NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - INSIDE SLANT
The Rams have generated some buzz around the NFL, thanks to the offensive talent that was added in the offseason. Tight end Jared Cook was signed as an unrestricted free agent, while wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, and running back Zac Stacy were selected in the draft.
However, the departures of running back Steven Jackson, and wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson have left the Rams very young and inexperienced at the positions surrounding fourth-year quarterback Sam Bradford.
How the young players perform will determine how improved the Rams will be.
Asked if he's ever been around such a young group, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said, "Probably not. It's kind of exciting. If they weren't working so hard, if they were struggling a little bit mentally -- which I'm sure they'll have their days -- I'd probably be a little bit nervous, but they're doing really well. Again, coach (Jeff Fisher) helps us by setting up the structure where we can get a chance to visit with these guys and do the installs a couple different times, which certainly helps them. A young group, but a very fast, explosive group, so there's a tradeoff there."
Fisher is so confident in his coaches and players that he decided not to hold a minicamp this year, the only team in the league that could make that claim. It was the allowed 10 OTAs, and that was it,
While conceding that "we have a lot of work to do," Fisher added, "I like the commitment. We've said that from Day 1. They've put in a lot of hard work into an offseason program. The attendance was near perfect. This team is going to come back healthy and ready to go. They've made a great commitment."
Claiming the offense is a "thousand years ahead" of where they were last year at this time, Schottenheimer concluded, "I understand why Sam has a smile on his face for a lot of reasons; obviously the weapons and obviously not having to learn a new system. It's been a really great offseason. Guys are working hard. It's been fun to watch them work."
Strengths: The front seven on defense should be formidable, especially if rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree plays to expectations. The defensive line -- ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn along with tackles Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers -- is young and improving, and there is depth. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is the leader of the defense, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar will have a role, be it on the strong or weak side. The question is whether Dunbar or Ogletree will be on the field in nickel situations.
The addition of left tackle Jake Long strengthens the line, with Rodger Saffold moving to the right side. Center Scott Wells is healthy, as is right guard Harvey Dahl. Left guard will have open competition in camp.
Suddenly, the offense is much faster, with the addition of Cook and Austin. Defenses will be playing the Rams much differently this season.
Weaknesses: The safety position is wide open. Darian Stewart is penciled in as a starter, but he missed the final two weeks of OTAs with a calf injury. His hopes of winning a starting job last year were scuttled because of a hamstring injury that cost him precious practice time in training camp. With Stewart out, Rodney McLeod and third-round pick T.J. McDonald were with the first unit. Behind them was rookie Cody Davis. Matt Giordano was added as a free agent after OTAs ended. Matt Daniels isn't all the way back from a knee injury.
The running back group is faster with Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and Stacy. Will there be a main starter, or will a committee approach be the result?
"You need multiple backs in this league," Schottenheimer said. "We're going to try to play to their strengths. With 'Jack' (Steven Jackson) last year, it was a little bit different. It was harder to do the committee because every time you took him out, you knew you were missing his leadership and his toughness. This year I think we've got nice pieces to try to blend in and differently attack people."
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - NOTES, QUOTES
--After OTAs concluded on June 14, the team's rookies stayed around for another week. But the focus wasn't on football. There was conditioning work with strength coach Rock Gullickson, but much of the time was spent helping players with the transition from college to the NFL, as well as participating in several community events.
It began with the opening of the Rams Training Academy, a facility that will have camps and clinics for area youth. On the first day, there was a camp for 175 kids.
Molly Higgins, the organization's vice-president of corporate communications/civic affairs, told the team website, "While Rookie Week began in 2010, it has grown leaps in bounds in the past two years under (general manager) Les (Snead), coach (Jeff Fisher) and (executive vice president of football operations) Kevin (Demoff) as they all place a tremendous emphasis on developing the players in order to put them in a great position to have success both on and off the field.
"It's an opportunity for the staff members who are involved with the players to come together and collectively prepare the guys for that transition from playing football on the collegiate level to becoming an NFL player and all of the various aspects associated with being a true professional. It's something we all take very seriously and are passionate about."
All of the team's rookies, including undrafted free agents, took part. Undrafted free-agent safety Cody Davis told the website, "I think it's valuable to go out and do this. We also get an extra week of working out and conditioning which will help us going into the break."
--Safety Matt Daniels hardly participated in OTAs last year because of a knee injury suffered during his senior year at UCLA. He did enough in training camp to earn a roster spot as an undrafted free agent, but then suffered another knee injury at the end of October that cost him the remainder of the season. So, there he was on the sideline for this year's offseason workouts.
Acknowledging the frustration, Daniels told the Rams' website, "There's a big opportunity at the safety spot and it is frustrating at times knowing I can't be out there to seize the opportunity that is in front of me but training camp comes around and it's wide open. The best will play; it's as simple as that. So all I can do at this point is just focus on getting 100 percent healthy and once I am healthy just go from there and do whatever it is I have to do."
When the team was dismissed after OTAs ended June 14, Daniels said he wouldn't be going anywhere in the time leading up to the start of training camp July 25.
"For the next six weeks I am here," he said. "I don't want to go away and come back not 100 percent and then they are sitting there wondering what I was doing. I'd rather put my health in their hands. I know this training staff will do what they need to do to get me back right and on the field."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's great motivation. You look around the entire defense; the safety position might actually be the youngest within the team, especially on the defense. We are stout at all positions, but everyone does question the safety spot. But I don't question it at all and neither do the coaches or the guys that play the spot. We are looking for the opportunity to go out and make an impact quick and show them just how good we actually are. It's going to be fun come camp time to go out and see who really shines and who is willing to go out and make the plays." - Safety Matt Daniels on the youth and competition at safety.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Cause for Concern: How will the young running backs pass protect? Said offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, "That will be the biggest question because obviously 'Jack' (Steven Jackson) gave us that. Our defense gives us some really tough looks, which has been good. We ask a lot of our backs, and again, so far, so good, but there will be some things that come up that we'll just coach them up and show them video. That's how these guys are going to learn. They're going to learn by making mistakes and the more that they see now will help them when we get to the season opener."
Position battles: Left guard -- That spot was open last summer and is again. Rob Turner eventually won the job, but left for Tennessee in free agency. After he departed, the Rams re-signed Chris Williams, and he will compete with Shelley Smith and Rokevious Watkins to be the starter.
Blocking tight end -- Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks are the top two tight ends, and Kendricks improved as a blocker and receiver last season. The third tight end will come down to a competition between Mike McNeill and Zach Potter.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYERS: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--LB Justin Cole (not tendered as RFA).
--LB Mario Haggan (not tendered as UFA).
--DT Trevor Laws (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Rocky McIntosh (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (all picks signed)
--WR Tavon Austin (1/8): $12,751,002/4 yrs, all guaranteed; $6,653,456 SB.
--LB Alec Ogletree (1/30): $7,030,024/4 yrs, $3,492,748 SB/$5,666,386 guaranteed/$688,638 roster/report bonus 2016.
--S T.J. McDonald (3/71): $2,926,278/4 yrs, $648,000 SB.
--WR Stedman Bailey (3/92): $2,736,102/4 yrs, $527, 400 SB.
--C Barrett Jones (4/113): $2,605,200/4 yrs, $445, 200 SB.
--CB Brandon McGee (5/149): $2,351,160/4 yrs, $191,160 SB.
--RB Zac Stacy (5/160): $2,336,500/4 yrs, $176,500 SB.
--C Tim Barnes: ERFA; $480,000/1 yr.
--QB Kellen Clemens: UFA; $870,000/1 yr, $30,000 SB.
--DT Jermelle Cudjo: Potential RFA; $1.805M/2 yrs, $350,000 SB.
--DE William Hayes: UFA; $10.25M/3 yrs, $3.75M SB/$5.75M guaranteed.
--TE Mike McNeill: ERFA; $555,000/1 yr.
--S Darian Stewart: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation; $1.323M/1 yr.
--G/T Chris Williams: UFA; terms unknown.
--TE Jared Cook: UFA Titans; $35.1M/5 yrs, $5M SB/$19M guaranteed.
--S Matt Giordano: Not tendered as UFA by Raiders; $840,000/1 yr.
--T Jake Long: UFA Dolphins; $34M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$20M potentially guaranteed/$12M fully guaranteed).
--TE Zach Potter: Not tendered as RFA by Jaguars; $630,000/1 yr.
--WR Danny Amendola: UFA Patriots; $31M/5 yrs, $6M SB/$10M SB.
--S Craig Dahl: UFA 49ers; $5.25M/3 yrs, $700,000 SB.
--CB Bradley Fletcher: UFA Eagles; $5.25M/2 yrs, $1.6M SB/$2.35M guaranteed.
--WR Brandon Gibson: UFA Dolphins; $9.78M/3 yrs, $3M SB/$3.75M guaranteed.
--T Wayne Hunter (released).
--RB Steven Jackson: UFA Falcons; $12M/3 yrs, $3.5M SB/$4M guaranteed.
--S Quintin Mikell (released).
--TE Matthew Mulligan (released).
--T Barry Richardson: Not tendered as UFA/Titans; terms unknown.
--WR Steve Smith: UFA Buccaneers; $715,000/1 yr.
--G/C Robert Turner: UFA Titans; $1.5M/1 yr, $250,000 SB/$250,000 RB.