Well, we're almost there.
The St. Louis Rams officially begin training camp on Friday, and from there it's all downhill to the 2015 regular season. We made it across the desert.
3k: The Rams certainly have been making bigger waves in the offseason than throughout the regular season in recent years, and that was the case this year. Sam Bradford out, Nick Foles in. The offensive line overhaul. And "Just" Todd Gurley. Each of those alone would have had a significant impact by themselves. But all three in one year...is it too much for any team to absorb in a single offseason?
Bate: A few splashy moves indeed. If you’d heard it once, you’d heard it a thousand times: Sam Bradford was the starting quarterback in St. Louis. Until he wasn’t. I think many fans feel relieved there was a change at QB, even if they don’t necessarily believe they got the better quarterback in the trade with the Eagles. If the offensive line - and you mentioned the overhaul - can hold up, fans won’t be holding their breath for the next shredded ACL in 2015.
I don’t think anyone saw the Gurley pick coming. While the masses are mock-drafting Brandon Scherff and Amari Cooper to the Rams, Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have a RB, which was waaaaay down the list of needs, atop their board. Now, we wait and see when he’s set for live action, and what impact he’ll have on the Rams’ run game.
Too much to absorb? I don’t think so. Cohesion will take time though. While the Rams’ O-line is very young and inexperienced, the alternative was retaining Jake Long, Scott Wells, and Davin Joseph. Thanks, but no thanks.
3k: The tough pill for Rams fans to swallow is that Jake Long, Scott Wells and Davin Joseph were the solution Jeff Fisher and Les Snead came up with. The same braintrust (minus Brian Schottenheimer) that looked at that group and said "these are the guys who are going to get it done" went out and got a ton of new NFLers and are saying 'these are the guys who are going to get it done". Tough to feel comfortable that the guys who led us headfirst into that problem are the ones who are going to fix it on the fly in one offseason.
But hey. It's the NFL. Anything can happen in a year to any team. Why not the Rams?
Nick Foles & Co.
3k: Well, there's no need to hold your breath every time Sam Bradford takes a hit now. For that alone, I should be able to ingest the preseason with less need for antacid. And while it's an oversimplification to suggest that NFL teams perform only as well as their QBs do, the Rams have certainly been waiting for consistency at the position. Should that be that major demand from Nick Foles this year is just to show up every Sunday and not get in the way of the rest of the team?
Bate: I don’t think so. Fans want the 2013 version of Nick Foles...the guy that threw for nearly 3000 yards in 10 starts, and had 27 TD’s as opposed to two interceptions. They’re going to want him taking shots downfield and help bring life to an otherwise mundane aerial attack.
That said, that may not be the plan for new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. Maybe Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin both have third year breakout seasons. Maybe Kenny Britt, who just re-upped for two years, puts together [statistically] the best year of his still very young NFL career. Or maybe neither happen. You know, because they’re dedicated to the run game.
The Mason-Gurley Line
Bate: It’s a wait-and-see situation with Todd Gurley, and I think most are comfortable with that. Rushing players back into action with recent knee injuries hasn’t boded well for the Rams in recent years. And while Gurley was their top draft pick, the Rams have more than capable RB options in Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham and, maybe with a dash of creativity, Tavon Austin.
Mason earned the starting job early on last season and never turned back. He’s stated all offseason that people can doubt him, and it sounds like he’s using the Gurley pick as motivation to continue improving. Make no mistake, he won’t simply step aside and let someone take his job.
If Gurley’s out for a few games in an effort to ensure he’s 100% ready for live action, Tre Mason will see the majority of the workload. And I imagine he’ll still see a healthy share even as Gurley is eased back in. Is it possible that both eclipse 1000 yards in 2015? We asked...and a healthy majority viewed it as a possibility.
3k: That's "Just" Todd Gurley to you, sir. And bear in mind, Mason didn't get the job outright in 2014. Fisher's disdain for rookies knows no bounds, so I wouldn't be surprised if Gurley gets held out for a bit to start the season even if ready medically.
3k: It's just a whole crop of newness. Simple question. Is there any way this works in 2015? Like, I get the idea of molding a unit of Greg Robinson and Rob Havenstein on the ends and finding gems to plug in around and perhaps beyond Rodger Saffold's time in the interior. But is there any way that molding takes place to a degree of success in year one?
Bate: Year one? Sure. Week 1? Not likely. And that’s a problem considering they’re hosting the Seahawks. I’m not sure how long it’ll take for the offensive line to gel, but I’d like to think it’s sooner than later. Paul Boudreau certainly has his work cut out for him.
The good news is that there plenty of young, hungry competitors vying for starting time. And competition breeds excellence...or so the posters say.
3k: So wait, do the Rams have the worst WR corps in the NFC West?
Bate: I’ll say this...I could see how they’d be considered the worst, simply because potential hasn’t equalled production. But that potential could easily make them one of the best units in the West. When you’ve got players like Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin - both of which could be WR2’s on their respective squads - it’s difficult to put the Rams ahead of teams like the 49ers and Cardinals.
I’m not at all impressed with the trio of wideouts in Seattle.
3k: Am I being unfair in saying there are no excuses whatsoever for this group? I mean, they have to carry the team, yes?
Bate: Barring injury or the unforeseen [hello Jamaica!], Janoris Jenkins is a Week 1 starter. I think the most exciting position battle, potentially on either side of the ball, will be the CB2 spot between Trumaine Johnson and E.J. Gaines. Throw Marcus Roberson into the mix, and the Rams have some pretty solid depth at the position.
3k: I'm worried at how top-heavy this group is. Pray we don't see a 2011 redux.
Bate: Very excited about this unit this year. Lead by the man in the middle, James Laurinaitis is about as reliable as they come, and has been a proven leader on this defense. Alec Ogletree lead the team in tackles last year, and has a knack for causing turnovers. Akeem Ayers, the newest addition, should prove to be an upgrade over Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Gregg Williams has noted how quickly, and easily, Ayers versatility has enabled him to fit into the Rams’ defense.
3k: Unlike the cornerbacks, I like this group. Adding Ayers might be the best free agent addition of the offseason when we're looking back at the season in five months. And I'm interested in the depth battle especially as it pertains to special teams.
Offensive Line Personnel
3k: So it sounds like it's going to be Greg Robinson, Rodger Saffold, Barrett Jones or Tim Barnes at center, Jamon Brown and Rob Havenstein. I do, though, think that there's enough uncertainty among the latter three for a surprise. This is the same coaching staff and administration that went out and got Davin Joseph and started him 13 games last season.
Bate: I’m with 3k on this one for the most part. The left side of the line will most certainly be Robinson and Saffold. I wouldn’t be surprised if Demetrius Rhaney was the team’s starting center though, and for no reason other than I think it will be a very close competition, and the Rams have been high on him since being drafted last year. Jamon Brown and Havenstein are the likely starters on the right side. Garrett Reynolds and 4th round selection Andrew Donnal certainly won’t relegate themselves to backup gigs, but figure to be good for depth regardless.
Bate: I referenced it earlier, but I’m very excited to see more of E.J. Gaines in 2015, and I think his play could potentially earn him the nod as a starter. I’m not necessarily excited about any particular offensive line battle, though determining the starters will certainly make things interesting. I think you can ink Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin into starting WR spots, so I’ll be interested to see how [often] they utilize Stedman Bailey. Brian Quick figures to be his steepest competition, and that’s assuming he’s healthy.
3k: You know damn well I love an offensive line battle. Watching the back and forth between Tim Barnes and Barrett "Bama Bangs" Jones is going to be enthralling. And somehow, we're roughly 2,000 words into this preview and we're just now highlighting the SportsCenter-ready battle at long snapper between Jake McQuaide (very important roster preview piece you should read right now) and Tyler Ott (also a very important roster preview piece you should read right now)
3k: Todd Gurley and Brian Quick are both coming in dealing with serious injuries from 2014. I'm worried, honestly.
Bate: What he said. I’ll add "please don’t rush them back unnecessarily."
Bate: This one seems pretty easy for me. While I’m anxiously awaiting the first handoff to Todd Gurley, my focus will be on Jamon Brown and Rob Havenstein. They’re, in all likelihood, going to be asked to step in and compete in Week 1. They impact both the run and pass games, and their ability to get the job done factors heavily into the offense’s potential for success.
3k: I like a good UDFA churn. The Rams have actually made milk out of almonds in recent years from their UDFA crops. Daren Bates, Benny Cunningham, Marcus Roberson and long snapper Jorgen Hus all made significant impacts to say nothing of the fact that so many are around and in the mix with the 2015 UDFA class...ok maybe not Hus, but let us never forget. #JorgenHusForever
3k: This is gonna be the hardest aspect to actually evaluate, but it might be the most important in terms of overall impact to the team. Rotating the five defensive linemen, the Jo-Lonn Dunbar/Akeem Ayers/Mark Barron triad, the cornerbacks...there's a lot to figure out in the next month for Rams Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams.
Bate: I don’t see any missteps here. Gregg Williams will have this unit fired up and operating on all cylinders. I don’t suspect you’ll be waiting until Week 6 for the Rams to tally their second [also third through sixth] sack[s] of the season.
3k: Win some damn games. Please. For the good of the fan base. For the good of the blog. For starving souls everywhere. Please, please win some damn games.
Bate: I’m cautiously optimistic about 2015. I’d like to think the Rams can get to 9 wins this year, but I’m going to need to see a...re-tooled[?]...offense put it all together on Sundays. We need to see potential turn to production. Injuries to key players have hindered them over the past few seasons but, as Gregg Williams notes, "You can’t have excuses when you have injuries during the regular season. You have to be able to move people around, bring the next best guy up."
As for the defense, just pop some popcorn and watch these dudes work.