Shane Gray provides special Rams commentaries on 101sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneGmoSTLRams.
Last season, the St. Louis Rams posted 18.7 points per game and bettered their 2011 output by more than six points per contest, but the improved final numbers were only good for 25th in the league.
In today’s NFL – an NFL with an ever-increasing offensive emphasis due to rules changes and a plethora of other factors – it may be tougher than ever to win without fielding an offense that consistently produces points at a proficient level.
With that understood, it was of little surprise to hear the Rams’ front office continually stress one predominant priority leading up to the recent draft and free-agency period : the need to add explosive playmakers. As we witnessed in the days thereafter, St. Louis did just that.
In free agency, the Rams reunited head coach Jeff Fisher with gifted former Tennessee Titans hybrid tight end Jared Cook. In Cook, the Rams added a target with arguably the best blend of size, speed, athleticism and big-play potential of any tight end in the league.
In the draft, the club aggressively traded up to select the rookie class’ most athletically explosive offensive talent – West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin. No other offensive weapon in the draft owned Austin’s multi-faceted combination of track-star speed, cat-like quickness and ankle-breaking elusiveness.
All in all, what the Rams did in the offseason to continue revamping and reformulating the passing game was no small feat. This was a makeover – as touched on in the camp and preseason preview – that was extreme. It was a continuation of a reconstruction that began in 2012 with the draft selections of receivers Chris Givens and Brian Quick. It was one implemented, according to Fisher, to help quarterback Sam Bradford and his offense ascend.
“I’ve said this all the time, the better the people that are surrounding him (Bradford) are, the better chance he has of taking another step,” Fisher said. “I think we’ve done everything we can to this point doing that with (Jared) Cook and the young receivers from last year … Austin (Pettis) is improving, so it’s a good group around him.”
According to the aforementioned Quick, this is a special group.
“I think we’re something special,” Quick said. “I just want people just to watch. I tell you, we’re out here every day just making sure we do things right and do the little things. We have the bond … this offseason, me, Chris (Givens) and Austin (Pettis) had that bond together. And then coming in seeing these rookies in OTAs and getting to know them, it definitely helps to get a feel for these guys. We’re going to be something special this year. I just want everybody just to watch.”
And when watching, people will quickly realize this is a group of pass targets who are noticeably faster than any seen in St. Louis since the heyday of the “Greatest Show on Turf.” According to Bradford, this new group of speedy weapons is one that he feels can finally bring a consistent element of explosion to the offense.
“I think it’s just going to allow us an opportunity to create more explosive plays,” Bradford said. “I think if you look at us over the past couple years, we’ve really struggled to create explosive plays. The best offenses in the league are great at doing that so hopefully the speed will help us.”
Quick, whose eyes light up with undeniable excitement and expectation when talking about the prospects of what he and his teammates can do in the passing game and who himself “feels faster” than a year ago, echoes Bradford’s feeling that more offensive explosion is coming.
“Words can’t express it, I’m telling you, it’s amazing,“ Quick said about the possibility of big plays. “It’s unbelievable. We have so many weapons and not to disrespect anybody else or any other teams, but I feel like we can definitely take it the distance this year because we have the weapons and the guys to do that. We make plays and we’re playmakers and I feel like we are going to be used the right way and make the season better.”
Without question, a season with more high-octane plays and better overall offensive output would go a long way toward creating a more successful season.
If the Rams’ offense can step up – when considering the fact that the defense looks every bit like a top-10 unit in the making – there’s a good chance that St. Louis fans will be watching the home team in postseason action for the first time since the 2004 campaign.
It will be interesting to watch just how swiftly Bradford, Quick and the rest of the O can put all the new pieces in place and consistently serve up a more sizzling and higher-scoring attack.
If they can mold quickly and avoid the early-season inconsistencies that often accompany units with considerable inexperience and youth, this season could be a memorable one in the Gateway City.