With the Dallas Cowboys playing the Los Angeles Rams in a preseason game this Saturday, it’s time to find out more about the Rams. We posed five questions to our sister site, Turf Show Times, for more information on the enemy.
Blogging The Boys: A year in, have things changed any for Jared Goff? Is there optimism he might live up to his draft pick pedigree?
Turf Show Times: Things most certainly have changed. Most notably, it's what has changed around him. He's got a new offensively-minded head coach in Sean McVay whose work as the Washington offensive coordinator over the last three years has Rams fans enthralled. A new offensive coordinator in Matt LaFleur who has spent the last seven years a QB coach with Washington (2010-13), Notre Dame (2014) and Atlanta (2015-16). A new QB coach in Greg Olson who is coming out of a pair of two-year offensive coordinator stints with the Raiders and the Jaguars. It's coaching hierarchy above him that's been brought in specifically to oversee his development.
As for the on-field personnel, the Rams drafted a tight end and two wide receivers with three of their first four picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. They also signed LT Andrew Whitworth to replace Greg Robinson, a switch that takes the position from a bottom five slot to a top, well, let's not even argue it. It's much improved.
The problem for Goff isn't whether or not he should improve. He will. The problem is that he could improve overwhelmingly...and still be one of the worst QBs in the NFL. I don't know if that will satisfy the average Rams fan. Will they be content to see him occasionally make plays that he wasn't asked to in Jeff Fisher's offense a year ago? Will a 20% or higher statistical improvement be deemed satisfactory?
Right now, I have the Rams coming out of 2017 with a losing season but with the team and Goff looking much better than 2016. If they do that, and if the improvement is obvious not only year to year but perhaps month to month with the December 2017 Rams looking much better than the September 2017 Rams, it'll be an offseason full of debate. The trajectory will provide plenty of optimism for 2019, but a losing record and a bottom five QB this year could have fans clamoring for a new QB.
Living up to his draft pedigree not only as a #1 overall QB but one the Rams had to sacrifice their 2017 NFL Draft first-round pick to get? That's not happening in 2017. But for the youngest starting QB in the NFL who's just 22-years old, there's reason to give him this season to see how much he can improve and put himself on a trajectory where living up to that pedigree isn't so far beyond believability.
BTB: Tell us about what kind of team the Rams will be under their new coach Sean McVay.
TST: Well...I don't really know! He's the youngest head coach in NFL history at just 31-years old, younger than his 35-year old starting left tackle. His rise up the coaching ladder was FAST. Seven years ago, he was an assistant tight ends coach. So to go from there to tight ends coach to offensive coordinator to head coach in essentially six and a half years...there's something not related to football there. Either his interpersonal relationship skills or communications skills or general aptitude (or the likely answer with is a combination of all thereof) is what pushed him through so many promotions so quickly and landed him the job with the Rams.
All that being said, I don't really know what that translates to on the field in terms of scheme. We know he likes a tight end-heavy offense, something he ran well in Washington with Jordan Reed excelling in the lead role. With second-round rookie TE Gerald Everett and second-year TE Tyler Higbee, I expect tight ends to be a bigger focus than they were under Fisher. And something more aggressive. More consistent downfield work. Routes beyond 12 yards weren't in the Fisher playbook to any severe degree. It was an offense built on the running game and short throws designed to exhaust opponents moreso than score on them (Narrator voice: It did not work).
Beyond the generalities of more tight end involvement and more frequent downfield work? I don't really know! Plus that's part of the preseason for a team like this is to figure what we do well if anything and then begin adjusting from there. Here's to the chaos of the unknown! Huzzah!
BTB: What are the expectations for the starters in this game? How much time will they get and who are you really wanting to see in action?
TST: McVay hasn't been specific about how much work they'll get, but I expect at least two series for the 1s. This team isn't in a "win now" mode with a ton of proven vets. They're young and inexperienced with new systems on both sides of the ball to install, so I expect them to get more work than most teams throughout the preseason.
BTB: How has the rookie draft class looked? Which ones will make the biggest impact?
TST: I'm a fan of the class, though without a first-round pick it clearly lacks the big-talent headliner. With the relocation last offseason punctuated by the trade up to take QB Jared Goff, 2016 carried much, much, much more heft into the preseason than 2017 does.
That being said, there's talent to be groomed. With McVay's tight end-reliant system, second-round pick TE Gerald Everett is all but certain to be a central part of the offense in his first season. WR Cooper Kupp has been an incredibly polished rookie wideout in camp who carries as high of expectations as I've seen from a third-round WR who was the seventh WR taken in the draft and that at 69th overall.
One other factor I have to point out is that the quality of the starting roster should leave open opportunities for a couple of surprises. So with some hype building for deep roster guys like WR Shakeir Ryan, OL Jake Eldrenkamp and CB Aarion Penton (all rookie UDFAs), there's certainly opportunity for that class of player to make the roster and even have an impact in their rookie season.
BTB: Who are a couple of guys that could be surprises in this game, guys we might not know about but who could really impact the game?
TST: I've got to point at the tight ends first. Between Higbee, Everett and second-year end Temarrick Hemingway, I'm banking on the position to be a focus for the offense. In the wake of the Jared Cook-Lance Kendricks pairing from the Fisherball era, these three are the core trio that McVay will using to help Goff develop into a functional QB. From the starters, I'm also eager to see S Maurice Alexander. Safety was one of the few positions we saw Fisher and his staff develop talents above their inherited skill level (that Fisher played safety himself certainly is related to this). Rodney Mcleod was a UDFA in 2012 who went from the practice squad to the 53-man to a starting job where he excelled; he signed a five-year, $37m contract with the Eagles a year ago. In his stead popped Maurice Alexander, a fourth-round selection from the 2014 NFL Draft. In his first year in the starting role last year, Alexander performed well above expectations. How much of that was the system and the quality of the coaching staff for the position?
Into the depth, the Rams had one of the worst offensive lines in 2016. They addressed that with exactly 0 draft picks this year. So how the line depth performs will be of extreme interest on my part. With 35-year old free agent addition Andrew Whitworth at left tackle and free agent John Sullivan taking over at center after picking up just one start over the last two seasons, there's not a ton of confidence to be inspired at the prospect of 32 starts out of the two this year. So the depth at the two positions will likely require more preparation than usual. I'm also keen on the pass rush in the second half. OLB Robert Quinn has missed half of each of the last two seasons and free agent OLB Connor Barwin has hit the 30-year age threshold. So I wouldn't be surprised if Wade Phillips has to lean into his pass rush depth throughout the regular season. I'll be quite keen to see how fourth-round rookie OLB Samson Ebukam fares and who else steps up in the rush.
Thanks for the knowledge Turf Show Times.