Blue Print For Turnaround
From ESPN and Jeffri Chadiha
St. Louis Rams general manager Billy Devaney can feel the difference every time he strolls through his team's headquarters these days. The music blaring in the locker room seems just a little bit louder. Vibrant smiles appear on employees' faces more easily, and nobody is talking about postseason vacation plans at the moment.
"People were dreading coming to work at this time last year because we knew our focus was on having the first pick in the draft," Devaney said. "Now we're thinking about the playoffs. It's pretty neat."
"Stunning" is actually the more appropriate word. In a season filled with impressive turnaround stories -- including those in Kansas City and Tampa Bay -- the Rams easily have become the biggest of them all. Don't be fooled by their 6-7 record, either. The same team that went 1-15 in 2009 is now tied for first place in the NFC West with three games to go. Nobody saw this coming four months ago.
What's even more impressive is how the Rams have reached this point. They've relied on rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, who is playing like a leader who has logged far more than one season in this league. They've rallied around a solid running game and an underrated defense. Even when multiple injuries crippled the team's receiving corps, the backups found ways to contribute. Danny Amendola? Who knew?
In fact, Devaney could sense something positive happening with this squad back when they lost the season opener to Arizona. When the players returned to the locker room after that game, they weren't casually dressing and thinking about their postgame plans. They were muttering under their breath and cursing a defeat they possibly could've prevented. For the first time in years, the Rams weren't willing to accept that they weren't good enough to compete.
"I started to think things could be different after that loss because the whole team was pissed off," Devaney said. "That was a different feeling than what we've had here in the past. There were times when I thought we went into games thinking we didn't have a chance at winning. But that reaction told me that things were getting better."
That transformation has plenty to do with the blueprint that Devaney and second-year head coach Steve Spagnuolo have laid out for this team. To disinfect an acknowledged culture of losing -- the Rams had gone 20-60 in five seasons after 2004, the year of their last playoff appearance -- the team has emphasized adding players with successful backgrounds. It suddenly mattered more that a kid had come from a winning program when he entered the NFL. It was just as big if that same kid had been part of a strong tradition in high school.
The whole idea, as far as the Rams were concerned, was that talent only took a team so far in a rebuilding effort. There had to be legitimate buy-in from the players too. It wasn't enough for them to understand that they'd face some adversity if they wanted to change the future for this franchise. They had to believe that bad times don't last forever and that they're simply something you push through to reach where you want to go.
Along with adding gifted players who understand that philosophy -- men like Bradford, defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis -- it helps that the Rams are building this team from the inside out. They easily could've selected a quarterback with the second overall pick in last year's draft. Instead, the team established the foundation for a solid offensive line by signing a valuable free agent last offseason (center Jason Brown) and drafting an athletic left tackle (Jason Smith). Those decisions have helped make life easier for Bradford to produce a year that should make him the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year.
That's not to say it wasn't a risky move for a franchise whose finest days came during "The Greatest Show on Turf" era. It's just that it's hard to argue with the logic at the moment.
"I don't feel validated by what's been happening because we never doubted we were doing the right thing," said Devaney, who assumed his position in December 2008. "We understood that the success of this franchise in the past was based on a different style of football and that we were putting this together in a more mundane way. But as long as we're ahead at the end of games, that's all fans really care about."
Of course, Devaney realizes that his team still has plenty to prove. Nobody around the Rams is thinking that being one game under .500 is a reason for opponents to beware. The Rams have clawed their way to the top of the league's weakest division this year. If they're going to stay there, they'll have to beat the AFC West-leading Chiefs this Sunday before facing division rivals San Francisco and Seattle in the final two games.
Serious playoff contenders understand the value of not looking ahead in the schedule. Right now, it's hard to know whether the Rams can avoid such temptations and the subsequent risk that comes with acting on them.
What is not in question is that they control their postseason fate at a time when most people expected them to be long since forgotten. Regardless of how they end up, that's an indication that they're definitely moving in the right direction.
Re: Blue Print For Turnaround
this is the stupidest thing i've ever read!!
That was a different feeling than what we've had here in the past. There were times when I thought we went into games thinking we didn't have a chance at winning. But that reaction told me that things were getting better.