Scouting the NFC West: A look at the Rams ..
BY JIM THOMAS Wednesday, July 20, 2011 2:15 pm
As the NFL lockout draws to a close, teams will have limited time to enact their offseason plans. This week, reporters from around the NFC West provide updates on the teams they cover. Here's our look at the Rams. For links to reports on Arizona, San Francisco, and Seattle, see below.
Rams lockout report
When it came to informal player workouts this offseason, the Rams covered just about every corner of the country. Cornerback Ron Bartell helped organize sessions in the Phoenix area, where he lives and trains for much of the offseason. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins got some of his fellow defensive linemen together for sessions in Florida. Quarterback Sam Bradford threw to receivers in Houston and Oklahoma. Offensive linemen began lifting and working out together at a fitness center in the St. Louis area way back in March. And more than 30 players attended practice sessions in late May at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., about a 10-minute drive from the team's year-round practice facility at Rams Park. One thing that stood out during the Lindenwood sessions was Bradford's emerging leadership skills. Not only was he more vocal and demonstrative, he was basically teaching the new offense to the receivers who were present. It's not as if Bradford didn't try to be a leader in 2010, but he was aware of his rookie status and respectful of the veterans in the locker room. The respect hasn't changed, but this is becoming Bradford's team, as should be the case with a franchise quarterback.
With the NFC West title and a playoff berth on the line in the 2010 season finale in Seattle, the Rams could muster only six points and 184 yards offense against a less-than-stellar Seahawks defense. If you polled Rams fans in the aftermath of that game, they almost certainly would've voted that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur must go. Shurmur went all right _ to Cleveland as the Browns' new head coach. In fairness, Shurmur's play calling was limited by personnel issues, and the overall conservative offensive philosophy of head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Which brings us to Josh McDaniels. The one-time "boy wonder" of Bill Belichick's New England Patriots, McDaniels crashed and burned as a head coach in Denver. But he has a bright offensive mind and a good reputation as a play caller. It was a bold move for the Rams, because McDaniels likes to take chances an d throw the ball downfield _ something that didn't happen too often last season in St. Louis. If the line can hold up and the receiving corps stays healthy and develops, Bradford could be the big beneficiary. With no minicamps and OTAs during the lockout, it has been impossible to get a read on how McDaniels will put his stamp on the St. Louis offense. That's about to change.
Rams rookie roles
-- DE Robert Quinn, Missouri (First round, No. 14). Arguably the best pass rusher in the draft not named Von Miller, the Rams were more than happy to see Quinn still on the board at 14. Had he not been suspended for the entire 2010 season for accepting illegal benefits, he would have been a sure top 10 pick, maybe even a top 5 selection. As a rookie, he will spell James Hall at right end and have one primary job: get after the quarterback.
-- TE Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin (Second round, No. 47). A surprise pick, Kendricks is a pass catcher first; a blocker second. He lacks the bulk to be an every down in-line blocker, but has good speed and hands, and should see plenty of action lining up on the wing, in the slot, and motioning out of the backfield.
-- WR Austin Pettis, Boise State (Third round, No. 78). Tired of seeing so many dropped passes in 2010, the Rams drafted sure-handed receivers with size. Pettis fits that bill, but lacks top-end speed, and did his best work in the slot in college.
-- WR Greg Salas, Hawaii (Fourth round, No. 112). Salas numbers were eye-popping in Hawaii's spread offense, but will that transfer over to the pros? Salas has decent size and excellent hands. Like Pettis, he was best in the slot in college.
-- S Jermale Hines, Ohio State (Fifth round, No. 158). With the release of Oshiomogho Atogwe, the "help wanted" sign is up at safety. At worst, the Rams need a fourth safety on the regular-season roster. Hines is more of a box safety, who is strong against the run and not shy of contact. His coverage skills need work.
-- CB Mikail Baker, Baylor (Seventh round, No. 216). You can never have enough corners, and the Rams could use a couple in depth positions behind their starters. Baker's surest avenue to making the roster is strong special teams play in the preseason. He has some return experience as well.
-- OLB Jabara Williams, Stephen F. Austin (Seventh round, No. 228). Highly productive at the Division I-AA level, Williams is undersized but speedy. The Rams need a starter at weakside linebacker, but Williams' best bet for playing time as a rookie is on special teams.
-- S Jonathan Nelson, Oklahoma (Seventh round, 229). A player to keep an eye on in camp, Nelson was so-so as a college cornerback, but showed range and playmaking skills when switched to safety at OU. He will be an undersized free safety in the NFL.
To-do list for when lockout ends
1. Launch the offense
Despite the informal offseason work done by Bradford and the receivers during the lockout, it wasn't the same as being out on the practice field during OTAs and minicamp with the coaching staff and the full squad. So the biggest question of camp is how quickly the Rams can assimilate McDaniels' system? Will McDaniels have to tone it done and simplify it some because of the lockout? Or can a still-young receiver corps get it down, and get it down quickly?
2. Receiving line
After drafting two wideouts and with the expected re-signing of Mark Clayton, there's quantity but not necessarily quality at the position. One of the biggest camp goals will be sorting through the candidates and deciding who fits where. About the only sure thing going in is Danny Amendola at slot receiver. Clayton, Donnie Avery, and Danario Alexander all are coming off knee surgeries in 2010. Who knows _ the Rams could pick up another WR in free agency.
3. Tight end, too
The depth chart here isn't as crowded as at wide receiver. Nonetheless, the Rams could have more candidates than job openings. That's assuming Daniel Fells, coming off a career year with 41 catches for 391 yards, re-signs as a free agent. If not, Billy Bajema will be the traditional in-line blocker, with rookie Kendricks and second-year man Michael Hoomanawanui doing most of the pass-catching at the position. Nagging ankle injuries prevented Hoomanawanui from having a surprisingly impressive rookie campaign.
4. Safety first
For the first time since the 2005 season, the Rams won't have Atogwe at free safety. The team released him in February rather than paying him an $8 million roster bonus, and he was picked up by Washington before the lockout rules went into effect. Whether it was forced fumbles or interceptions, Atogwe was adept at takeaways. Whether it's the safety position or not, someone must pick up the turnover slack on defense.
5. Laurinatis and...?
The Rams tried everyone but Rampage, the team mascot, at weakside linebacker last season. Larry Grant, Chris Chamberlain, David Vobora, and Bryan Kehl all got at least one start there in 2010. All four are expected back this season, with Chamberlain and Vobora tendered as restricted free agents, Grant tendered as an exclusive rights free agent, and Kehl already under contract. But this could be targeted position for the team in free agency as well.
WR Mark Clayton
CB Kevin Dockery
TE Daniel Fells
DT Gary Gibson
OG Adam Goldberg
DT Chris Hovan
TE Darcy Johnson
S Michael Lewis
WR Laurent Robinson
DT Clifton Ryan
TE Derek Schouman
OG Mark Setterstrom
(List based on four-year's experience needed for unrestricted free agency. In addition, CB Quincy Butler, RB Kenneth Darby, and LB Curtis Johnson were not tendered as restricted free agents.)