The St. Louis Rams tried to go old last season, bringing in veterans like Cadillac Williams and Brady Poppinga to complete a young core of players and pick up where they left off with a 7-9 record in 2010. That approach backfired, and after wholesale changes to the leadership cadre, the Rams turned a 2-14 finish into a pile of draft picks and a youth movement.
Halfway through the preseason, early returns on the rookies are mostly positive. Let's take a look at how the 2012 draft class is performing so far.
Michael Brockers, DT - The Rams first-round pick has had a solid start to his career, showing off some ability to push the pocket and stuff the run. Brockers still needs time to develop and refine his pass rushing moves. He got poked in the eye against the Chiefs.
Here's what Fisher said after last week's game:
"He's doing well. He's doing ok. He might be a little tired, but he'll get his legs back. He was a force inside. His pad level was good. He had some good pressures inside. That's a big offensive line and they were clearly set out to protect the quarterback through the play action pass, but they were also banging on our ends. So he either had a 1-on-1 or he had a double. When he had a 1-on-1 he was getting good pressure."
Brian Quick, WR - Quick had a much better outing against the Chiefs, following a big week of practice. Back spasms ended his day a little earlier than the Rams would have liked. He caught three of four passes, and had a touchdown grab nixed on review. There is no doubt that he will crack the final roster, but the Rams really need him to continue his upward track and give Bradford an option on slants and fades in the endzone.
Janoris Jenkins, CB - RIght now, no rookie on the roster is having the same kind of impact the Jenkins is. He plays like a veteran. I was especially impressed with his forced fumble on Jonathan Baldwin in the first quarter last week. Playing off zone, he was on Baldwin in a heartbeat to bring him and down and force the fumble. Fisher's pretty high on the guy too. Check out what he told Peter King:
"I have never seen that type of ability and instincts on a kid, and the ability to play right away at a high level level.''
Isaiah Pead, RB - Pead has probably struggled to adjust more than any other rookie on the roster. He has a terrible habit, carrying over from college, to try for the outside run when he doesn't see a gap in front of him. His nine-yard loss was the most rookie mistake of all last week. He will eventually get adjusted; it takes time.
Trumaine Johnson, CB - Tru had a nice play in last week's game, defending a pass that DT Matt Conrath intercepted. He looks to be the fourth or fifth corner on the roster right now, but could challenge for more playing time as the preseason continues.
Chris Givens, WR - The Wake Forest product clearly has the speed to stretch defenses. He just needs a quarterback that can get him the ball. It happened in practice on Monday, and Bradford's hitting his deep stuff after an off week in Indy. Perhaps just as important is that Givens showed a knack for catching shorter passes that he was able to stretch with his legs. That's something the Rams last deep threat guy, Donnie Avery, was never able to do, and it means that Givens will get more playing time.
Rokevious Watkins, G - Watkins got a slow start, spending some time shedding a little extra weight at the start of camp. Since returning to the fold, he's been mostly working with the second team, though has been able to get a few snaps with the ones. It's probably a long shot to think that he will play his way up to the first team, but he adds needed depth to the middle.
Fisher was happy with Watkins' work against the Chiefs last week:
"He did well. We're getting ready to sit down and visit with the staff. But he played the other side. He practiced at left guard all last week and played left guard. So last week he played right and this week he played left, and it's not an easy thing to do. Just from first glance, just my opinion, I thought he hung in there and did pretty well."
Greg Zuerlein, K - Greg The Leg is as promised, booting a 52-yarder last week that looked like a layup.
Aaron Brown, LB - One of two seventh-round picks, Brown made a positive impression with his special teams play. That will help him crack the final roster.
Daryl Richardson, RB - He put up the numbers against the Chiefs second and third team defense. As noted this morning, it was enough to earn him more reps in the weeks ahead, possibly even enough to compete with Pead for the No. 2 running back job.
Right now, it looks like all 10 players from the 2012 draft class could make the final roster. Brown and Richardson could end up on the practice squad.
We'll take a look at the UDFAs in another post.