As the 2011 season inches closer and closer, the NFL is still faced with the predicament of finding a solution to the lockout.
While every team in the NFL is being negatively impacted by the situation, some are finding themselves worse off than others.
The older teams—the ones led by the seasoned veterans who have been together for years and know one another's timing like the back of their hand—will pick up right where they left off. The leaders have been defined, the playbooks haven't changed, and despite a slight decline in performance here and there, it all remains the same.
I'd love to say that about the St. Louis Rams.
I'd love to say James Laurinaitis and Steven Jackson are the unquestioned leaders, that the Rams are ready to pick up right where they left off and take command of the NFC West. Most of all, I'd love to say the Rams are better off with this lockout, seeing it as an opportunity to get added rest before taking on the brutalities of training camp.
This St Louis team is not like them.
A young team still trying to establish itself as a respectable team in the NFL, there could not have been a worse time for a lockout for St Louis.
"Uhhh coach? We only practiced for one week. I have zero clue what you're talking about."
The Rams just drafted three new pass catchers, they figure to sign one or two more receivers once free agency starts, and their quarterback is one of the most exciting prospects in football. They also have a plethora of play makers already on their roster to go along with all of that.
What do they all have in common? None of them have played a single snap in Josh McDaniel's spread offense.
It isn't that I'm worried that the Rams' unfamiliarity will cause the offense to lose effectiveness. Shurmur's conservative West Coast offense was about as effective as using a slap chop to mow the lawn. What I am worried about are the complete meltdowns it could cause in games.
Two-minute drill. Rams are driving for the win. Josh McDaniels calls in a play for Bradford to hit Avery on a streak. The defense is looking short, it is the perfect call!
Bradford however, not being nearly as familiar with the offense as he would be given a full offseason, is completely oblivious to the wide open man down-field as he searches for Danny Amendola to get open on a crossing route he could've sworn this play called for.
Not fully understanding a playbook can be disastrous for teams, specifically in no-huddle scenarios. As smart as Sam Bradford is, I really could see this being a result of lost time.
One of the more exciting parts of camp are the position battles, and the Rams should have plenty of them this year.
The receiver position should be one of the most heated battles in the NFL. With Donnie Avery, Mark Clayton, Danny Amendola and Danario Alexander the only players likely to have guaranteed spots on next year's roster, that leaves Bradon Gibson, Mardy Gilyard, Austin Pettis, Laurent Robinson, Greg Salas and others to compete for two or three spots.
What will they do at safety? With Craig Dahl starting 13 games last season, he is a likely candidate for the SS spot to open the season, but all he has warranted so far in his career is a deep-seeded nervousness whenever a deep-ball is thrown his direction. James Butler is also a candidate, but he struggled in St Louis when given consistent playing time. This all just begs the question, why didn't they just give OJ Atogwe however much money he wanted?
Outside linebacker and right guard are other position battles to keep an eye on.
The Rams just drafted eight players.
That is eight guys who are just sitting off to the side waiting for the lockout to end so they can go grab a playbook, sign a contract, and get their NFL careers going already.
If only it were that simple.
With the lockout fully intact, these rookies will have to wait to become acclimated with the NFL world. Rams fans saw what happened last season when rookies have late starts and have to play catch up in WR Mardy Gilyard. Gilyard struggled to keep up with NFL speed and for the most part looked fairly behind the curve throughout the season.
Outside of the rookies' perspectives, the Rams have plenty of evaluating to do as well. Were any of their seventh-round picks diamonds in the rough? Did a year off from football have a dramatic impact on Robert Quinn's game? There are plenty of questions to be answered, but as of right now there is nothing they can do.
"I was playing in the sand and I found this football!"
Much to the dismay of many fans, the Rams opted to use most of their early round picks selecting weapons for Bradford.
While this was all fine and dandy, they ignored several key needs in the process. They lack a starter-caliber safety and an upgrade at outside linebacker would have been embraced. With a dire need at right guard, the passing up of Clint Boling in favor of Austin Pettis was particularly brutal to watch.
With free agency, the Rams could address some, possibly most, of these needs. While most people would call for the signing of a receiver such as James Jones, Mike Sims-Walker or Chad Ochocinco, St Louis could make plenty of other crucial moves as well.
Do you really think the Rams would be content with entering the season having Keith Toston as their backup running back? I'm sure they'd love to see Darren Sproles or Reggie Bush in the backfield a lot more.
If only the lockout would end, they could sign some players to fill some gaping holes.
H.E. Luccock once said "No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it."
When you look at all of the truly great teams from over the past 10 to 20 seasons, you'll recognize a sense of cohesion that you don't find among the rest of the teams.
They trusted each other. They believed in each other. They had each other's backs, no questions asked.
It all begins in training camp when the goal of a Super Bowl is set. The coach lets it be known what is expected of them, he blows his whistle, and off they go. The only problem is, they can't do it alone.
One man could have the drive and determination like no other, but if the 51 other players aren't emotionally invested, not much good will come out of it.
Football is a team game. You have 11 players on the field, all working off of each other, all succeeding because everyone is moving as one. Player B gets open because player A drew the attention of the safety. Player C makes a highlight reel touchdown run, but only because player D threw an incredible block on the blitzing linebacker.
My old high school football coach used to tell us the same exact thing before every practice and every game. He would walk directly in front of us, somehow stare directly into the eyes of each and every one of us at the same exact time, lift up his sunglasses, and with a stern look, he would speak:
"One heartbeat, one soul. One team, one goal."
Yeah, that's the stuff. That's camaraderie right there.
The Rams need these little insignificant workouts. They need to be out their with one another. They need to become a cohesive unit that can't be broken, at least, not irreparably broken. Camaraderie is one of the most misunderstood and underrated aspects of football, but make no mistake, it is everything in the pursuit of success.
The lockout needs to end soon before football fans begin rioting. Trust me, no one wants to see a large group of football fans get angry and reckless (this is why I avoid Raider games at all costs).
What would that be like you wonder? Close your eyes and picture a utopia.
Now picture the exact opposite.