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    Burwell: Deal Shows Rams Are On Track

    Burwell: Deal shows Rams are on track

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    If you are among those who still believe the best way to see any hint of progress coming out of Earth City is with a hard squint, then you are clearly missing the point of how much things have actually changed around Rams Park in the short space of 12 months.

    A year ago, the Rams were embarking on a new NFL season with an unproven rookie coach at the helm of a sorry, no-account roster so lacking in talent that the early-season dives into pro football's waiver-wire discard bin were greeted with giddy approval from a fatigued fan base. Flip the page to today, and what do you see? Steve Spagnuolo has a year under his belt as a head coach and he enters this 2010 season without any of those unsure steps of a neophyte. A year ago, everything was an unproven experiment. Now he knows what works and what doesn't work.

    But here's something else that's an obvious change from a year ago: There's grumbling among chat-room denizens who somehow feel unsatisfied that general manager Billy Devaney's Monday afternoon trade for veteran wide receiver Mark Clayton, a former first-round draft pick with a modest track record as an NFL playmaker, was lacking in the "wow" factor.

    A year ago, the average football fan in this town knew that the Rams roster was so totally

    lacking in talent that anything that was new was considered better just because it wasn't what was already here. So as Devaney spent the first few weeks of last season churning the bottom of his roster, snagging bodies off other teams' practice squads and holding weekly auditions for a steady stream of unemployed street free agents, you could understand that the objectives were the modest renovations of a talent-poor locker room.

    Now things have changed a bit. Even after a 1-15 season, the Rams roster looks decidedly better than the one that was in place at the start of last season. There's a franchise-quality quarterback in the starting lineup (Sam Bradford), an offensive line that is healthy and motivated to keep the kid upright and safe and a star running back (Steven Jackson) who will still carry the offensive load, and maybe even a rookie tight end who might turn into a very reliable receiving weapon (Michael Hoomanawanui).

    Bradford's presence raises expectations, and that's the way it should be. And new owner Stan Kroenke provides the wherewithal to realize those higher expectations. If there are free agents to be signed, you now know that there won't be any budgetary limitations to slow things down.

    So those new expectations have a lot of people believing that the Rams are closer to being a competitive football team now than at any time in the last five seasons. Those expectations mean the arrow is pointing up for this franchise, and maybe just maybe that's why Devaney feels like he no longer has to limit his in-season renovations to the last 10 or 12 spots on the roster.

    The Clayton trade is not a move that simply upgrades the back end of the 53-man roster. Clayton is expected to be an immediate-impact starting wide receiver. He will be in uniform Sunday for the Arizona Cardinals - and you can bet he will be fast-tracked this week to be a serious weapon in the passing game almost immediately, if not sooner.

    "He's been in big games, comes from a great organization," Devaney said. "He has a good work ethic... We have some young guys that we're really high on (at wide receiver). But we're looking for a guy who has played, lined up and made plays in the NFL."

    Clayton ought to be that guy. He's not a star, but he is a guy who has shown in his five years in the NFL that he can be a reliable deep threat (nine career 100-yard games).

    And he's not anyone's project. He's not someone you have to project could do the job if given the chance (see: Brandon Gibson). He's someone who has played in the NFL and established some degree of success (averaging 17 yards a catch two years ago, nearly 14 yards a catch for his career).

    Adding Clayton immediately addresses one of the most obvious deficiencies on the roster, but not all of them. The punch-out list for this rebuilding project is still a very, very long one. But if the '10 draft and free agent class proves to be as productive as it is promising, then maybe Devaney's in-season shopping list won't be as long as we think it should be. But that can't stop the GM from looking.

    The roster renovations will probably cease for the rest of this week, because as Devaney says, at some point you have to concentrate on the job at hand - which is trying to win that first game of the regular season. But the minute Sunday's game with the Cardinals is done, the renovation work better commence again.

    There are still lots of gaps to fill, but for the first time in ages, it no longer seems like an impossible mission, just a difficult one.

  2. #2
    rNemesis's Avatar
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    Re: Burwell: Deal Shows Rams Are On Track

    Sick and tired of hearing this "pre game prognostications from these type of people

    Just bring the Cards on Sunday so we can see how our team looks

    Looking forward to week1 Im tired of hearing all these inspirational documentaries and other crap ; just bring on the season already!!!!!

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