Virtually everything I have written since March has been part of the lead up to this post. Things like my top five preview, players i expected to make the team, why I feel Bradford is elite in the making, the importance of an elite defense, leap of faith, if boyz, and coals and diamonds. Well it's happening now. Every coach in the league is game planning for their week one opponent. No more purposely vanilla play calling. Its officially time for the real deal.
(FEEL FREE TO CLICK ANY OF THE LINKS, TO CONNECT THE DOTS TO NOW!!!!)
But first lets have a look back to see how we got to this point.
Steven Jackson left. This is literally the first time I have mentioned it since about March. I simply grew tired of it. Tired of talking/hearing about it. So this will be the final time I ever speak of it. Good luck Jack!!!!
We first put our name out there by making the first big splash of free agency. We signed Jared Cook minutes after free agency officially started.
A few days later we got Jake Long on board, who some believed to be the best free agent on the market. Lets be honest, when healthy and 100% he is the without question a top two LT with Joe Thomas being his only competition.
Then we resigned free agent William Hayes, which in my opinion is our most underrated move this off-season. Hayes was a must, and a major necessity for our D-Lines chances of repeating last years success.
Everyone has an opinion on how the draft will play out. Its inevitable. But go back to January and tell the world that it would be Tavon Austin that the Rams picked first and not Keenan Allen, and you would have been laughed at. Even better tell them that St. Louis is going to move up 8 spots into the top ten to select him and you would have been committed.
Just goes to show we don't know it all. Look at Cody Davis, he fooled the hell out of me, you, and everyone else. We were all so sure he would make the squad. I even broke my golden rule for him, never get sucked into the hype. I draw conclusions on players from in depth research. Not with Cody. I came to the conclusion that the thing we all over looked was his football IQ. The very thing I talk up the most, I, like everyone else, ignored. Guess I'm just human. But it had to be his IQ. He had the talent and gave the effort every snap to succeed. Which means he simply wasn't getting it. He was one of the highest paid UDFAs we had. He started camp getting ample work with the two's. Then he started to drop lower and lower, until he was getting scraps with third and fourth stringers. Guys with that kind of talent and trademark effort usually drop on depth charts because its not clicking for them. Especially when they play a position of major need. The mental aspect of the game proves to be too much for them.
So yea, we really don't know. Guess all you want on the draft and other ventures, but unless we are in those meeting rooms, we are lost. But its fun anyway, especially when right, so lets continue.
In my draft review, season preview post, I discussed every pick with in depth analysis and video. I came to the conclusion that this was the best draft grade I had ever given the Rams, hands down. And I am a tough grader. Although that only counts for initial thoughts. Because four years from now I believe the 2012 draft class will prove to be the best the "St. Louis" Rams has ever had.
Tavon Austin gets all the hype, and even though I was one of his biggest supporters coming out, I constantly mentioned he is not my favorite receiver in the draft. So when we drafted Stedman Bailey (my 3rd favorite, Quinton Patton, Deandre Hopkins, Bailey, Tavon, and Robert Woods was my top five) I was ecstatic.
Now I am not going to go over my grades all over again, just click the link above if you don't remember them. But I am going to do a before and after/now on my feelings.
First things first, a shout out to LA Champ. Champ knows better than anyone I was the biggest none supporter of TJ McDonald. I was not happy at all about the pick. I tried to like what I saw on tape but simply could not do it. Fast forward 4 months and I believe he will turn out to be the second best pick of the draft. Stedman being number one.
These two are going to be studs for years to come. So while my feelings on Stedman has not changed, my feelings for TJ has done a complete 180. I am man enough to say, I was wrong (so far).
Tavon and Alec Ogletree will be damn good. Especially Ogletree. I liked Ogletree but I didn't agree with him being a 1st rounder. Thought late second at best. But damn, he might turn out to be the third best pick of the draft. I am making Austin 4th best. What you see is what you get with Austin. Dynamic play making ability that can literally line up anywhere. My thoughts haven't changed on his future production. Not this year, but for years to come he will be a 60-75 rec 750-900 yds, 6-7 tds, 25-35 rush, 185-270 yds 1-2 tds, 1-2 ret tds. In other words he will get you 8-10 scores a season in different ways
The 5th best pick will be Brandon McGee. I liked him a lot because he has skills others don't and is a hard worker. Meaning even though he is not that good at using his skills to his advantage he will learn.
Next up is Stacy. Now as some of you may recall I was so "freaking pumped" about the drafting of Stacy until the point that it was almost ridiculous. But that was before 36 hrs later when the Rams went and signed Benny Cunningham. And even then I was excited. More on Cunningham in a moment but Stacy still has a bright future, its just that Cunningham's may be brighter.
At long last that leaves Barrett Jones. He has the skills and versatility to be one of the best in the game. But he lacks two very important attributes. Strength, I noticed his punch couldn't move a two month old. And tenacity, he seems to lack that violent/mean streak that linemen need down there in the trenches.
As for the guys that were not drafted, well as I wrote in my coals and diamonds post they are just as important as the number one overall pick.
Lets get back to Benny Cunningham. When I first studied his tape and found out about his athletic ability and his work ethic I was hooked. I said so in my post about the UDFA's that I expected to make the team. Some said there is no way he makes the team. But I immediately kicked Terrance Ganaway out of the top four slots and had Cunningham making the team. I also said 3-4 years from now he might prove to be the best addition of this year. The guy is an exceptional talent with a work ethic to match. And truthfully that's everything you can ask for as a coach. Give him a good line, good passing game (more on that in a moment), and an opportunity, and you might have something special.
Ray Ray Armstrong was an instant favorite of everyone's because of his notoriety. Everyone knew his story and his ability on the field. And he certainly did not disappoint. In fact he exceeded expectations by seemingly transitioning to linebacker with ease. Armstrong was a lock to make the roster from the moment his phone rang.
Jonathan Stewart was an easy guy to scout. He has everything you look for in your mike linebacker. Amazing size with athletic ability to match. But his big downfall was his physicality and inconsistency. But as I said in my post about all these guys, if in the preseason he proves he can be consistent and physical, than Josh Hull would be out of a job. Well Josh found out on the final day of cuts he would no longer be a Ram. Stewart played extremely well this preseason. And will bring good depth and solid special teams play.
Daren Bates was someone I pegged to make the team because of his consistency and versatility. I never really cared about his size and he was ten pounds less at the time. All I cared about was his tenacity and ability to get after the ball carrier and cover as well. Also his ability to get down the field and make an open field tackle. These things made him a prime candidate for a special teams dynamo.
Gerald Rivers was someone that slipped under the radar hardcore. He had no real tape from college because he had no real impact and was not a key contributor. Which makes his story that much better. He didn't play last yr because of academic issues and ended his career with 5 starts and 4.5 sacks. But he ran a 4.56 at the regional combine and the Rams took a shot. And it was a drastic buzzer beater. In his short time against the starters he nailed it. And it ultimately was the cause of his roster spot being safe.
If the preseason can show us anything it can show comfort. I have talked Sam Bradford up a lot this off-season. For good reason though. I truly believe he is going to prove to be the next big thing. After Bradford's first interview of the off-season I was convinced this was a different man. He spoke with such conviction. I had never seen him with a confidence like that, and it stayed that way for the remainder of the off-season.
In the preseason Bradford played some near perfect football. Again, it is the preseason and defenses took it easy for the most part. But we have to look at the small things.
- Bradford stood strong in the pocket every snap. The result was consistent pin point accuracy.
- He proved to be a man of his word and he spread the ball all over. But also just as he said, he and Chris Givens were undoubtedly on the same page. Their newly developed chemistry will be very exciting to watch.
- Bradford spoke about the importance of being in the same offense for a second year to work on the details rather than learn everything all over. He used timing and landmarks on routes as an example. That proved to be true as Bradford was throwing to receivers that was not open, but by the time the ball got there they made their break in the route and the ball was there.
The preseason showed us a lot if we pay attention to the details. The best news we received from the preseason was Chris Givens' growth. We have a lot of new "young" parts and it will take time to gel and actually be effective. So its great that Givens really did work on his overall game and it showed. Givens will be everything to Bradford until the rest of the guys catch on.
The offensive line will be pretty good. I have reached this conclusion because I believe a year with coach Paul Boudreau has these guys looking good. Its better than just the starters. The key backups have looked good as well. Not the guys who were going to be cut all along but the guys who were going to be around no matter what. Joseph Barksdale, Tim Barnes, and Shelley Smith/Chris Williams (one of which will be a starter).
As everyone should know by now it all starts in the trenches, regardless of the side of the ball. With good play from the line expect Bradford to perform admirably. The only thing that will hold him back this season is the inexperience of his receivers and backs. I am expecting a lot of mental mistakes and hiccups throughout the early part of the season.
But Bradford will still play good enough to keep defenders out of the box. With defenders out of the box expect some decent running.
Now back to Cunningham. The things that makes Daryl Richardson the best guy to start is his vision, explosiveness, and decisiveness. Well Benny has all that and some. And he is better suited to succeed in pass protection. Cunningham is 212, that counts as adequate size for a 5'10" running back. Expect to see Cunningham make a steady climb up the depth chart throughout the season. Pead will have to step up big time to prevent it. The problem is he is suspended the first game meaning Cunningham WILL get his first real audition for meaningful carries during the season. I expect the load to be split about 60, 20, 20 between Richardson, Zac Stacy, and Cunningham. Imagine this, Pead could fall to fourth on the depth chart. Because the two rookies will continue to climb and run hard.
Bradford will have more free will at the line of scrimmage this season. This will show how high his football I.Q. really is. I believe this will help more than anything. Even though Givens' progression has clearly been exceptional, he is still only in his second year.
One play against Denver really stood out to me. Bradford made the perfect read when his pre-snap recognition showed him the blitz. He made Givens his hot read. Givens original route was a post, but because the safety was blitzing as well as the outside linebacker, and the corner was playing off, he should have ran a slant route. Bradford made the read but Givens did not. And he ran the original route and Bradford threw the slant and the ball fell incomplete.
This is an example of even though he has made tremendous progress from year one to year two, its still only year two. This is why its a big deal that Bradford has this control, because he can pick up on this, and rather than rely on the receiver seeing what he sees, he can audible out and into a safer play.
The defense is where the real question lies. Yes its the preseason and we played mostly an off cover 3 zone. But we couldn't stop the pass worth a damn. When we complicate things I believe it will get better, but I don't know how much better and that's what scares me.
We finished the preseason 5th in rush yds allowed and 32nd in pass. Good enough for 28th overall. Again we will improve when we complicate things, but how much will we improve. If we were 15th in pass defense then one could say if we are in the middle of the pack now wait until we open the playbook. But when we are dead last and looking to be a top ten defense, will we make a jump from 32nd to 12th when it matters? Something to think about.
Nevertheless, our run defense will be pretty good. We have guys they like to fly around and get to the ball. Ogletree, McDonald, and McLeod all zip to the ball. And we already know what the other guys do. And I know McLeod is not the biggest, but he is fearless. And if he even slows the runner down until someone gets there, well that's more than enough for me to say we have improved.
I am expecting Michael Brockers to make a strong push for the pro bowl. As well as Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, and Janoris Jenkins. I don't expect them all to make it, but I do expect them all to receive much more respect by seasons end. Janoris may have the toughest road of any defensive player ahead of him.
With so much great success last year with creating splash/tidal wave plays, expectations are running high for Jenks, and no one is trying to tame them. Even a repeat performance may be viewed as regression in the eyes of some. He set the bar extremely high for himself. We will face a lot of teams that like to air it out this year, so he will have ample opportunity to increase his production.
Robert Quinn is at a crossroads right now. Entering his third season he is already a feared DE. But he has yet to really tap into his real potential. This is the season for him to let go and be the man child we know he is. Facing all the passing teams we will face this yr, we have a chance to get even more sacks than last year, and Quinn will play a major role in that.
Special teams could very well be my favorite part of the team this year. Its going to be explosive and hard hitting (hopefully we don't get tagged with a bunch of BS fines). Tavon will take two back on punts. I believe Cunningham will ultimately win the KOR job, and take one back. Before season's end, he and Tavon will be the top two options. And all the UDFAs to make the team will be laying wood on all the special teams.
- Matt Daniels=physical
- Stewart=finally physical
- Gerald Rivers=physical
Mark my words, by week 7 we all will enjoy special teams more than expected. Special teams will be that action thriller movie that has its viewers on the edge of their seats.
Also, with Jo-Lonn Dunbar being suspended, I am expecting, Ray Ray Armstrong, and Daren Bates to get a few snaps here and there with the ones. I don't believe for one second Will Witherspoon will receive all the available snaps in his absence. Much like Cunningham and Stacy, this suspension will provide four weeks worth of invaluable reps for the young backers.
Last year the defense carried the rest of the team. This year I see the defense and special teams carrying the team. This means progress. The youth and lack of cohesiveness on offense will cost the offense. While it will be more explosive and competitive, it will not be what is expected. The offense will be middle of the pack in both yards and points. I think 23 points a game and 355 yds a game is fair. The added help (ST) plus a steadily improving defense will help the Rams to a better record, but not the shoe in record we want. Not yet.
Stay tuned for the entire schedule prediction and overall record.