Say say it’s rebuilding. Others refer to the stage as a team in transition. Either way you look at it, the St. Louis Rams enter 2012 with a new head coach, a new G.M. and a new attitude.
Coach Jeff Fisher and General Manager Les Snead face a tough task trying to turn around a franchise which has won a total of 15 games over the past five seasons.
In addition, this division appears much more challenging than recent years, as the San Francisco 49ers come off a stellar 2011 campaign, where the team was only one or two mistakes away from making it to the Super Bowl and appears to have improved over the offseason and rookie QB Russell Wilson could have the Seattle Seahawks competing for a Wildcard spot in the postseason.
Nevertheless, this new regime has hit the ground running and has been moving things in the right direction in St. Louis. The team entered the league year with six selections in the 2012 NFL Draft, including the second overall pick.
With five trades unfolding in the first seven selections on draft day, the Rams missed out on star wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who went to Jacksonville fifth overall, but managed to make out like bandits with some aggressive trading.
St. Louis addressed one of its top needs right away, selecting DT Michael Brockers after moving down to the No. 14 spot. The team acquired three additional picks in the deal with Dallas, two of which were in the second round in exchange of the sixth overall pick after picking up first-round selections in 2013 and 2014 from the Washington Redskins.
Successful teams build through the draft, and St. Louis did that and much more. After surrendering a league-high 55 sacks last season, the Rams signed center Scott Wells from Green Bay, who returns from knee surgery.
“He understands things, learned the offense very quickly, makes all the calls and makes them correctly all the time,” Fisher said. “He anticipates things and he works very closely with the quarterback as he did up there in Green Bay.”
The club also acquired cornerback Cortland Finnegan in free agency, a Fisher protégé.
“There’s just a new breath of fresh air here,” Finnegan said. “Maybe that’s what they’ve needed all along. There are so many guys, free-agent guys that came that are a big part of that, that definitely are going to help try and rebuild and turn around this program.”
|St. Louis Rams 2012 Schedule|
|1||Sun, Sept. 9||at Detroit Lions||L (0-1)||FOX – 1 p.m.|
|2||Sun, Sept. 16||vs. Washington Redskins||L (0-2)||FOX – 4:05 p.m.|
|3||Sun, Sept. 23||at Chicago Bears||L (0-3)||FOX – 1 p.m.|
|4||Sun, Sept. 30||vs. Seattle Seahawks||L (0-4)||FOX – 1 p.m.|
|5||Thu, Oct. 4 vs. Arizona Cardinals W (1-4) NFLN – 8:20 p.m.|
|6||Sun, Oct. 14||at Miami Dolphins||W (2-4)||FOX – 1 p.m.|
|7||Sun, Oct. 21||vs. Green Bay Packers||L (2-5)||FOX – 1 p.m.|
|8||Sun, Oct. 28||vs. New England Patriots||L (2-6)||CBS – 1 p.m.|
|9||Sun, Nov. 4||Bye|
|10||Sun, Nov. 11||at San Francisco 49ers||L (2-7)||FOX – 4:25 p.m.|
|11||Sun, Nov. 22||vs. New York Jets||L (2-8)||CBS – 1 p.m.|
|12||Sun, Nov. 25||at Arizona Cardinals||L (2-9)||FOX – 4:25 p.m.|
|13||Sun, Dec. 2||vs. San Francisco 49ers||W (3-9)||FOX – 1 p.m.|
|14||Sun, Dec. 9||at Buffalo Bills||L (3-10)||FOX – 1 p.m.|
|15||Sun, Dec. 16||vs. Minnesota Vikings||W (4-10)||FOX – 1 p.m.|
|16||Sun, Dec. 23||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||L (4-11)||FOX – 1 p.m.|
|17||Sun, Dec. 30||at Seattle Seahawks||L (4-12)||FOX – 4:25 p.m.|
However, turning things around overnight—or within one season isn’t likely to happen, though this team does have plenty of young pieces in place on both sides of the ball.
Linebacker James Laurinaitis remains the focal point of the defense and Robert Quinn should see more success in his second season opposite Chris Long. Brockers and Kendall Langford will line up in the middle and veterans Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Rocky McIntosh will start on the outside at linebacker.
Fourth-year corner Bradley Fletcher, second-year corner Jerome Murphy and rookie Trumaine Johnson will see playing time behind starting cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan and third-year man Darian Stewart and veteran Quintin Mikell will start at safety.
The offensive line looks to be a little bit better condition than last season, but the receiving corps has lost some of its depth. Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson are slated to start at wide receiver, with veteran Steve Smith and rookie receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens next in line to see playing time.
In addition, none of QB Sam Bradford’s returning weapons registered as many as 450 yards last season, with the exception of running back Steven Jackson, who will have some help with the addition of second-round selection Isaiah Pead.
Bradford, 24, started all 16 games as a rookie and completed 354 of 590 passes (60.0 completion percentage) for 3,512 yards with 18 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. However, the 6-4, 224-pound signal-caller suffered a sophomore slump in 2011, completing 191 of 357 passes (53.5 completion percentage) for 2,164 yards with six scores to six picks
Even if the team doesn’t win very many games, if Fisher can restore confidence in St. Louis and its starting quarterback, then the team can get on the right track and the future will be bright for the franchise.
In 2011, St. Louis scored the fewest points and registered the second-fewest yards on offense, while giving up the seventh-most points on defense. Look out for this team in 2013 and 2014, but it’s just not there yet.
Verse of This Piece: “Doing right brings freedom to honest people, but those who are not trustworthy will be caught in their own desires.” —Proverbs 11:6
Michael Gartman is a College Football and NFL Senior Writer, the AFC South and NFC West Lead Writer and the Founder, CEO of GridironGrit.com. He also writes for RantPolitical.com, where he reports on topics across all sides of the political spectrum and analyzes important issues in the liberty movement. Follow @_MichaelGartman, @RantPolitical and @GridironGrit on Twitter!