St. Louis Rams: 5 Players Who Are Critical to the Rams' Turnaround

David HeebCorrespondent IMay 11, 2012

St. Louis Rams: 5 Players Who Are Critical to the Rams' Turnaround

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    The St. Louis Rams are coming off of the worst five-year stretch in NFL history. A new head coach, Jeff Fisher, and a new GM, Les Snead, have been given the monumental task of turning this franchise around.

    They have a lot of work to do.

    Today, I am going to take a look at five players that can spearhead this turnaround. Of course, it's going to take every player and coach to make things work, but these five guys can get the ball rolling in 2012.

Danny Amendola

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    Danny Amendola caught 85 passes for 689 yards and three touchdowns in 2010, and that was catching passes from then rookie QB Sam Bradford.

    Amendola missed virtually the entire 2011 season after injuring his arm in the first half of the first game (pictured above, ouch!).

    Bradford is a much more mature QB now, and a healthy Amendola is going to give him the kind of player that can catch the ball four to six times per game.

    Amendola isn't a "field stretcher," but he works the underneath routes and picks up critical first downs. Most of all, he has sure hands and is a receiver that Bradford can trust.

Rodger Saffold

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    Rodger Saffold was the first pick of the second round (No. 33 overall) back in 2010.

    He had a terrific rookie season as the starting left tackle. He really thrived in the Pat Shurmur offense, which was a quick-pass offense that didn't force Saffold to have to block for a very long time.

    That offense was also run-heavy, something that suited Saffold. The 2011 season brought on a coaching change, and the lockout compounded this problem. Add it up, and Saffold struggled before suffering a torn pectoral muscle late in the season.

    I think Saffold will bounce back and thrive in 2012.

    Bradford got beaten to a pulp last season, and Saffold is his primary protector. If Saffold has a breakout season, expect the same from Bradford.

Cortland Finnegan

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    Cortland Finnegan had 75 tackles in 2010 and 100 tackles in 2011. That is a lot of tackles for a guy that plays corner.

    Finnegan, simply put, is one of the toughest guys on any field. He has the chance to be that true No. 1 corner, a shutdown guy that the Rams defensive coaches can count on.

    Also, Finnegan is a hard worker with the ability to instill some professionalism in a very young Rams secondary.

    This secondary has a chance to be one of the best in the NFL, and if the Finnegan plays as I expect him to, then I think that potential will become a reality in 2012.

Robert Quinn

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    Robert Quinn was the Rams' first-round pick (No. 14 overall) in 2011. He was coming off of a year at the University of North Carolina in which he missed the entire 2010 season due to NCAA problems.

    So he arrived in St. Louis a little green.

    Quinn improved every week, and he showed tremendous upside, as he recorded 23 tackles and five sacks from his defensive end position as a rookie.

    Playing opposite Chris Long, who holds down the other defensive end spot, Quinn has a chance to form one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL.

    Imagine opposing QBs trying to find an open receiver with Finnegan and Jenkins out there covering...nobody is open...Quinn and Long bearing down on him...scary!

Sam Bradford

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    In 2010, rookie Sam Bradford threw 590 passes. That's a lot.

    That season, the Rams offense ranked 21st in passing and 25th in rushing. The offense was bashed for being too conservative by a lot of fans, including me, but it did keep Bradford relatively clean.

    He was only sacked 34 times that season, and he played all 16 games.

    In 2011, Bradford was on pace to throw about 575-580 passes, which is also a lot. However, anybody who watched the Rams play last year knows that Bradford was being asked to throw a totally different type of pass.

    The new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, brought in an offense that was very complicated, and with the lockout, no time to prepare, several new, young, inexperienced players...

    It was just a mess.

    Bradford was basically being asked to hold the ball a lot longer, as the receivers had deeper routes to run, routes that took longer to develop. This requires (a) the O Line to pass-protect longer and (b) the receiver to actually get open.

    When receivers didn't get open, and Bradford was left holding the ball, he got beaten to a pulp. While Bradford was sacked 34 times in 2010 (5.4 percent sack rate), playing in all 16 games, he was sacked 36 times (9.2 percent sack rate) in 2011, playing in only 10 games.

    To be fair, some of the blame has to fall on Bradford. As the pounding started to take its toll, Bradford was holding the ball too long, and he began to appear indecisive.

    Of course, if I was standing back there getting the hell beaten out of me, I'd probably hold the ball too long, too.

    Bradford still doesn't have an elite wide receiver to throw to. He doesn't have a proven tight end. Hopefully, this year, Steve Smith proves he has something left in the tank, Danny Amendola returns to his 2010 form and second-year tight end Lance Kendricks plays up to his talent level.

    The person who could help all of those guys the most is Bradford. The great QBs in the NFL make their receivers better.

    As Bradford enters his third season, it's time for him to be the player the Rams drafted him to be. He needs help. He needs protection. He needs guys to catch the ball.

    Most of all, he needs to step up—because Bradford will have the biggest impact on the Rams' season if he does.