What We've Learned About Every Positional Unit so Far in Rams' Preseason
Head coach Steven Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney were fired after the conclusion of the 2011 season for earning an embarrassing 10-38 record over the last three seasons.
The last two St. Louis Rams head coaches were first-timers, so it was inevitable that owner Stan Kroenke would be eager to find a candidate with extensive experience and league-wide respect, which is why 17-year head coaching veteran Jeff Fisher was perfect for the job.
There's little doubt that Fisher, who has a career record of 142-120, will eventually bring the Rams back to respectability after an abysmal five-year stretch. Of course, the key word being "eventually."
There has been a drastic roster overhaul this past offseason, which has given fans a glimmer of hope, and perhaps, even the premature notion that the team is already prepared to challenge the NFC West for a division title.
Nothing is impossible in a division that has seen three different winners in the last three years. However, expecting the Rams to show anything other than marginal improvement is probably unrealistic, and some feel that their 38-3 preseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts was a rude awakening and a harsh reminder of that reality.
Of course, that's silly. Maybe the expectations should be low, but a preseason game is never an accurate depiction of reality.
Although, Rams fans would be feeling a lot more confident if that 38-3 score was flip-flopped.
But now that we've seen the team's first preseason exhibition, we were able to observe both positive and negative aspects of their game.
Let's go over each position and discuss what we've learned about each group so far this preseason.
The quarterback position is still a mystery heading into the season. Sam Bradford's preseason performance against the Colts was impressive, but it did little as far as fully addressing concerns from the fans.
Bradford was 7-of-9 with 57 yards with zero interceptions. The 77.0 percent completion rate and 93.1 quarterback rating supports the idea that he had a solid outing, but the scoreless drives didn't exactly scare the skepticism out of the doubters.
Bradford was able to remain poised and complete well-thrown passes in the face of pressure, but he managed to miss a wide-open Danny Amendola on a fourth-down conversion.
Also, Bradford missed Steve Smith on a deep ball, but he was under heavy pressure after fullback Brit Miller was destroyed by Robert Mathis, apparently forcing Bradford to practically throw the ball away before getting drilled.
Bottom line, there's room for improvement, but if he plays like that every game, then he'll be the least of the team's problems.
As far as the backups, both Kellen Clemens and Austin Davis were forced to deal with poor pass protection.
Clemens was ineffective for the most part, but the rookie Davis showed promise by going 12-of-18 with 84 yards.
Davis did throw an interception on the final drive of the game, but if he continues to play well, then there may be a battle brewing for the No. 2 job.
Steven Jackson looked like his usual productive self while carrying the ball four times for 17 yards.
Just for comparison, Jackson averaged 4.2 yards per carry while the other St. Louis running backs ran the ball 18 times for 49 yards, averaging out to just 2.7 yards a carry.
Rookie second-round pick Isaiah Pead was disappointing on the ground. He had a decent 11-yard run, but his other nine carries resulted in just 22 total yards.
Pead will likely pick up the pace and show more promise at some point in the preseason, but it's clear that the run game will still be dominated by Jackson, in case there was any question about that.
If the game against the Colts taught us anything, it's that the Rams are still in deep trouble if they lose Jackson for any significant amount of time.
Overall, the wide receivers had a solid game, even though the team is clearly lacking a difference-making talent.
Rookie Chris Givens dropped a difficult deep pass that hit him in the chest, but there were no other obvious drops that debilitated the offense, which is something the Rams suffered from last season.
Steve Smith ran a crisp comeback route for a nice completion and was even able to get open downfield, but the ball was overthrown. It looks as though the knee injury that kept him irrelevant for the past two seasons is finally behind him.
Brian Quick didn't play with the first-string offense, and even though there's a lot of hype due to his draft status, there's a good chance that we'll have to wait a while before he's ready to become a weapon.
Any contributions by the rookies this season is strictly a bonus. It looks as though Smith and Danny Amendola will be the primary go-to guys this season.
The Smith and Amendola duo doesn't sound too imposing at first, but it's important to remember that they are both talented players who have proven in the past that they can perform on Sundays.
The tight end position is somewhat overlooked by some, but the position is far more vital to the Rams' success than most people think.
The wide receivers on the team are far from threatening, which means the offense needs some unexpected production from the tight ends in the passing game. And likewise, the offensive line will also rely on the tight ends to beef up their run blocking and pass protection.
Lance Kendricks had two catches for 18 yards with the starting offense and is hoping to live up to his potential as a second-round pick after a somewhat disappointing rookie year.
If Kendricks can perform, it will greatly benefit the receivers and reduce the pressure on them. And judging by the plays that were called against the Colts, the Rams' coaching staff is fully planning on integrating Kendricks into the offense.
We'll have to wait and see how the Rams' plan to utilize the tight ends as blockers. If the tackles continue to struggle like they did in Indianapolis, we'll likely see the tight ends engage in more pass blocking throughout the upcoming weeks.
If the game against Indianapolis is any indication, the starting offensive line has potential when it comes to run blocking, and that potential will only increase when center Scott Wells returns from injury.
The interior line, particularly right guard Harvey Dahl and center Rob Turner, were very effective when it came to paving the way for Steven Jackson.
When Wells returns to action, there's a very good chance that Turner will take over as the full-time starter at left guard. He's far too solid at run blocking to be riding the bench.
The offensive tackles, on the other hand, need to improve in every aspect.
On the first three plays of the game, right tackle Barry Richardson completely whiffed on his block. On the fourth play, he ended up on the ground while in pass protection. On the fifth play, it looked as though he finally nailed a block, until he pushed his man into the running back.
We could go on and mention his false start as the Rams were nearing the red zone, as well as several other plays, but you get the idea.
And Jason Smith, who was the second-string right tackle in the game, was not much better. His run blocking wasn't a major liability, but his pass blocking was atrocious.
Dahl, Wells and Turner formulate a solid trio in the middle, as long as there are no injuries. But at this point, offensive tackle is a major concern heading into the season—maybe even the biggest concern.
The defensive line did some positive things, but they didn't really have a chance to create havoc since the starter was only together for about two drives.
On the second drive of the game, we saw both Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford stand their ground and clog the middle. Langford, in particular, was impressive, especially when he stuffed the running back behind the line of scrimmage on second down.
Chris Long was invisible for most of the game, but we already know what he can do. Robert Quinn, on the other hand, was the defensive end that showed the most promise. He didn't record a sack, but he was able to create heavy pressure when given the opportunity.
It's still too early to determine the quality of the depth, but tackles Matt Conrath and Jermelle Cudjo are looking like solid backups.
Overall, there was nothing from the game to indicate that the defensive line won't be a team strength, as is expected.
If their performance against the Colts is a true reflection of their abilities, then the linebackers are clearly a group to be concerned about.
James Laurinaitis was overrun by blockers on the very first play and is partially responsible for the 63-yard touchdown, but he's one of the better middle linebackers in the NFL and will surely correct any mistakes by Week 1.
The other linebackers, however, haven't earned the benefit of the doubt.
The Colts' quarterbacks were allowed to get into rhythm too easily by using short passes that were poorly defended by the linebackers.
On the ground, the backups gave up five carries who were worth nine yards or more.
Jeff Fisher's defenses are known for their brute run defense, but we didn't see any of that from the linebackers.
Next week, the Rams will face a run-heavy Kansas City Chiefs team, which will give the linebackers a great opportunity to redeem themselves.
The secondary brought a mixed bag of both positives and negatives.
Cortland Finnegan was apparently easing off the receivers and fairly invisible throughout the game, but he's another veteran who deserves the benefit of the doubt.
On the other side, Janoris Jenkins flashed the ability everyone has been raving about. His coverage was tight, and he nearly came up with an interception that would have gone for a defensive touchdown.
However, the safeties were concerning, to say the least.
James Laurinaitis was primarily responsible for the 63-yard touchdown on the Colts' first play from scrimmage, but where was the safety support on that play? Safeties in a Jeff Fisher defense need to have much better instincts in run support than what we saw.
Also, when Finnegan waved on safety Craig Dahl to pick up Austin Collie in zone coverage, Dahl was nowhere to be found and was responsible for a 23-yard touchdown.
Darian Stewart, who is expected to at least compete for a starting safety job until the bitter end, was out with an injury. Hopefully, his return will improve the pass coverage next week.
As long as Stewart is just as effective as he was in 2011, there's nothing to truly be concerned about with the secondary, at least not yet.