The St. Louis Rams were pathetic on offense last year. I could quote you statistics, but if you've been following the Rams, then you know that the product on the field is even uglier than the numbers would indicate.
With that being said, the team did address some needs this off-season. Here is an early look at the starting lineup for the Rams' offense in 2012.
Sam Bradford has a chance to be an elite QB, but unlike other high-drafted signal callers like Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Freeman, the Rams have failed miserably to surround Bradford with top-notch play-makers. To this point in his career, Bradford's best weapons to throw to have been Danny Amendola and Danario Alexander, a pair of undrafted free agents, and Brandon Lloyd, who was in St. Louis just long enough to see Bradford in a walking boot last season.
If the offensive line holds up (a big if), and the young play-makers step up, I think Bradford could have a breakout season and lead the Rams to the playoffs. Bradford is a keeper, and for all the loony-tunes in St. Louis that have called Bradford overrated, I challenge you to go back and look at Peyton Manning's early career stats. With any talented young QB, it takes time, and it takes having talented players to work with.
Steven Jackson is still one of the best runners in the league, and will remain so for another year or two. The Rams drafted Isaiah Pead in the second round of the 2012 draft, and it appears that for the first time in his career, Jackson has a backup that can come in and offer more than a breather. With Jeff Fisher's traditional "run first" philosophy (Fisherball), I think both runners will have a monster year for the Rams. Brit Miller will maintain his role as the fullback, where he will flourish in the new Rams offense as a steam-rolling blocker for Jackson.
Let the competition begin. The Rams will enter camp with nine wide receivers on the roster, in what will be a battle to improve what was one of the weakest position groups in the NFL last season. The Rams will probably carry six wide receivers, and barring something unforeseen, you have to think that the following players are a lock to make the roster: Brian Quick (second round pick, 2012), Danny Amendola (Bradford's favorite target), Chris Givens (fourth round pick, 2012), and Dominique Curry (simply because he is a special teams ace).
That leaves five players fighting over the final two spots. Steve Smith is a proven veteran, and if he is healthy, he could be an impact player. Austin Pettis was a third round pick in 2011, but he was a major disappointment, and it also doesn't help that he is suspended for the first two games of the regular season due to a violation of the league's banned substance policy. Danario Alexander offers explosive play-making ability, but he can't seem to stay healthy with his chronically aching knee. Greg Salas was very impressive last year as a rookie before he broke his leg, and personally, I think he is a keeper. Brandon Gibson has had a couple of seasons to carve out a role on the team, but simply hasn't gotten the job done.
So the final two receivers to make the roster, in my opinion, will be Salas and either Smith or Pettis. It just depends on how much Smith has left in the tank, and whether or not the Rams want to mess around with a receiver in Pettis that is going to miss the first part of the season.
This position is a giant question mark for the Rams. Lance Kendricks enters his second season as a supremely gifted athlete, and a terrific run blocker, but he has yet to develop into the type of receiver Sam Bradford desperately needs him to be. Michael Hoomanawanui is another terrific young prospect, and has been a more consistent receiver, but he can't stay healthy.
I think Kendricks will thrive as a blocker this season in the "Fisherball" approach, and with a simpler role as a receiver, I think he will settle in and become more consistent. Illinois Mike has always played well, but I doubt he will be able to stay healthy, so the Rams will be looking to young, unproven players as their second and third tight ends.
This is the "make or break" group for the Rams. If these big guys play well, then the Rams will be a legitimate playoff contender. If they underwhelm, as they have for the past two seasons, then it's going to be another long season in St. Louis, period.
Roger Saffold will be the starting left tackle, and he could be a good one. He played well as a rookie, and had his second season cut short by a major injury. Scott Wells was brought in as a free agent to play center, and he is an All-Pro player. Wells alone should make a major difference on the Rams' O Line. Harvey Dahl remains as the starter at right guard, where his elite run blocking should be a major plus in Fisher's offense.
Left guard is a giant question mark. The Rams have brought several young, unproven players in to compete for that starting job, as well as drafting "Rock" Watkins out of South Carolina in the 2012 draft. Don't be surprised if the Rams don't look around for a proven veteran that gets cut during another team's training camp.
Then there is Jason Smith, the starting right tackle, who has been a major disappointment since his arrival in St. Louis. Smith has restructured his contract for 2012, and he understands that he is playing for his next job, whether that is in St. Louis or elsewhere. I hope Smith finally puts it all together this year, as he has the size and the talent to be an elite tackle in this league.
So here is what the offense will look like in 2012. I think you'll see Bradford (QB1), Jackson (RB1), Miller (FB), Quick (WR1), Givens (WR2), Kendricks (TE1), Smith (LT1), Watkins (LG1), Wells (C1), Dahl (RG1), and Smith (RT1) as the starters, with Amendola playing a lot, like he always does, as a slot receiver. Expect Pead to get a lot of action as the backup running back, and also as a receiver on occasion, as new OC Bryan Schottenheimer will move him all around the formations. I also look for Greg Salas to continue his strong play from last season.
The Rams are going to have a very strong defense in 2012. This Rams offense could be the perfect compliment to that defense, as a run heavy, ball control, low turnover type of offense (Fisherball in a nutshell). This is the exact same approach that the San Francisco 49ers used last season. While the Rams don't quite have the talent level that the Niners had last season, the gap isn't as great as some people might think.
The Rams just need to stay healthy, pound the run, and move the chains. If they can do that, it will keep Sam Bradford clean, and that alone will make the Rams a much better football team in 2012.
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