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Five areas of curiosity about 2010 Rams ..
Bernie Miklasz Thursday, July 29, 2010 12:15 am
Season Two of the Billy Devaney/Steve Spagnuolo administration officially begins today with the opening of training camp at Rams Park. You could say the Rams have an opportunity to improve after going 1-15 and getting outscored 436-175 last season.
This wasn't a rebuilding project; it's been more like a toxic-spill cleanup, a complete razing and then a difficult period of reconstruction that's still in progress. This was worse than having an expansion team because expansion teams don't have a massively clogged salary cap as the Rams did until Kevin Demoff got the payroll in order in 2009.
Here are the five things that I'm most curious about at the start of this camp:
1. Is Sam the Man?
How long must we pass the time until discovering whether Bradford was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick? Sam the Ram has many positives: intelligence, a history of sharp passing accuracy, work ethic, admirable character, a capable right arm. How soon will he be given an opportunity to air it out? Will the Rams take an overly cautious approach and keep Bradford sealed away in bubblewrap? Or will Bradford be placed in command of the offense by the regular-season opener Sept. 12?
This will be a fascinating experience, to watch Bradford grow and see him try to overcome the inevitable challenges. We will fear for his physical safety. The Rams will be investing tens of millions of dollars in Bradford; fans will invest their hopes and dreams. He is the identity of the new Rams. And the future of the franchise rests in his right palm.
2. The big money men
The Rams have spent lavishly in their attempts to form a strong offensive line. Center Jason Brown and guard Jacob Bell were expensive free agents. Left tackle Jason Smith was the No. 2 overall pick in 2009. Right tackle Rodger Saffold was the 33rd overall selection in this year's draft. And Smith and Saffold are pulling in big money. The O-line has been the personal project of Devaney. It's been an area of intense focus by the GM. Will the heavy push of dollars pay off? The 2009 Rams averaged only 10.9 points per game and scored only 16 touchdowns on offense. For this offense to take off, the two most important playmakers, Bradford and running back Steven Jackson, need to have an elite unit of bodyguards come through for them.
Here's a related question: Will the coaches allow the talent to flow? Spagnuolo demonstrated excellent leadership skill in holding a fragile, beaten-down team together in 2009. But the rookie coach and his staff had a tendency to hold some of the more talented players back last season. Rookie middle linebacker James Laurinaitis was an exception; he started immediately. But the coaches were overly cautious with Jason Smith. They didn't always start — or give a large number of snaps — to defensive end Chris Long, the No. 2 overall pick in 2008. Rookie cornerback Bradley Fletcher, a third-round pick, proved to be a gifted talent. But he started only three of the first seven games before suffering a season-ending injury.
Look, when a bad team is in position to select elite draft picks, the kids have to play, have to produce. It will be interesting to see how soon (or late) Spagnuolo will go all in on Bradford, Saffold, cornerback Jerome Murphy, slot receiver Mardy Gilyard and other rookies. They can't improve and do their part to transform the Rams by clapping on the sideline. It's foolish for a team that's low on talent to suppress talent.
3. The crowded house at WR
This is a football version of "The Apprentice," or maybe "Big Brother" or "Survivor." Lots of applicants and aspirations. Lots of bodies packed in the receivers' meeting room. Lots of questions about who will make the cut. And can any of these guys emerge as game-changing receivers? The roll call: Danny Amendola, Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Dominique Curry, Brooks Foster, Brandon Gibson, Gilyard, Jordan Kent, Brandon McRae, Laurent Robinson. Good luck, gentlemen. Run those routes and hang onto the football.
4. Where's the pass rush?
The Rams had only 25 sacks last season and forced only 20 turnovers. There is a glaring need for a more disruptive brand of defense. Spagnuolo routinely whipped up a pass-rush fenzy while coordinating the New York Giants' Super Bowl-champion defense, so we know he's capable of concocting an attack. But he also needs talent to work with. Leonard Little may retire (he hasn't decided) and there isn't an established pass-rush bully on the premises. Devaney and Spagnuolo drafted three rookie defensive ends — Hall Davis, Eugene Sims, George Selvie — and are hoping that someone steps forward to generate a rush. Will this be Long's breakout season? Long played well late last season when the coaches finally set him free.
5. Meet the new boss
Stan Kroenke will likely be voted in as the Rams' owner by the start of the season. The franchise cannot move forward until new leadership takes over. Will Kroenke be a hands-on owner? Is he sold on Devaney and Spagnuolo? Will he be patient or restless? As the minority owner, Kroenke largely remained in the background and deferred to Georgia Frontiere and her children. Kroenke has been an assertive and decisive owner in Denver, with the NBA Nuggets and NHL Avalanche. And if approved by the other NFL owners, Kroenke will get a chance to reform a franchise that's gone 6-42 over the last three seasons. Kroenke has been waiting for more than 15 years for this. And he didn't get into this to lose.
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