Training camp is all but here. The pads will be on, the hitting starts, and we'll really and truly start to get a feel for what the first season of a new era of St. Louis Rams football will look like. We're jumping into a week of training camp previews here at TST will a variety of posts, FanPosts, and commentary sure to get you even more excited than usual for the Rams season.
We've looked at the roster and individual players and positions throughout the summer, and that will continue as we take on a decidedly more urgent feel. This year, TST examines the burning issues surrounding the Rams with a slightly different take, more crystal ball, less review of the topic. Through the week, we'll slice and dice those hot button topics by mapping out scenarios. Oh sure, it's an idea blatantly borrowed from another NFL blog, but since we're all about the Rams it's, you know, different.
Enough yada, yada, yada, let's jump right in with the topic that's been bandied about by pundits since the release of Torry Holt and the decision to pass on Michael Crabtree in the draft (a move looking better and better with each passing day). Of course, I'm talking about the wide receivers. As you may have heard, the Rams have an inexperienced group of receivers. Before adding Ronald Curry to the mix last week, the total NFL receptions among the lot sat somewhere south of 200, and most of those (53) belonged to Donnie Avery, last year's second round pick who burst onto the scene as a deep threat and gradually grew into a more complete receiver as the season passed.
The addition of Curry gives the Rams a sure-handed pass catcher with a resume. He won't beat anyone with his speed, but his hands and size make him a potentially valuable player in Pat Shurmur's West Coast offense. The question marks stand out once you dig down behind those two on the depth chart. Keenan Burton needs to get healthy and use his physical gifts and tight route running ability to be the possession WR the needs him to be. Laurent Robinson is another who needs to stay healthy in order to be the deep threat for the team this year. Behind those guys, the Rams have some guys who are not particularly being counted on this season, but won't be excluded from expectations nevertheless. And now, the scenarios...
Best case scenario: Avery has the ability to be the number one WR in this offense, but for him to be a threat on the short and intermediate routes where West Coast receivers make a living, the Rams need a possession threat on his other side. This best case scenario starts with Keenan Burton staying healthy. If he does, he can have a great camp, click with a better protect Marc Bulger and finally become a name-brand possession receiver. In the slot, is Ronald Curry, with a new lease on his football life since joining the Rams. With Avery locked up in double coverage inside the red zone, Curry and Burton become prime threats. Robinson stretches the field throughout the year, hitting a few home runs and opening the way for less interference in the middle for the top three guys. Let's not forget the others here either. With injury issues hanging over head, the Rams will almost certainly need Brooks Foster or one of the other names down the depth chart to find their way and be capable fill-ins.
Worst case scenario: The prophets warned of inexperience and the prediction holds true. Avery is good enough to muscle his way to better numbers than his rookie season, but it's just not enough for the Rams to have a threatening passing game. Burton deals with injury and struggles to find his physical play and loses his route running skills in the new offense. Ronald Curry's hands fail him as does his 32-year-old body. Forced to be the go-to guy too often, opponents simply lock him up with a single guy in coverage. Robinson, if he stays healthy, still has the occasional deep ball, but it's too little too late. The rest of the receivers on the roster prove to be too green to matter, and can't fill meet the team's needs.
What to watch: Have we mentioned health yet? Keep an eye on Burton and Robinson in particular. If they stay healthy through camp and look like the players they've shown the ability to be, you can rest easy. Also, healthy or not, watch how players pick up the playbook once the hitting starts.
Most likely outcome: I think the cries of doom for the Rams receives are a little overblown. However, the injury concerns are too prevalent with this group to assume the team won't deal with it at some point during the year. I think as long as the Rams have Avery and some combination of Curry/Burton and another decent option at #3, they'll be alright. Alright, mostly because Steven Jackson and Randy McMichael figure heavily into the passing game, and if the receivers turn out to be no better than concerns for opposing defenses (as opposed to a serious threat) the offense will be able to compete.