Camp countdown: All eyes on Bradford as Rams continue rebuilding

This is the 30th in a series of team-by-team breakdowns that will run on SportingNews.com before the start of training camp.

And a rookie was chosen to lead them.

For most of the past decade under quarterback Marc Bulger, the Rams grew steadily worse. Bulger and the team’s won-lost record took a beating as the talent level deteriorated dramatically after a series of unproductive drafts and questionable free-agent moves.

Enter Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma who will be asked to pull the franchise out of a desperate situation. With ticket sales plummeting almost as rapidly as the team’s victory total, the Rams are counting on the gifted Bradford to lead the franchise back to respectability.

No one’s expecting a reprise of the "Greatest Show on Turf," but any kind of show would be an improvement over the product that the Rams have been parading out on the turf of the Edward Jones Dome in recent years.

What’s new

Offense: The Rams say they won’t rush Bradford into action, but for the kind of money they’re going to pay him, why not have him in there from the get-go? Bradford will face a steep learning curve, getting to know the ins and outs of a pro-style offense after running the spread at Oklahoma.

Better play by Chris Long would mean a lot to the defense.
Better play by Chris Long would mean a lot to the defense.

Bradford also faces the challenge of working with a less-than-stellar group of wideouts. As he enters his third season, Donnie Avery has yet to live up to his status as the first wideout taken in the 2008 draft. The other starter, Laurent Robinson, was shaping up as the team’s go-to receiver before suffering a season-ending broken fibula in Game 3. Fourth-round pick Mardy Gilyard has a chance to make an immediate impact as a slot receiver.

The Rams have invested a lot of money and draft picks in the line. But Jason Smith, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2009, has a lot to prove this season after a disappointing and injury-plagued rookie campaign. As he takes over at left tackle, Smith needs to ramp up his pass blocking. Second-round pick Rodger Saffold is expected to start at right tackle after the team traded Alex Barron to Dallas. That means the Rams will have a rookie and a second-year player protecting the edges for their franchise quarterback.

Defense: The line has to show significant improvement against the run and rushing the passer if the defense is to end its woeful ways. The addition of tackle Fred Robbins should help against the run if the 33-year-old can avoid the injuries that reduced his effectiveness the past couple of seasons.

At end, the question remains: Where is the pass rush? Chris Long, the No. 2 overall pick in 2008, stepped up his game over the second half of last season and needs to have a breakout year if this unit is to show dramatic improvement.

The team acquired Bobby Carpenter from Dallas to start at weakside linebacker. A former first-round pick, he was a disappointment in Dallas. Re-signing safety Oshiomogho Atogwe was a big plus for the secondary, but the Rams still look weak at cornerback.

Laurent Robinson leads a lackluster group of receivers.
Laurent Robinson leads a lackluster group of receivers.

Breakout player

Laurent Robinson, WR

Robinson is the closest thing to a No. 1 receiver on the roster. He has good size (6-2, 197), nice hands and above-average speed. During spring OTAs and minicamps, he was clearly the best receiver on the field. But he must stay healthy after missing all but three games last year with a leg injury.

"I had some goals set (last year), and I was just trying to reach them. It ended early, but I’m trying to come back this year and make it happen. I just want to pick up where I left off." —Robinson

Opponent’s view

(An anonymous opponent breaks down the Rams)

"Steven Jackson’s a great player, but the Rams’ issue is they have absolutely no game-changers on the team. Jackson’s it. … They’re all not bad players, but they’re not difference-makers. And that’s the difference in whether you’re good or not—it’s not the full roster. …

"Their offensive line to me is functional if they’re all healthy. It isn’t great, but it’s functional. They need a receiver. Donnie Avery, you’re going to stick with him and make him better. But he better toughen up. …

"(On) defense, to me, other than Atogwe in the back end, I think their secondary’s bad. They’re not very good at corner. I think the young kid at linebacker (James Laurinaitis) is very good. But you’re not very good around him. And then up front, you have really no pressure players to rush the quarterback."

Bottom line

Despite limited resources to spend in free agency due to the franchise being in the midst of an ownership change, the Rams did enough to improve the talent level on one of the league’s worst rosters. The team had a solid draft, getting good value in each of its picks in the first four rounds.

But even with a schedule that looks softer on paper than the ’09 version, it’s hard to see this team winning more than a few games unless a lot of the young returning players enjoy breakout seasons. And a 2-14 or 3-13 campaign would put lots of heat on GM Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo.

Depth chart

Offense

QB: Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley
FB: Mike Karney
RB: Steven Jackson, Kenneth Darby
WR: Laurent Robinson, Brandon Gibson
WR: Donnie Avery, Mardy Gilyard
TE: Daniel Fells, Billy Bajema
LT: Jason Smith, Adam Goldberg
LG: Jacob Bell, Roger Allen III
C: Jason Brown, Hank Fraley
RG: John Greco, Adam Goldberg
RT: Rodger Saffold, Phil Trautwein

Defense

DE: Chris Long, Victor Adeyanju
DT: Fred Robbins, Gary Gibson
DT: Clifton Ryan, Darell Scott
DE: James Hall, George Selvie
OLB: Bobby Carpenter, David Vobora
MLB: James Laurinaitis, Larry Grant
OLB: Na’il Diggs, Chris Chamberlain
LCB: Ron Bartell, Kevin Dockery
SS: James Butler, Kevin Payne
FS: Oshiomogho Atogwe, Craig Dahl
RCB: Bradley Fletcher, Jerome Murphy

Specialists

K: Josh Brown
P: Donnie Jones
KR: Mardy Gilyard
PR: Mardy Gilyard
LS: Chris Massey

This is the 30th in a series of team-by-team breakdowns that will run on SportingNews.com before the start of training camp.

And a rookie was chosen to lead them.

For most of the past decade under quarterback Marc Bulger, the Rams grew steadily worse. Bulger and the team’s won-lost record took a beating as the talent level deteriorated dramatically after a series of unproductive drafts and questionable free-agent moves.

Enter Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma who will be asked to pull the franchise out of a desperate situation. With ticket sales plummeting almost as rapidly as the team’s victory total, the Rams are counting on the gifted Bradford to lead the franchise back to respectability.

No one’s expecting a reprise of the "Greatest Show on Turf," but any kind of show would be an improvement over the product that the Rams have been parading out on the turf of the Edward Jones Dome in recent years.

What’s new

Offense: The Rams say they won’t rush Bradford into action, but for the kind of money they’re going to pay him, why not have him in there from the get-go? Bradford will face a steep learning curve, getting to know the ins and outs of a pro-style offense after running the spread at Oklahoma.

Better play by Chris Long would mean a lot to the defense.
Better play by Chris Long would mean a lot to the defense.

Bradford also faces the challenge of working with a less-than-stellar group of wideouts. As he enters his third season, Donnie Avery has yet to live up to his status as the first wideout taken in the 2008 draft. The other starter, Laurent Robinson, was shaping up as the team’s go-to receiver before suffering a season-ending broken fibula in Game 3. Fourth-round pick Mardy Gilyard has a chance to make an immediate impact as a slot receiver.

The Rams have invested a lot of money and draft picks in the line. But Jason Smith, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2009, has a lot to prove this season after a disappointing and injury-plagued rookie campaign. As he takes over at left tackle, Smith needs to ramp up his pass blocking. Second-round pick Rodger Saffold is expected to start at right tackle after the team traded Alex Barron to Dallas. That means the Rams will have a rookie and a second-year player protecting the edges for their franchise quarterback.

Defense: The line has to show significant improvement against the run and rushing the passer if the defense is to end its woeful ways. The addition of tackle Fred Robbins should help against the run if the 33-year-old can avoid the injuries that reduced his effectiveness the past couple of seasons.

At end, the question remains: Where is the pass rush? Chris Long, the No. 2 overall pick in 2008, stepped up his game over the second half of last season and needs to have a breakout year if this unit is to show dramatic improvement.

The team acquired Bobby Carpenter from Dallas to start at weakside linebacker. A former first-round pick, he was a disappointment in Dallas. Re-signing safety Oshiomogho Atogwe was a big plus for the secondary, but the Rams still look weak at cornerback.

Laurent Robinson leads a lackluster group of receivers.
Laurent Robinson leads a lackluster group of receivers.

Breakout player

Laurent Robinson, WR

Robinson is the closest thing to a No. 1 receiver on the roster. He has good size (6-2, 197), nice hands and above-average speed. During spring OTAs and minicamps, he was clearly the best receiver on the field. But he must stay healthy after missing all but three games last year with a leg injury.

"I had some goals set (last year), and I was just trying to reach them. It ended early, but I’m trying to come back this year and make it happen. I just want to pick up where I left off." —Robinson

Opponent’s view

(An anonymous opponent breaks down the Rams)

"Steven Jackson’s a great player, but the Rams’ issue is they have absolutely no game-changers on the team. Jackson’s it. … They’re all not bad players, but they’re not difference-makers. And that’s the difference in whether you’re good or not—it’s not the full roster. …

"Their offensive line to me is functional if they’re all healthy. It isn’t great, but it’s functional. They need a receiver. Donnie Avery, you’re going to stick with him and make him better. But he better toughen up. …

"(On) defense, to me, other than Atogwe in the back end, I think their secondary’s bad. They’re not very good at corner. I think the young kid at linebacker (James Laurinaitis) is very good. But you’re not very good around him. And then up front, you have really no pressure players to rush the quarterback."

Bottom line

Despite limited resources to spend in free agency due to the franchise being in the midst of an ownership change, the Rams did enough to improve the talent level on one of the league’s worst rosters. The team had a solid draft, getting good value in each of its picks in the first four rounds.

But even with a schedule that looks softer on paper than the ’09 version, it’s hard to see this team winning more than a few games unless a lot of the young returning players enjoy breakout seasons. And a 2-14 or 3-13 campaign would put lots of heat on GM Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo.

Depth chart

Offense

QB: Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley
FB: Mike Karney
RB: Steven Jackson, Kenneth Darby
WR: Laurent Robinson, Brandon Gibson
WR: Donnie Avery, Mardy Gilyard
TE: Daniel Fells, Billy Bajema
LT: Jason Smith, Adam Goldberg
LG: Jacob Bell, Roger Allen III
C: Jason Brown, Hank Fraley
RG: John Greco, Adam Goldberg
RT: Rodger Saffold, Phil Trautwein

Defense

DE: Chris Long, Victor Adeyanju
DT: Fred Robbins, Gary Gibson
DT: Clifton Ryan, Darell Scott
DE: James Hall, George Selvie
OLB: Bobby Carpenter, David Vobora
MLB: James Laurinaitis, Larry Grant
OLB: Na’il Diggs, Chris Chamberlain
LCB: Ron Bartell, Kevin Dockery
SS: James Butler, Kevin Payne
FS: Oshiomogho Atogwe, Craig Dahl
RCB: Bradley Fletcher, Jerome Murphy

Specialists

K: Josh Brown
P: Donnie Jones
KR: Mardy Gilyard
PR: Mardy Gilyard
LS: Chris Massey

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