Rams Team Report
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Inside Slant

Bradford makes good progress in third NFL season

Frequently during the 2012 season, it would be mentioned that the rams were one of the youngest teams in the NFL. The truth is, there is very little difference in the average age of many teams.

However, in the Rams' case, the young players were significant contributors. There were 16 rookies on the final 53-man roster and 11 were active for the regular-season finale.

Most important, of the 22 starters, six were in their third season or less, and their kicker, punter and long snapper have no more than two years of experience.

In addition, the Rams now have an extra first-round pick from Washington in each of the next two drafts.

Said coach Jeff Fisher, "There was a lot to learn from a scheme standpoint, from a philosophical standpoint. How you practice, how you prepare, how you travel, those kinds of things. I think when things are all said and done, we've got a decent foundation from that standpoint."

Most important, after a second season derailed by a high ankle sprain, third-year quarterback Sam Bradford played every game and improved across the board even though he was in his third different offense.

Said Bradford, "Last year was extremely frustrating for me, probably one of the hardest years I've had at any level of sports having to sit out as many games as I did. So to be able to make it through this year completely healthy and play all 16, that's something I hope I can continue to do and not miss any games."

As for how important it will be to be in the same system in 2013, he said, "You have no idea. I'm extremely excited about the future of this team and this organization. Hopefully for the first time since I've been here, we'll come back with the same staff, the same offense and just be able to build on what we were able to do this year.

"It's not easy changing offenses and changing systems. I really like what we're doing. I really like Schotty (offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) and what he was able to do this year. Hopefully he's back, hopefully this whole staff is back and we can just fine-tune everything and start working on the little things."

Fisher, who agreed to coach the Rams a year ago largely because of the presence of Bradford, was pleased with his play.

"I thought Sam played well," Fisher said. "I thought Sam got better as the year went on. He had a much better feel for opponents, much better feel for what we were doing. We asked him to do a lot more stuff on the line of scrimmage."

Of the importance of the being in the same system, Fisher concluded, "It'd be the first time in his career where he'll come back in the offseason program and be looking at the same playbook. That helps. That's helpful. We're not going to change things here. We're only going to do things to help him get better. We turned a lot over to him (against Seattle in the season finale) in the no-huddle and on the line of scrimmage. You can see us moving down that path with him and in order to do so, you have to maintain continuity."


Notes & Quotes

•The Rams and running back Steven Jackson made an adjustment in his contract Dec. 29 that moves the final year of signing bonus proration of $1.899 million from 2013 to the current league year. The 2013 league year begins March 12.

In the previous Sept. 8 renegotiation, the final year of his contract at $7 million would void if he was on the Rams roster five days after the Feb. 3 Super Bowl.

The most recent maneuver removes any roster requirement for the possible void and provides Jackson with sole control of the void. That allows the acceleration of the proration.

However, there is no actual savings against the 2013 cap because unused cap space from 2012 carries over to the following year. Prior to the move with Jackson, the Rams had about $2.14 million in salary cap space.

For now, Jackson's salary remains $7 million for 2013. He has said he expects the Rams and his agent to talk and hopefully come to terms on a new contract. The Rams likely want to reduce his salary and cap charge of $7 million for 2013.

During an appearance on NFL Network Jackson reiterated that he believes an agreement will occur that will have him back with the Rams next season.

Jackson said, "We're going to sit down in this next coming month in February. Both sides have been very first-class about how we handle the situation. We're going to talk about my possibilities, where I want to go and does it fit. I believe we'll get everything resolved before March."

If things don't work out with the Rams, Jackson said, "It's a possibility for me to go into free agency and hopefully seek out that Lombardi Trophy."

If he doesn't like what he is being offered, retirement is not out of the question. Jackson said, "Or even possibly going out like Barry Sanders. I've always admired that about Mr. Sanders."

•The Rams had nine different offensive linemen start games at 11 different positions, with only right tackle Barry Richardson starting all 16 games at the same position. Rob Turner started 16 games with nine at center and seven at left guard.

At left tackle, Rodger Saffold started 10 games, Wayne Hunter four and Joe Barksdale two. Scott Wells started seven games at center, Harvey Dahl started 14 games at right guard and Shelley Smith started four at left guard and two at right guard. Quinn Ojinnaka, no longer with the team, started five games at left guard before being released for the second time.

Three other players - tackle Ty Nsekhe and guards Chris Williams and Rokevious Watkins played during games.

As for how he held things together, line coach Paul Boudreau told the Post-Dispatch, "You're going into the regular season, and we cut Ojinnaka, and two weeks later he's starting. My big thing was don't panic. Keep on working.

"You better have the next guy ready to play. You gotta be ready to play, and when you come into a meeting you can't have an off-day. To their credit, these guys, they drank the Kool-Aid."

•The Rams forced 17 fumbles during the 2012 season and recovered only four, a league low ratio of 4.25. Only six teams forced fewer fumbles and only Indianapolis, with three, had fewer recoveries. The only other team with a ratio higher than 4.0 was Philadelphia (21/5, 4.20).

The league average is about 2/1 (2.06) with 21.2 forced fumbles and 10.3 recoveries. The Patriots led the league with 42 forced fumbles and 21 recoveries, while the Bears had 35 forced fumbles and 20 recoveries.

Quote To Note:

"Sam has all the attributes to be a great leader, a great quarterback in this league and you see year in and year out he is progressing. The major thing now that we want to build is consistency around him, give him something with not so much turnover as far as offensive play-calling and offensive coordinators. Once he gets settled in, we will truly see what we see day in and day out on the practice field on game day." - RB Steven Jackson on QB Sam Bradford.


Strategy and Personnel

Unit-by-unit Analysis

Quarterbacks:

Starter - Sam Bradford. Backups - Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis.

The quarterback is always the most scrutinized of any play, and it is even more so with Bradford because he was the last of the overall No. 1 picks to hit the jackpot with his contract, and because of the success of Robert Griffin in Washington, given that the Rams traded the pick last April that allowed the Redskins to make that choice. Bradford had a productive season, passing for 3,702 yards and 21 touchdowns while learning his third offense in three seasons. His passer rating of 82.6 was up from his first two years, and he led several important fourth-quarter drives. Clemens took one snap, but his familiarity with coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense helped Bradford. Davis, a rookie free agent, showed promise in the preseason.

Running Backs:

Starter - Steven Jackson. Backups - Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Terrence Ganaway.

Jackson reached 1,000 yards for the eighth consecutive season (1,042) and became the 27th player in history to rush for 10,000 yards in a career. He also had 38 receptions for 321 yards. The question is whether Jackson, who will be 30 next July, will agree on a new contract or become a free agent by voiding the final year of his deal. Jackson rushed for 639 yards over the last eight games and was a leader on and off the field. He also helped the development of rookies Richardson and Pead. Richardson, a seventh-round pick, wrested the backup job away from second-round pick Pead with a strong training camp. He started fast, but ended slow, while running for 475 yards. The Rams haven't lost faith in Pead, but the 2013 season will be a crucial one for him. Ganaway is also viewed as a potential prospect.

Tight Ends:

Starter - Lance Kendricks. Backups - Matthew Mulligan, Mike McNeill, Cory Harkey.

Kendrick overcame a shaky rookie season to show steady improvement all season as a receiver and blocker. He ended up tied for third on the team with 42 receptions, and averaged 12.4 yards per catch with four touchdowns. That average was helped by a 80-yard touchdown jaunt against Tampa Bay. Mulligan and McNeill were solid blockers, while Harkey was promoted late in the season from the practice squad and showed promise.

Wide Receivers:

Starters - Danny Amendola, Chris Givens. Backups - Brandon Gibson, Austin Pettis, Brian Quick, Steve Smith.

Amendola has to figure out a way to stay on the field. After missing 15 games in 2011, he was out another five in 2012, and missed time in several others. He still wound up leading the team with 63 receptions, but is scheduled for unrestricted free agency and there might be difficulty assessing his value. Givens displayed the ability to get downfield and had five plays of at least 50 yards, while averaging 16.6 yards per catch on 42 receptions. A fourth-round pick, he made a bigger impact than second-rounder Brian Quick, who caught just 11 balls all season. Rams coaches remain confident his second year in the system will lead to a much larger role in 2013. Pettis missed the first two games of the season because of a league suspension, but made several big plays. He had four touchdowns on just 30 receptions. Smith was a big disappointment, with just 14 receptions and being inactive for seven games. He is unlikely to be back in 2013.

Offensive Linemen:

Starters - LT Rodger Saffold, LG Rob Turner, C Scott Wells, RG Harvey Dahl, RT Barry Richardson. Backups - T Wayne Hunter, T Joe Barksdale, G Shelley Smith, G Chris Williams, C Tim Barnes. Injured reserve: G Rokevious Watkins.

The line came together down the stretch after Wells returned from a knee injury suffered in the season opener and Saffold came back after missing six games because of a knee injury. Dahl did miss the final two games of the season because of a torn biceps. Turner was solid all season, opening the year at left guard, moving to center when Wells was injured and going back to left guard when Wells returned. Richardson was solid and better than many expected, but it's still possible the Rams will look for an upgrade. Hunter was a solid backup, starting four games when Saffold was out, and Barskdale, picked up on waivers from Oakland, started two when Hunter suffered a back injury. Smith got some starts and Williams played some at the end of the season when Dahl was hurt. Watkins could be a wild card in 2013. He reported to offseason workouts out of shape, and suffered a season-ending high ankle sprain in the season opener. If he uses the upcoming offseason to get in condition, he could challenge for a starting job.

Defensive Linemen:

Starters - DLE Chris Long, DT Kendall Langford, DT Michael Brockers, DRE Robert Quinn. Backups - E William Hayes, E Eugene Sims, T Jermelle Cudjo, T Matt Conrath. Injured reserve: T Trevor Laws.

The Rams tied for the league lead with 52 sacks and the linemen accounted for 39, led by Long (11.5) and Quinn (10.5). The starters are still relatively young with Long and Langford having played five seasons. Quinn came on in his second season, while the rookie Brockers missed the first three games with a high ankle sprain, but came back and was stout against the run while adding 4.0 sacks. Depth was good with Hayes recording 7.0 sacks and Sims making plays as an end and tackle. Cudjo also contributed, while Conrath played in just one game.

Linebackers:

Starters - WLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, MLB James Laurinaitis, SLB Rocky McIntosh. Backups - OLB Mario Haggan, MLB Josh Hull, OLB Justin Cole, OLB Sammy Brown.

Laurinaitis and Dunbar were the best of the linebackers, piling up tackles. Each also had two interceptions. Dunbar was signed as a free agent and was helped by the fact he knew the defense. McIntosh started nine games and Haggan five on the strong side, but an upgraded could happen next season.

Defensive Backs:

Starters - CB Cortland Finnegan, CB Janoris Jenkins, SS Quintin Mikell, FS Craig Dahl. Backups - CB Trumaine Johnson, CB Bradley Fletcher, QB Quinton Pointer, S Darian Stewart, S Rodney McLeod. Injured reserve: S Matt Daniels.

Jenkins was a big-play machine, especially in the second half of the season when he scored four touchdowns. His improved play came after being benched for the Nov. 11 game against San Francisco after missing curfew. He gambled often, but played more disciplined down the stretch. Finnegan was everything he was expected to be, helping bring a feistiness to the defense, and helping the young defensive backs. Johnson, a third-round pick, emerged first as the nickel back replacing Fletcher, and then starting late in the season when Finnegan was relegated to fewer snaps because of an ankle injury. Fletcher fell out of favor after a series of pass-interference penalties against New England, and he will be an unrestricted free agent. Mikell was solid all season, but will be 32 next season when his salary is scheduled to be $6 million. Dahl will also be a free agent, and might not be back. An upgrade at free safety is the one glaring need on defense. Stewart was slowed by injury in training camp and was never able to win a starting job. McLeod and Daniels made the team as undrafted free agents and could be in the mix next season. Daniels played just four games before being placed on injured reserve.

Special Teams:

K Greg Zuerlein, P Johnny Hekker, LS Jake McQuaide, KOR Chris Givens, PR Danny Amendola.

Zuerlein started off smoking making his first 15 field goals, but tailed off in the second half of the season, hitting just 8 of his last 16. However, six of the misses were from 50 yards or more. For the season, he was 7-for-13 from 50 yards or more. Hekker ended up with a solid 39.9-yard net and placed 22 of his 82 punts inside the 20. Givens had some moments with a 23.4-yard average and had a touchdown negated by a penalty. Amendola averaged just 7.2 yards on punts.