Make no mistake about it, the St. Louis Rams are facing a lengthy, brutal looking project that likely won’t be bearing any fruit for at least a couple more years.
The groundbreaking has only just taken place, with the hiring of Steve Spagnuolo and the drafting of quarterback Sam Bradford.
Just like with any retooling of this magnitude, it all begins with a coach and a quarterback and time will tell if the Rams found the right men for this particular job.
While we likely won’t know for a few years though, how they perform this season will be watched by the Rams faithful as they desperately search for some sign of hope.
The inevitable quarterback controversy between the veteran A.J. Feeley and Sam Bradford will be discussed ad nauseum in the coming weeks.
Inevitably, Feeley will end up struggling at some point and the clamoring of the fans for Bradford will become too much and he’ll assume the starting job, for better or worse.
However, while the quarterback situation will occupy the focus of most Rams fans, there are a number of other storylines to pay attention to as well.
Will the Offensive Line Show Signs of Improvement?
Despite being hard to miss, the big uglies up front are the most overlooked part of a successful offense. Plenty of casual fans don’t get much thought to the impact of their team’s offensive line, perhaps because their influence readily apparent on a scorecard.
However, anyone who’s had to cheer for a team with a truly poor offensive line knows what a serious problem it is.
An ineffective offensive line undermines everyone else on the field with them; the running backs have no space to run and the quarterback splits his time between running for his life and dragging himself up off the turf.
This has been the Rams’ biggest problem in recent years, including last season when they allowed 44 sacks.
If Steve Spagnuolo decides to make his quarterback of the future into his signal caller of the present, he better hope the offensive line can do the job of protecting him.
If Bradford’s confidence (or shoulder) gets shattered behind a porous offensive line, then the Spagnuolo era will likely be a short one.
Can Steven Jackson Stay Healthy?
Really the one sure thing that the Rams have going for them is Steven Jackson—when he’s healthy.
Jackson enjoyed something of a renaissance season last year, finishing second in the league in rushing after being plagued by injuries in the previous two seasons.
If he’s healthy, he’s one of the absolute best in the game right now and he’ll be relied on to move the Rams offense, almost single-handedly.
He’s really the Rams' only proven playmaker right now though and if he were to go down, the Rams’ offense could turn into a thing of laughable futility.
Can the Defense Stop Anybody?
Last year the Rams finished 29th in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed.
Really the only thing that they did well was to make the offense look respectable by comparison.
They managed to bolster the talent level a bit this offseason with the acquisitions of defensive tackle Fred Robbins and linebacker Bobby Carpenter but they’re still hurting overall. They also drafted a few defensive linemen—Davis Hall, Sims Eugene and George Selvie.
The only real help they managed to get for their secondary was cornerback Jerome Murphy, a third-round pick from South Florida in this year’s draft.
A few of the rookies could develop into solid players down the road, but for this season at least, it looks like the Rams are still going to have a lot of trouble keeping opposing offenses out of the end zone.
Do the Rams Have a Legit No. 1 Receiver?
On paper at least, nobody jumps out as a major threat to opposing secondaries.
Donny Avery was the team’s leading receiver last year but only came up with 589 receiving yards—a rather pedestrian total for a top receiving target.
Two guys to watch out for are Laurent Robinson and rookie Mardy Gilyard, from Cincinnati.
Robinson looked like the Rams best receiver early on last season before going down for the season in only their third game.
He’s back though and is slated to start opposite Avery. He could be ready to enjoy the breakout season he looked to be starting last year.
Mardy Gilyard, on the other hand, was the top receiver in one of the most impressive offenses in college football the past two seasons at Cincinnati.
He’s got solid hands, great speed, and he’s an absolute terror in open space as he showed by winning the Big East Special Teams Player of the Year Award the past two seasons for his punt returning prowess.