish his skills during training camp. He can gain valuable experience during preseason games. But until opponents come after him for real, how will the Rams really know what they have there?
Smith is smart. He works hard. He is an impressive athlete. But can he master one of the most difficult jobs in all of sports? Can he keep the Face of the Franchise off his back?
Several Rams linemen, like rookie Rodger Saffold, are capable of playing multiple positions. Spagnuolo stresses versatility when assessing offensive linemen.
So what if Saffold can play guard and Jacob Bell can play tackle? What the Rams really need are offensive linemen who can play one position REALLY, REALLY WELL.
Spagnuolo vowed to rebuild the Rams from the lines out. We’re still waiting.
2. Get Steven Jackson significant help. Jackson is coming back from minor back surgery. He has piled up some miles on his odometer. To maximize his production during the next few years, the Rams need to team him with another potential 1,000-yard back.
Could Brian Westbrook be such a player? In the short term, perhaps. But given his extensive injury history -– especially with concussions -– the Rams would need another quality back even if Westbrook signs a free-agent deal here.
Sorry, but incumbents Kenneth Darby and Chris Ogbonnaya don’t seem to fit that role.
3. Open up the passing game. The Rams could have drafted a game manager (Colt McCoy) later in the NFL Draft and addressed another need in the first round. But the team went for Bradford and his higher upside -– so now it needs to tailor its passing game to his strengths.
It’s time to get out of damage control mode and attack defenses.
Wait a minute, you’re thinking. Don’t the Rams lack the receiving talent needed for a more aggressive scheme?
Devaney dismisses this concern. The Rams did not go after proven receivers via free agency or trades. They drafted Gilyard, a potential slot receiver, but otherwise expressed satisfaction with the incumbents.
If they are good enough to make plays down the field -– and apparently they are -– then they must be turned loose.
(And just in case these receivers aren’t quite world beaters, it might be a good idea to monitor the market to see if somebody with proven ability shakes loose.)
4. Develop some receiving tight ends. Devaney conceded his team’s weakness in this area, so the Rams drafted Michael Hoomanawanui from Illinois and Fendi Onobun from Houston.
Trouble is, Hoomanawanui seems to be more of a blocker than pass receiver. The Illini didn’t make much use of tight ends in their offense. He caught some balls at the rookie camp, but he wasn’t at risk of taking big hits.
Onobun is a former college basketball player who played just one year of college football. He, too, went unused in his collegiate offense.
Both players are physical specimens. Both have much to learn. Can either become an offensive factor this season? Bradford sincerely hopes so.
5. Improve the defense. The Rams need to shorten the field for their offense this year. The team has the kicking game to do that, but what bout the “D”?
Can it control field position more often? Can it put the offense in a position to succeed?
Sustaining a strong running game is difficult when each drive begins deep in your own zone. Establishing a young quarterback is harder when many possessions start on the 15- or 20-yard line.
Over the long haul, Bradford must develop into a consistent Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback to make this Big Decision pay off. At these dollars, it’s stardom or bust. Anything less would be failure.
Bradford has a lot of work to do -– and so does everybody else at Rams Park.
Re: 5 Key Items On Rams' To-Do List
Thank you for repeating the insanely obvious. News must be slow indeed.
Hard to say you need upgrades without really getting to see what you have as well...
All in all, we need to see these guys in pads and eventually in games getting knocked around. Truthfully we don't know what we need as of yet, its very well possible we are set at a number of positions or vice versa.