That’s the dirty word that strikes fear in the hearts of football fans from California to Connecticut. When a football team is rebuilding, it means the chances for a successful season are as hopeless as an ice cube in the desert.
However, the bright side of a football team that’s rebuilding is that there is hope that perhaps next year or the one after will bring positive results.
So, where do the hopes of fans of the St. Louis Rams lie for the 2009 NFL season? There is no doubt that the Rams are rebuilding. You don’t come off the heels of a 2-14 season without trying to rebuild.
But how far along in this rebuilding process are the Rams? Unfortunately for St. Louis fans, the Rams have been rebuilding and rebuilding and rebuilding...and, well, you get the picture.
The Rams have been in a rebuilding mode since 2003, the last time the team had a winning season. Six-straight years of rebuilding have caused fans of the Rams to wonder just how long a rebuilding process should take.
There is a new sheriff in St. Louis, though, and his name is Steve Spagnuolo. He has laid down the law in an attempt to change the losing attitudes that seemed to permeate the franchise under previous coach Scott Linehan.
No matter how much Spagnuolo tries, though, he can’t suit up and change the Rams on the field by himself. He still has to turn it over to the players. Do the Rams have enough talent to go from builders to believers in one season under Spagnuolo?
Why Rams fans have reason to believe
Steven Jackson – Jackson is one of the most powerful running backs in the league. He has shown flashes of brilliance during his five years in the NFL, but he has also had difficulty staying healthy.
Jackson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past four seasons, but he has also missed significant time due to injury the past two years.
Marc Bulger – Bulger has been the poster child for the biggest disappointment in the NFL the past two seasons, but he also hasn’t had a lot of protection around him. After passing for more than 4,300 yards in 2006, Bulger has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.
He is still only 32 years old, so it’s not like Bulger is ready for a retirement home. If his rebuilt offensive line can offer some consistent protection, look for Bulger to bounce back in 2009 and look more like the man who gave the franchise reason to believe that he would be better than Kurt Warner.
An improved defense – The strength of the St. Louis defense is on the line. Second-year man Chris Long, All-Pro Leonard Little and Adam Carriker should put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Rams are also better this year in the secondary and at linebacker with the addition of rookie James Laurinaitis.
Why Rams fans have reason to be very afraid
An unproven offensive line – The Rams only have two proven commodities on the line—center Jason Brown and right guard Richie Incognito. The left side of the line is anything but a certainty with the disappointing Alex Barron taking over for all-everything stalwart Orlando Pace.
Newcomer Jacob Bell will be asked to step in at the left guard spot and help keep Bulger off the turf.
The antithesis of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt at receivers – When the Rams were known as “The Greatest Show on Turf,” the highlight of the team was their electric receivers who could shred a defense in the blink of an eye. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt frustrated even the best defensive game plans with their speed, athleticism and precise route running.
Now the Rams are in trouble in this area. Third-year sensation Donnie Avery was just lost for six weeks with a foot injury, which should make fans even more concerned. When the season opens, the Rams will probably start Laurent Robinson, Derek Stanley and Keenan Burton in the receiver positions.
Who? Exactly! Those names should make every defensive coordinator salivate at the thought of loading up the box and forcing Bulger to try to throw early and often.
What does all this mean for the Rams in 2009? It probably means that, while they will be better than 2-14, the playoffs are still nothing but a pipe dream in St. Louis.
If Jackson stays healthy, if Bulger gets his head on straight and gets some protection, if Avery gets back and builds on his rookie season and if the defense continues to gel, look for the Rams to win seven games at best. If they get a little crazy, it might even improve to a non-losing record of 8-8.