Clay Matthews prepares to hit Sam Bradford. Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports photograph
The Green Bay Packers gear up this Saturday to play against the St. Louis Rams in their second preseason game. The exhibition will give coaches another body of work with which to evaluate their players as the team takes one step closer to shaping their final 53-man roster.
Here are his responses to our questions about the Rams. Enjoy his insight.
The Rams finished last season 7-8, and are in one of the toughest divisions in football with the Seahawks and Forty-Niners. What do they need to do this year to be more competitive in the division?
Within the division, the St. Louis Rams finished the 2012 season with 4-1-1 record, so, if they can repeat that success, it should bode well for the team overall. The real trouble was inconsistency outside of the division, especially in close games. If the offense and defense can play consistently at their potential, the Rams could certainly be in a position to surprise outsiders looking in at the NFC West this season.
Going off the previous question, what have they done this offseason to improve as a team?
There were three key areas that the St. Louis Rams “lacked” in last season: Consistency on the offensive line, explosiveness/playmaking at the skill positions, and an offensive gameplan congruent with the modern-day NFL.
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To address the first, St. Louis went out and signed Jake Long, arguably the biggest free agent offensive tackle on the market. They also moved Rodger Saffold to right tackle, and will be getting C Scott Wells and RG Harvey Dahl back from injury.
As for the lack of explosiveness, the Rams drafted the most dynamic player in the 2013 draft class, Tavon Austin, and the most productive receiver in college football last season, Stedman Bailey. More importantly, they signed Jared Cook in free agency, who has the potential to be one of the biggest mismatch, tight end-hybrids in the league.
Lastly, the departure of Steven Jackson has allowed Brian Schottenheimer, the offensive coordinator, to design an offense better suited toward Sam Bradford’s skill set. The idea is to convert back to the spread offense that Bradford dominated in at Oklahoma, lacing the outside with mismatch players that can “open” the field in the passing game and let Bradford control the game with his arm.
The Rams let veteran back Steven Jackson walk in free agency. He has been a productive back for years now. How will the Rams fill the void he leaves in the backfield?
Daryl Richardson filled-in admirably for Jackson last season after the Rams’ feature back suffered a groin injury against the Washington Redskins. In that game, Richardson took 15 attempts as the “next man up,” posting 83 rushing yards, as well as 19 receiving yards. In a mid-season stretch, while essentially splitting carries with Jackson, Richardson averaged 8.3 carries and 57 yards per game, while posting a 20-plus-yard run in three out of four games.
However, the goal for the Rams might not necessarily be to “fill the void,” but, rather to transition into a new offensive scheme better suited for the talent on the roster. There is no player in the league who can replace a Steven Jackson, so why try? Instead, the Rams will rely on the passing game and the three-headed monster of Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, and new draftee, Zac Stacy, to compensate offensively.
What is the best position battle happening in camp so far?
With all the youth and talent at receiver, the battle for who will be catching the passes from Sam Bradford has been the most exciting to watch. Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Austin Pettis, Brian Quick, and Chris Givens are all getting significant snaps with the first-team offense during camp. It is truly a toss-up on who will be lining up next to Chris Givens on the outside this season!
Who are some surprise players in camp so far?
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Brian Quick, the Rams’ high second-rounder from the 2012 draft, appears to be coming into form. Last season, Quick seemed “lost” on the field, and as a result, saw very little playing time. So far at camp, Quick appears to have a much firmer grasp on the playbook, is using his size and strength more effectively, and is actually making the catches the St. Louis Rams expected from the small-school prospect when they took him so high in the draft.
Another player that has been a surprise is the Rams’ sophomore defensive tackle, Michael Brockers. Camp scouts have deemed the interior behemoth as the “most physically intimating” player on the field. In fact, it is being reported that Brockers added roughly 15 pounds of muscle to his 320-plus frame this offseason, and it is certainly showing at camp thus far. The supposedly “raw, non-pass rushing prospect” from LSU was able to garner 4.0 sacks and 21 defensive stops last season, despite missing the first quarter of the season with an ankle injury. He should only improve on those numbers this season.
What are your thoughts on Sam Bradford’s progress the past few seasons? What do you expect from him this season?
The words Sam Bradford and “progress” are typically not associated with one another in most football minds, but the former first-overall selection has certainly grown since winning Offensive Rookie of the Year back in 2010. To most, the St. Louis Rams 2011 season has been erased from memory, with an unprecedented wave of injuries knocking out eight starters, and three “replacement” starters by mid-November (including the starting LT, RT, LG, #1WR, #2WR, #3WR, and the top four CB on the Rams’ depth chart). Bradford himself suffered—what should have been—a season-ending ankle injury in Week 10, but pressed on with the consent of the Rams’ former head coach, who was fighting for his job … to no avail.
In 2012, Sam Bradford improved in every statistical category, including more touchdowns and passing yards, fewer interceptions, and a significant increase in yards per attempt. This season, Sam Bradford will have 1) more offensive weapons, 2) a healthy offensive line, 3) the same offensive coordinator for the first time in consecutive seasons, and 4) an offensive system centered around his arm, not the legs of Steven Jackson. All of those factors should contribute to a “breakout” season for Bradford.
What area of the team do you see the Rams improving the most this season?
By default, the St. Louis Rams should improve the most offensively, specifically in the passing game. Other than the last couple of seasons, the Rams have been one of the worst teams in the league through the air, not only in terms of yards, but more importantly, in putting points on the board. With these new weapons and a purportedly more dynamic offensive scheme, the Rams will be striving toward cracking the Top 10 offenses in the league this season.