We’re less than three weeks away from the first Rams practice of training camp. Let’s tackle five pressing questions…
1. Should we be that concerned about the lack of experience in the running back competition?
A definitive no. Ben Sirmans is a terrific running backs coach, and Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson, Terrance Ganaway and Zac Stacy all have unique abilities. The first three on that list had the good fortune of working with Steven Jackson on what they needed to learn last year. The most important thing for a young running back to learn is the passing game route concepts and pass protection.
The three players who were here last year all have innate running ability. Some backs have more of that than others, but every great running back has running instincts that supersede anything they learn in practice. These players are going to be coached up to participate in the passing game. Both Pead and Richardson can catch the ball. Pead caught 87 passes in his college career at Cincinnati, including 39 in his senior season. Richardson had 24 receptions as a rookie last year. If a running back shows he’s deficient in pass protection, he simply won’t get a shot.
“That will be the biggest question because obviously ‘Jack’ (Jackson) gave us that,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “Our defense gave us some really tough looks (during OTA’s), which has been good. We ask a lot of our backs, and again, so far, so good, but there will be some things that come up that we’ll just coach them up and show them video. That’s how these guys are going to learn.”
Jeff Fisher got great rookie years out of Eddie George and Chris Johnson in Tennessee, and had the chance to “redshirt” his youngsters last year because of the presence of SJ39. The talent is there, and the players who accept coaching will get the job and produce.
2. Should we be disappointed that Brian Quick is No. 4 on the wide receiver depth chart?
Yes. Absolutely. The 33rd pick in the 2012 draft is supposed to have superior abilities to the fourth-rounder of that year (Chris Givens), or a third-rounder from 2011 (Austin Pettis). At this stage, Quick should have shown in OTAs that he’s better than those two, if not this year’s first-round pick, Tavon Austin.
Quick is the biggest receiver on the roster and has more than enough speed to be an impact player. If the problem is an inability to learn the offense, that’s inexcusable. Even coming out of Appalachian State and the inherent drawbacks included with that, if Quick doesn’t have a great camp and crack the starting lineup, it’ll be a huge disappointment.
3. Was ESPN’s Ron Jaworski’s ranking of Sam Bradford as the 22nd-best quarterback in the NFL fair?
Yes. Jaws has Bradford ahead of Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Michael Vick, Brandon Weeden, Christian Ponder, Mark Sanchez, Chad Henne, Kevin Kolb, Jake Locker and Matt Flynn. Just ahead are Josh Freeman at No. 21 and Alex Smith at 20. Jaworski said, “Bradford has always been a talented thrower. In 2012, he took some sure and steady steps forward as he rebounded from a poor 2011 season.
“There’s never been a question about Bradford’s arm talent. He has a strong arm with the ability to make every single throw. He can drive the ball down the field and when he’s comfortable and confident in the pocket, he throws with consistent accuracy.
“Bradford has underrated movement. He can get out of the pocket and use his legs to find room to throw. And he’s always been effective off boot action. The bottom line is that Bradford has the throwing skillset to be a top 10 passer in this league.
“What are the concerns when I study Bradford? A lack of efficiency in the red zone. Too many interceptions. And it’s a red zone game. You can’t be a high level quarterback if you can’t execute there. Bradford at times still struggles with basic blitz concepts that a player with his experience level should understand. The interception against the Vikings was a great example.
“Bradford must eliminate the mistakes that diminish the impact of his ability. This season I would expect a little bit different Rams’ offense. With the talent they now have at the skill positions, don’t be surprised to see more spread with Bradford in the shotgun, a faster tempo, just like Bradford’s days at Oklahoma.”
That can’t be disputed. It is interesting to note that the five passers after Bradford in red-zone passer rating last year were Colin Kaepernick, Matthew Stafford, Vick, Joe Flacco and Cam Newton. The five QBs who had three or more red-zone picks were Sanchez and Stafford with four each, and Bradford, Henne and Super Bowl champion Flacco with three each.
But Bradford had two different seasons in the red zone. In the first half, he was 14 of 30 (46.6 percent) for 83 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, for a red-zone passer rating of 65.27. From games nine through 16, he was 19 of 30 (63.3%) for 127 yards, nine touchdowns and one pick, for a passer rating of 98.19. So, while Jaworski is overall correct about Bradford’s red-zone issues, one needs to separate his first season under the new Rams’ regime into halves.
One other point: Nobody is going to put Bradford in the class of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Ryan. He won’t be put in the class of young playoff guns Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III or Andy Dalton or Kaepernick. Nor in the class of playoff veterans Flacco and Philip Rivers, or guys who had seasons like Newton or Matt Schaub or Tony Romo or Stafford. That’s 18 guys right there. Bradford, like Jaws said, has the ability to ascend. But with what he and his team have done so far, 22nd is fair.
4. Will Greg Zuerlein rebound after a rugged statistical second half last season?
I hope so. He started off by hitting 18 of his first 21, with misses coming from 52, 37 and 66 yards. He missed five of his last 10, with the misses from 58, 35, 58, 57 and 51 yards. If you’re counting, that’s eight misses, and six of them from 50-plus yards. I wouldn’t anticipate Zuerlein having any troubles in his sophomore year.
5. What does it mean that the CVC has turned stadium negotiations over to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon?
It can only be a good thing. The CVC is comprised of a dozen different people with a voice. They don’t have revenue-generating capability. Nixon is a singular voice for Rams owner Stan Kroenke to communicate with. He obviously can pull financial strings in the state. The way I see it, the fewer people involved in a negotiation, the better. And the mission of the CVC, as it says on its website, is to “promote St. Louis as a meeting site and travel destination in an effort to further economic development for the city. The Commission provides information and resources to help visitors get the most out of their trip to the Gateway City.” They don’t want to be involved in sports. So, I’m thrilled that Nixon is going to be the voice representing Rams fans.
Only eight more Sundays without regular-season NFL football!