St. Louis Rams fans have a lot to be excited for in the coming season.
A new general manager will be calling the shots for the next draft. A very reputable and experienced coaching staff has been assembled to oversee games and player development.
The team will start 2012 completely healthy. The schedule will probably be much easier to handle than last year. There will be a lot of new talent coming in through the draft and some additions in free agency.
The Rams have the foundation of a winner in place. There are still needs to be filled and problems to be fixed, but the pieces are there for Jeff Fisher and the Rams to give fans a much better year than expected. Here are some achievements and milestones that the team will accomplish this year.
S-Jax has been the workhorse of the offense his entire career. He has always been near the top of the league in carries, and he has made good use of his chances.
Seven straight 1,000-plus-yard seasons, incredible when you consider how defenses load up the box and focus on shutting him down. But for a variety of reasons, Jackson has only had one year with double-digit touchdowns.
That will change in 2012 as the offensive line will find some stability, and new game-breaking receivers will come in to take some of the pressure off the running game. Steven Jackson will barely break the plane with 10 touchdowns next season, but will add that to an eighth straight 1,000-yard season.
The new assistant coaches in Dave McGinnis, Gregg Williams and Chuck Cecil have more than 50 years of NFL coaching experience between them.
Williams' blitzing schemes will find a lot of success in St. Louis, and McGinnis and Cecil are also fine defensive minds.
Jeff Fisher and the new coaches know what they're doing, and are one of the more knowledgeable staffs in the league. They will get a lot of attention and praise for the turnaround they'll cause in St. Louis next season.
Chris Long finally had a much-awaited breakout year with 13 sacks. And while top draft pick Robert Quinn did not reach double digits, he showed promise with five sacks in limited playing time.
Both are young players, Long coming into his prime at 26 years old, and Quinn only 21. Neither will receive many double-teams next year, as the presence of the other will preclude that possibility.
In addition, the Rams will most likely add a new defensive tackle, providing an interior complement to the two ends and allowing them to focus on chasing down the opposing quarterback. Long will turn in another 10-plus sack year, and Robert Quinn will at worst get eight sacks.
It's hard to believe that St.Louis will have a winning record at the end of 2012, after going 2-14 and gunning for the No. 1 pick most of the year. The team hasn't had a winning season since 2003 and the start of the Marc Bulger era.
There were games last year where, without stupid drive-killing penalties, or with a full complement of starters, the Rams could have won and easily ended the season 4-12 or 5-11. Not that much of an improvement, but still much more respectable than 2-14.
With a little luck, 9-7 isn't out of the realm of possibilities.
The 49ers are clearly the dominant team in the NFC West, but the rest of the division is still weak. Of the Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks, none of the three could manage a winning record last season, with Arizona somehow coming the closest after squeezing out 8-8
St.Louis isn't ready to battle San Francisco for the division crown. But the Rams' 9-7 record in 2012 will be enough to make the team contenders for an NFC wild-card spot.
Fisher was historically good during his stint with the Titans, and will bring consistency to St.Louis
He adds an edge and attitude to the defense, as well as experience in the postseason. Fisher has already shown some initiative in building the staff around him. And with the talented young players the Rams have, he will be able to coach them up.
The Coach of the Year award will stay in the NFC West, as Jeff Fisher engineers a Harbaugh-esque turnaround in St.Louis.
The argument could be made that Laurinaitis should have made the Pro Bowl in 2011. Yes, the Rams had a terrible run defense. But his stats were worthy of a trip to Hawaii.
Eighth in the league in tackles, a leader in interceptions among that group, third in solo tackles. And he did all of that with the multitude of injuries on defense.
Laurinatis will only get better as the Rams add more players around him. He didn't make it to Hawaii this year. But he'll definitely be there next year.
Bradford was on the ground more often than not last season, mainly because of a porous offensive line that allowed him to be sacked an alarming 36 times.
That will change significantly for the better, as the Rams will assuredly add offensive lineman in an effort to protect their young quarterback. Instead of running for his life, Bradford will have more time to survey the field and hit his receivers...
Bradford regressed last season, no doubt about it. But the talk of giving up on him and starting over with Luck or Griffin earlier in the season was just absurd.
No. 8 will be much better in 2012. He will have more time to throw, and better receivers to throw to. Fans will see the guy who was Offensive Rookie of the Year, rather than the dejected quarterback on the ground.
Sam Bradford will begin to validate his status as a No. 1 draft pick and franchise quarterback starting next season.
The Rams ranked almost dead last in home game attendance last season, only saved by the truly abysmal attendance numbers of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Most games, there would be thousands upon thousands of empty seats in the Edward Jones Dome. Despite the 2-14 record and the team having nothing good to show to the fans, one should still expect better from the fanbase of a still-popular franchise.
Expect attendance to go up by a lot this season, as fans will be interested to see how the new coaches, fresh talent and young core players respond as a bounce back year is expected from them.