Today, tomorrow, next Tuesday, whenever the lockout is lifted and players return to camp, one of the more important tasks for teams will be connecting with players injured last season. In any normal year, team training and medical staff work closely with injured players guiding the process of rehabilitation and staying informed of the process should it precipitate a necessary roster move. This was no normal year. After March, when owners locked out players, individuals were left to their own devices for rehabbing.
Not burdened with the usual plague of injuries so common in recent seasons, the St. Louis Rams still dealt with a handful of injuries to key players and others whose loss negatively effected the depth chart. Let's take a look at the injury list from last year and what's ahead for 2011.
The two most prominent injuries the Rams suffered last year, WRs Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton, had the biggest impact on the team's fortunes for 2010. Taking both of those players out of the offense put sever limitations on what the coaches could/would do with rookie QB Sam Bradford, i.e. the beloved dink and dunk passing game. (Yes, they could have turned more to Danario Alexander, who they activated to replace Clayton, but he was just a rookie).
Avery used Twitter to keep his fans updated on his progress, recently revealing that he was back to running the sub-4.3 forties that made him the Rams' second-round pick in 2008. Clayton's recovery has progressed during the lockout as well. He's been running routes with Sam Bradford during the offseason. The Rams were close to re-signing Clayton in the hours before the lockout, a telling sign that they were confident enough with his recovery from a torn patellar tendon to bring him back for 2011.
Beyond those two, the only other Rams' starter sent to IR was strongside linebacker Na'il Diggs, who tore a pectoral muscle against the Cardinals in week 13. Diggs brought veteran leadership to a young defense, even if he wasn't necessarily better than David Vobora as a starting SLB. At the time, it was reported that Diggs would have a five month recovery, which means he should be ready to roll, but remember, Rams medical staff hasn't been able to monitor his recovery process. Pectoral muscle tears can be a real problem when it comes to tackling.
LB Josh Hull, a seventh-round pick last year, made the final roster as a special teams player after a solid preseason body of work. He made one appearance, in the season opener, before tearing his ACL in practice. Hull has a linebacker pedigree, being a Penn State product, and given the way the Rams rotated their linebackers last year he might have seen some more playing time. One big plus on his scouting report coming into the draft were his instincts, nose for game. He was probably more of a backup for Lauinaitis and the strongside rather than an answer on the weakside. He'll be a guy to keep an eye on in camp this year.
Another notable name that ended up on IR was TE Fendi Onobun, a very raw, athletic guy who some believe has an Antonio Gates-like ceiling. That might be a bit optimistic. A back injury, specifically a bulging disc, put him on the shelf in November. He's been working out plenty during the offseason. After taking Lance Kendricks in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Onobun's roster spot looks iffy this year.
Cornerback Marquis Johnson joined fellow draft picks Hull and Onobun on IR last year. It's unlikely that the Alabama product would have had much of an impact beyond special teams last year; the position is notoriously difficult for rookies. He did have plenty of experience in the nickel and dime packages in college. Johnson was forced to take extreme measures during the lockout, such is the life of a seventh-round pick. Johnson is part of an interesting stable of young defensive backs for the Rams, including Jerome Murphy and a trio of draft picks from this year in OSU S Jermale Hines, Oklahoma S Jonathan Nelson and CB/KR Mikail Baker from Baylor.
Interior offensive lineman Mark Setterstrom is a talented player that the Rams could have really used. trips to IR have been interspersed with starting jobs. He'll probably retire after suffering even more injuries last year.
Finally, WR Dominique Curry emerged as an outstanding special teams contributor before tearing his ACL. It's long shot that he'll make the roster this year at a very crowded position.