The Rams took their fans and the city of St. Louis on an up-and-down roller coaster ride that finished 7-8-1 and 4-1-1 in the NFC West division last season. There was excitement, thrilling moments and, in the end, the club fell short of a playoff berth. The 2013 free-agency period landed the Rams two key free agents in offensive tackle Jake Long and tight end Jared Cook, both of whom will be impact players for the team. With the NFL draft stacked with picks, the Rams geared up and landed two starters in explosive wide receiver/return specialist Tavon Austin and linebacker Alec Ogletree, a converted safety. Both players, again, boast huge upside.
Every year brings something new, but there are a few things that remain the same. The 2013 Rams again will carry the flag as the youngest team in the NFL. They are ranked 32nd overall (29th-youngest on offense, 31st-youngest on defense and 32nd-youngest on special teams, which includes the kicker, punter and long snapper). On the 53-man roster, 36 of the players are 25 or younger. Five of the players are over 30 years of age, with three of the five coming in at 32 (linebacker Will Witherspoon, center Scott Wells and guard Harvey Dahl).
Quirks abound on this roster, too. Fourteen players weigh over 300 pounds, with the heaviest being right tackle Rodger Saffold at 332. Left tackle Jake Long and defensive lineman Matt Conrath each stand a staggering 6-7. And, in my 11 years as a front-office executive, I have never seen a team that landed five undrafted CFAs (college free agents) on the 53-man roster in one season – not to mention a total of 12 rookies. In my roster analysis, I noted that many of these players had never been through the complete process of football from a strategic game planning, practice/preparation standpoint.
Coach Jeff Fisher and his staff, along with general manager Les Snead and scouts, have done an exceptional job of building a championship foundation. Last March’s trade with the Washington Redskins really helped set this team up for success in the very near future, too. In order to consistently compete at a high level with San Francisco, Arizona and Seattle in the NFC West, the Rams’ youth movement will need to pay immediate dividends.
“Well, we haven’t played a game yet, so it’s probably one of those things you need to ask halfway through it,” Fisher said about the onus on his relative newcomers to the league. “But, we’re very young. I think we’ve got 26 or 27 players on this roster that are either rookies or first-year players. We’re a very young football team. One would assume with that being said, you’re just going to continue to get better. But, we’ve got a lot of players that haven’t seen a lot of things yet.”
If the Rams can stay healthy on defense, they should make the next step and jump into a top-eight unit. Adding rookies Ogletree and T.J. McDonald brings size, speed, athletic skill set and playmaking ability to an already talented defensive front.
Sam Bradford and the offense will need to click on all cylinders, and that means relying on a hand full of rookies and second-year players to fill the void outside the numbers while creating mismatches and separation with run-after-the-catch skills on all plays –short and intermediate. The Rams added an explosive difference-maker in Austin to go along with second-year star playmaker Chris Givens. The Rams also snagged a jewel via free agency that will shine brightly: Cook, whose size, speed and ability to create space gives coordinator Brian Schottenheimer a previously unknown commodity. Other receivers with much upside – and the need for growth – include second-year performers Brian Quick and Austin Pettis and rookie Stedman Bailey.
The 2013 season is only six days away. Arizona will visit the Lou looking to show how improved it is with a new head coach, general manager and several talented players on the roster. Buckle up for an early-season clash to remember involving a pair of fierce NFC West foes.