FanPost

Rams close to fitting missing pieces of the jigsaw – Part One: Defense

After a breakout season for last year’s number one draft pick Sam Bradford, and a young defense which stepped up to the plate under the stewardship of head coach Steve Spagnuolo, Rams fans can be forgiven for believing a return to the good ol’ days of the ‘the greatest show on turf’ aren’t too far away.

Most of the talk pre last month’s draft was dominated by speculation that the Rams needed a no.1 receiver to provide a weapon for offensive rookie of the year Bradford. However, when Julio Jones excelled at the Scouting Combine there was no chance either he, or number one receiver in the draft A.J. Green, were realistically going to fall to St Louis at 14 without a team putting together an expensive package like Atlanta did to grab him as high as six.

The Rams have too many other needs and could not afford the luxury the Falcons had to exchange multiple first and second round draft picks. Disappointing though it was that they were unable to add Jones to the roster, when general manager Billy Devaney and coach Spags saw DE Robert Quinn – rated by many as the best pass rusher in the draft – drop into their laps in the middle of the first round it was an opportunity too good to miss.

Quinn offers an immediate upgrade to the front four and will likely create a formidable pass rush with four-year veteran Chris Long – a former no.2 draft pick in 2008 – and the experienced sack machine James Hall, 34, working in rotation – a tactic coach Spags employed with great success as defensive coordinator of the Giants.

Although the loss of pro-bowl safety O.J. Atogwe to the Redskins and the lack of a ‘shutdown’ corner have created a couple of glaring holes in an inexperienced secondary, the pressure up-front from Hall, Long and Quinn should be enough to counteract this weakness.

Either way, it is clear the Rams need to lure a veteran strong safety or cornerback from the free agency market to put together what would be a young and formidable defensive machine. The best available would be former Oakland Raiders defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha, but it is unlikely St Louis will have the financial resources to tie down a guy who is seen by most as the best cornerback in the game.

The lack of talent in the free agent market at that position is why there were cries from fans to snatch Prince Amukamara instead of Quinn in the first round of the draft, before he ultimately fell to the Giants.

But although it would have significantly enhanced the secondary there would still be the need of addressing the safety position, and it’s clear that, despite an ultra-productive season in 2010, Hall is unlikely to hit the same heights with his aging body, meaning Quinn’s selection was the more sensible. Especially as C.J. Ah You struggled badly as the third DE towards the end of the season, after what had been an encouraging start.

Instead, coach Spags has placed his faith in veteran cornerback and defensive captain Ron Bartell to lead the back seven alongside battalion leader James Laurinaitis – who was the centre piece of a stellar defensive unit at the middle linebacker spot. Bartell needs to marshal second-year cornerback Jerome Murphy, rookies Jermale Hines, Mikhail Baker and Jonathan Nelson, and promising young DB Bradley Fletcher – who collected four takeaways last season.
But the team is still short of experience on this side of the ball.

If St Louis could attract the services of safety Eric Weddle from the Chargers, Ike Taylor from Pittsburgh and an OLB like Chad Greenway from the Vikings, they could be the missing pieces of the puzzle. And signing players like Greenway, Taylor and Weddle to help mentor St Louis’ young group of defenders brings with it the real potential of turning the rebuilding franchise into one of the most feared outfits in the NFL.

It’s a long-shot, but coming off the back of a season where the team won more games than the previous three put together, the mere talk of it has got Rams fans excited about the team’s future.
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