5 Things We've Learned from St. Louis Rams Training Camp so Far

Steven GerwelContributor IIIAugust 4, 2013

Jul 26, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook (89) blocks safety T.J. McDonald (25) during training camp at ContinuityX Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

We've been smothering you with training camp pieces the last several weeks, and this article will point out a few more observations. 

The St. Louis Rams will travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns for their preseason debut on Thursday, August 8, and that will provide us with more insight and broaden the discussion. 

For now, here's a few more topics out of Rams Park in Earth City, Missouri...


T.J. McDonald Is a Starter

If you recall, I was quite skeptical when it came to the idea of T.J. McDonald starting immediately and playing up to par. 

In a previous article, I pointed out that there have been 16 safeties drafted in the third round since 2003—like McDonald—and those 16 safeties combined for only 13 total starts as rookies. 

It seemed McDonald would have to be quite the exception to break that pattern, but as it turns out, I may have to eat my words on this one. 

McDonald has been solid throughout camp and may already be the top safety on the roster. 

ESPN reporter Nick Wagoner, formerly of StLouisRams.com, has been quite impressed with McDonald, who has been recording picks and excelling in coverage. 

McDonald was frequently criticized by draft analysts for being stiff in coverage, so this is a very positive sign for the Rams. 

The Rams lost both starting safeties in free agency (Quintin Mikell, Craig Dahl), so the safety position has been a source of stress for Rams fans. 

However, if the reports are any indication, the Rams will be in decent shape with McDonald and Darian Stewart up top. 


The Backfield Is Still a Question Mark 

With Steven Jackson out of the picture, the Rams are expected to face a few hurdles in the run game. 

The reports out of camp haven't necessarily been negative in regard to Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson and Zac Stacy—the Rams' running back committee—but there haven't been glowing reports either (one here from Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com feeds into that theory). 

It's still unclear who the Rams' top guy is. No back is truly separating himself from the herd. 

Perhaps the Thursday night game at Cleveland will shed some light on the situation and give us an idea of who'll take the bulk of the carries, but don't be surprised if this question lingers into the regular season. 

However, with Jeff Fisher at the helm, it's hard to believe he'd allow the run game to deteriorate. 

Fisher has produced a 1,000-yard rusher in 14 of his 17 NFL seasons. 

We're talking about a coach who turned LenDale White, Chris Brown and Travis Henry into 1,000-yard rushers. He even had a journeyman named Rodney Thomas lead the Titans in rushing yards with 947 in 1995. 

Since 1999, the Rams have entered every season with either Marshall Faulk or Steven Jackson in the backfield. After 14 years of excellence, it's a little concerning that Pead and Richardson are the top backs on the team. 

Fisher has been in this position before. And if anyone can handle a lack of talent in the backfield, it's him. 

So, while it's a little concerning that no back has clearly established himself as the guy, there's still reason to believe that the Rams will successfully run the ball in 2013. 


The Expectations Are High

I've been to multiple Rams training camp practices over the last several years, and the crowd typically averages around several hundred. 

This year, the Rams have consistently been attracting over 1,000 people. 

On Wednesday, July 31, the estimated total was at 1,125, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. On Saturday, July 27, the estimated attendance was reported at a record 2,297, according to the Post-Dispatch

The Post-Dispatch also reported that overall training camp attendance is up 70 percent over 2012. And the second annual FanFest scrimmage at the Edward Jones Dome had attendance soar beyond 15,000, according to StLouisRams.com.

It's also worth noting that Rams Park is not equipped with stadium bleachers (at least not in the past), limiting the maximum capacity, making the sky-high attendance particularly impressive. 

Most fans are wanting to get a sneak peek at Tavon Austin and his freakish open-field speed, but that's not the whole story. 

The Rams were a competitive team in 2012, and there's a renewed sense of optimism surrounding Rams Park—a vibe that hasn't been felt in years. 

The Rams culture is changing for the better, and the fans are clearly responding. 


Jared Cook Is Dangerous

It's hard to read a single camp report that doesn't gush over the superior athleticism and big-play potential of Jared Cook (one here from Ian Rapoport of NFL Network).

Cook was brought in during free agency on a five-year deal worth over $35 million, according to Spotrac, so he's expected to be a presence on the field, but it's still unknown how high his potential truly is. 

As I pointed out in a previous article, Cook has been targeted only 198 times over the last three seasons, while most of the top tight ends in the league saw between 250 and 390 targets in that same three-year span.

Clearly, Cook has been underutilized throughout his career. If the Rams can increase his number of targets, there's a chance he'll establish himself as a premiere tight end in the NFL.

Sam Bradford has a lot of targets to work with this season, which could prevent Cook from taking that next statistical step, but as of now, it appears Cook is exactly what the Rams paid for.  


Janoris Jenkins Will Take the Next Step 

Janoris Jenkins put together some impressive highlights in his 2012 rookie campaign after recording four interception and scoring four defensive touchdowns. 

As far as rookie corners, it doesn't get any better than Jenkins in 2012, but he did have a few hiccups in coverage, as expected. 

In Week 2 against Washington, Jenkins allowed Leonard Hankerson to fly past him for a 68-yard score. In Week 6 at Miami, he allowed Marlon Moore to get open for a 29-yard score. 

We knew a rookie corner was going to give up a few plays, and we were willing to live with that. It's a small price to pay in exchange for his dynamite touchdown plays. 

Now that Jenkins has a year under his belt, he'll be expected to take the next step toward becoming a shutdown corner.

So far, the reports are positive (see one here from Nate Horgan of stlouisrams.com).

Jenkins was a steal in the second round of 2012 and has the potential to be a Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis type of player. 

If camp is any indication, he's well on his way.