I look forward to once again turning on my TV on Sundays without dread...better yet with actual excitement. Since roughly 2005 this has been nap time for me. Last season was much better yet still every game carried anxiety along with the anticipation. This year I expect more excited anticipation and less anxiety.
Now I am not buying my playoff tickets yet and there is still a lot of football left (namely the entire season) but I forgot how much fun it can be to watch a game knowing your team has at least a chance to win. Yes I am drinking my share of the Kool-Aid, but it’s been at least 6 years since I was thirsty for it so who cares. The team in the Show-Me State, at least is relevant again and I am going to enjoy it.
St. Louis had a strong off-season both through Free Agency and the draft. Bradford finally received some more help in the form of Dahl and of Sims-Walker. And believe it or not Steven Jackson (whether or not he wanted it) got help too when the Rams pulled their heads out of their a$3es and actually addressed the backup Running Back void with Norwood and Williams.
Perhaps most importantly St. Louis firmed up their ownership with proven winner Stan Kroenke. This is a franchise (and city) that needed a spark, needed confidence and more importantly needed to get its fan base behind them. Well Devaney and company have done their best to resolve that issue.
In my opinion they have. The Rams finally have a personality and a pulse. Sam Bradford is only 16 games in to his NFL career and still has mistakes ahead of him. Yet he has the makings of a great pro and most importantly has the confidence of his team. Jackson’s legs should get a few rests this year making him stronger when it matters and they signed the “nastiest” o-lineman in the NFL according to his reputation.
St. Louis is still a baseball ball town and October has been their territory in St. Louis for, well pretty much ever. However that grip is loosening. Come the fall the lines in front of the Ed will be longer than those leading up to Busch. The Rams are making a play for a larger chuck of our entertainment dollars. Case in point The Rams were not blacked out on TV last season, a huge win for the team and the Fans.
So on behalf of all fans in St. Louis...THANK YOU! Thank you for making my living room couch a destination on Sunday’s again and thank you for making me care. I remember St. Louis without football…those were some very lonely Sunday’s. My love affair with the Rams is blossoming as it did 16 years ago which means no more lonely Sunday’s.
Rams fans familiar with our offensive woes since the days of Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Ricky Proehl are quick to cite a lack of "separation" from our receivers -- in other words, an inability to get open. Now the term is being thrown around to indicate the lack of an immediate primary threat emerging from the group we've got. Is this a problem, or a nice problem to have?
Ron Clements, CBS Sports' beat reporter covering the Rams training camp, has been on the field every day and is accumulating tons of camp wisdom, nugget by nugget. After yesterday's practice, which saw Donnie Avery and Greg Salas still on the sidelines, Clements caught this comment from coach Spagnuolo:
Aside from Danny Amendola, coach Steve Spagnuolo said there hasn’t been much separation in the competition at WR.
“With guys being banged up, I don’t know if there’s anybody that has clear-cut sailed over anybody else,” Spagnuolo said. “But I think the whole group is getting better.”
While they didn't chase a big-ticket receiver, the Rams have been surprisingly busy and effective in free agency, acting like a team that wants to load up and take a legitimate shot at the NFC West. Count the addition of five-year-veteran linebacker Ben Leber from Minnesota among those effective moves, if the deal reported by John Clayton goes down.
The move to acquire Leber, like those to grab Harvey Dahl and Quintin Mikell, stands ready to be applauded by the fellows at Pro Football Focus. Quintin was their top-rated safety, Dahl their third-rated guard, and Leber their best-rated outside linebacker at defending the pass. And more importantly, his successful play in space at the weakside linebacker spot means that coach Spagnuolo can stop shoehorning undersized straight-line thumpers like Chris Chamberlain and Bryan Kehl in that role, and move them back to special teams where they provide the most value.
However, before Rams fans could even hear conformation of this move, another news item wormed its way out of Rams Camp and immediately into the animal part of our brain that fears injury -- especially to our star players. James Laurinaitis has a pectoral muscle injury? One word reaction: AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!
It might be no big deal, but it was a bit jarring to see James Laurinaitis, the St. Louis Rams' seemingly indestructible middle linebacker, sitting out some of the drills at practice today.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo explained that Laurinaitis was limited because he'd aggravated a pectoral (chest). "We don't really know what it is right now," Spagnuolo said. An X-ray was planned.
Laurinaitis has been an iron man for St Louis since arriving, taking over the starting job from Will Witherspoon in minicamps, before the Training Camp proper had even begun, and he's played literally every snap -- 2,149 of them, to be precise -- since then.
So to say the Rams don't have a plan B if Laurinaitis misses extended time might be an understatement. I mean no disrespect to Josh Hull, of course, but if the middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense, he is the Keith Null.
But let's take a deeeeep breath here.
Laurinaitis sat out some drills. We don't know anything yet. Until he actually misses time there's no reason to panic. Yet.
Earlier this morning, we looked at how the key Rams rookies were faring after their first full week of practice. Now let's look at some new veteran acquisitions brought in to shore up holes in the roster. These new signees have only had four days of practice so far, so file these thoughts under "very early impressions."
Mike Sims-Walker: Bursts of excitement
Sims-Walker caught a 50-yard pass from Bradford on his second play of his first practice, and afterwards tweeted that he's just getting started.
finally got my feet wet today on the field, a lil rusty at the beginning but my swag will be back in no time......
That said, MSW has been up and down so far on the Rams, shuttling back and forth between the 1st and 2nd team rotation of receivers, getting most of his work with A.J. Feeley on Sunday's scrimmage. Brandon Gibson has been locking down one of the 1st team spots so far, but expect Sims-Walker to challenge.
Cadillac Williams: surprisingly fresh
Williams' star as a pure runner has fallen considerably since his rookie season, but early in camp his legs look fresh and he looks like he could spot Steven Jackson for a game if necessary.
It will be interesting to see how much work he gets in the preseason, though, as the Rams often use Jackson sparingly in exhibition games. They may want to test Williams' endurance. But any preliminary concerns that we acquired a "broken-down Cadillac" can be put to rest in the early going.
Training camp is officially a week old, and the first preseason game is less than a week away. How are the new crop of Rams rookies fitting in and contributing? Let's take a look, round by round.
DE Robert Quinn: flashes of potential
Quinn missed the first team practice to be at the hospital for the birth of his first son. His second practice was interrupted as well, though not by anything quite so happy. Soreness in his knee, which was apparently tweaked in an offseason workout, cut his work short after just a handful of reps.
Since then, he has slowly worked himself back into the rotation, from sitting to jogging on the sideline to participating in individual drills to limited participation in Sunday's scrimmage. Quinn's traumatic injury history is a two-edged sword: he has also shown the willpower to work his way back from the very worst of diagnoses, so a little joint soreness seems minor by comparison.
Once on the field, he is beginning to impress:
Rams rookie and first round pick DE Robert Quinn picked his moments. Flashed ability to put pressure on the pocket, but needs work defending the run at the point of attack. He is extremely athletic but is behind and is feeling his way while grasping the defense.
Quinn's natural pass-rush ability is already on display, as he gave Rodger Saffold fits in individual drills on Friday and terrorized the second-team offensive line at Lindenwood. It may be some time before he's a "complete" defensive end, but on his current path he'll be a nice contributor on passing downs.
It’s early, but this team is young and promising. Here is what caught my eye Sunday afternoon…
Thoughts on Offense.
The Rams' improved firepower in the red zone.
One of the most frustrating things about this team last year was the Red Zone offense. Under Shurmur last season in the red zone, it seemed as though we ran more 2 and 3 yard crossing and pivot routes than any team in the league. It some points it looked like amateur hour down there. We couldn’t run the ball in and we couldn’t throw.
At first I thought perhaps I’m cherry-picking a few lasting frustrating moments from last year, but then I looked at the stats and it turns out, my memory serves me well. Only the Carolina Panthers were worst than the Rams in Red Zone scoring last season. This is alarming stat considering the success of Bradford, the amount of money/drafts picks spent on this offensive line and the power of SJ39. This perhaps is why Billy Devaney added 6’2 - Austin Pettis, 6’1-Greg Salas, 6’2 Mike Sims Walker, 6’3-Lance Kendricks, 6’7-Schuyler Oordt.
Sunday’s scrimmage showed a very different offense in the Red Zone. The Red Zone drill started with Billy Bajema making a leaping grab over Josh Hull in the back of the endzone. It was followed up with touchdowns by Amendola and Gibson (which may have received a red flag challenge in the regular season). Later, Lance Kendricks was found wide-open off of a play action fake for a four-yard touchdown. This was a very successful couple of series for the Rams’ offense.
The Offensive Line looks stronger
It’s tough to fully evaluate an offensive line in this scrimmage, but the addition of Dahl and the growth and progression of the two young tackles have improved this group thus far. Dahl is a bully, he’s tough and physical. (Think Richie Incognito but better and with his head screwed on right.) There were some noticeable mental mistake but those should be worked out during the preseason. It’s early, but this could be a significant change in the 2011 team.
Competition at Tight End
While, the competition at wide receiver has garnered a lot of attention (and rightfully so – it’s very crowded there) the competition at tight end looks to be an exciting one as well. The rookie, Lance Kendricks, is very athletic and with his size and speed he is going to be trouble for linebackers and safeties all year.
It was noticeable during the 2-minute drill towards the end of the scrimmage. Kendricks was running down the seam (even outrunning safeties on some places) with Amendola in the slot running underneath picking his spots. Kendricks also had a 3-yard run from the H-position. In addition, Bajema had a touchdown and another catch that may have been the best catch of the entire scrimmage.
I think Schulyar Oordt definitely passes the eye-ball test. At 6’7, 260 he is a huge target. These three along with Fendi and Illinois Mike will make for a fun competition throughout the preseason. Considering the important roles the tight ends will play in this offense, this competition is definitely worth keeping an eye on.