We spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the 2011 NFL Draft and free agency. And who can blame us? Being a fan means wearing your armchair GM badge sometimes. However, there's another important part of the equation that will be key for the St. Louis Rams to grow into a competitive football team: developing the young players already on the roster.
The Rams have been very fortunate with some of their recent draft picks in the last two years. Players like James Laurinaitis, Bradley Fletcher, Jason Smith and Sam Bradford have all played key roles as rookies. Injuries shortened a couple promising first years, and each of those players grew or will be expected to grow in their sophomore season. Imagine how the Rams might have fared if those players struggled as rookies. The other players drafted along with those guys will be expected to play better football this season, increasing their role and giving the team some much needed depth at key positions.
Inspired by Gomer7's fan post, let's take a look at some of the players on defense that need to step up in 2011.
Gomer7 identifies Jerome Murphy, George Selvie and Darrell Scott as three players who need to take a leap forward this year.
Selvie was probably the most notable of those three last season. He saw time in the Rams' blitz packages and picked up a couple of sacks. Could he evolve into just what the Rams need on the other side of Chris Long as James Hall's role reduces with age?
Like Gomer7, I'm still confident that Murphy can develop. Cornerback isn't the easiest position for rookies to step into right away and be solid contributors (which makes Bradley Fletcher even more impressive). Here's what G7 said:
Not to worry, all Murphy's problems stemmed from hesitancy which is very common for rookie DBs. I cant wait for Murphy to feel confdent enough in the scheme to use is aggression in a way that benefits the defense. Look for him to take over in the nickel package being that King and Dockery will most likely not be back.
I don't know about King coming back; he's scheduled to be a restricted free agent. Regardless, Murphy should be the odds on favorite for the third CB spot.
Darrell Scott was a big disappointment last year, and eventually Jermelle Cudjo was getting more playing time by TST's numbers. Scott will need to have a good training camp to keep a roster spot, especially if the Rams are already looking at DTs in the draft.
As far other players on that side of the ball that need to step up, I'd add every linebacker that saw time in the weakside rotation. Obviously, that group isn't going to be more than role players, but guys like Larry Grant who were just getting their first heavy dose of playing time need to at least be able to contribute as depth and role players.
Rookie S Darian Stewart beat out a much more experienced James Butler for playing time as the season went along.
And what about DE Eugene Sims, drafted in the sixth round last year? He saw a little playing time last year, nothing notable. He came from a small school, West Texas A&M, so the adjustment probably factored into his rookie season. Sims had the raw tools you like to see in a pass rusher. Can the Rams coaches help him put it together this year?