James Hall is now approaching age 35 and has been battling back issues this season. Robert Quinn, this year's first round selection, has not played football since 2009 after being suspended for the 2010 season at North Carolina. Although it was a surprise and a head-scratcher, Quinn was not even activated for game one versus the Philadelphia Eagles.
The remaining Rams defensive ends are serviceable players but far from upper echelon NFL defensive ends.
Eugene Sims is a talented second year player who has flashed some nice pass rush potential. CJ Ah You is a versatile defender who can rush the passer from both the end and the defensive tackle spot. If either player tallies three or four sacks this year, that would be a bonus.
So we circle back to the second overall selection in the 2008 NFL draft, Chris Long.
In his third season, Long collected 8.5 sacks. As a duo, Long and Hall were one of the most productive tandems in the NFL, combining for 19 sacks in 2010.
Although 8.5 sacks is nothing to jeer at, it won't be enough in 2011.
As mentioned above, he is the only sure thing for St. Louis right now off the edge. Hall is banged up and at an age where he could theoretically hit a wall. Quinn is a talented yet unproven rookie, and nobody knows what to expect from him in regards to production just yet.
Furthermore, St. Louis has lost two of its' top three corners already.
Starting cornerback Ron Bartell, an above average starting corner in the NFL and a team leader for the Rams, is heading to injured reserve. Projected nickel back Jerome Murphy, an athletic pass defender who was stout in run support during his rookie campaign last season, was lost for the year in preseason.
With less talent in the defensive backfield, consistent pressure is even more paramount now. The remaining corners will likely have trouble maintaining coverage as long and as well as a fully-stocked secondary with a healthy Bartell and Murphy could have.
So, once again, we turn our attention to Chris Long. His shoulders better be wide, because he has alot of weight to carry this year.
Long led the entire NFL in quarterback hurries in 2010 with 41.5. Obviously, he was very close a breakout year. Those 8.5 sacks could have easily been 12 or 13 and maybe more.
How many sacks do you predict for Long in 2011?
With the uncertainty at left defensive end, Long must produce and produce consistently for St. Louis this season.
Michael Strahan of FOX NFL Sunday believes Long could have a breakout season.
I think the world of Chris Long. Steve Spagnuolo is a good coach for Chris because he’s the type of coach that gives his players the ability to make a play. You have to overcome your coaching, as they say. Things aren’t always going to work out like they would in a play book and Spag’s gives you the opportunity to kind of ‘fudge’ on it a little bit as long as you can make something happen. Chris’ first year was a little mechanical but so is everyone’s because you’re trying to learn how to play in this league. He is surrounded by great veteran leaders in the locker room and more familiar with the defensive end system that Spag’s has set up. Chris is in the right position with the right type of coach to have a big season.
I expect Long to have double digit sacks this year and I don't see doom and gloom for Hall and Quinn, either.
I believe Hall still has some gas in the tank and Quinn should do some nice things as the year progresses. However, neither are sure things as mentioned above. Long must be. This needs to be his breakout season.
Shane Gray is a passionate St. Louis Rams fan and covers the Rams year round. To check out the rest of his work, go here: http://bleacherreport.com/users/582932-shane-gray.