July 20, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE
49ERS PAGE 49ERS VIDEO
Editor's Note: The NFL lockout appears to be drawing to a close, and teams will have limited time to enact their offseason plans. This week, reporters from around the NFC West will provide updates on the teams they cover. This is Part 2 in a four-day cooperative series looking at the NFC West. Beat reporters Kent Somers (The Arizona Republic), Danny O'Neil (The Seattle Times) and Jim Thomas (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) share their NFC West thoughts on their respective blogs.Today, a look at the St. Louis Rams. First, my thoughts . . .
The Rams are set up best for the future among the four NFC West organizations. They are the only franchise in the division that has a long-term answer at quarterback currently situated as their starter for the upcoming season.Although Sam Bradford's statistical production as a rookie was actually a shade below 49ers' quarterback Alex Smith last season, Bradford managed to keep the Rams in the playoff hunt until the final week of the regular season.Bradford had a 76.4 passer rating with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. But the Rams improved to 7-9 after the 1-15 season that enabled them to select Bradford with the No. 1 overall selection.The Rams ended the 49ers' playoff hopes and coach Mike Singletary's tenure with the 49ers in late December with a 25-17 victory. Bradford had the Rams in position to beat the 49ers at Candlestick Park in November. But tight end Daniel Fells dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass near the goal line late in regulation. The Rams settled for a tying field goal, and the 49ers won in overtime.With Bradford and an improved young roster, the Rams enter this season as a team on the rise. Now, let's check in with Thomas for a look at the Rams:Rams offseason storyline
With the NFC West title and a playoff berth on the line in the 2010 season finale in Seattle, the Rams could muster only six points and 184 yards of offense against a less-than-stellar Seahawks defense. If you polled Rams fans in the aftermath of that game, they almost certainly would've voted that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur must go. Shurmur went all right -- to Cleveland as the Browns' new head coach. In fairness, Shurmur's play calling was limited by personnel issues, and the overall conservative offensive philosophy of head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Which brings us to Josh McDaniels. The one-time "boy wonder" of Bill Belichick's New England Patriots, McDaniels crashed and burned as a head coach in Denver. But he has a bright offensive mind and a good reputation as a play caller. It was a bold move for the Rams, because McDaniels likes to take chances and throw the ball downfield -- something that didn't happen too often last season in St. Louis. If the line can hold up and the receiving corps stays healthy and develops, Bradford could be the big beneficiary. With no minicamps and OTAs during the lockout, it has been impossible to get a read on how McDaniels will put his stamp on the St. Louis offense. That's about to change.To-do list for when lockout lifts:
1. Launch the offense. Despite the informal offseason work done by Bradford and the receivers during the lockout, it wasn't the same as being out on the practice field during OTAs and minicamp with the coaching staff and the full squad. So the biggest question of camp is how quickly the Rams can assimilate McDaniels' system? Will McDaniels have to tone it done and simplify it some because of the lockout? Or can a still-young receiver corps get it down, and get it down quickly?2. Receiving line. After drafting two wideouts and with the expected re-signing of Mark Clayton, there's quantity but not necessarily quality at the position. One of the biggest camp goals will be sorting through the candidates and deciding who fits where. About the only sure thing going in is Danny Amendola at slot receiver. Clayton, Donnie Avery, and Danario Alexander all are coming off knee surgeries in 2010. Who knows -- the Rams could pick up another WR in free agency.3. Tight end, too. The depth chart here isn't as crowded as at wide receiver. Nonetheless, the Rams could have more candidates than job openings. That's assuming Daniel Fells, coming off a career year with 41 catches for 391 yards, re-signs as a free agent. If not, Billy Bajema, who entered the league as a 49ers draft pick, will be the traditional in-line blocker, with rookie Kendricks and second-year man Michael Hoomanawanui doing most of the pass-catching at the position. Nagging ankle injuries prevented Hoomanawanui from having a surprisingly impressive rookie campaign. 4. Safety first. For the first time since the 2005 season, the Rams won't have Atogwe at free safety. The team released him in February rather than paying him an 8 million roster bonus, and he was picked up by Washington before the lockout rules went into effect. Whether it was forced fumbles or interceptions, Atogwe was adept at takeaways. Whether it's the safety position or not, someone must pick up the turnover slack on defense.5. Laurinatis and...? The Rams tried everyone but Rampage, the team mascot, at weakside linebacker last season. Larry Grant, Chris Chamberlain, David Vobora, and Bryan Kehl all got at least one start there in 2010. All four are expected back this season, with Chamberlain and Vobora tendered as restricted free agents, Grant tendered as an exclusive rights free agent, and Kehl already under contract. But this could be targeted position for the team in free agency as well. For Thomas' full report on the Rams, click here to visit his blog.