Bernie Bytes: 5 Takes on the Rams ..
BY BERNIE MIKLASZ Tuesday, July 26, 2011 10:30 am
Some opinions on the Rams for you this morning:
1. With the opening of the free-agent market, we're about to learn a lot more about Stan Kroenke as an owner. No, the Rams won't go crazy in free agency. That's not Kroenke's philosophy or style. He wants to build through the draft, and indeed that is a sound approach. But the Rams have a chance to win an unsettled NFC West in Year Two of the Sam Bradford Era. If Kroenke is willing to spend big on a couple of key additions, it will make a difference in 2011. If the Rams play it too safe, it will turn off discerning fans and also raise questions about the franchise's financial commitment to winning.
2. As a side note, I thought it was interesting on Monday, seeing so many NFL owners and team executives making an immediate effort to communicate to their fans by agreeing to media interviews. For example, across the state Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt wanted to express his regret over the lockout and assure the team's fans that the franchise will benefit from the new CBA and the owners' revenue-sharing component. The Rams chose to remain silent. Strange. They had an easy chance to score a few PR points with the public but chose to punt.
3. This will also be a big test for GM Billy Devaney, chief operating officer Kevin Demoff, and, to a lesser extent, head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Can Devaney convince free agents to come here? Will he be aggressive? The Rams aren't in great shape in the salary cap, so can Demoff be creative and find relief? This free-agent phase will be complete and utter chaos. The process will feature quick strikes early, and better value later. If the Rams plan to pursue a big fish, they can't fool around in the early hours-days of FA. But after the initial rush takes care of the top free agents, the process will settle into a poker game. The talent will be saturated with free agents, and each GM and cap specialist will have to be adept at reading the market. There will be some outstanding bargains in the form of players who just want to hook up with a team for a job in 2011, rather than being left out.
As one NFL team executive told me, "Once the elite free agents sign, I'd be surprised if we don't see a lot of one-year deals to follow. Players will be antsy. They just want to find a good spot and get into camp. They'll be willing to sign for one year, have a good season, and build their resume for another shot at free agency in 2012."
That makes sense. So that's the challenge for Devaney and Demoff. They have to be decisive and bold early in the process to secure help for the team's most wanting areas. But the secondary free-agent market will provide value for those who wait. But how long do you wait? Suppose you wait too long, only to lose good-value free agents to other teams? Let's hope Devaney and Demoff are sharp poker players.
4. This is the challenge for Spagnuolo: getting organized, staying calm and not freaking out over the helter-skelter nature of the training camp. The Rams and all NFL teams haven't had the benefit of the full offseason preparation. No oragnized team activities, no mini-camps, no quarterback schools, no study sessions between Bradford and new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Several months of work will be squeezed into several weeks of prep time. But let's not get carried away here, OK? The Rams will be on the field on Monday, Aug. 1. The regular-season opener is Sept. 12. They'll have more than 40 days to get ready. That's hardly ideal, and it will be a strain to put in McDaniels' new offense. But coaches are paid a lot of money to do what they do, and there is a premium on good teaching skills. It's up to Spags, McDaniels and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole to coach 'em up.
5. There's a bit of a debate going on among Rans fans, a speculative debate about running backs. San Diego Chargers RB Darren Sproles is a free agent. Ane New Orleans RB Reggie Bush will become a free agent if the Saints release him for salary-cap savings. I could be wrong in my read on this, but I sense there's more buzz over Bush than Sproles. Put me on the Sproles side of the voting. He doesn't have Bush's name recognition, but he's the better overall player and can do more things.
Let's take a look:
-- Sproles has averaged 4.6 yards per rush in his career; Bush 4.0. Sproles is the superior runner inside.
-- As a change-of-pace back Sproles has been dynamic in runs called for him when the offense uses 3 or 4 wide receivers. And he's been very effective in runs out of the shotgun. Sproles averages 6.4 yards per rush in his career in 3-wideout formations and 4.7 yards with 4 or more wides in the formation. Sproles averages 6.9 yards per carry in his career when running out of the shotgun. Sproles averaged 7 yards per carry on "middle" runs last season; mostly draws and counters. For his career Sproles' nearly gets 5 yards per carry on middle runs. Bush's numbers are lower in all of these categories; he simply does not perform well when asked to run it inside.
-- Sproles is an outstanding third-down back. He averages 9.6 yards per reception in his career. Bush averages 7.3. According to the smart people at Pro Football Outsiders, Sproles has been ranked among the top five in defense-adjusted receiving (DYAR) among NFL running backs for three consecutive seasons.
-- Sproles returns kickoffs and punts and is terrific in both areas. He's averaged 25.1 yards per kickoff return in his career (258 runbacks) with two TDs. He's averaged 8.2 yards per punt return (114 of them) with two TDs. Bush only returns punts. He isn't a kickoff-return specialist. The Rams have a good punt-return guy in Danny Amendola, who averaged 11.3 yards last season. And perhaps he'll stay in the role. But what a nice luxury it would be to have a guy, Sproles, who can run the ball, catch the ball, and return kicks and punts.
-- Sproles is more durable. He's played in all but two games in his career. Bush missed four games in 2007, six games in 2008, seven in 2009, and eight games last season.
Finally: I thought Rams DE Chris Long summed up things pretty well on Monday after the announcement of a new CBA agreement:
"Well hey would ya look at that everyone is okay. Fans didn't really miss any football. We have a 10 year CBA. Life is good... Deep breaths."
Long is right. No football was missed other than the Hall of Fame Game. People keep saying football is back. Well, football never went away. And a decade of labor peace will be worth the trouble.
Thanks for reading...
Re: Bernie Bytes: 5 Takes on the Rams ..
1. They have this new thing in the CBA. It's called a salary cap. Stop by and I'll explain it to you over a box of donuts. The Rams have 12 million to spend, not all of Kroenke's money.
2. It's spin control.. intelligent fans see it for what it is and don't really care.
3. Oh ok, turns out to DID know the Rams were short on cap space...so what was your first point about? Real journalistic genius there huh?
4. That's sort of stating the obvious, but you get an A for effort.
5. Tend to agree, but that hardly seems a top 5 most interesting thing this week..
Maybe I'm cynical this morning, but I really wish that he would, I don't know, do some real journalism. Interview some agents..players..coaches who aren't busy yet. There has to be something more worth while out there.
Re: Bernie Bytes: 5 Takes on the Rams ..
At least Captain Obvious is in mid-season form; "The Rams need to stay organized & get some good FAs",etc.
Maybe Kroenke didn't comment on the situation because he wasn't one of the bonehead billionaires who screwed themselves on the CBA in the first place.
Pretty nervous that I actually agree with BM on the Sproles/Bush issue. Maybe I need to get checked for premature senior dementia or brain tumors.Where are my keys? What did I eat for breakfast? OMG, I think I ate my keys....
Re: Bernie Bytes: 5 Takes on the Rams ..
Seems like you guys are getting in form also.
Am I the only Bernie apologist here?