Bernie Bytes: Quick hits on Rams

BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I'm happy to be back from vacation. (Well, actually I'm not.) But with so much going on these days, it's fun to dive right in with some quick-hit opinions on STL sports.

For those who mewling over the Rams' decision to cut No. 3 quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, please permit me to run some names by you: Todd Bauman, Joey Harrington, Tyler Palko, Andre Woodson, Quinn Gray, Dan Orlovsky, Brett Ratliff, Ken Dorsey, Matt Flynn, Charlie Whitehurst, Stephen McGee, Luke McCown, J.T. O'Sullivan, Seneca Wallace, Jim Sorgi. What do the names on this list have in common? Answer: these are quarterbacks that finished among the top five annually in preseason passing since 2007. I like Lewis; he played very well this summer. But I also remember a lot of fans and media in our town swooning over Keith Null based on a few preseason games. Here's the deal: if Sam Bradford goes down with an injury, it won't matter. There's something to be said for having a veteran, coach-like backup to Bradford. And A.J. Feeley is that. But back to our list ... it tells us this: preseason games are frequently fool's gold.

Yes, for those who asked ... I would have kept WR Donnie Avery. But seeing that (A) he wasn't claimed by another team, and (B) he indicated that he wanted a change in location, I'm not worked up about it. It's just not something that's causing a flare-up of my acid reflux.

An observation on WRs and Rams GM Billy Devaney: he seems to be better at finding the hidden gems or trading for the wideouts than he is at drafting them. Devaney signed Danny Amendola off a practice squad, traded for Brandon Gibson, traded for Mark Clayton and took a chance on signing Danario Alexander. Devaney also signed street free agent WRDominique Curry, who has made the season-opening 53-man roster for the second consecutive season. Devaney (who was working for Jay Zygmunt and Scott Linehan at the time) invested a No. 2 draft choice in Avery. He spent a fourth-rounder on the Mardy Gilyard in 2010; Gilyard did little before getting released Saturday. And obviously it's too soon to know about the two WRs drafted this year, Austin Pettis and Greg Salas. But Pettis, a third-rounder, didn't do much in the four preseason games -- not that it mattered much. And it shouldn't. You don't draft a guy in the third round and then cut him after four preseason games -- especially in 2011, amid the chaos of a truncated offseason. Frankly I was surprised that so many people really believed that Pettis was in danger of getting cut.

Drafting WRs isn't easy. It's become more and more of a crapshoot. Avery was the first wideout chosen in 2008. I really liked the pick at the time and won't pretend otherwise. It's easy to say now that the Rams screwed up by not takingDeSean Jackson, but in '08 Zygmunt and Linehan and Devaney were very public in their desire to add so-called character players, and Jackson made 'em nervous. And the Rams' contingent wasn't alone; six WRs were picked before D. Jackson in 2008. And the 2008 draft table is loaded with busts at the WR position. Jackson, so far, is the only star to emerge from that WR class. There were some decent picks. Guys that contribute including Mario Manningham, Pierre Garcon, Jordy Nelson, Earl Bennett, Early Ducet, etc. If you want to crack on Devaney and the Rams for missing on Avery, that's fair game. But this position continues to baffle most of the people that do the drafting.

The 2011 Rams really are the product of GM Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo. If things go sour, there's no one else to blame. Only nine of the opening-day 53 players were Rams before the Devaney-Spags team took over in 2009. The opening 53 includes 15 players drafted by Devaney-Spags. And if you want to include the 2008 draft -- which was impacted by Devaney's influence-- the count would be 18 draft picks on the current roster.

The Rams' signing of free-agent OLB Zac Diles and his subsequent release after never escaping third-string status ... confusing all the way around. I'm not really ripping the decision to sign Diles; I liked it at the time because of his athletic ability. And he was said to be an aggressive tackler. But in their final roster decisions, the Rams made it clear that they put a premium on players who could excel at specific roles, whether it be a WR (Curry) that shined on special teams or a couple of LBs that could be used in coverage on passing downs. And Spagnuolo was willing to sacrifice some athletic ability if it meant being able to fine-tune some of the more low-key but important working parts. And that's a sound approach for a team that expects to win a division in 2011.

Yes, I think the Rams can beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. The Eagles will be a much better team later in the season. Right now they're trying to firm up a lot of areas. The offensive line is in transition, there's a young front seven on defense, and new defensive coordinator (Juan Castillo) calling the shots even though he's never worked on the defensive side of the ball before. It's a clear opportunity for the Rams to take advantage of the situation. Who will shadow Eagles QB Michael Vick? I don't know, but I guess we can expect the baseball Cardinals to complain about it.

That's all I have for now.

Thanks for reading ...

-Bernie