Jul 23, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin (11) talks with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer during training camp at ContinuityX Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
In order to preview the St. Louis Rams
this season, I hooked up with Nathan Kearns and he answered some questions about the coming season:
Which player(s) on roster need to step up in order for the season to be successful?
Well, the short answer is “everyone,” but that is the cliche answer for every team this offseason. There are numerous players on both sides of the football that will need to “step up” if the St. Louis Rams want to compete in the NFC West. On the defensive side of the football, Michael Brockers
might be the linchpin, solidifying an interior line that has been sub-par for nearly half a decade. If Brockers can continue to progress, and stay healthy, it will have a “ripple effect” in the second and third levels of the defense. On the offensive side of the football, the easy answer is Sam Bradford
. For the first time in his career he has a) the same offensive coordinator, b) legitimate offensive weapons and an offensive line, and c) an offense tailor-made for his talents. With Steven Jackson
gone, the burden of the offense’s success truly rests on the arm of Sam Bradford. His ability to “steps up” this season will be the fulcrum on which the St. Louis Rams’ fate teeters.
What position battle(s) will you be paying attention to during training camp?
This offseason, most in Rams Nation will be watching the same position battles that we have watched for the last five years; safety and wide receiver. In the release of the 2013 Training Camp Preview, St. Louis places two “surprise names” in the starting lineup; Austin Pettis
at wide receiver and Rodney McLeod
at safety. With three to four legitimately viable starters at each position, it is anyone’s guess who will actually end up as the starter for the Week 1 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals
Most will also be watching the battle at the running back position, mainly between the “incumbent” Daryl Richardson
and Zac Stacy, the Rams’ sixth-rounder from the 2013 NFL Draft class. With Steven Jackson seamlessly taking the reins from Marshall Faulk
, the St. Louis Rams have not had a true question mark at running back since the mid- to late-1990s. We will have to wait and see if the answer to that question is somewhere on St. Louis’ current roster.
Which rookie(s) on the team will make an immediate impact?
Most of the rookies will have at least some opportunity to make an impact, whether that be as a starter or merely as a special teams player. Tavon Austin will likely make the largest impact of the class, with expectations that he will lead the St. Louis Rams in “touch opportunities,” which will hopefully result in yards and touchdowns. Both Zac Stacy and Stedman Bailey also have an opportunity to be immediately impactful, depending on whether or not they earn a spot in the starting lineup.
T.J. McDonald and Alec Ogletree are both expected to start on the defense, and could both make a significant impact. Safety and outside linebacker were the two glaring holes on the defense last season, so the bar for impactfulness will be fairly low to begin the season. However, if they “are who we thought they were,” the two rookies could boost the Rams’ defense into the Top 10 in the league this coming season.
Last season, the St. Louis Rams got meaningful contributions from a multitude of rookies (i.e. Janoris Jenkins
, Trumaine Johnson
, Michael Brockers, Chris Givens
, Greg Zuerlein
, Johnny Hekker, Daryl Richardson). While it is unlikely that seven players from this year’s class will see significant time on the field, there are three or four that could certainly make a massive impact immediately on the offensive and defensive side of the football.
Which player(s) on the roster is the most underrated?
Well nearly the entire team is “underrated,” not having a Pro Bowl player from either the offense or defense in two seasons. In fact, the Rams haven’t sent a player not named “Steven Jackson” to the Pro Bowl since Torry Holt
in 2007. Worse, no player on the St. Louis Rams even cracked the 2013 NFL Top 100 Players list…
The first names that come to mind are James Laurinaitis
and Chris Long
, both of which have put up Top 10 performances at their respective positions for the last two season. In fact, Long has been in the Top 5 in total quarterback pressure for two consecutive years, while Laurinaitis led the NFL in solo tackles in 2012, after finishing third
overall during the 2011 season.
With so many rookies and second-year players, it is hard to say that any are “truly” underrated. However, the overall most underrated player on the St. Louis Rams might be Jo-Lonn Dunbar
, who will be starting his second year in a St. Louis Rams uniform. While Dunbar struggled somewhat in coverage at the start of last season, the Rams’ 2012 offseason acquisition put up numbers comparable to any 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL last season in all three key areas. In coverage, Dunbar finished the season with two inceptions (T-5th among 4-3 OLBs) and three pass deflections (T-6th). In the pass rush, he finished the season with 4.5 sacks (6th among 4-3 OLBs), nine hurried throws (T-7th), and 19 total pressures on the quarterback (7th). Most impressively, against the run, Dunbar finished with 115 combined tackles, with 91 solo tackles (11th overall in the NFL), and 62 defensive stops (i.e. tackles that results in an offensive failure), which was the fourth-most ofany player
in the NFL last season at any position
Prediction for the season?
This season will undoubtedly be filled with surprises, so predictions for the season right now will probably prove to be utterly useless by the one-quarter mark of the season. However, the St. Louis Rams will, for starters, look to repeat as the best record in the NFC West… an impressive feat given that San Francisco and Seattle are also in the division. In one of Ramblin’ Fans’ early season previews, we mentioned seven “should-win” games for the St. Louis Rams this coming season: Arizona Cardinals (2x), Dallas Cowboys
, Jacksonville Jaguars
, Carolina Panthers
, Tennessee Titans
, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
. If they can win those games, plus put up a similar performance within the division, they will be looking at a 9-7 or 10-6 record at the end of the year. Double-digit wins in the NFC should be enough to secure one of the NFC Wild Card slots. *fingers crossed*