St. Louis Rams: What We've Learned Through Week 4 of Training Camp

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerContributor IIIAugust 25, 2014

St. Louis Rams: What We've Learned Through Week 4 of Training Camp

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    The St. Louis Rams have progressed through over four weeks of training camp and three preseason contests, so the concerns and position battles are finally being met with answers. 

    The personality of this 2014 squad will not fully emerge until the regular season is underway, but we have learned a few things about this team from the preseason, and with one exhibition game remaining, there's still time for the younger players to make an impact and earn a spot on the final roster. 

    This article will look at various events and reports from the preseason and highlight several things we've learned about the 2014 Rams so far.

Quarterback...It's a Problem

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    Against the Cleveland Browns during the third preseason game, Sam Bradford dropped to the ground and showed signs of pain following a rather light and non-violent collision with a Browns defensive lineman. 

    Bradford favored his left knee in the moments following the play—the same knee that required surgery for a torn ACL last October and ended his 2013 season. 

    It was a frightening image, but early reports were positive. Bradford walked to the locker room on his own, and ESPN's Adam Schefter reported shortly after that the Rams had "dodged a bullet," indicating that all was fine. 

    On Sunday, the tone changed dramatically. Reports began to surface that Bradford's injury was in fact serious, and Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch eventually confirmed that Bradford's ACL suffered damage that will require surgery, which will end his 2014 season. 

    Losing a starting quarterback is obviously a devastating blow to any team and immediately puts the season in jeopardy, so the Rams will have to carefully evaluate their options at quarterback moving forward.

    Shaun Hill, a 34-year-old veteran, was signed in the offseason to be the team's No. 2, and he was brought in for a reason.

    Hill has experience as a starter. In Detroit, the stepped in for 10 games to cover for the injured Matthew Stafford and finished the year with a decent 81.3 quarterback rating. He's not going to carry an offense on his shoulders, but he can manage the system and make intelligent decisions as a passer. 

    Hill is probably the best option at this point, but there are some negatives. He hasn't started a game in four years and has not attempted a pass in the regular season since 2012. At 34 years old, there's no telling if he's even still capable of tapping into the skills we witnessed in 2010. 

    Additionally, he has been rather disappointing this preseason and has completed less than 50 percent of his passes, which could force the Rams to explore other options. 

    The only in-house option that has any real allure is Austin Davis, who is in his third NFL season. Davis has been inconsistent since joining the NFL and has no regular-season experience, but his preseason play has been phenomenal. 

    Davis was simply electric against Cleveland. He completed over 62 percent of his passes for 198 yards and two scores. With Davis under center, the offense was moving the ball with ease. 

    However, Davis' stellar play against backup defenders hardly solves St. Louis' issue at quarterback. 

    And that's it. Those are St. Louis' two options—a veteran who hasn't started since 2010, or a youngster who has yet to attempt a regular-season pass. 

    If the Rams are unsatisfied with either, the only other option would be to acquire outside help. 

    Mark Sanchez is stuck behind Nick Foles and Matt Barkley on the Philadelphia Eagles' depth chart. Sanchez has been a punchline in the NFL for the past few years, but there's no denying the Jets won games with him under center. 

    Sanchez' last season with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer (St. Louis' current coordinator) also happened to be his best NFL season to date—he passed for over 3,400 yards with 26 touchdown passes and added six more touchdowns on the ground. 

    If Sanchez can come to St. Louis and run Schottenheimer's offense with as much success as he experienced in 2011, it would certainly be enough to make the Rams offense formidable once again. 

    If that's not an option, the Rams could always pursue other backup quarterbacks with serious talent and starter potential, such as New England's Ryan Mallett, Kansas City's Chase Daniel, or Washington's Kirk Cousins. 

    However, all three of the aforementioned quarterbacks would likely cost a fairly high draft selection. As a result, if the Rams trade for any of those guys, they better have some confidence in that player's ability to be a long-term starter, as opposed to just a one-year Band-Aid. 

    Whatever the Rams do, they'll have to do it soon. If they move quickly enough, the new quarterback could be in St. Louis in time to take some reps in the final preseason game. 

    The safest choice would be to stick with Hill as the new starter. However, Rams fans are sick and tired of "safe." They want results, and they want it now. The current regime understands this, and that could ultimately influence the decision. 

    Whatever happens, the quarterback spot will be an interesting position to watch in the upcoming weeks.

The Running Back Position Is Not Settled

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    Take any preconceived notions you had about the running back position for the Rams in 2014, and throw them out the window. 

    Zac Stacy was presumed to be the starting running back for the Rams this season following an excellent rookie campaign, but that's not necessarily the case. 

    Stacy averaged just one yard a carry on six attempts against Green Bay during Week 2 of the preseason, and he averaged just over two yards a carry against Cleveland. It's meaningless to get too worked up over preseason stats, but that's not what you want to see out of a starting running back, especially in a run-first offense. 

    It was actually second-year pro Benny Cunningham who took the field against Cleveland as the team's starting running back and received the majority of the first-team reps. Cunningham stepped up to the challenge with 38 yards on six touches. 

    It's still unclear if Cunningham's presence with the first-team offense was merely an experiment or a permanent change, but we'll know soon enough. 

    Also, the starting running back battle is not the only battle that's still ongoing. The fight between Tre Mason and Trey Watts for the No. 3 running back job is heating up. 

    It was assumed that Mason was the man for the job, as he's a lofty third-round draft pick and has name recognition, but Watts, an undrafted rookie out of Tulsa, is having the better preseason. 

    Watts had 36 yards on nine carries against Cleveland, including a 25-yard gain and a nifty 12-yard touchdown run. 

    Mason had a nice 51-yard showing in the preseason opener and has more preseason rushing yards than Watts, but Watts is averaging more yards per carry (5.2 versus 2.9) and is making the most of his opportunity. 

    Both players will likely make the final roster, but Mason certainly has work to do before he receives regular playing time.

Defense Is Tightening Up

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    The defense was rather timid during the first two preseason contests, but the group seemed to finally come together against the Browns. 

    Cleveland's top rusher finished with just 17 yards on the ground, and the Browns' longest completion of the night was for a mere 17 yards. The Rams were able to limit killer plays, and that's not something we witnessed during the first two weeks. 

    Also, we finally got an opportunity to see the pass rush flex its muscles a bit. Robert Quinn finished with a sack, despite playing with hardly any effort, and Michael Sam sacked Johnny Manziel twice. Rookie first-round pick Aaron Donald also finished with a sack. 

    The Rams were able to accomplish this despite missing two starting linebackers (James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar), and despite losing starting cornerback Trumaine Johnson early in the game. 

    Regardless of what happens with Bradford and the quarterback position, this is a defensive team above all else. If the Rams defense can continue to show up, this team may survive 2014.

Brian Quick Could Be the Real Deal

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    My readers should be aware that I show just as much skepticism as anyone when it comes to Brian Quick, whom the Rams drafted with the No. 33 overall pick in 2012. 

    The receiver has generated preseason buzz in the past, and that potential has never translated into regular-season results. He has just 29 receptions in two years and has been held under 500 career yards. 

    The lack of production has made it difficult to buy into any of the noise. In fact, just two months ago I dismissed the positives reports involving Quick out of OTAs as useless hype

    So, as a certified Quick skeptic, it should tell you something that even I am impressed with his preseason production.

    Quick contributed a 41-yard reception against Green Bay during the second preseason contest. On the next play, he drew a pass interference called against the defensive back, setting up a touchdown for the Rams. 

    Against Cleveland, Quick had three catches for 41 yards on the opening drive, including two clutch first-down receptions. He added a six-yard touchdown catch later in the game. 

    Clearly, Quick has developed into one of the more trustworthy receivers on the roster. In fact, it's fair to say he has been the most dominant player on offense this preseason, second to none.

    It's always important to exercise cautious optimism when it comes to Quick, but his preseason play is hard to ignore. Hopefully he'll finally learn to contribute in the regular season. With Bradford out of the lineup, the Rams could certainly use a dominant No. 1 receiver to help out Hill. 


    Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams' game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or by following him on Twitter.