St. Louis Rams Offseason State of the Union
Other than the inevitable free-agent pickups following the first round of training-camp cuts, the St. Louis Rams are officially done with the 2014 offseason.
With the offseason now complete, we can analyze the pickups made the team. Since actions always speak louder than words, the offseason moves will tell us all we need to know about the team's plans for the 2014 season.
This article will analyze the tone of St. Louis' offseason moves and determine what the team has in store for the fans in 2014.
Rams Are a Ground-and-Pound Offense
Last year, the the addition of free-agent tight end Jared Cook, along with rookie draft picks Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey at receiver, gave us the impression that the Rams were attempting to field an offense of finesse—a unit that would rely on an aerial attack rather than a tough run game.
After Sam Bradford was lost for the season, rookie running back Zac Stacy emerged in a big way and instantly transformed the Rams from a pass-happy team to a run-first offense. And apparently, it's an identity that will remain with the team through the 2014 season.
The Rams used this past offseason to beef up the run game. The team added mauling offensive lineman Greg Robinson with the No. 2 overall draft pick, as well as running back Tre Mason in the third round.
Mason will join Stacy and Benny Cunningham to give St. Louis a three-headed monster in the backfield, while Robinson will take the line's run blocking to the next level.
Bulking up the run game was undoubtedly the smart move. With Bradford returning from a serious knee injury, it will likely take some time before he totally regains form in the passing game. As such, the run game will keep the offense competitive without putting too much weight on Bradford's shoulders.
Based on St. Louis' offseason moves, it's not unreasonable to presume that the Rams will rank among the top NFL teams in both carries and total rushing yards.
Defense Is King
Ever since Jeff Fisher took over the Rams in 2012, it's been perfectly clear that the Rams are a defensive team. In case there were any remaining doubts regarding that fact, this past offseason put those doubts to rest.
The most flashy offseason addition on defense is No. 13 overall draft pick Aaron Donald. Donald instantly strengthens St. Louis' interior defensive line and gives the team its fourth first-round talent up front.
For several years now, the Rams have fought and yearned for the nastiest defensive line in all of football. Adding Donald to the mix could very well secure that goal or, at the very least, bring the team one step closer.
The Rams also made a number of lesser pickups that will further strengthen the defense as a whole, such as free-agent defensive tackle Alex Carrington, as well as rookie defensive backs Lamarcus Joyner and Mo Alexander.
Cornerbacks E.J. Gaines and Greg Reid, along with rookie pass-rushers Michael Sam and Ethan Westbrooks, will also help to solidify the overall depth.
It's not that the Rams totally neglected the offense, but this offseason proves once again that defense is king in St. Louis.
Regime Will Sink or Swim with Current Wide Receivers
Rams fans calling for the team to draft receiver Sammy Watkins with the top pick were not exactly an isolated minority. In fact, it's probably fair to say that Watkins was the fan favorite for St. Louis' top draft pick.
Regardless, the team passed on Watkins in favor of Robinson. It was not exactly an earth-shattering decision, but it was certainly a bold statement and a crystal-clear endorsement for the current receivers.
The current regime is obviously quite fond of the returning receivers—certainly more so than the average Rams fan—but the leap of faith could eventually hurt Fisher and general manager Les Snead.
On one hand, it's comforting to know that the current regime has faith in the current group of receivers. That tells us that the unit has serious potential and could really have a breakout year under the right circumstances.
However, if the receivers are totally underwhelming in 2014, the level of outrage among the fans will be astronomical.
If Watkins has a 1,000-yard debut with the Buffalo Bills while the Rams deal with the same old mediocrity in the passing game, fans will be calling for Snead's head.
If the St. Louis receivers light it up, Fisher and Snead will undoubtedly look brilliant. If the group struggles yet again, there will be severe turmoil.
Offensive Line Poised to Be St. Louis' Best in Years
Since the end of the Mike Martz era in 2005, one of the top excuses for St. Louis' lackluster offense has been the inconsistent play on the offensive line.
This offseason made it perfectly clear that the team is attempting to flush that old excuse down the toilet once and for all.
As mentioned, the Rams added Robinson with the No. 2 overall pick, which gives the offense a truly elite run-blocker at guard and a future left tackle in the making. He's obviously the key offensive line pickup of the offseason.
The team also managed to re-sign free agent Rodger Saffold, who was able to rekindle his rookie-year dominance last season by moving to guard—a move that allowed him to finally excel for the first time since 2010.
Robinson and Saffold, combined with returning starters Jake Long, Scott Wells and Joe Barksdale, gives St. Louis an outstanding front five. It's always an encouraging sign when a former Pro Bowl center (Wells) is the weak link of the group.
The team also made the wise decision to sign free-agent veteran Davin Joseph, who will provide experience and depth at guard.
Center Tim Barnes, as well as guards Barrett Jones and Brandon Washington, will team up with Joseph to provide the team with an intriguing collection of depth on the line.
Overall, the addition of Robinson and the re-signing of Saffold tells us that the offensive line was a priority this offseason. If all goes well, the Rams will field the best offensive line that St. Louis fans have seen in years.
Leak in Secondary Has Been Plugged
Without a doubt, the Achilles' heel of the 2013 team was the inconsistent secondary. The unit was completely slaughtered early in the year, and the group never fully got its act together at any point last season.
The Rams managed to address this concern during the offseason without forking out any major investments.
The top addition is clearly second-round pick Lamarcus Joyner, who will replace Cortland Finnegan as the team's slot cornerback. Other than Joyner, the team will primarily fix the issue using mid- to late-round talents.
Fifth-round safety Maurice Alexander will join T.J. McDonald up top and will be one of the enforcers on defense. Meanwhile, sixth-round cornerback E.J. Gaines was a total steal during the draft and has a real shot at being the team's No. 4 corner.
The Rams also made a few low-key pickups with huge upside. Rookie Greg Reid was signed as a free agent after sitting out of football for all of 2013, and he'll have a chance to contribute immediately if he can stay healthy.
Rookie cornerback Marcus Roberson was also added as an undrafted free agent. Roberson is an attractive talent, but his stock suffered due to injury and character concerns, according to CBS Sports. He'll have to fight for a roster spot, but he certainly has a chance to make the squad.
With Joyner being the only relatively high investment in the secondary, the Rams managed to put an emphasis on the the secondary this offseason without breaking the bank.