As bad as the St. Louis Rams were last season, there is an awful lot of talent on the roster. Former Pro Bowlers and well-known names litter a roster that was ravaged by injury last season.
But hey, at this point, it's water under the bridge. It's time to start looking ahead to the new football season and get excited for the possibility of surprising people.
For the Rams to be respectable this year, some of those star players must step to the plate and play like they are capable of. As the NFL season looms, here are five players that I think the Rams MUST get big numbers or performances from in order to contend for a playoff spot in 2008.
5. Adam Carriker
Carriker played pretty well out of Nebraska as a rookie last year, and he has a lot of versatility on the D-line. If Carriker can elevate his game to a Pro Bowl level, and get to the QB as well as plug running lanes, the Rams' leaky defense will be largely upgraded.
4. Orlando Pace
Pace is a perennial Pro Bowl talent but has been injury-riddled for the last two seasons. In 2006, Pace missed over half the season with injuries, and he lasted just two quarters last season before being knocked out for the year.
Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson have a much harder time doing their thing with Orlando on the sideline. The domino effect felt by his absence far surpasses the impact felt by any other injury on the team. Pace has apparently gotten into "great shape" this offseason, so fingers crossed that he'll play in most, if not all, of the games in 2008.
3. Leonard Little
Little, once a symbol of hardwork and persistence, was representative of the Rams' struggles last season. He only played in seven games due to injuries, and he recorded just one sack. For a former Pro Bowler, that's awful. I guess that's awful for anybody, actually.
Little has got to provide havoc off the end of the line for the Rams defense to play decently in 2008. If Little is playing well and keeping heat off of youngsters Carriker and Chris Long, that gives them the chance to evolve and reach their full potential as soon as possible.
Little's effect is similar to Pace's. If Little plays poorly, or not at all, opposing teams can focus on weaker players and pass comfortably from the pocket. This is definitely a do-or-die season for Little. If he still has any gas left (he'll turn 34 during the season), he's got to show it now.
2. Marc Bulger
A former Pro Bowl MVP, Bulger was garbage last season. But it was hardly his fault. Bulger played behind a terrible, makeshift offensive line and often played hurt as well, suffering a number of broken ribs. What resulted were rushed decision-making, poor mechanics, and a feud with the head coach.
Hopefully the offensive line will be improved in 2008 because Bulger deserves better. He has played hurt numerous times, giving his all for a franchise that has believed in him. His receiving corps is decent: Torry Holt, Drew Bennett, Randy McMichael, and rookie Donnie Avery are all capable threats.
Although he doesn't have complete control of his numbers in 2008, the Rams need consistency and dependability from his spot. He's got to take what time the line can bide him and improve his choices when throwing.
If Bulger can give the Rams a vertical attack to complement Steven Jackson, the offense will be able to put up solid numbers under Al Saunders. Just as any QB is in any offense, a big day from Bulger is essential for the Rams.
1. Steven Jackson
Jackson is the core of the Rams' team, regardless of who is hurt and who is healthy. Despite playing on a completely crappy team last year, Jackson accumulated almost 1,300 yards and six TD. He was also noticeably unhappy with everything from the fans to the coaching staff.
Part of his success on the field will be based on the performance of others. A healthy line will block better. A solid passing game will open up the running lanes. But Jackson must stay healthy himself. He only played in 12 games last year, but has no history of missing significant time. I doubt he'll miss big minutes this year.
One of the big factors that could lead to a happier, better Jackson is the addition of offensive coordinator Al Saunders. Why in the fu** Jackson didn't get the rock in the red zone in Linehan's previous years is beyond me, but Saunders should change that.
If Steven Jackson is put in a position to succeed, please believe that he'll capitalize, and the Rams will be much better than advertised.