St. Louis Rams: 5 Biggest Mistakes of 2013 So Far
St. Louis Rams' Worst Mistakes So Far
At this point, it's very difficult to find fault with the St. Louis Rams. In just 20 months, the new administration led by general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher has transformed the Rams from one of the worst franchises in the NFL into a team that could be a legitimate contender in the treacherous NFC West. They have done everything in their power to create an elite group of players, most notably this year by signing premium free agents Jared Cook and Jake Long, and taking Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree in the draft. They've placed an emphasis on building around youth while sprinkling in a few core veterans, and if the team's performance last season is any indication, this group should be a force to be reckoned with for at least the next few years.
With that said, no NFL team is perfect, and it's only natural that some players will disappoint. As an example, two of the team's three second rounders, Brian Quick and Isaiah Pead, were very underwhelming during their rookie seasons. Luckily, some of the Rams' later picks, such as Daryl Richardson, Greg Zuerlein and Chris Givens, did more than expected as rookies, but that didn't completely free Quick and Pead from skepticism.
After a surprisingly solid 7-8-1 campaign in 2012, the Rams will be expected to improve even more in 2013. They will have to deal with a difficult schedule that requires them to face both the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks twice, but they had little trouble when playing those teams a year ago and should give them a tough fight again this year. If that's going to happen, though, the Rams must avoid mistakes as well as they did a year ago. St. Louis hasn't had many issues thus far, but here are the five biggest mistakes they've made to this point in 2013.
5. Limiting Brian Quick's Opportunities
Quick, the 33rd overall pick from Appalachian State in 2012, struggled to learn the playbook and gain confidence during his rookie season, and as a result his playing time was very limited. The Rams preached patience with him, knowing that after playing without a playbook at a small school, he would need time to adjust to the professional game. When he got into games, however, he was rather productive, catching 11 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
This season, the Rams surprised some when they began training camp with Quick fourth on the depth chart, playing behind 2011 third-rounder Austin Pettis, who has 57 career catches for 517 yards. Pettis did show down the stretch last year that he can be a solid contributor to an NFL offense, showcasing his red-zone ability by catching touchdown passes in each of the final two games. With all due respect to Pettis, though, he is a role player who does not have nearly the potential that Quick has.
Even though Quick has improved this year and has shown what he's capable of by making some big catches during practice, he has not gotten much of a chance to prove himself worthy of a starting role. He hasn't gotten time with the starting offense during either of the Rams' first two preseason games, which does not bode well for his chances to surpass Pettis on the depth chart by the time the Rams open the regular season. It would seem that with as highly regarded of a draft pick as Quick was, the team would want to give him more of a chance to become a contributor.
4. Giving Darian Stewart a Starting Position
Stewart has the physical ability to be a decent safety in the NFL, but it's pretty clear that he will constantly be battling injuries throughout his career. Through his three-year NFL career, he still has yet to be active for all 16 regular season games. Last year, Stewart, a former undrafted free agent out of South Carolina, battled a hamstring injury throughout the year and missed the preseason as well as four regular season games. After getting extended playing time with former head coach Steve Spagnuolo, Stewart was limited to mostly special teams duty last year by Fisher and his staff. It was a bit of a surprise when the Rams decided to tender him as a restricted free agent this past offseason.
Though he got off to a strong start during training camp and regaining his starting position, Stewart went back to his old ways in the Rams' preseason contest with the Green Bay Packers, leaving early due to a hamstring injury. His replacement, Rodney McLeod, played very well in Stewart's absence. He has missed the Rams' past two practices, and his status for the next preseason game seems to be in doubt. Stewart's continued trouble with injuries is making the Rams look foolish for trusting him to hold down a starting position. Perhaps it would be best for them just to move forward with McLeod as the starter.
Fisher made a bold move a year ago by releasing tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, a player who was a good contributor when healthy, but couldn't be relied on to stay on the field. It will be interesting to see if the Rams make a similar move with Stewart as training camp winds down.
3. Striking Out with Rokevious Watkins
The Rams selected Watkins, a 6-foot-3, 338-pound guard from South Carolina, with their fifth-round pick in 2012. The pick was somewhat risky: although Watkins was an extremely physical player who could be a true road grader, he had issues staying in shape.
The Rams looked to be on the right track with helping Watkins solve those issues. After he arrived in training camp overweight as a rookie, the training staff worked him out to the point where he was able to be a contributor to the Rams' offensive line during their season opener. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in that game which ended his season, but reports were that he had taken advantage of the extra time to get in spectacular shape.
This season, Watkins seemed to be making strides during the offseason program, and had gotten his weight under control. As the spring session ended and the players went their separate ways, he vowed that he would be staying in St. Louis to work with the training staff, though the coaching staff still seemed to be skeptical about him. Apparently, something in Watkins' plans went awry, and he showed up to training camp very overweight, which caused him to be released.
While Watkins was a later draft pick who was taken as a flyer, there was some hope that he would be able to restore order to the Rams' left guard position, which has been a revolving door since the release of Jacob Bell after 2011. Because of Watkins' failure, the Rams will have to continue to rely on stopgap players and hope that eventually someone has success there.
2. Not Bringing in a Better Backup QB
Fisher said at the combine that Austin Davis, a second-year undrafted free agent from Southern Miss, would very likely have the backup quarterback job in 2013. For some reason, though, the Rams got cold feet about this situation and shortly after Fisher's comments, they brought back 2012 backup Kellen Clemens to battle Davis for the spot.
Davis and Clemens have been rotating reps with the second and third teams during both practices and games, and to this point, neither of them has really been impressive. Davis clearly has the better numbers, with a 51.6 percent completion rate and no interceptions thrown, as compared to Clemens, who has completed just 33.3 percent of his passes while throwing four interceptions.
Davis has shown that he has the potential to be a solid professional quarterback, but he may not be quite there yet. Clemens, meanwhile, is a good locker room presence, but he pretty clearly is never going to be really effective. It would have given the Rams a nice insurance policy if they could have brought in a backup who invoked more confidence from his fans and teammates. They still may be able to do that as other teams make their final cuts, but it is more likely that they will have to go to war with what they have and hope that starter Sam Bradford can stay healthy this year.
1. Putting Trust in Isaiah Pead
Given the circumstances that we are all now aware of due to some solid investigative reporting by several media outlets, it seems rather silly that the Rams put any faith in 2012 second-rounder Isaiah Pead. Before last season started, Pead was arrested for marijuana possession, which was kept a secret until it got out following his suspension for this year's season opener as a result of the incident.
After missing all of the Rams' spring workouts, he was behind during training camp and fell behind seventh-rounder Daryl Richardson on the depth chart. Pead ended up being limited to just 10 carries for 54 yards during 2012. This misfortune apparently led him to a bout with depression, which caused him to be “miserable” for his entire rookie campaign.
Thus far in 2013, Pead really hasn't shown any signs of improvement. He's still stuck behind Richardson on the depth chart and has been a disaster during the preseason. He had a costly fumble in the first game. Then, last week, the Rams gave him a chance to prove himself as the primary back, but he was awful, following up an 11-yard run on his first play to finish with 11 attempts for 19 yards.
It seemed that Pead would at least be able to take a little bit of the load off Richardson and fill in for him on some plays, but now even that is a questionable scenario. Rumors are flying that Pead could be released or traded before the end of the preseason. Due to their assumption that Pead would be able to contribute, the Rams didn't bring in another highly-regarded back. Now, they may have to rely on someone among fifth-rounder Zac Stacy, who has missed a large chunk of training camp, undrafted free agent Benny Cunningham, or longtime practice-squad member Chase Reynolds to supplement Richardson, and the running game could suffer as a result.