State of the Franchise: St. Louis Rams
February 23, 2011 Leave a comment
Before we can wrap up 2010 properly, it’s important to remember what 2009 was like for the St. Louis Rams. They had just fired head coach Scott Linehan in favor of former Super Bowl-winning New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Year one under Spags, not pretty. The team churned out one win. They were in terrible shape heading into the 2010 NFL Draft. Their only star, running back Steven Jackson was asking for a trade out of St. Louis to start fresh, and the Rams were desperate for direction.
With the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Rams selected Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. The 2009 Heisman Trophy award-winning quarterback had suffered a series of right shoulder injuries during his last year in Norman, and there were doubts throughout the scouting world that Bradford’s shoulder would hold up when hit by professional pass rushers.
Flash forward today. Sam Bradford not only successfully navigated his team and himself through a competitive season, he managed to set some rookie records along the way. He finished the season with a 75.6 passer rating, completed 60% of his passes, threw for 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns. All this without a true number one receiver to his disposal. Steve Jackson not only decided to back off his trade demands, but his posted one of his trademark season of 1,241 yards and six touchdowns. Not to mention, the Rams improved their win total by six games, and fell a game short of making the playoffs (if the Rams had beaten the Seattle Seahawks the last game of the year, they would’ve won the NFC West).
However, many of those around Rams camp, and coach Spagnuolo himself, readily admit that this team still has a long way to grow and has significant holes that need to be filled if the Rams will return back to the Kurt Warner days of competing year in and year out. The front office understands that a huge reason why the Rams were able to fight for a playoff spot last season was due to the atrocious play from the other three teams in their division. Now, it is important to give credit where credit is due: Bradford is a star quarterback in the making that has a successful football background from his days at Oklahoma. But, nobody expected the Rams to compete this year. The building blocks are there, now the Rams need to continue the climb to the top and fill significant needs.
The first of those needs the Rams have has to be a number one wide receiver. Bradford made due with what he had, and the Rams got a surprising season from second-year receiver Danny Amendola, who led the team in receptions (85), yards (689) and touchdowns (three). However, Amendola is probably best suited for a Wes Welker-slot receiver role and is not considered a true deep threat that can burn opposing defensive backs. There are options on the Free Agent market for the Rams in the form of Minnesota’s Sidney Rice, or the New York Jets’ Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. The team could also look to draft and develop their own receiver, with a deep class available in the Draft, headlined by Georgia’s A.J. Green.
Continuing to look down the list of Rams needs, the team needs to address its defensive backfield, specifically the safety position. Earlier this off-season, the team released O.J. Atogwe, who was fourth on the team in tackles (64) and second in interceptions (three). While the team hopes to negotiate a new contract with Atogwe, nothing is certain. Even if the team is able to secure Atogwe, they would love to add to their limited depth at the position either in the draft or through free agency.
Staying with defense, the team will look to upgrade their outside linebacker and defensive tackle positions this off-season as well. While James Laurinaitis continues to develop into a stud in the middle linebacker slot, leading the team in tackles (114 total) in just his second season, the team would absolutely love to build around him for a strong defensive foundation. Being from a defensive background, Steve Spagnuolo understands that building a strong front seven to eight defensive front leads to post-season success.
Furthermore, look to the Rams to try and add depth to their offensive line and find a suitable change-of-pace running back to spell Jackson from time to time. Year three in the Steve Spagnuolo coaching era will prove pivotal for the Rams. How will Sam Bradford perform with a year of NFL play under his belt? Will Steven Jackson hold up an carry the load for the Rams in the backfield? Can the defense, lead by Laurinaitis, continue to develop and improve their play?
The Rams are young, and their on the rise. But, the job isn’t complete yet. There is a lot of work left to do to regain the glory of Warner’s “Greatest Show on Turf”.