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Improving vision in Rams’ eye for talent

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  • Improving vision in Rams’ eye for talent

    12.31.2009 7:45 am
    Improving vision in Rams’ eye for talent
    By Andy Dapron

    Hello again to everyone out there in Rams Nation! I hope everyone is finding time and opportunity to enjoy this holiday season.

    The world can now join the Rams, as we are all now setting our sights on 2010. I don’t want to get too down on the Rams. We all know that General Manager Billy Devaney, Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo, and all the players and staffers on this Rams team are in the midst of a daunting climb from the bowels of the NFL. It was always going to take time and a massive infusion of talent to return the Rams to respectability, and eventually, glory.

    We just hoped it wouldn’t take this long, and that the Rams didn’t have this far to go, but they do. So, I am more than willing to be patient with Devaney, Spagnuolo, and the Rams braintrust as they try to rebuild the Rams’ engine one agonizing part at a time.

    But, that doesn’t make these games any easier to watch. I view these Rams with a “no pain, no gain” sort of outlook — I believe there is a lot to be gained from all the hardships the Rams are enduring now, but if ever there was a “pain” part of a rebuilding process, the Rams are mired in it. Make no mistake, it is painful to watch week after week as the Rams are buried beneath a mountain of injuries, a glaringly shallow depth chart, and poor execution.

    And, it’s difficult to even know who exactly to fault for the short-circuited play, or whether anybody should really be faulted at all (aside from the previous regime that dug the whole from which the Rams must now dig themselves out). After all, the Rams are playing the biggest bunch of newbies I’ve ever seen assembled on one field at the same time. I lost count of the number of times Sunday that one of the announcers used the word “rookie” in reference to a Rams player that was seeing significant action — a quarterback, a running back, a wide receiver, a corner… the list goes on. That’s without counting guys like WR/KR Danny Amendola and DE James Wyche who, even though they aren’t true rookies, are getting their first true taste of the NFL. With so many fresh faces, mistakes are bound to happen.

    But therein lies the beauty of this season for the Rams, and the thing that keeps us watching, even as the IR list, and the loss column, become more and more crowded. We are getting a good, long look at the young guys, and we’re seeing them in the context of the “real” NFL, too, not against another team’s third string running a watered-down, scaled-back playbook. That’s intriguing. Sure, we’re always hoping that we’ll be witness to that rare and long-awaited victory (I think… The whole “race for the top pick” thing sort of tempers the desire for the team to win…), but the most exciting aspect of Rams games these days is getting an extended look on some of the men on whose shoulders the franchise’s long-term future ultimately rests.

    Best of all, we can actually expect some of the players wearing the curly horns today to still be wearing them and making meaningful contributions a few years down the road. Of course, there will be ample roster turnover this offseason. That’s expected (and necessary) on the heels of a one- (or two-?) win season. However, a HUGE reason the Rams are suffering through these disappointing seasons now is because far too many young and inexperienced players have come and gone without making much of an impact on the team. Looking at the Rams now, that’s one trend I do not expect to continue. While I’m not about to declare the Rams’ various coaches, scouts, and front office people infallible. I think it’s safe to say the vision is improving in the team’s eye for talent.

    Take defensive end Chris Long, for example. Long was one of the bright spots in the latest demolition of the Rams, a 31-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Long recorded a sack, and applied consistent pressure to Kurt Warner (not that it slowed Kurt down any) in a game where he was forced to play every snap thanks to the absence of Leonard Little (knee injury) and James Hall (birth of his child — Congrats James!). He also had three tackles, including one breathtaking tackle for a four-yard loss in the second quarter in which he refused to allow Cardinals running back Beanie Wells to turn the corner. After a slow start that had fans questioning once again whether the Rams had erred with a high draft pick, Long’s production has picked up in recent weeks. He is starting to look worthy of the second overall pick the Rams spent on him last season.

    Long was the first top pick on which Devaney had significant input, and he is starting to pay dividends (and before I get a whole string of replies, no, Devaney wasn’t elevated to the GM position until the most recent offseason, but he absolutely influenced the draft and free agency in the 2008 offseason). If nothing else, it seems safe to say Long is going to work out a heck of a lot better than most of the other times the Rams tried to nab a d-lineman in the early rounds in recent history. Long is clearly leagues ahead of players like Claude Wroten, Anthony Hargrove, Jimmy Kennedy, Damione Lewis… I’m sure I’m forgetting some. I’ve tried to forget them all.

    The Long selection isn’t an aberration, either. While I know nobody will ever recommend judging a draft class after one season, I think a look at this year’s picks is enough to demonstrate that the Rams are doing a better job of finding players. The most recent Rams draft brought the team James Laurinaitis, whom most people expect will be a fixture at middle linebacker for the next decade. Bradley Fletcher, selected in the third round, was already developing into a solid corner before an injury against the Colts (by the way, I know Fletcher’s injury is serious, but I would encourage people not to give up hope that he will make it back. He is young, and more and more, players seem to be bouncing back from injuries that seem incredibly gruesome). Fourth rounder defensive tackle Darell Scott isw getting considerable playing time, and has shown the ability to hold his ground in the middle of the defense, something the Rams sorely need. Keith Null was selected in the sixth round, and despite being up-and-down in three starts, has worked his way into the quarterback conversation for next season. His exact role is yet to be determined, but even if Null settles into a backup role, that would be a good return on a sixth round pick. Seventh round selection running back Chris Ogbonnaya saw his first action in Arizona Sunday, and averaged five yards per carry helping to fill the void left by the ailing Steven Jackson. Lingering concussion symptoms also ended first-rounder Jason Smith’s season prematurely, but he has the tools to be a dominant offensive lineman.

    For argument’s sake, compare those guys with the players the Rams drafted in ‘07, the last draft before Devaney’s arrival. Only one of those players, fifth round selection DT Clifton Ryan, looks to be a “long-term” guy for the Rams. The top selection that year, defensive lineman Adam Carriker, had his season derailed by injury before it ever got started, so I’ll withhold judgment there. Second round pick Brian Leonard spent two years here as an average running back-fullback ‘tweener before being traded to the Bengals last offseason. Third rounder Jonathan Wade remains with the team for now, but he can’t get on the field, despite the fact that the Rams are in need of help at corner. The Rams other draft picks that year were center Dustin Fry, offensive tackle Ken Shackleford, defensive tackle Keith Jackson, and wide receiver Derek Stanley. Needless to say, their lockers at Rams park were given to somebody else a long time ago.

    I’ll take Devaney and Spagnuolo’s plans for the future over those of the previous regime any day.

  • #2
    Re: Improving vision in Rams’ eye for talent

    True. Our '09 draft HAS gave us many good players. All of them in fact, has contributed to this team, and all of them look to be on this team for a while.