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St. Louis Rams: 2015 In Review...

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"Falling is easy... It's getting back up - time, and again - that's hard..."

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

"If you get up one more time than you fall, you will make it through." ~ Chinese Proverb

Falling...

Falling came easy for the St. Louis Rams in 2015. Yet, this team - filled with talent - seemed to claw its way back up thru grit and passion. At the beginning of the season, a seemingly awe-inspiring defense looked loaded from stem to stern. Then injuries hit. Promising young corner back E.J. Gaines and outside linebacker Alec Ogletree were the first of many to go down. But three years of hard work building this defense paid off, with my 2015 season game ball going to Jeff Fisher & Co. for borderline unbelievable roster depth. St. Louis hit the list of great defensive teams in 2015, and I see great things for this unit in 2016.

There's some free agent questions to be answered. The biggest names hitting the open market in 2016 are corner backs Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins. Roster depth will make potentially losing one or both of these players less painful to the Rams than it would've only a year or two ago...

**

"Quarterback! Quarterback! O' wherefore art thou..."

For NFL fans, quarterbacks are a "love 'em - hate 'em" kind of thing... Elite quarterbacks are rare, which often has me shaking my head. Why? Well, think of all the college football teams in this country. Each have a quarterback - I would assume? - that's spent his early life nurturing his God given ability to lead an offense. Some separate from the pack, and move up a mythical ladder to the peak of their position in college. Then the NFL Draft comes along, which assigns value based on metrics that make the closest FBI check look like a simple head nod... They arrive in NFL training camps as heralded top picks, or dark horse prospects. Here is where a hyper-Darwinian collision happens, and it's rarely pretty at the start. A college quarterback - who only weeks before was the "BMOC" (Big Man On Campus) - finds out just how little he really learned about the position in college...

To my mind, any position in the NFL is about one thing: Speed. We often hear from rookies how the "game has slowed down" for them as they transition into the NFL. I would submit it's actually that each rookie has either found a new, higher gear - both mentally, and physically - within him, or they never will... Quarterbacks' lives can be down right cruel, especially for those coming out of college. Monster-ego driven, the vast majority never ascend into the ranks of "Elite" quarterbacks. The best case for most is a career hopping form team to team as a journeyman.

When the St. Louis Rams traded Sam Bradford for Nick Foles, it actually looked like a great swap. The Rams got a quarterback who seemed less likely to crumble under the physical pounding of the NFL. He'd had a 2013 season of note with the Philadelphia Eagles, and fit a "game manager" mold St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher might covet. "Hand the ball off, and throw a pass or two... But for God's sake just don't..." You get the idea, right? But it didn't work out the way even I thought it would. Nick Foles displayed a number of traits I love: leadership, toughness... Yet, in the end Fisher gave him the hook; benching him for young journeyman Case Keenum, and rookie Sean Mannion. If you know anything about Jeff Fisher, his benching of Foles was well outside his norm. Fisher flat out turned his back on Foles when he went with Keenum?

So as 2015 winds to a close, what's going to happen at the quarterback position going forward? Affording a top tier free agent quarterback - if one even becomes available? - is a huge question. The attendant risks of throwing big money at a signal caller is downright scary too. If I've learned anything as a football enthusiast, it's this: The un-sung symbiosis of a quarterback and offensive coordinator can't be understated. But it often is, as the St. Louis Rams well know...

(Photo Credit: My very good friend, Pete Dunbar)

I think Jeff Fisher has to make an enormous decision going forward when it come to a quarterback. Newly crowned offensive coordinator Rob Boras will have to be closely studied. If he indeed stays - which I think he will, much to Jeff Fisher's detriment in 2016 - he has to be given full control over finding a quarterback to fit HIM, not Fisher's offensive side-of-the-ball ideal. Should Boras turn out to be a pure-party-line coach, he's going to epic-ally fail. If a new coordinator is brought in, he'll need the same unswerving control too.

***

The "Fan-Flaw"...

Looking back, I can see just how "fan-ish" I was at the start of the 2015 season. When a team - ANY team - drafts as many offensive linemen at one time as the Rams did, there was simply no way I should've expected the St. Louis offense to excel. Admit it! Raise your hand high in the air if you fell into the same trap I did? Wait! Brandon Bate, put your arm down unless you've showered at least once this week! ...And I said one hand - not two - so you can put the other one down...

For many, left tackle Greg Robinson was a disappointment in 2015. Not for me, simply because the college tape on this young man showed just how good he can ultimately be. Learning curves are individual things, and while painful for fans to live through, I submit it's even more so for a player like Robinson. His potential is undeniable. I do believe he'd be a better fit with a mobile quarterback at the helm, since pass blocking against NFL defensive ends and linebackers is never an easy thing to do. He'll have his "light bulb" moment very soon, and - I believe - turn into one of the best left tackles in the NFL.

The much injuries Rodger Saffold is a key for the St. Louis Rams going forward. Money concerns aside, planning on Saffold to finish an entire season isn't much better than think Sam Bradford could during his tenure. For me, keeping Saffold honestly doesn't have a whole lot of logic to it? In point of fact, keeping him means you HAVE TO have a second player on the roster just to fill his potential void. I can't fathom it being reasonably held to pay two players to fill a single position concern. Wouldn't make more sense to have a guard you can count on; paying a single tab for the job, not two? I'm just sayin'...

****

I see three wide receivers - on the current St. Louis roster  - going into 2016...

Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt and Bradley Marquez... Yes, no Brian Quick, or Wes Welker. Welker was added for that mid-season five game stretch debacle we aren't going to talk about... If St. Louis had come out of "The Stretch" 5-0, and headed toward the post season, Welker would've been a smart addition. I doubt he'll be on the roster when the 2016 NFL year begins. Brian Quick is just not ever going to be "The Guy" at wide receiver. His 2014 injury hit at a bad time. He was just starting to gel into a viable weapon, then... You know the rest. Bottom line: NFL roster spots - and player growth - have a shelf life. Quick' devastating should injury isn't ever going to allow him back into any future discussion as a potential franchise receiver. It just isn't, so it's time to move on. I'm not even going to think about Stedman Bailey beyond my hopes and prayers for him to recover.

Never really a fan of using high value picks for wide receivers, - and the Rams have devoted quite a few already to their search - I'm officially on the WR1 bandwagon in the coming NFL Draft. But there's a "Catch-22" here, isn't there? Spending a first round pick on a wide receiver is one thing, but who'll throw the ball to him? Take a quarterback, and who does he have to throw too? See what I mean?

One of two things has to happen: Les Snead and Jeff Fisher appear to be in a terrible position here, in that spending big free agent money on either a top tier wide receiver or quarterback seems to be their only course. Which way would you go, because in this, I got nothin'...

*****

Coaching changes...

First, I'll lead of with: Stop yelling at me! Why? Because what I'm about to write is going to tear at more than one of you: Jeff Fisher is still the guy I want leading the St. Louis Rams... (Leaves room quickly after up-ing his e-mail spam-setting to include words like: Moron!, Idiot!, $%&#!!!!, ect...)

Any of my regular reader know I'm a Jeff Fisher fan. While the time its taken to build his defense has been long, it also reflects how much the NFL has changed. Premium players in the draft come at a premium price tag, and EVERY team has gotten better at sorting through draft prospects over the years. It took time, and so will build the offensive side of the ball. Yes, mistakes have been made. But yet another essential layer was added to the Rams as they hoarded offensive linemen in the 2015 NFL Draft. What so many fans missed, is just how horribly thin St. Louis' roster depth has been over the past decade. It takes time, and building from the ground up take even longer.

Morphing his football philosophy wasn't going to come quickly for Jeff Fisher, but what happened this season marked a turning point for the veteran head coach. It happened in one of his press conferences, or at least I think it did? When he stated for the gathered media that "...Coach is out of answers", I think he had a minor epiphany. He knew the players he has were talented, and the opponents he faced were beatable, but things weren't clicking according to his base mindset? He kicked over the table closest to him in the form of offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, Jr. What fans didn't get to hear or see is the other kicking Fisher no doubt did after his fateful presser. I'd be willing to bet EVERY offensive coach was put on notice, and I do mean every one of them. You'll see some huge changes in his coaching staff this off season, with receivers coach Ray Sherman more than likely headed towards the door. Quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke may not be too far behind too, especially if the Rams draft a top prospect at the position. Don't be surprised if a top offensive coodinator is lured to the Rams too.

Jeff Fisher knows his strengths and weaknesses, and I believe he's begun to embrace his offensive side of the ball miscues. He'll have to be careful, especially with possible team re-location spinning in the air around him. If Stan Kroenke moves his franchise to L.A. for 2016, Rob Boras is most likely history. He'll need to make a "not the same 'ol Rams" splash, while also preparing for for a potential showdown with Fisher should the Rams continue to under-perform in their new market. Ken Whisenhunt is a name to keep an eye on, and the "he was fired for not protecting Marcus Mariota" stuff is nothing but dross.

******

"I'll take the bright spots, please...!"

Losses hurt. Shortened years without making it to the post season is a knife in the gut of fans that'll remains until Draft Day, and training camps re-open. I look at the Rams in my own way. In years past, new head coaches and general managers were nothing but smoke n' mirrors. PR folks for the Rams knocked together just enough to sell a few seats, and get fans' collective hopes up. Dashed, again and again, against dream filled rocks. Season win totals of 1, 2 or 3 led to living in a Mock Draft world. I submit, it's different now...

The roster depth for St. Louis - especially on the defensive side of the ball - has me thinking I've looked at how to build an NFL team wrong over the years. If you can think along the lines too, try to recall just how bad things got when a player went down in the "Linehan-Spagnuolo- et al..." years. I think "one-deep" would come to mind for every true Rams fan?

I'll admit, its been slow in coming. Slooooowww... But great things don't often happen overnight, and building an NFL team from virtually the ground up to last takes time. It's never a perfect process, but - by and large - the Rams have moved in a well determined direction. From our armchair think-tanks, we point at this, or that... We KNOW what Jeff Fisher should've done - "I can't believe he...!"

I'm the very definition of a "glass is half full" kind of guy, so I'll leave you with this thought, and not point to some of the few - though great - wins for the St. Louis Rams in 2015. With all the young players on the Rams current roster, re-signing them as they come out of their NFL learning curves is going to be challenging. But think how much it would cost if the Rams had somehow pulled out a premature - and short lived - wild card playoff slot? Right now, the resumes for potential free agent Rams is thin, and filled with scheme driven statistics. Imagine how much a Trumaine Johnson or Janoris Jenkins could demand in a new contract if they played well on the national stage of the playoffs? "Winners" get paid; losers have to prove they aren't losers..."

Furthermore, the draft status for the pending 2016 NFL Draft has interesting overtones. The two second round draft picks the Rams hold give them the ability to move up or down the draft day board for a key player they covet. The NFC West will be a shootout in 2016, and this St. Louis team has everything they need to be in the very thick of it.

Yes, it's once again: "Wait till next season..." I'll be there waiting, thinking, dreaming, and hoping. Will you?