St. Louis Rams Who've Turned Heads in Offseason Workouts

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVJune 8, 2015

St. Louis Rams Who've Turned Heads in Offseason Workouts

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    David Welker/Getty Images

    The St. Louis Rams began OTAs (organized team activities) on Tuesday, June 2, and it marked the beginning of both rookies and veterans playing on the same field. 

    The OTAs provide a great opportunity for the younger players to adjust to the practice schedule and work on the basics before the grueling late-summer training camp.

    The OTAs are far more private than regular training camp practices. They're closed to the public and sometimes closed to reporters as well, which means information can be limited. 

    This article will round up several nuggets of information from around the web and determine which players are standing out in OTAs. 

Kenny Britt and Brian Quick Will Carry the Passing Attack

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    The Rams need Kenny Britt to step up in the worst way. For context, let's go over how comically unproductive the St. Louis receivers have been in recent years. 

    The Rams haven't had a receiver rank in the top 10 in yards since Torry Holt in 2007 (10th with 1,189 yards). In the seven seasons since then, the closest they've come is 39th (by Holt the following year). They've failed to crack the top 50 for six consecutive seasons. 

    As for receptions, Holt ranked 12th in 2007 (93), and Danny Amendola ranked ninth in 2010 (85). Amendola's 85 catches would be a mild relief if not for the fact he finished 51st in yards (689). In fact, Amendola's 8.1 yards per catch that year ranked 168th among wide receivers with 20 or more catches—dead last in the NFL.

    Since then, no Rams player has ranked better than 40th in the NFL in receptions (Amendola with 63 in 2012).

    It's time for the St. Louis receivers to get back on track. 

    Some might claim the passing game is irrelevant. After all, the Rams are building a run-first team, so low aerial totals are to be expected. But there's a huge difference between a reluctant aerial team and an incompetent aerial team. 

    The Rams are the latter. 

    Four teams this past season—Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles—finished as a top-10 rushing team and still ranked in the top 20 as a passing team. The Eagles finished in the top 10 in both categories. 

    Just because the run game is the core does not mean the passing game should be dismissed. In fact, the veterans of this Rams offense—Nick Foles, Kenny Britt, Jared Cook, Brian Quick—are all involved in the passing game, so they're the guys St. Louis will turn to when the going gets tough. 

    Luckily, both Britt and Quick seem to be on track. The reports from practice are generally positive. 

    According to R.B. Fallstrom of the Associated Press, Britt is definitely feeling the chemistry with new quarterback Nick Foles. 

    "We love him," Britt said Thursday after the second OTA session. "Great deep ball, he puts it on the money every time. He can throw every pass in the book."

    When a receiver is happy, it usually means he's clicking with his quarterback and making plays. That's exactly the type of confidence and production Britt must carry into the season. 

    Quick, who suffered a shoulder injury during the 2014 season, is also seeing some action, per Myles Simmons of the official Rams website

    “Brian Quick is probably the one we have to watch,” head coach Jeff Fisher said. “We’ll have to watch him, keep him out of contact, but he’s running routes against air. He’s catching and progressing nicely.”

    Quick's presence on the field is quite a relief. Updates on his progress have been scarce ever since the injury. 

    Both Quick and Britt have the talent to elevate St. Louis' passing game. Both players will likely be fighting for the top spot on the depth chart; it's just a matter of who develops the best chemistry with Foles and who can stay healthy. 

    St. Louis needs one of them to step up in a big way. 

Nick Foles Is Taking Charge

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Britt isn't the only receiver who's already impressed with Foles' skills. Tight end Jared Cook is feeling a lot of confidence in his new quarterback as well, per Simmons of the official Rams website

    "I'm so glad he's here. I love that he's here," Cook said Friday. "I love what he brings to us, and I love the fact that he's just an uptempo, positive guy."

    Offensive lineman Rodger Saffold also voiced his support for Foles, per Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    "He really likes to lift guys," Saffold said. "So you see him a lot in the locker room. You hear him a lot on the field. Those are good things to get from your quarterback. He’s very inspiring. That’s a good thing for us, especially with so many young guys. They need that."

    Though it's far too early to determine this offense's potential, it's always a great sign when the supporting cast is amped up over its new signal-caller. Foles is clearly winning over the roster and proving to everyone that he belongs. 

    That's the benefit of acquiring a veteran passer as opposed to trading up in the draft and grabbing one of the rookie quarterbacks. The learning curve is much smaller. Foles is already gaining the trust of his teammates, and his experience working with and leading an NFL offense is already showing.

    If the offense can carry that confidence into game day, the Rams might be on to something.

Offensive Line Is Young, Mean and Lean

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    The Rams drafted four linemen during the 2015 NFL draft—Rob Havenstein, Jamon Brown, Andrew Donnal and Cody Wichmann—and they'll be competing for two starting spots on the offensive line. 

    The youngsters have generated some hype. They've been referred to as maulers, road-graders, gladiators and even "refrigerators with legs." You only need to take one glance at them to understand why. 

    However, the veterans will also play a major role on St. Louis' refurbished offensive line, and the early reports on the vets have been quite positive. 

    For starters, Rodger Saffold, the most veteran member of the line with 60 career starts, is recovering nicely from an offseason shoulder surgery, per the official Rams website

    "I really feel good," said Saffold. "I'm ahead of schedule right now. So basically the hardest thing to do is just stay patient and let it take time and take its course."

    Saffold also mentioned that he should be totally cleared in a week or so, but it hasn't been determined when he'll participate in full team activities. 

    Saffold started all 16 games in 2014 for just the second time in his five-season career. As the most proven and battle-tested lineman on offense, the Rams will be depending on another 16-game campaign from Saffold in 2015. 

    Meanwhile, the Rams website also mentions that second-year left tackle Greg Robinson—the No. 2 overall pick in 2014—used the offseason to trim down from 339 pounds to 319. Robinson is coming off a toe surgery, so the weight loss will not only improve his speed, but it should take some pressure off the wounded toe as well. 

    Robinson is the most talented member of the offense line. He's a run-blocking machine with great athleticism, and the Rams are hoping he'll take major strides in 2015. 

    At center, the Rams are looking at a three-way competition between young veterans Tim Barnes, Barrett Jones and Demetrius Rhaney. According to the Rams website, Jones feels the competition is wide-open. 

    “We have three good candidates from what I see, and I think it’s pretty open,” Jones said of the competition. “You’ve got to make the most of your opportunities for sure.”

    The article mentions that Jones is feeling healthy for the first time since being drafted out of Alabama in 2013. That's excellent news for Jones, who has the talent to excel but has been held down by unfortunate injuries. 

    Between Saffold, Robinson and the winner of the competition at center, the Rams need their experienced linemen to max out their potential. That may be asking a lot, but it must happen in order for the St. Louis offense to excel. 

    The rookie linemen have received most of the attention since the draft. But it's the older St. Louis linemen who will truly determine the success of the offense. 

Defense Is Still King

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Not that this should surprise anyone, but the St. Louis defense has been completely dominating at OTAs. At least that's what Nick Wagoner of reported after Thursday's practice. 

    According to Wagoner, the practice was completely one-sided, and the defense is already in midseason form. While the offense tries to get rookie linemen up to speed and adjust to a new quarterback, the defense is already rolling and embracing its role as the dominant unit of the team. 

    Wagoner also mentioned that safety T.J. McDonald did not participate and was replaced by Mark Barron, and linebacker Akeem Ayers took snaps with the first-team unit. 

    Ayers' presence with the first team is predictable. At 255 pounds, he has about 20 more pounds of bulk than his competition, veteran Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Ayers is also the better pass-rusher of the two, and we know how much St. Louis values a guy who can harass quarterbacks. 

    If these early practices are any indication, it sounds like Ayers is the upgrade at outside linebacker the Rams were hoping for. 

    With Ayers in place, the St. Louis front seven is complete. Ayers, James Laurinaitis and former first-round pick Alec Ogletree will man the linebacker positions. Meanwhile, the defensive line features a rotation of five former top-15 selections—Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Aaron Donald, Michael Brocker and Nick Fairley.

    The St. Louis offense will face that relentless front seven on a daily basis throughout camp. That's a frightening thought for members of the offense, but it's really for their own good. If they can eventually hold their own against the St. Louis defense, it will make game day seem like a breeze. 

    Unfortunately, the Rams offense has not yet reached that point, but there's still plenty of time. 

    Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams featured columnist at Bleacher Report and served as the Rams' game-day correspondent in 2014. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or following him on Twitter.


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