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Team Report - ST. LOUIS RAMS

Team Report - ST. LOUIS RAMS

January 24, 2014 1:32 AM The SportsXchange

Snead believes Rams growing together

NOTES, QUOTES

--Rams general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher steadfastly stand behind quarterback Sam Bradford as who the offense will be built around and have confidence he will be ready for the start of training camp. Bradford suffered a torn ACL against Carolina on Oct. 20

Said Snead, "We have every reason to believe from the doctor's reports that he will be ready for training camp. But we won't put a false time line on it."

Asked whether there's the possibility he could be ready to do some work in OTAs, which begin in May, Snead said, "That would be unwise. We don't want to push it. There might be the chance of doing a little, but it's more important to give him that one or two more months."

While the narrative continues that the Rams should consider selecting a quarterback with the second pick in the draft, whether it's to replace Bradford or have a younger option available if Bradford's health falters, Snead said, "As we've said, Sam's our starting QB. And maybe that's too way out of the box to take a QB that high."

It is expected, however, that they will consider adding a quarterback in the second through fourth rounds, especially if they are able to trade down from the second pick in the draft and acquire extra choices.

--Some of the most important decisions the Rams will make in the offseason are on the offensive line. Rodger Saffold, who started at three different positions and showed that guard might be his best position, is scheduled for unrestricted free agency.

Starting left guard Chris Williams and backup guard Shelley Smith are also unrestricted. Left tackle Jake Long will be rehabbing from ACL surgery, while center Scott Wells and right guard Harvey Dahl have significant salaries.

Asked about the plan for the line, Snead said, "That's what the offseason is for. We have got a plan so it's not a stressful situation. It's something that has got a lot of moving parts that we've got to address and keep them from moving."

Talking about Long and Saffold, Snead added, "One will be a rehab situation; one is an unrestricted free agent. Of any group I was most proud of, it was that group this year. I have a heart for offensive linemen because that's your basketball team. It's not just one great player. It's five guys working together."

The question with Saffold might be value, considering his injury history and if the Rams can offer him enough to stay if their plan is to play him at guard.

Snead noted that the league has changed from the days where only left tackles got paid.

He said, "I think today in the NFL, it's not like it (once was). Now you see right tackles getting paid if they're really good, you see guards getting paid if they're really good. A lot of teams probably, it's not utopia so your best two players might be your right tackle and right guard so those teams usually pay them. I think it's a little broader now."

--Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, suspended for the first four games of the season, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

Asked if he wants to stay with the Rams, Dunbar replied succinctly, "Absolutely."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Rams left tackle Jake Long underwent reconstructive surgery recently on his knee. Long was injured in the Rams' Week 16 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneeers on Dec. 22.

Long's right knee buckled while pass-blocking and tests later revealed that he had a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) as well as a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL). Surgery was delayed until the MCL healed.

Scheduled to be unrestricted in March:

--QB Kellen Clemens.

--LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar.

--S Matt Giordano.

--QB Brady Quinn.

--T/G Rodger Saffold.

--G Shelley Smith.

--S Darian Stewart.

--G Chris Williams.

--LB Will Witherspoon.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Sam Bradford (injured reserve). Backups -- Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis. Injured reserve: Brady Quinn.

Bradford was making solid progress when the running game finally got going in Week 5, but then suffered a torn ACL two weeks later and was lost for the season. His passer rating was over 111 in the three games after the Rams lost three of their first four games. Clemens kept the ship upright taking over for Bradford, but struggled in games against tough defenses when the ground game also had issues. Bradford had 14 touchdown passes and just four interceptions in the seven games he played, while Clemens had eight touchdown passes and seven interceptions in nine games. Davis was cut at the end of training camp and brought back after Bradford was injured. Quinn was also signed following Bradford's injury, but practiced one week before injuring his back and ending up on injured reserve. The Rams believe Bradford will be ready for the start of training camp.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Zac Stacy. Backups -- Benny Cunningham, Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson, Chase Reynolds.

Stacy had just one rushing attempt in the first four games of the season before being given the opportunity to start in Week 5 against Jacksonville. He cemented his hold on the job with a tough running style that isn't fancy but is effective. He fell just short of 1,000 yards with 973 and had 250 carries, an average of just under 21 per game in those he started. Cunningham ascended to the No. 2 job, and showed quickness whenever he replaced Stacy, averaging 5.6 yards per attempt while gaining 261 yards. Pead rarely played on offense, but did contribute on special teams in the second half of the season. Richardson opened the season as the starter, but injured his foot in that game and was rarely active for the rest of the season. Reynolds was on the roster only for special teams.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jared Cook. Backups -- Lance Kendricks, Cory Harkey, Mike McNeill.

Cook didn't produce the huge numbers that perhaps some expected after he joined the team in free agency, but he did finish the season as the team's leading receiver with 51 receptions for 671 yards and five touchdowns. He did improve as a blocker as the season progressed. Kendricks did a good job as a blocker and had four touchdown catches, tied for second on the team. Harkey also contributed as a blocker, and made some plays in the passing game. McNeill was mostly used on special teams.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, Backups -- Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Brian Quick, Justin Veltung.

Givens seemed to take a step back from his rookie 2012 season, but some of the evaluation of receivers is skewed by Bradford's injury and the fact that pass attempts went down with Clemens under center, especially in games where the running game was working well. Givens did average 16.7 yards per catch, but had only 34 and never found the end zone all season. Pettis played more in the beginning of the season than in the second half although he did get more snaps in the final few weeks. The Rams had difficulty early getting the ball in Austin's hands in space, and his 10.5-yard average was hiked by an 81-yard touchdown play. He missed the final three games of the season because of an ankle injury. Quick had a strong average per catch (16.8), but had just 18 receptions. The Rams believe his third season could be the one where he begins to make a bigger impact. Bailey was a standout on special teams in the first half of the season, and then started seeing the field more on offense late in the season. There was enough improvement to believe he can be a much larger factor in 2014. Veltung was added to the roster to return punts when Austin was injured.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Jake Long, LG Chris Williams, C Scott Wells, RG Harvey Dahl, RT Joe Barksdale. Backups -- T/G Rodger Saffold, G Shelley Smith, C Tim Barnes, C Barrett Jones, T Mike Person, G Brandon Washington. Injured reserve: T Graham Pocic.

This unit saw changing parts throughout the season. Long was stout most of the season, but then suffered a torn ACL in Week 16 against Tampa Bay. Williams was the only lineman to start all 16 games, and he was solid all season. Wells started the first 12 games and was the anchor of the unit as the running game excelled. However, a foot injury knocked him out for the final four games. Dahl started only nine games and was also shelved by a knee injury. Barksdale also started 12 games and showed coaches enough that he might be the future at the position. Saffold was the jack-of-all-trades. He started the first two games of the season at right tackle before a knee injury put him on the sideline for four weeks. When he returned, he shared time with Barskdale until Dahl was injured. Saffold then started five games at right guard and showed the coaching staff that might be his best postion because of his athleticism and ability to pull. When Long went out, Saffold started the season finale at left tackle. For the season, he played 12 games, and started nine at three different positions. Smith was a serviceable backup, and started one game at right guard. Barnes started the final four games after Wells was injured. Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2013, was active for the final four games after Wells' injury. He improved his strength during the season and will need to do more of that in the offseason.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DRE Robert Quinn, DRT Michael Brockers, DLT Kendall Langford, DLE Chris Long. Backups -- E William Hayes, E Eugene Sims, E Sammy Brown, T Jermelle Cudjo, T Matt Conrath.

A candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, Quinn was simply a game-changer. He affected game plans and was often unblockable. In addition to his 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles, he also improved greatly against the run. Long was his usual relentless self, and an excellent bookend to Quinn with 8.5 sacks. Brockers and Langford were stout inside and helped the Rams improve to ninth against the run and they allowed only 3.7 yards per rush. They also had 5.5 and 5.0 sacks, respectively. Hayes is an excellent rotation end and also added 5.0 sacks. Sims is able to play outside and inside and can be disruptive. Cudjo and Conrath were OK as depth tackles, but the Rams might want to upgrade there in the offseason.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Alec Ogletree, MLB James Laurinaitis, SLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Backups -- OLB Ray Ray Armstrong, OLB Will Witherspoon, OLB Daren Bates. Injured reserve: Phillip Steward.

Ogletree, as a rookie, wrestled the tackle title away from Laurinaitis with 155, including 122 solo. He got better and better each week and had six passes defensed. Laurinaitis was still consistent and had 144 tackles, eight passes defensed and 3.5 sacks. Dunbar missed the first four games of the season because of a league suspension, but his return helped the run defense improve in the second half of the season. The remainder of the linebackers were mainly used on special teams. Armstrong developed into one of the team's best special teams players as long as he avoided penalties. Witherspoon was signed at the start of training camp when news of the Dunbar suspension hit, and he rarely played once Dunbar returned.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Trumaine Johnson, RCB Janoris Jenkins, FS Rodney McLeod, SS T.J. McDonald. Backups -- CB Brandon McGee, CB Quinton Pointer, S Darian Stewart, S Matt Giordano, S Cody Davis. Injured reserve: CB Cortland Finnegan, S Matt Daniels.

The numbers didn't look particularly good for the pass defense, but the Rams played some top quarterbacks and the group was extraordinarily young, especially after Finnegan was lost for the season. There were those that believed Jenkins regressed from his rookie season, but he was put in situations that challenged him because of his ability. There were plays made against him, but he also held out well much of the time. Johnson showed growth from his rookie season, is good in coverage and most of the time in run support. McDonald started as a rookie and after missing seven games because of a broken bone in his leg, came back to start the final five games. McLeod started all 16 games and while he's not a difference-maker, he doesn't make many mistakes. McGee looks like a player that will improve with more playing time. He's very smart and should benefit from an offseason. Stewart will be an unrestricted free agent, as is Giordano. Finnegan will likely have to take a pay cut to return. Daniels has shown promise each of his two seasons with the team, but has been on injured reserve both years.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Greg Zuerlein, P Johnny Hekker, LS Jake McQuaide, KOR/PR Tavon Austin, KOR Benny Cunningham, PR Justin Veltung.

Zuerlein missed only two field-goal attempts all season and was third in the league in touchbacks with 67.5 percent. Hekker was named first-team All-Pro after setting an NFL record with a net average of 44.2 yards. Only 30 of his 78 punts were returned, and for a total of 79 yards, the fewest in the NFL. He had just four touchbacks and 19 punts inside the 20. McQuaide was automatic. Austin struggled somewhat to find running room on punt returns, although he did have several long runs called back by penalties. He had an electric 98-yard touchdown return and finished with an 8.5-yard average.

PROGNOSIS / OUTLOOK

Things are looking up in St. Louis. The Rams appear playoff-bound in 2014. Bradford was having his best season before being injured and with another year in the offense he will only improve further. A winning run-first offensive philosophy has been established led by breakout rookie of the year candidate RB Zac Stacy while rookie WR's Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey flashed offensive brilliance as well. Because the Rams have a playoff caliber defense the offense only needs a few pieces to breakout which we believe will be found in the upcoming NFL Draft. The steady improvement of Bradford, more top draft picks, combined with a strong running game and already dominant defense means St Louis should return to the playoffs in 2014 with a trip to the Super Bowl soon after.

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Note: I added the last paragraph. :-) Go Rams!

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/team-report-st-louis-rams-205339358--nfl.html

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