St. Louis Rams: Young Teams, and Sophomore Slumps

Sophomore slumps are REAL. No, really! It isn't a urban myth, like the aliens visiting from the planet Glaxor to steal the secret recipe for Cheetos. They're really here to find out why In-N-Out Burgers are considered inter-galactic crack cocaine. Then there's the one about the I.R.S spying on people... OK, scratch that one.

I began to think about "sophomore slumps" when I did an evaluation of quarterbacks in the NFC West. I wondered if Russell Wilson - Seattle's second year phenom - could suffer from "yearicus II slumpitis". The it hit me: The St. Louis Rams have a ton of second year players... What if Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Michael Brockers, and Daryl Richardson all fold like a cheap suit in their second years? I left out Brian Quick and Isaiah Pead because I think they caught "slumpitis" a year early.

This is serious people! We need a telethon with Simon Cowell as host. He can demean people into donating to fight this disease that strikes down the "sort of young" every year.

There's actually some validity to the "sophomore slump", but it has nothing to do with an illness. A player's second year is marked by having game film for opposing coaches to study. It's an "action-reaction" kind of thing. Young players don't have vast pools of knowledge about the NFL game. Experience enables easy adaptation to changing circumstances, and second year players just don't have it. To me, the mark of a great football coach is how he manages second year players. They're responsible for knowing how to find the next level of a player. A decent example of a second season swoon would be the Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton. He shattered rookie records in 2011, only to look more than a little lost in 2012.

Some of it has to do with a player's ego, and Newton has more than his fair share. He walked into his second year thinking what he'd done the prior season would serve him well. Oops! NFL coaches are wily men who study game film to find tendencies or weaknesses. They have no social lives, and make kids addicted to video games look like outdoor fanatics. They're sports geeks to the tenth power, and they find EVERY player's weaknesses. A hand that twitches prior to the snap of the ball means a pass play, or a player telegraphs the type of play called by the number of fingers he puts on the ground - every little detail is noticed by NFL coordinators and their staffs.

I think it's fair to say the St. Louis Rams youth movement is going well, but the lack of experience in the young players more than offsets their talent to a certain extent. Great coaches have their work cut out for them, as they shepherd their young charges from season to season. If they don't, a player can turn into a one-hit-wonder. This year, there are quite a few rookies who face the challenge of Das Slump. Last season, 27 first round draft picks in the 2012 NFL Draft became starters for their teams. Some will stumble, and more than a few will take the next step toward stardom. Yet, when I look at the Rams, and how many young players they'll have on the field in 2013, it's hard not to wonder just how good they'll be.

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