ESPN has a post-draft, pre training camp feature up for the NFC West, with Mike Sando's piece on the Rams appearing today.
Concurring with the sentiments of so many Rams fans (myself included), Sando notes the team's most important offseason acquisition is new Offensive Coordinator Al Saunders. Combining Saunders' proven ability to turn out productive offenses with top flight talent like Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson instantly makes the Rams a competitive force in the NFC West.
The question, in Sando's mind is the Rams situation at WR, with big questions marks about Holt's knee, Bennett's seemingly lost ability, and a group of rookies behind them. It's a legitimate concern, and one we won't be able to put to rest until we're into the season. For now, let's try to allay some of those concerns, in bullet points.
- Holt's knee was balky last year, and he still managed to start all 16 games and make 93 catches for 1198 yards, virtually mirroring his 2006 season. He is a year older, 32 now, but has had time to recover in the offseason. I think the question is less about whether or not Holt can still perform at an elite level, but whether or not the Rams have enough other receiving weapons to keep Holt out of permanent double team.
- Holt's also playing out the last two years on his contract, and will be looking for a big payday when the cap-less 2010 season rolls around, potentially for a move to Carolina.
- Bennett has seen his number of catches and yards decline each season since 2004. But the 2005 and 2006 seasons in TEN, as well as last season with the Rams, featured offenses in turmoil. Back in April, we noted that Bennett, on a per play basis, actually improved in 2006 over the season prior.
- For a rookie WR, if learning an NFL playbook is hard enough, learning the Al Saunders playbook must be truly daunting. The trick will be to get Keenan Burton and Donnie Avery familiar with enough plays to make them viable. Avery has the tools to be a deep threat, and Burton could be a decent option in the middle.
- Al Saunders also has a pretty good track record with rookie WRs. As a WRs coach with the Rams in 1999, a rookie Torry Holt picked up 788 yards on 52 catches and scored 6 TDs. Granted the 1999 team was something special, but the Rams made Marshall Faulk their top receiving threat - he led the team with 87 catches and was second to Bruce in receiving yards. Don't discount the plans to make Steven Jackson into a similar pass catching threat.
- With the o-line settled and a true blocking TE in Anthony Becht, Randy McMichael will run a lot more routes. For comparison's sake, think of what Saunders did in KC with his RB, TE Tony Gonzalez, and Eddie Kennison as the top WR.
There's still plenty of 'ifs' with the Rams offense, too many to make any bold predictions, but the tools are also there to compete.
Want more assurance? Al Saunders' Cheifs went from worst to first in their division in 2003, and every year since at least one NFL team has done the same thing. At least one person thinks the Rams could be that team in 2008.