Rams raise the ante for upcoming season ..
By STEVE PORTER The Telegraph
The St. Louis Rams are running through some workouts this week and they are excited about that. And they should be enthused. The expectations are greater and the Rams should be playing for higher stakes, not the crumbs left over from the league’s high-profile power players.
The Rams are no longer helpless urchins adrift in the NFL high seas. They should be a legit player in the NFC West that includes dealing with the formidable San Francisco *****. In case you forgot, the Rams went 1-0-1 against the Niners last season.
St. Louis finished 7-8-1 and while that was good enough for 2012 in coach Jeff Fisher’s first season, hovering around .500 isn’t going to start a parade down Washington Avenue. If the Rams consider themselves a quality team and a classy organization, then they need to be judged that way.
Let’s take off the gloves and forget about that five-year stretch when they sank to 15-65 and were considered among the league doormats.
Fisher is attempting to remake the Rams in his image and he’s counting on offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and new defensive coordinator Tim Walton to lead the restyling. They are on board for major improvement.
“I’m excited with the way the guys are working,” Schottenheimer said. “We had a great off-season and that speaks to Les Snead (GM) and Jeff Fisher are the whole organization and their commitment. I understand why Sam Bradford has a smile on his face for a lot of reasons.”
Walton added, “It’s going good. I have a great group of guys and a veteran staff. The guys are experienced so they have made my adjustment pretty easy.
“There’s a lot of leadership on the team.”
Enter Bradford. The quarterback is the point guy in the team’s scheme. Fisher figures to lean on him more than ever this season and Bradford is warming to shouldering more responsibilities.
“He’s always had that (leadership) ability,” Fisher said, “but you saw things pick up the middle part of the season last year as he became more familiar with what he was doing and his teammates. He’s done a great job with that.”
Bradford sees his role as making sure the young talent develops, including the corps of wide receivers, including newcomer Jared Cook and top draft pick Tavon Austin.
“I’ve been really impressed by some of the young guys that we’ve had — Tavon (Austin), Stedman (Bailey) — thought they’ve done a great job. We’re asking them to play a lot of different positions right now.
“Of course, there’s still mistakes, but for the most part they’ve been extremely sharp. The chemistry, I think, is really coming along. We put some time in after practice together and obviously the more reps we’ve gotten together on the field in practice, things have really started to click.”
That’s what Fisher wants to hear from Bradford. If he’s entrusting the keys to his fourth-year quarterback, then he wants him to take charge on all fronts.
“Sam took it upon himself to get the guys together numerous times before we started,” Fisher said.
Steven Jackson is gone and Isaiah Pead will serve a one-game suspension, so Darryl Richardson has an opportunity to prove that he should be the main man running the ball. His ability to embrace that role and Fisher’s plan to use him more might make Richardson the guy to watch the most — even more than Austin — during the preseason.
How will the offense change?
“I wouldn’t say more pass-happy, but it’s definitely going to be a different offense,” Bradford said. “I think if you look at the speed we have now compared to the speed we’ve had in past years, we have significantly more speed this year. Obviously with Steven gone, we don’t have a big, physical running back. The running backs we have now are a little smaller, but they’re quicker in space.
“I don’t know if it means if we’re going to throw the ball more. I’d be fine with that. I would definitely think we’d probably move more to the one-back world, spread people out. I think that’s probably the direction we’re going.”
Bradford added, “For the most part it’s the same. I think the installs have gone a lot faster. Last year, which was Year 1, you really have to start with the basics, with everything. You start with formations. I mean, everything is very simple and then you build your way into third down, red zone, the different situations that you get into during a game.
“We need to be better on third down and we need to be better in the money zone.”
Or just better, period. That’s the challenge this season.