Two tough losses in 7 days. A 3-6 record. Sam Bradford gone for the remainder of the season. These developments are not what most expected of the Rams coming into the season. After a fine off season, it seemed reasonable to surmise that the Rams would build on their accomplishments of 2012. 8-8? 9-7? Perhaps even challenging for a playoff spot. For many, this is another season of disappointment, just an extension of the last decade of futility. At this point, it's easy to see the dark cloud...and much harder to see the silver lining.
I watched the last two games with great excitement, and was on the edge of my seat for the better part of both contests. Not because of the scores and the closeness of the games. Not because the Rams had a chance to win both games. Amid all of that, I took a step back and looked at the forest for the trees. I saw a future that looks very bright.
The Emergence Of Zac Stacy
When Steven Jackson left the Rams, I thought the running game would suffer greatly in his absence. For many reasons, the running game did suffer in the first 4 games this season. The emergence, and exemplary play, of Zac Stacy in the last 5 games bodes well for the future. It looks like Jeff Fisher has discovered a new "bell cow" running back. In addition, Darryl Richardson should be a fine complement as a change-of-pace back going forward. Looking to the future, Stacy and Richardson will be key components in a balanced offensive attack.
Watching the last two games led me to a positive conclusion: the Rams have more talented football players on the roster than I have seen in a long time. The Rams are easily the youngest team in the league. And it's showing at times. I am excited though, when thinking about how they will perform in the coming years. Look no further than the young offensive playmakers the Rams have acquired. Notwithstanding Jared Cook, I count 13 RB's, WR's, and TE's with less than 12 years experience...COMBINED. Yet I see so much young talent there. Seeing the Rams' offense grow and prosper in the next couple of years will be fun to watch. That's without looking at the other side of the ball, where the likes of Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree, Michael Brockers, and Janoris Jenkins will make the Rams' defense a force to be reckoned with in future seasons.
From The Ground Up
Sometimes I forget that the Rams roster has been virtually gutted, a process that began in January, 2012. 75% of the roster has been turned over in that period of time. The dead wood has - for the most part - been removed. Being the ultimate team game, it takes time for a "brand new" team - and its individual units - to gel and develop cohesiveness. Sure, the Rams are only 3-6 this season. The beauty of it all lies in the tremendous upside inherent to this team. I would rather the Rams be in this position than the uncertainty many other teams face. The Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, and Houston Texans all made the playoffs in 2012, with a combined record of 55-25. Thus far in 2013, their combined record is 11-29. None of those 5 teams have more wins than the Rams do this season. I'll take the Rams' future possibilities over those teams' current predicaments any day.
The 2014 NFL Draft
In one sense, it's too early to be talking about the upcoming draft. In another sense, it's the perfect time to be talking about the draft. For it's a harbinger of things to come. The Rams have 2 first round draft choices next year. Both are likely to be early in the round. In a draft that's shaping up to be a strong one, particularly in the first round. It's possible the Rams will parlay one of those first round selections into additional, quality picks. The Rams could end up with 4 [or more] selections in the first 2 rounds. Another major influx of young talent is on the way 6 months from now. A young, talented team will get that much younger - and more talented. I've seen the 2012-13 drafts in action the last week or so, and - for the most part - like what I see. I'm sure I will like it that much more, come this time next year.
How easy would it have been for the Rams to give up on their season, once Sam Bradford was lost for the year? Instead, the Rams played two very good teams to a virtual draw in the interim, showing an admirable amount of competitive fire. Any team that has circled the Rams on their calendar as an easy win should think again. The Rams will be a tough out for any team remaining on their schedule. Playing with heart and fire, through adversity, is a hallmark of a competitive team with character. The Rams, especially in the last two games, have demonstrated plenty of character and competitive fire. A team either has it, or it doesn't. The Rams have it now...and will have it in the years to come.
The Rams were losers on the scoreboard in both of their last two games. Yet in my mind they were winners. It all depends on your perspective. I will continue to look ahead at the forest, foresaking the trees.