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PD: 10 Rams questions entering training camp
10 Rams questions entering training camp
9 hours ago
By Jim Thomas
With the start of Rams training camp this week, we’ll begin to get the answers to several questions surrounding the 2013 season:
1. Boom or bust for Bradford?
Not really. But this could be a defining year for Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. Will he take another step towards becoming a franchise quarterback? Or is he destined for less — maybe only a “pretty good” QB?
For the first time as a pro, Bradford has the same coordinator and the same offense. The front office did its best to upgrade his supporting cast during the offseason, adding Pro Bowl left tackle Jack Long and speedy tight end Jared Cook in free agency, and then trading up for dynamic wide receivers Tavon Austin and West Virginia teammate Stedman Bailey in the draft.
2. Young guns: Can the wideouts progress quickly?
At the ripe old age of 25, Austin Pettis finds himself the graybeard of the WR corps with all of two years NFL experience. Pettis was impressive during OTAs, but is he really a starting caliber WR? That’s where he was at the end of the spring practice along with second-year man Chris Givens and rookie Tavon Austin in three-receiver sets.
Where does that leave Brian Quick, who continued to flash big-play ability on the practice field but with periods of inconsistency? Wideouts frequently make a big jump between Year 1 and Year 2, so keep an eye on Givens. But it can be tough-sledding for rookies.
3. Who replaces Steven Jackson?
There is no position more unsettled than running back as the Rams enter their first season in a decade minus Jackson. When all is said and done Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, rookie Zac Stacy, and even “The Sandwich-Maker” (Terrance Ganaway) could end up with the starting job. And don’t discount rookie free agent Benjamin Cunningham if healthy.
Because the Rams invested a second-round pick in Pead, he will be given every opportunity to win the job even though he’ll miss the opener due to a one-game NFL suspension. He still has much to prove. No matter what it will likely be a committee approach anyway.
4. Will Schotty open it up?
One of the main points of emphasis during the offseason was adding speed, explosiveness, and playmaking ability on offense. That all points to a more wide-open, daring, pass-oriented approach, which is counter to what coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has done most of his NFL career. (Not to mention ground-oriented head coach Jeff Fisher.)
Making the most out of a talented, but extremely inexperienced group of skill-position players is the challenge. Does Schottenheimer have the creativity to make it happen? He should, based on his time spent with Steve Spurrier way back when as a backup QB at Florida.
5. What about Kendricks?
The Rams paid a premium to land Jared Cook in free agency in a recruiting battle with Miami. He is one of the NFL’s fastest tight ends and undoubtedly will be a focal point on offense.
But what about Lance Kendricks, who showed noticeable improvement last season as a pass-catcher? What’s his role? Will the Rams go to the kind of two-tight end approach used so successfully in New England? Will Kendricks line up more in the backfield, as he did on occasion last season, proving to be an effective lead blocker? The spring practice period provided no clues with Kendricks sidelined following knee surgery.
6. What’s my line?
The Rams could have their best offensive line since the days of the Greatest Show on Turf. Left tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells have Pro Bowl on their resumes. Right guard Harvey Dahl and tackle Rodger Saffold have above-average talent.
But can this veteran group stay healthy? All four blockers missed time with injuries in 2012, so this is a feast-or-famine unit. Stay healthy and flourish? Or suffer injuries and struggle? Saffold must make the transition to right tackle — he was against the move after the Long signing. Left guard remains up for grabs with Chris Williams the frontrunner entering camp.
7. What can we expect on defense?
The Rams tied for the league lead in sacks a year ago, scored five defensive touchdowns, and flirted with top 10 status in total defense. They did that all without a coordinator, complements of the suspended Gregg Williams.
This year the Rams actually have a coordinator in young, fast-rising Tim Walton, who Jeff Fisher tried to hire a year earlier. Will there be many tweaks to the scheme? More blitzes? Less “off” coverage by the cornerbacks? We’ll see. The preseason may not reveal much. Obviously, Fisher will be involved as well as assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, so there should be much continuity.
8. How much impact by Ogletree?
The Rams were ecstatic to grab linebacker Alec Ogletree late in the first round of the 2013 draft. No one doubts his athleticism. He can run and chase and make big plays. But there were mixed reviews on Ogletree coming out of Georgia. Some questioned his football instincts; some questioned his ability to take on blockers. And then there were the off-field issues that cost him playing time in college.
Other than safety, there is no other position as vital to getting this defense to elite level than outside linebacker. Specifically, Ogletree’s spot at outside linebacker. He needs to be a quick study.
9. Set at safety?
Maybe, maybe not. After spending most of the 2012 season on the bench, a starting spot was all but handed to Darian Stewart after starters Craig Dahl (free agent) and Quintin Mikell (released) left in the offseason. But as was the case during training camp in 2012, Stewart couldn’t stay healthy this spring. Rodney McLeod got better in May and June, as did rookie draft pick T.J. McDonald. Stewart didn’t; he wasn’t on the field.
If Stewart can stay healthy and stay on the field during training camp and the preseason, his hard-hitting style could add some bite at safety. If not, this could be a problem position.
10. Is this the year for the return game?
At some point in our lifetimes, the Rams will have a dynamic, feared return game — the type that can flip field position in the blink of an eye or even put points on the scoreboard. But it’s been a while. A long while. The annual search for pop on kickoff and punt retuns begins anew with training camp.
Can the Rams finally find some answers this year? Tavon Austin? He certainly did some damage on returns in college. Janoris Jenkins? He got a look on punt returns last year, but his ball security is sketchy. Chris Givens? One of the running backs? They are all prospects — or is it suspects — until proven otherwise.
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Re: PD: 10 Rams questions entering training camp
I only have one question. Will this team build upon the foundation set last year and show continued improvement?
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