Both teams are likely to give their reserves one final shot of earning a roster spot. Instead of breaking down the third stringers that will see majority of playing time, we asked Turf Show Times' Joe McAtee to break down the Rams for the upcoming season.
Here's what he had to say:
Joe McAtee: I don't think. I know. Daryl Richardson's a bit of a unique case among his starting RB brethren in that he's not really all that skilled. His acceleration is somewhere between elite and near-elite. Other than acceleration ... you're grasping at straws for natural skills. What elevated DRich to the backup spot behind Steven Jackson last year and helped him secure the starting job as of right now is the fact he's, at least in a performance sense, aware that he's without other qualities. That being the case, he never dances behind the line. He never tries to make something out of nothing. He takes the handoff and immediately goes after the designed gap/s.
The reality is, if his discipline lapses, he's not only not starting quality. He's not NFL quality. It's a weird niche role to not only occupy but succeed in. But he has. As long as he's committed to making 3-yard runs out of 3-yard holes where other RBs juke their way through the second level for double digit gains, he'll have a job. Truth be told, with the Rams' offensive line, that's probably a best case scenario to have someone who accepts the minimal gain provided by this line, throws himself at it at maximum velocity and helps grind out small gains to help the passing game find easier late down situations.
But with Isaiah Pead who was drafted in the 2nd round for a reason, Zac Stacy who found as much success as he did in the SEC behind Vanderbilt offensive lines against superior competition (his performance against Georgia on the road in late September last year is a prime example of how RBs can have a positive tape performance without racking up numbers) and even rookie Benny Cunningham who has impressed in preseason opportunities, this is a committee situation that should be avoided fantasy-wise unless Pead or Stacy begin tearing up limited opportunities.
BB: Is this a make-or-break year for Sam Bradford as the Rams' quarterback, even though conventional wisdom would indicate the lackluster offenses during his previous seasons were due to the supporting cast? If you agree with that, do you think the Rams have addressed those concerns with guys like Chris Givens and Tavon Austin?
JM: We've struggled with this one all offseason. I'm of the opinion that it is a MOBY (we're at the acronym stage at this point) for Sam. I was glad to see a member of our TST staff make a lucid argument against. One thing we all agree on: Sam's been done no favors by the environment around him. You noted the supporting cast, and the lack of talent it has provided to cover for Bradford. What so many fans of other NFL teams forget/don't recognize is the coaching turnover in his first three years. He's had two head coaches in Steve Spagnuolo and now Jeff Fisher. He's had three offensive coordinators in Pat Shurmur, Josh McDaniels and Brian Schottenheimer.
He's had three QB coaches in Dick Curl (seriously), Frank Cignetti and in 2011...nobody. So he's had as tumultuous a support staff as you could throw at anyone, let alone a QB the franchise invested $78m over six years in. There are few, if any, Rams fans who doubt his natural QB skills. He has the arm, he has amazing accuracy, and his intangibles are beyond sufficient. It's a matter of stepping up in big moments and elevating his team. No, there haven't been many of the former in his career and that's largely not his fault. And no, it's incredibly far from easy to elevate a team that cobbles together an offensive line of players no other team wants and receivers who are two spots above where they would be on most depth charts.
But the reality is, Sam Bradford should be a franchise QB. He's being paid like it. He has the skills to be a successful one. Anyone and everyone who's seen them this offseason and preseason agrees the offense should be better if not much so. So if the offensive results don't come this year, the reality is it's time to look for other options. I made the case that Alex Smith had a make or break year, and even though he wasn't horrible he broke. That offseason, the Niners drafted Colin Kaepernick. And even though in the subsequent year Smith helped the Niners make the NFC Championship, the writing was on the wall. When your front office gets off the boat, you're on borrowed time. This is Sam's last year before that point. So while he's got a small window to imprint himself into the franchise's future, and yes the league's, I'm confident he can do so. I've seen him do it when it didn't matter. He's got the options around him to do it when it does this year.
BB: What's the attitude among the Rams faithful with Jeff Fisher now that he's in his second year at the helm?
JM: OK, this one I can do in short order. He's got experience as a player and a tenured HC. He's not afraid to support his guys through tough times, and he's not afraid to impose some discipline as he showed by suspending rookie standouts CB Janoris Jenkins and WR Chris Givens before the first game against the 49ers last season. In short: we likey.
BB: Are there any undrafted rookies or surprise players that might make this year's Rams team? If so, how have they impressed throughout the preseason?
JM: Yeah, there's a couple. Ray Ray Armstrong was a highly touted safety at Miami, a position/school combo that has produced some of the NFL's best. While his college career didn't pan out, his athleticism has been unavoidable even though he's been moved to LB for the Rams. Daren Bates is an undersized LB, but he held up at Auburn against the SEC's best. He's shown why this preseason. I mentioned Cunningham above; he's played above the level of who's been on the field with him. Plus he's just so damn happy! DE Gerald Rivers might have played his way onto the roster out of Ole Miss. And CB Darren Woodard has improved maybe more than anyone from early this offseason to this point.
BB: With the regular season on the horizon, how do you anticipate this year playing out for the Rams, complete with a prediction of their overall record?
JM: We're compiling our staff predictions right now, and I went with 9-7. I'm guessing 5-6 wins at home and 3 or 4 on the road. The schedule's pretty daunting at this point, and there are plenty of unsolved mysteries for a team this young. I'll pull an ego card and cite myself in what I've got for our TST prediction:
"The biggest factor could be the unpredictability of injuries. An injury to Sam or Jake Long or Tavon Austin or Janoris Jenkins would be horrible. And for a young team, impeding the progress of guys like Brian Quick, Chris Givens, any of the RBs or whomever shakes out among the safeties would be an unfortunate set of circumstances to deal with.
"I think the key for the Rams is to weather the road to the bye week and make a late push. The three-game winless streak into the mid-season bye last year made the run-in an uphill climb. And while a three-game win streak put them in position to sneak into the back end of the playoffs last year, they couldn't pull off the flawless finish the Redskins did. I don't think the final six games set up all that well with all three divisional road games and Chicago, New Orleans and Tampa Bay all coming to St. Louis. So it will be key for the Rams to stock up on W's to a degree before that week 11 break."
In the end, I think it's a matter of how the offense chemistry settles in (or more accurately when and to what degree it does). The defense should continue to keep the Rams in any game. But too often last year, it wasn't able to take advantage. I'm skeptical, though hopeful, it will be able to pick up more than two wins versus a year ago. The bottom line is, though, this is an improved and improving team. Jeff Fisher's a great head coach to have at this point, and the roster has enough talented starters to be set up to compete in short order. With two first round picks in next year's draft, there's no reason the Rams can't find the postseason next year. This year though, they've got a tough slate (they've been top 5 the last three years going into week one) that forces them to play the rest of the NFC West which is, bluntly, the opposite of what it was just a few years ago. This division is the class of the NFC, and the Rams have a tough future ahead of them this season to try and extend their season in into the playoffs this year. But as with any fan, there's always hope.
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