The St. Louis Rams are heading full charge into the 2012 season through mini-camps and organized team activities, coming off a horrendous five-year record of 15-65.
Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney are out. Jeff Fisher and Les Snead are in.
Fans and media pundits expect vast improvement this upcoming season, and the new regime believes its plan to rebuild the team is ahead of schedule.
The team has made significant free-agent signings this offseason, including Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells and Steve Smith amongst others. Notable draft picks include Michael Brockers, Brian Quick, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead and Chris Givens.
While the 2011 season was overall a disappointment, some players such as James Laurinaitis, Chris Long and Robert Quinn all showed positive signs in their play as they strive to become complete players.
However, what are realistic expectations for the Rams' 2012 season? Here are some milestones the Rams will and will not reach this upcoming season.
In 2011, the Rams' rush defense ranked 31st in the NFL, allowing more than 152 yards per game on the ground. The Rams also allowed 17 rushing touchdowns in addition to 2,433 yards. Only four more teams allowed more touchdowns through the run than the Rams.
Don't expect the trend to continue.
The Rams now have three first-round picks anchoring their defensive line: Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers. The 2011 season brought Long into discussions amongst the top players at defensive end in the league, and Quinn showed flashes of brilliance in his limited playing time.
Additionally, a healthy and improved secondary should allow James Laurinaitis and the linebackers to stack the line rather than dropping back into coverage.
With the combination of Jeff Fisher's smash-mouth style of football and an improved offense, the Rams' defense should be tougher with more time off in between defensive sets. Former head coach Steve Spagnuolo, who has primarily been a defensive coordinator in the NFL, seemed to lack the ability to bring his players to the next level.
If anyone can, it's Fisher.
The Rams will be a much-improved team this season, based off acquisitions and better coaching through Jeff Fisher's staff, but not good enough to overtake the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West—just yet.
Pre-draft, I predicted the Rams to go 7-9. I believe they drafted some guys who will make an immediate impact and could see the team going 8-8.
The 49ers were an NFL powerhouse in 2011 with a 13-3 record, mostly due to the team's intimidating defense. A problem for teams in the NFC West is that all 11 starters that made up the lauded defense last season will return in 2012.
If anything hampered the 49ers last season, it would have been the offense, but the team hasn't stood pat there this offseason.
Notable offensive signings for the 49ers include Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to pair with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, and Brandon Jacobs to couple with Frank Gore. Not to mention the draft pick of A.J. Jenkins.
The Rams will be good, but not good enough.
Quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a regression last season, falling into the dreaded sophomore slump. He was sacked an alarming 36 times, and has a quarterback rating of 70.5, which ranked him 30th in the league.
On paper, though, Bradford's inconsistencies look as if they could turn around.
His favorite target, Danny Amendola, is back in the fold after suffering an early-season injury that kept him off the field for 2011. The team added Steve Smith via free agency and drafted Brian Quick and Chris Givens, who both look to make an immediate impact.
The offensive line should see improvement also, which is critical to Bradford's success. The team upgraded at center by signing former Green Bay Packer Scott Wells. Rodger Saffold is back from an injury that ended his 2011 season and will look to turn back into his rookie self. After taking a pay cut to stay in St. Louis, Jason Smith will be out to prove to a new coaching staff that he was worthy of the No. 2 overall pick in 2009. Harvey Dahl will continue to be an anchor on the line.
And let's not forget rookie running back Isaiah Pead is another weapon for Bradford to utilize to make the Rams' offense that much more dynamic.
A greater quantity of improved weapons plus an upgraded and healthy offensive line should equate to big positive for the young QB.
In 2011, Robert Quinn earned five sacks while playing just 52 percent of the defensive snaps for the Rams. It's hard for a rookie to settle into his position when he rotates in and out 50 percent of the time.
Quinn should be a starter at defensive end on the opposite side of Chris Long. When he settles in, he's going to be a beast at his position while he shatters any second guesses to whether he should have been selected by the Rams in the first round last year.
The young defensive end is a strong, quick and athletic pass-rusher who also made an impact on special teams in 2011, showing the ability to block kicks. In limited playing time, he ranked second on the team with 14 quarterback hits.
He continually finds ways to pressure the ball.
It's hard to tell how many sacks Quinn will net, but if forced into a prediction, I'm very optimistic with 13-14.
Running back Steven Jackson has seven straight 1,000-plus-yard seasons. Whether he has been part of solid offenses or poor ones, Jackson reaching the 1,000-yard plateau has been a given.
Until this year.
In his seven straight 1,000-plus yard seasons, Jackson reached the mark by less than 50 yards three different times. The last two seasons, he cleared 1,000 by 241 yards in 2010 and 145 yards in 2011. He's only significantly cleared 1,000 yards twice in his career by more than 400 yards.
Typically Jackson hasn't blown past 1,000 yards on a season. Partially, its been due to nagging injuries that hampered his ability, as the running back has suffered an injury in each of the last five seasons.
Throughout his injury-plagued career, Jackson hasn't had to compete much with other elite backs for carries.
Enter the emergence of rookie Isaiah Pead.
I'd expect Jackson to get the strong majority of the carries in the backfield, but Pead will cut into his workload significantly. Jeff Fisher and Les Snead are building for the future, which is more likely to include Pead rather than Jackson.
Pead is the running back of the future for the Rams. Jackson is the talented back who went underappreciated during year after year of bad football in St. Louis. The rookie will eventually have to take over for the 28-year-old veteran, and it could come sooner rather than later with Jackson set to make $7 million in the final year of his contract with the Rams next season.
Expect to see the future showcased.