St. Louis Rams: What Did the Rams Learn from the 2012 Preseason?
The preseason is a time most people believe to be meaningless. Fans don't read into it, and a lot of coaches don't read into it as far as it having anything to do with regular-season performance. However, individual performance means something in the months leading up to the first week of September.
There's always that group of players on the bubble, playing for their NFL lives to continue past August. Often times, the performances of individual players means something to the rest of the team, and it can be a sign of what is to come. The score means nothing because starters aren't playing for the whole game, but the score when the starters come out is certainly important.
The St. Louis Rams made some decisions this preseason that are already having impacts on this team. Most recently, they traded Jason Smith for Wayne Hunter. They switched head coaches, which in itself resulted in a few other changes.
So with all that's occurred in the 2012 preseason, what can the St. Louis Rams take away from it? What are the important lessons learned heading into a new season? Let's find out.
Sam Bradford Will Have a Better Year
Bradford had a very good preseason. The only game that was rough was the game against Dallas, one in which he was sacked twice. Those were the only two times Bradford was sacked in all four preseason games, a number that tells me the Rams offensive line is certainly on the right track.
Bradford completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, and threw five touchdowns in the four games. But here's another zero I am very pleased about: no interceptions. The way I look at it, if you aren't getting sacked you'll throw less picks because you'll have more time to make the right decisions. Sam completed over 60 percent of his throws in every game except the Dallas game. Job well done.
There isn't much concern for me with Bradford's ability to perform. Having quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti by his side is a huge benefit to him because of the way Bradford plays the game. He's a pure thrower—one who can put finesse on his passes if he wants to or he can put some zip on the ball. Cignetti's presence will be huge for the Rams this season.
There's no reason to think Sam Bradford can't perform just as good as he did in his rookie year of 2010.
The Offensive Line Has Improved
To put it nicely: This unit has gotten better. Even before the trade for Wayne Hunter, I would have told you I haven't minded what I've seen from the Rams offensive line this August. Having Scott Wells healthy for the Dallas game was huge because he was able to work his way in and also play against Baltimore.
What scares me is this: Harvey Dahl didn't play in the last two preseason games due to an infection. St. Louis hasn't had its starting offensive line on the field at the same time once this summer. That's a problem, because unity and awareness of each other is integral to being a lineman in the NFL. Rokevious Watkins, a fifth-round draft pick, got the start against Baltimore at right guard.
Right now, assuming Dahl will be healthy for the regular-season opener in Detroit, the line looks like this:
|LT: Rodger Saffold (started 9 games with STL in 2011)|
|LG: Quinn Ojinnaka (started 3 games with Colts in 2011)|
|C: Scott Wells (started 16 games in 2010 and 2011 with GB)|
|RG: Harvey Dahl (started 16 games with STL in 2011)|
|RT: Barry Richardson (started 16 games with KC in 2011)|
So that's one guy who played a full season in St. Louis last year. Hunter is right behind Richardson if there are any issues at RT. Will Paul Boudreau be so quick to insert Hunter if Sam Bradford gets eaten alive by Kyle Vanden Bosch and Ndamukong Suh in Week 1? I wouldn't be so sure about that, but stability will be the key with this unit in 2012. It's all about staying on the field.
There Is Still No Deep Threat
It's been an issue for St. Louis, it seems like, ever since Torry Holt retired. This team has had no bona fide deep-ball threat. In a league that is growing in terms of how big and strong wide receivers are becoming, the Rams have seemingly been left behind.
Danario Alexander was ravaged by injuries, and Donnie Avery never panned out. Now the Rams can turn to Steve Smith, a career slot receiver, to help fill a void Sam Bradford has painfully dealt with since he was drafted.
The longest completion of the preseason was 46 yards, a pass from Bradford to Smith. In fact, the longest completion of 2011 was 68 yards. That number has to go up this season for the Rams to have any chance at competing in the NFC West.
Danny Amendola is a guy who can catch the ball and run with it. Can Steve Smith be a deep-ball threat—a guy who run go-routes and reach out to grab a Sam Bradford bomb? He's 5'11", 195 compared with Alexander's 6'5", 217. Yikes.
Smith reeled in six catches for 84 yards this summer. Fans got to see a little bit of what he can do. Still, it's clear that the Rams need someone who can run a long distance and reach up to catch the football.
Janoris Jenkins Can Be Something Special
Jenkins has really impressed in the preseason, and I see him as a lightning rod in a secondary that now seems like it can contend. Cortland Finnegan must have taken the second-round cornerback under his wing this summer, because he has absolutely lit up the stat sheet.
In four games (three starts), Jenkins has one forced fumble, one pass deflection, one interception and one touchdown. He's just one of those young playmakers who needs to keep his head on straight and he can be really effective. It may not be as easy as it looks, but only time will tell.
Jenkins can be a really nice addition to a budding secondary, or a parasite to a team that could do without one.
The Rams Are a Young Team That Can Scare People
There's a different feeling heading into the regular season for the 2012 Rams. The leaders on this team, besides Steven Jackson, are all 25 and younger. James Laurinaitis brings a hungry attitude to the defense and the rest of the team that can certainly translate to the field.
Sam Bradford has the most stability that he's had heading into a season because he has a quarterbacks coach now. He'll have a much better season as mentioned in slide one.
Danny Amendola is a dangerous receiving threat who has fully recovered from his 2011 injury. He's the X-factor on offense because of how high his potential is. He'll give defenses a lot of problems with his ability to execute in the short game. His speed is also something that will help him once he catches the ball.
The bottom line is the youth and relative health of this football team could scare teams within the division and beyond, and many people won't see it coming. ESPN The Magazine predicted the Rams to go winless this season, which is surprising. But for the players, the youth on this team should serve as an advantage to them going forward.