OTAs begin today for the St. Louis Rams. These are voluntary days of the NFL life – the time when a player can’t be officially punished if he feels like skipping a day of working out. After all, it’s still the offseason.
But, OTAs are designed to be extra credit work to the never-ending assignment of ongoing skill development for coaches and players. Depth charts are theoretical, for the most part, They’re written in pencil and not with permanent ink. The competition for jobs hasn’t begun in earnest yet, so players can be moved around to different positions just to fill out lines and get basic concepts established. The whole idea behind preparing this early for a fall regular season is to establish or reinforce a modes operandi, as in how the team will go about its work when it’s real and the climate changes from voluntary to mandatory.
One hundred-percent participation in OTAs has no direct correlation to 10 or more victories during the regular season. That is pure fabrication. Playoff teams routinely have their biggest stars and best players missing significant time during the voluntary portion of the offseason. Just last May the defending Super Bowl champions Baltimore Ravens began OTAs without Ray Rice, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. I believe their season turned out to be successful.
Here are my top three on-the-field story lines as OTA’s begin in Earth City:
1. Will Sam Bradford be able to establish a bond with another receiver now that his “Wubby,” Danny Amendola, is gone?
Doesn’t it seem like we are always talking about this around this time of year? The Rams have given the wideout position a complete makeover. They have 11 wide receivers on the roster and only three (Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and Brian Quick) have caught a pass from Bradford in an NFL regular-season game. Thank goodness that there isn’t a lockout to stunt their growth. Bradford will have plenty of time to get aquatinted with rookies Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, not to mention veteran tight end Jared Cook.
2. Who will emerge as the frontrunner to start at left guard now that Rob Turner is gone?
Left guard was sort of a revolving door in 2012. Rock Watkins started the year there. Shelly Smith rotated in and played significant snaps. Rob Turner, now with the Tennessee Titans, started all 16 games including seven games at left guard in 2012.
There’s potential for depth with Brandon Washington and rookie offensive guard Barrett Jones. The battle for that position will get hot in training camp, but the time is now to make an impression.
3. Who’s going to start at running back?
Daryl Richardson had his moments in 2012. There were some explosive plays early last year where you thought you could see the future at running back beyond Steven Jackson. Ultimately SJ wound up carrying the majority of the load, but Richardson really impressed a lot of people with his speed and vision. Isaiah Pead lost reps early in the preseason to Richardson, but the Cincinnati product still has tons of potential. Terrance Ganaway will have a chance to compete for reps. Rookies Zac Stacey and Benny Cunningham will try to earn as many repetitions as possible.