St. Louis won seven games a year ago and while they have a ways to go to be a legitimate contender the progress under head coach Steve Spagnuolo was obvious, as was the development of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, who may be that rarity--a number one overall pick at QB who doesn't become a bust.
Bradford is one part of a big youth movement in St. Louis, especially at the skill positions. The Rams need second-year receivers Mardy Gilyard and Danario Alexander to step up to the plate, and they also drafted Austin Pettis out of Boise State. At tight end, second year man Michael Hoomanawmui will share time with rookie Lance Kendricks. The only place there's a veteran presence is Stephen Jackson at running back. The Rams' recent futility has obscured how well Jackson has played, with his impact noticeable only to Fantasy League players. But the vet has taken a lot of hits and currently has a hip problem that requires caution in the preseason. As an insurance policy St. Louis added Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood to back him up.
The offensive line is in good hands on the edges, with Rodgers Saffold and Jason Smith. The interior is acceptable--they can pass block and keep Bradford off his back, but there won't be a big run thrust up the middle.
When we move over to the defensive front, we find reasons for optimism. The Rams are excellent on the ends in their 4-3 defense, with Chris Long and James Hall adding up to a solid pass-rushing tandem. On the inside, Fred Robbins leads up a solid and gritty group that can stop the run. Anything that does slip by will be picked up by middle linebacker James Lauranaitis, who looks on the verge of a breakout year.
Defensive concerns lie in the secondary. Free safety Oshiomogo Atogwe departed via free agency and the loss of last year's captain leaves a big hole up the middle. If nothing else, the corners are in good shape with Ron Bartel and Bradley Fletcher.
After jumping from one win to seven wins, improvement will be a little slower for the Rams from this point forward. But even the smallest uptick means playoffs in a division where the standard is at an unprecedented low.
Visit Legends.com for NFL futures information and preseason pointspreads and totals.
Image from turfshowtimes.com