Rams' youth sets up nicely for positive future ..
By Howard Balzer
When Rams fans enter the Edward Jones Dome Sunday for the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals, everyone will be handed a rally towel.
That is a fortuitous decision, considering those towels could also be used to burp all the young players that will hopefully be flying around the Field-Turf surface.
The roster makeover by coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead since they came to St. Louis in Jan. 2012 is nothing short of remarkable. However, what is most notable is Fisher's commitment to playing the young guys.
It's one thing to draft or sign them as undrafted free agents. It's quite another to commit to them with the confidence they will learn quickly and contribute to winning.
On the day after the draft last year, after selecting kicker Greg Zuerlein and knowing that punter Johnny Hekker would be signed as a free agent, Fisher was asked if he was concerned about entering the season with two rookie kickers.
Without much explanation and a shrug, Fisher said no. That was the same reaction recently when he was asked whether there was concern about the young running backs corps.
Just how young is this Rams team? On the current 53-man roster, there are 12 rookies, five of whom weren't drafted. There are 14 second-year players, and six of those weren't drafted. Throw in running back Chase Reynolds and guard Brandon Washington, who could be considered rookies because they haven't played in regular-season games, that's 28 players that have played one season or less in the NFL.
Add in third-year players, and the Rams have 33 with two years or less of experience. And that youth is spread throughout the roster. Of those 33, there are 15 on offense, 15 on defense plus Zuerlein, Hekker and long snapper Jake McQuaide.
The oldest running back is the 25-year-old Reynolds, who is hoping to be active for his first NFL game Sunday. Daryl Richardson, Bennie Cunningham and the suspended Isaiah Pead are 23, while Zac Stacy is 22.
At wide receiver, Austin Pettis is 25, Brian Quick 24, Chris Givens 23 with Tavon Austin and Chris Givens coming in at 22. The "old man" of the skill-position group is ancient 26-year-old tight end Jared Cook.
On defense, four of the linebackers are rookies and six of the 10 defensive backs have one year of experience or less.
Expectations are all over the chart for the Rams. Realistically, it will likely take some time for them to come together as a team and consistently create the difference-making plays in the fourth quarter that separates winners from losers in the NFL.
But when they do, and it will happen, this team is set up for the long haul as it gets better every day, every week and every season.
It won't be long before burping won't be necessary and the training wheels come off.