St. Louis Rams 2013 Training Camp Preview
St. Louis Rams 2013 Training Camp Preview
Jeff Fisher proved that he can still re-invigorate squad by guiding the perennially terrible St. Louis Rams to a 7-8-1 record last season, including an impressive 2-1-1 mark against juggernauts San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. With defense being Fisher's specialty, it was critical that St. Louis' unit improved from 26th in scoring and 22nd in yards to 14th in each respect.
A young defense with good components at each level should only continue to improve under Fisher's guidance. However, the major question mark remains at the quarterback spot. 2010 first-rounder Sam Bradford hits a make-or-break year in 2013. Fortunately for Bradford, he finally enjoys some continuity in second-year Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
"There were times last year, I remember sitting in meetings, maybe [Schottenheimer] was really comfortable with a play because they had run it in the past and had success with it, but it was new to me and I wasn't as comfortable with it," Bradford said, via ESPN. "Now, I think we have a much better feel for each other." Added Schottenheimer: "The day Sam walked back into the building [this offseason] we started making adjustments. We are a thousand years ahead of where we were last year."
Bradford will lose some continuity with the departure of Steven Jackson, but sees many familiar receivers returning to battle for reps in Rams training camp, with a much-improved line to protect him.
Bradford commands the Rams offense for the fourth consecutive season, and must prove he hasn't basically been David Carr'd into ineffectiveness (beaten ruthlessly behind a bad offensive line until career's over before it started). On the bright side, Bradford has steadily improved each year.
The Rams transition from featured back Steven Jackson to a committee approach with Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy. Pead mightily disappointed after St. Louis spent a second rounder on him last year, while seventh-round rookie Richardson stepped forward to make a case for RB1. Richardson is currently the frontrunner for the lead role, while fifth-round rookie Stacy has a chance to make his own dent in training camp.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Bradford probably has his best set of passing weapons this year, yet there's still so much unknown with this group. The departure of Danny Amendola means Bradford must find a new favorite target, and eight overall selection Tavon Austin seems to have that skillset and then some. Second-year speedster Chris Givens showed ability to beat teams deep last season while making things happen in the screen game as well. Meanwhile, recent early-round selections Austin Pettis, Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey also battle for snaps and justification of their draft spot.
Jared Cook made like Fisher and left Tennessee for St. Louis, giving the Rams the type of tall, fast, physical tight end that gives defensive coordinators nightmares. His skills were never adeptly utilized in Tennessee, but St. Louis could be his spot to blow up. He joins another athletic receiving TE in incumbent Lance Kendricks. Bradford did good work utilizing mediocre tight ends during his rookie year, so this filthy-talented unit could really take off.
Again, Bradford has been pitifully brutalized behind a terrible O-line since he entered the league. This unit improved markedly last year, and now adds a colossal piece in left tackle Jake Long. This bumps Rodger Saffold over to right tackle alongside Harvey Dahl. Scott Wells has center locked down and the only position remaining up for grabs is left guard. Rokevious Watkins, Shelley Smith, Chris Williams and Barrett Jones battle for this one singular role. Smith is the only one to have recently impressed at the NFL level, while Jones is considered a steal as fourth-round pick from this draft. You have to admit, it's getting better.
It would be fair to expect the Rams to have one of the best bookend pass rushes in the NFL after spending two early first-rounders on Chris Long and Robert Quinn in recent years. This sadly is not the case, as Long has only thus far proven good and not elite, while Quinn has only flashed brilliance here and there. Defensive Michael Brockers is likewise an early first-rounder and has received rave reviews from NFL Films' Greg Cosell. If he and ex-Miami Dolphins tackle Kendall Langford can free up the ends and the Long-Quinn combo takes advantage, Fisher's entire unit could potentially go from good to elite.
JoLonn Dunbar was a pleasant surprise at weakside backer last year, but the Rams would be wise leave training camp with him permanently at strongside and rookie first-rounder Alec Ogletree roaming in space a little more and tracking tight ends, backs and receivers. James Laurinaitis mans middle linebacker. It will be interesting to see which two stay on the field in nickel packages as there's a case to be made for each.
The Rams' secondary exemplifies exactly how excellent — or easily how bad — they could be in 2013. Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins showed, as rookies last season, the fluid movement in coverage that could make them pro excellent cornerbacks some day. At the same time, the consistency of even an average quarterback wasn't quite there in year one. Cortland Finnegan will probably man the slot after underwhelming in his first year as the big free-agent signing. If he plays like in Tennessee, it could take this unit up a notch.
Darian Stewart struggled as starter in 2011 and saw his snap total reduced from 920 to 82 in 2012, yet becomes the frontrunner in camp for strong safety alongside rookie free safety TJ McDonald. The departures of Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl mean these two spots are no lock, so Cody Smith, Matt Giordano, Matt Daniels, Cannon Smith and Rodney McCleod could ascend the depth chart and grab the attention of first-year Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton.
Kicker Greg Zuerlein, punter John Hekker and special teams coach John Fassel each enter their second year in the role. Austin seems a perfect fit for both kick and punt returning, two areas where St. Louis did not excel last year.