The last time we saw the St. Louis Rams, Cowboys fans far and near felt like they had been sent a gift from the heavens above. In DeMarco Murray's first career start, he bullied his way through and around the Rams defense for 253 rushing yards; a team record and ninth best total in NFL history. The Rams were one of the league's most disappointing teams in 2011, earning the second pick in the annual amateur draft.
Of course, they traded that pick to our rival Redskins from the nation's capital and then turned around and traded the sixth pick in the draft to us so we could select Morris Claiborne. Along the way, they've replaced a first-time coach with one that held the record for current tenure through last season. Their two biggest stars are embattled young quarterback Sam Bradford and defensive rusher Chris Long.
Oh, and they also have some receiver that Dallas fans are enamored with.
Yesterday, Turf Show Times manager 3k picked my brain with 5 questions about the Cowboys. You can read my responses here. You can also follow 3k (@3k_) and Turf Show Times (@TurfShowTimes) on Twitter for more of their great perspective.
Today, we flipped roles as he provided some insight into the 2012 Rams. It's a great read as many might not realize how many free agent and draft prospects the teams have shared the last year and a half.
Talk to me about the culture and/or scheme change from Steve Spagnuolo to Jeff Fisher. Fisher was brought up as a possible Dallas hire after the 2009 season; has anything become apparent this early in his tenure?
This one's easy - attitude. From day one, Jeff Fisher brought a change in attitude that has resonated throughout the team. Part of it is the experience he's had as a head coach and the immediate respect that gets from the players. In the Rams' two prior head coaches (Scott Linehan and Spags), the Rams had promoted coordinators to their first head coaching gigs at the NFL level. Everyone knows the success Fisher had in Tennessee and the reputation he, and his teams, established.
He doesn't shy away from that, and for fans who had grown tired of Spags' softer, less emotional approach (and I'm pretty sure that was every Rams fan) it's a welcome change. And to be honest, it doesn't hurt if your head coach is kind of a badass.
Follow the jump for more Rams insights...
What percentage of the Rams fanbase remains hopeful that Sam Bradford will be an elite quarterback? It seemed as if there was nowhere for him to hide behind last year's offensive line.
Elite is tough to see after 2011. The promise he showed as a rookie in 2010 in a contracted system under then OC Pat Shurmur has largely been forgotten due to his struggles in Josh McDaniels' scheme last year. You noted the key issue, though - the offensive line. The Rams gave up the most sacks of any NFL team last year. Playing without Danny Amendola, the Rams' best short route weapon, Bradford struggled to link together enough plays to sustain many drives.
I don't think there are many fans ready to abandon a quarterback who showed so much promise just two seasons ago, but it was a painful return to reality from the over the top sentiment we carried a year ago.
What are the early returns on DT Michael Brockers, a Dallas fan whom you all selected with the pick you swapped with us? You also selected Isaiah Pead with a trade-down from Dallas' second-rounder; what's the word on the young runner?
Brockers is a beast. He's going to be a bit of a work in progress having entered the draft as a redshirt sophomore DT who played end in high school. While he's not the biggest tackle in terms of pure size, his natural strength is just off the charts. After the draft, I went back and watched a good eight games from his time at LSU; he's got a skill set that establishes a high ceiling. Obviously, we're hoping he gets close to that ceiling sooner rather than...well, never.
As for Pead, his acceleration is top notch. Unfortunately, he's played with the mental sharpness of a day two rookie to this point. He's just got to build some confidence and see running lanes better. I'm not all that concerned. With our seventh round pick Daryl Richardson playing well, that might be the kind of motivation he needs to clean up some of the flaws in his execution that have hampered him to this point.
On a side note, I gotta note how good Janoris Jenkins has been up to this point. His transgressions at Florida were headline fodder (read: dude liked to smoke a lot of weed). Since joining the team though, it's obvious how talented he is. Playing across from new CB Cortland Finnegan has given Rams fans hopes that the defense will be something special in the years ahead. Speaking of...
Outside of Chris Long, who has become one of the best 4-3 rushers in the league; what should opponents fear about the Rams defense in 2012?
It's looking like it's going to be the strength of this team moving forward. Chris Long and Robert Quinn, who flashed incredible athleticism last year notching five sacks and blocking three punts, form a strong DE tandem. Fisher and GM Les Snead moved to address the defensive tackle unit for one of the worst rushing defenses I've ever seen, drafting Brockers in the first round and signing Kendall Langford early in free agency. James Laurinaitis is a Pro Bowl-caliber 4-3 MLB, but he's been sandwiched between some pretty poor OLBs in his first three years. The Rams have completely overhauled the position, adding six new outside linebackers led by veterans Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Mario Haggan.
The secondary was a relative strength under Spags...when healthy. Last year, the Rams placed (if you're drinking something, go ahead and swallow for your computer/phone's sake) 11 cornerbacks on IR. It's impossible for any team to cover opposing WRs well with that kind of attrition at CB. The Rams brought back two oft-injured corners from Spags' tenure in Bradley Fletcher and Jerome Murphy, but it's the additions of rookie Janoris Jenkins and FA Cortland Finnegan that has instilled a new sense of optimism among Rams fans.
Most NFL fans know Finnegan for scrapping with Texans WR Andre Johnson; it's not an unfair image of his on-field demeanor. He likes to get under guys' skin and really screw with their heads. Playing as physically as he does on the line, it's not hard to see how that fight broke out. Jenkins on the other hand is a fluid athlete who changes direction really, really well. Put it this way - Rams fans aren't worried about the cornerback position this year.
There is legitimate concern at safety though. Craig Dahl is a liability in coverage. Darian Stewart has the size and movement skills to play in this league, but he has mental lapses that make you wonder if he's ever going to put it all together. Quintin Mikell is the lone reliable man at the back, but too often opponents just avoided him to pick on other members of the secondary last year.
Finally, I have to ask because there is a large contingent of fans wishing he was still in Dallas as the number three receiver... talk to me about what Danny Amendola means to the Rams offense in 2012.
There's an argument to be made that after Sam Bradford, he's the most valuable player on the offense. It's a good argument too. Last year, he dislocated his elbow in the first game (photo evidence if you're the kind who likes injuries...sicko); he went on to tear his tricep in practice coming back from that elbow injury, taking him out of the picture for the rest of the season. It was a difficult loss for the offense to overcome.
Already, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has talked about how important it is for Sam to get rid of the ball quickly in this offense with weapons like Amendola, Steve Smith, Greg Salas and rookie Brian Quick. While that's largely an issue that stems from some poor pass protection in 2011, there's not much reason to think the Rams will suddenly offer one of the better O-lines in the NFL this year. Instead, the Rams will rely on a rushing attack led by Most Underrated Player In Football Steven Jackson and a quick strike passing game until the line proves they can consistently sustain protection long enough for plays that require Sam to take five and (gasp) seven step drops.
Good stuff. Many thanks to 3k for sharing some time with us.