2014 NFL Season Preview, Fantasy Sleepers, and Predictions: Can the St. Louis Rams Survive the Ultra-Competitive NFC West?
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With the NFL season fast approaching, Latino Post looks at the offseason moves that will make or break each team.
Last Season: 7-9 (Last in NFC West)
Key Additions: WR Kenny Britt, QB Shaun Hill, G Davin Joseph, DT Alex Carrington, OT Greg Robinson (1st round), DT Aaron Donald (1st round), CB Lamarcus Joyner (2nd round)
Key Losses: CB Cortland Finnegan, QB Kellen Clemens, S Darian Stewart, G Harvey Dahl, G Shelley Smith, G Chris Williams
Games to Watch: Oct. 13 vs. San Francisco, Nov. 2 at San Francisco, Nov. 16 vs. Denver, Dec. 28 at Seattle
Three Questions Heading into the 2014-15 Season:
•1. Can Sam Bradford still be a franchise quarterback?
Calling Sam Bradford a bust would be an understatement. Since being named the 2010 NFL draft's No.1 pick, Bradford's inability to stay healthy cost him the better part of two seasons.
His rookie campaign wasn't bad, passing for 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns while breaking Peyton Manning's record for most completions by a rookie (326). For a minute it looked like his egregious six-year, $78 million contract- $50 million of which was guaranteed- would pay off.
Labeled as "soft" heading into 2011, Bradford threw six picks and lost seven fumbles in 10 starts, leading the Rams to a 2-8 mark before missing the next six games with a high ankle sprain.
Before suffering a season-ending knee injury last year, Bradford was on pace for career bests in touchdowns and interceptions.
Therein lies the problem with St. Louis' high-priced quarterback; he's a walking band aid. The Rams have a hard enough time facing San Francisco and Seattle twice a season; they don't need Bradford's fragile frame raising concerns.
If he misses extended periods of time, head coach Jeff Fisher's game plan falls apart.
Last year, St. Louis went 4-5 without Bradford and won seven games for the second straight year. Their passing game took a back seat to a more run-oriented offense, headed by rookie running back Zac Stacy and his unanticipated 973 yard, seven touchdown stretch. If the quarterback can't stay on the field, look for Stacy to make an even bigger impact.
Bradford expects questions regarding his health and contract each and every August. This time, they are warranted.
The former Heisman Trophy winner still wears a brace after having left knee surgery last November, his contract is up after the 2015-16 season, and the Rams haven't finished over .500 since 2003.
Blame usually lands on Bradford's shoulders and this may be the last chance to prove his worth.
•2. How dangerous is the pass rush?
A good defense got better with long-time defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
His first tenure in St. Louis didn't go well as Williams was suspended and subsequently released for joining in the Saints' bounty gate scandal. Two years later, Williams is distraction-free and ready to take over a stalwart defensive line.
Robert Quinn's 19 sacks last season led the NFC and set a Rams' single season record. He ranked second overall the department -- behind the Colts' Robert Mathis -- was second in forced fumbles.
The scary thing about Quinn is his age. The 24-year-old leads Rams defenders with 34.5 sacks over the last three years. Breaking Michael Strahan's single-season record isn't out of the question.
Meanwhile, Chris Long-who notched 33 sacks in the same three-year span-sets up directly across. He is an instrumental part of a team dubbed "sack city."
With Michael Brockers, William Hayes, and Kendall Langford reinforcing the defensive line, one would think the Rams would set draft priorities elsewhere.
They didn't, instead selecting stocky but explosive tackle Aaron Donald.
The University of Pittsburgh grad was named ACC defensive player of the year in 2013, adding to his Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Outland Trophy. At last spring's NFL combine, Donald set the record for fastest 40-yard dash by a defensive tackle.
Donald may be the best interior pass rusher the Rams have, and that's saying something. St. Louis has been among the league's top three teams in sacks that last two years and didn't lose any key pieces during the offseason.
•3. Will Michael Sam be a "distraction?"
One part of Michael Sam's journey to the NFL is through. The next step is sticking around long enough to make the opening day roster.
Forget the "kiss" seen around the world, and the would-have-been reality show that's been indefinitely shelve. If Sam's a distraction it's not by his own volition. Then NFL's first openly gay player has reiterated time and time again that his only prerogative is to make the team. It won't be easy with Pro-Bowl caliber talent up front.
Coach Fisher usually carries nine defensive linemen; eight slots already belong to Quinn, Long, and Brockers. That ninth opening may be Sam's one and only shot.
A trio of undrafted rookies are vying for Sam's spot. That doesn't mean it's the seventh-round pick's job to lose, he's simply got a foot up on the competition.
Sam's first test will come in a preseason meeting with New Orleans next Friday where should get extensive playing time. He'll play some defensive end and probably get a few licks in on special teams. One thing he won't do, however, is take focus away from the game.
Zac Stacy- RB
This is the pick you want if Bradford goes down. As a rookie he finished with 250 carries and 973 yards despite only gaining four yards through the first four weeks.
Stacy followed a 134 yards Monday Night performance against Seattle with 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee. His 973 yards on the ground were tops among rookies and good enough for 10th in the NFC last season. Needless to say, Stacy is set for a breakout year.
The second-year back added mass during the offseason in preparing for a heavy workload. This time around, the Rams won't wait until midseason to utilize Stacy.
St. Louis defense
Forget their mediocre secondary; the Rams' defensive line won't give opposing quarterbacks enough time get a play off.
Fisher is a defensive specialist whose teachings have transformed St. Louis style of play. It began by drafting Quinn and continued in selecting Donald. They didn't change much from last season because they were already an elite defense, albeit one many don't think about.
Only two defenses scored more touchdowns than the Rams last year. Look for the trend to continue.
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