Training camp is right around the corner and so is the start of a new era for the St. Louis Rams. Season, team and camp previews are going to start trickling out around the internet in the weeks ahead, and Turf Show Times is going to take a look at all of them, every single one, with a close eye on just how well the national correspondents really know the Rams. Today, we put Peter Schrager at Fox Sports under the microscope.
Let's get started.
It doesn't take much to see that the Rams' future hinges on Sam Bradford. Schrager nails that with his "Burning Question" in the preview. The crux:
But part of that is on Bradford, too. He really stunk. I rewatched some of his film from last season, and he was antsy in the pocket, had poor accuracy and seemed easily frustrated when things didn't go his way. Everyone is still high on Bradford in St. Louis, but with four first-round picks in the next two years, he better perform in 2012.
I don't think anyone here who watch the Rams play last year would deny Bradford's struggles. Jaws at ESPN talked about the Rams quarterback getting "cabin fever" in the pocket and reacting to pressure that wasn't really there. To an extent, I think some of that can be attributed to the abuse he took behind the line; it may have shell shocked him a bit and snowballed. When you go back and watch what a haphazard game plan Josh McDaniels called last year, it's little wonder.
Bradford has a dedicated quarterback coach that works with him on the fundamentals every day. The Rams also are installing a conservative offense designed to run the ball often, que off the play action and take advantage of the short and quick passes. That should help get him back on track, but, like Schrager says, with a pair of first rounders in the next two drafts and affordable rookie contracts, the Rams will have plenty of options.
Camp Battle To Watch
This pundit goes right to the left guard spot, which makes sense given his take on the situation with Bradford and the importance of running the ball in the Rams' new offense.
On the fight card for the left guard spot, Schrager has a foursome of Bryan Mattison, Quinn Ojinnaka, Rokevious Watkins and Barry RIchardson. His take:
Mattison saw some action last season, and though he didn't wow, is a serviceable pro. Ojinnaka comes from the Colts, where he was a reserve, and Barry Richardson is a vet who's better suited at tackle. The wild card is Rokevious Watkins, a fifth-round pick in April who's a hulk of a man. He's 6 feet 4 and easily 350 pounds and played both guard and tackle at South Carolina. The Cardinals and Rams feature two of the best front sevens and pass rushes in the sport.
Taking nothing away from Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, but I don't wonder if he meant the 49ers with Justin Smith. Either way, both front lines will be a big problem for the Rams if the left guard is at all shaky.
I'll be interested to see if Barry Richardson gets some reps at guard. He was terrible, really terrible, on the right tackle side for the Chiefs, so maybe a move inside will limit his exposure. Watkins is my early pick to win the contest, even as a rookie.
In ranking the training camp battles, I would definitely put left guard over outside linebacker. I would also put it above the second cornerback job because the Rams have known talents competing for that one.
Free Agent of Note
Schrager goes with center Scott Wells over Cortland Finnegan, the obvious pick. Again, given that his arguments here hinge on the Rams offense improving, it's no wonder he picked Wells.
Now Wells has to get healthy. He missed almost all of the team's spring practices, and at 31 his health will be an ongoing concern. The Rams do have a pair of intriguing young players behind him on the depth chart, a pair of undrafted free agents from the last two years, former Mizzou center Tim Barnes and LSU pivot T-Bob Hebert. Both have talent, but Bradford really needs Wells' experience, especially since the coaches want Wells to make the protection call this year.
Player to Watch
Robert Quinn - It's hard to argue with that one. Quinn looked the part in limited work last season. With Chris Long now established as one of the top pass rushers in the game, blockers will have to key on him, leaving Quinn with less protection to deal with on his way to the pocket.
This preview goes with two or three more wins for the Rams, which would put them at 5-11 for the season. Considering where they came from, that's a big improvement. Schrager says it's still last place in the NFC West. I beg to differ, as I think the Cardinals are ticketed for that dubious distinction.
Grading the Preview
Not bad at all. Like some national pundits churning these things out, this preview shows that the guy knows the situation in St. Louis. It was focused heavily on the offense, justifiably so given the Rams' troubles scoring lately. I would really have liked to know where he sees the additional wins coming from.
Also missing, a look at the defense. He mentioned Robert Quinn, but will the moves on defense make a difference in his opinion?