Missing Pieces St. Louis Rams Could Still Land
At this time of the year, nearly every NFL fanbase genuinely believes that the Super Bowl is in reach for its beloved team, even if it means ignoring clear flaws with the roster.
After free agency and the draft, we enter a period of blind optimism that lasts until the start of the season, and then we are usually brought back to reality after Week 1.
For St. Louis Rams fans, there are no overly optimistic dreams of a Lombardi Trophy in 2013. Recent failures have kept our expectations in check.
But that doesn't mean St. Louis fans are incapable of overlooking a few clear blemishes on the Rams' roster.
So, in an effort to keep things real and point out a few possible flaws with the current St. Louis roster, here are several key areas that still need to be addressed before Week 1.
No. 1 Running Back
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The Rams have two second-year running backs leading the charge in Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson, but both backs are under 200 pounds, so it's a bit of a stretch to believe that either player can develop into a Steven Jackson-caliber workhorse.
Terrance Ganaway will also be returning for his second year, and the Rams grabbed Zac Stacy in the fifth round of the draft. Both backs are better suited as every-down runners, but they lack experience.
Running back is no longer an elite position in the NFL. It's possible to have a productive run game with undersized athletes and late-round talents, but someone will need to emerge as the go-to-guy.
The committee approach is fine, but when the Rams are facing 3rd-and-3 with the game on the line and absolutely need a first-down run, they need a guy they can count on.
If someone can emerge and be that guy, the Rams should be in good shape.
Stacy is a better all-purpose runner than anyone on the roster, so look for him to step up and fill that role despite his inexperience.
If not Stacy, there's always an abundance of veteran running backs by the time teams reduce their rosters to 53 players, but it's impossible to know who'll be available at that time.
Solution: Zac Stacy, or sign a veteran training camp casualty.
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But wait...didn't the Rams just draft Tavon Austin, the return man of the decade?
Yes, they did. But don't believe for a minute that he'll be handed the job without any competition.
A year ago, the Rams drafted Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead and Chris Givens—all ideal candidates for the return game—which forced us to believe that Danny Amendola would retire as a return man and focus on his duties as a receiver.
Believe or not, none of the rookies stepped up to fill the role, and Amendola remained the primary returner.
Of course, Austin is by far the favorite for the job, but let's not make the mistake of appointing him before he's had even a day of practice at Rams Park.
Austin is probably locked in as the punt returner, but don't be surprised if Pead—hungry for redemption after a devastating rookie year—gives him some competition on kick returns.
Also, if Austin becomes too valuable on offense, they may decide it's too risky to play him on special teams. They reached a similar conclusion with Jenkins a year ago and held him out on punt returns.
Solution: Stick with Austin
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The Rams drafted T.J. McDonald in the third round of the draft, but is it really wise to be depending on a rookie third-round pick as a starter?
Even if McDonald pans out and is a player, who is the other starting safety? Is it Darian Stewart, who couldn't even beat out Craig "Stone Hands" Dahl for playing time last year?
Unless you believe undrafted prospects such as Ray-Ray Armstrong or Rodney McLeod can step up, it's hard to deny that the Rams have a serious problem up top.
Don't be surprised if the Rams shuffle around some contracts to create cap room for Quintin Mikell at the last minute.
Mikell was a valuable weapon on defense a year ago, and his presence would put this defense over the top. A Mikell comeback would make it very difficult to find a weak spot on this defense.
Solution: Bring back Quintin Mikell
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Every offensive line position has a starter locked in for the Rams except left guard, which will certainly be a fierce competition to follow throughout training camp.
Rok Watkins—a second-year player drafted in the fifth round a year ago—is the favorite at the moment due to him winning the starting job a year ago (which ended after going on injured reserve in Week 1), but he'll actually have competition this year.
Rookie Barrett Jones was selected in the fourth round but possesses second-round talent, so he's an obvious threat.
Also, Chris Williams and Shelley Smith will compete for the job. Both Smith and Williams received limited playing time last season and held their own, so it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if either player won the job.
It's hard to pick a favorite in this tight four-man race, but rest assured that someone is guaranteed to step up and run away with the job.
Solution: Let the youngsters duke it out.