2015 Season Preview: St. Louis Rams

One thing is certain, the St. Louis Rams didn’t stand pat. There was a lot of roster turnover as well as some changes in the coaching staff. The Rams are trying to figure out a way in which to overtake the Seattle Seahawks for the division title. In order to do that, change was necessary. While the Rams may not be able to catch Seattle in 2015, they may be a little close than many think. Quarterback The biggest change fans will see in the 2015 St. Louis Rams is at quarterback. Gone is former first overall draft choice Sam Bradford and in is fourth year veteran Nick Foles. Personally, I felt the Rams got the better of the deal when the Bradford for Foles trade was made. Foles went to the Pro Bowl following the 2013 season in his first full year as a starter. While he may not have been a great fit for Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia offense, he should be a great fit in St. Louis. Foles is a good leader, and as he gains experience and confidence in the Rams offense, he will become an even better leader. My feeling is that his best football is in front of him, and he will become a star in St. Louis. Running Back 2015 will be a waiting period until Todd Gurley gets healthy. Gurley is a big, powerful back with the physical traits to be similar to Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. While we may not see that back in 2015, we will see it in the future. Until Gurley is healthy and ready to go, the main ball carrier will be second year back Tre Mason. Mason started slowly last year but finished the season with 795 yards. Behind Mason is Benny Cunningham. At fullback is Cory Harkey, who is the unsung member of the offense. Harkey doubles as a tight end and is an outstanding blocker and special teams' player. While he may not put up great numbers, he is highly appreciated. Wide Receiver and Tight End The Rams don’t have a true number one receiver. They have a bunch of guys who are solid twos. Kenny Britt has the talent, but off-field woes have kept him from becoming the player he could be. In fairness, he may have had one of his best seasons last year and is beginning to take on a leadership role. It took Brian Quick some time to adjust to the NFL game. Last year, he was playing his best football as a pro before he went down with a shoulder injury. It is hoped that he can pick up where he left off before the injury. The talent is there, but the consistency isn’t. The player who needs to put it all together in 2015 is Tavon Austin. Now in his third season, he has not lived up to expectations. The Rams have solid depth behind the starters in players like Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens. Jared Cook is the starting tight end and has flashed as a pro. He needs to become more consistent. Lance Kendricks is an excellent backup. Offensive Line The offensive line will have an entirely different look in 2015. Gone are Jake Long, Joe Barksdale, Scott Wells, and in are five rookies. The Rams drafted four linemen in the April draft and then added a fifth last week in the supplemental draft. At left tackle will be last year’s first round pick Greg Robinson. Robinson played guard as a rookie while he learned the NFL game and gained confidence. The right tackle will most likely be second round draft choice Rob Havenstein from Wisconsin. Havenstein isn’t the most athletic guy, but like most Wisconsin linemen, he is technically sound and well coached. The guard spots will be former tackle Rodger Saffold and rookie Jamon Brown. Saffold can be a very good player if he can stay healthy. Brown played tackle at Louisville but will be much better off inside at the NFL level. The center will be former Alabama star Barrett Jones if he can stay healthy. If not, the starter will be Tim Barnes. The reserves will be young and inexperienced but also talented. Rookie Cody Weichman can play guard or tackle as can rookie Andrew Donnal. Donnal needs to add strength and bulk. If the rookies falter, the Rams signed veteran free agent Garrett Reynolds, who has starting experience at guard and tackle. Another player in the mix is rookie Isaiah Battle, who the Rams drafted in the recent supplemental draft. St. Louis used a fifth round pick on Battle, but the reality is that he is a second or third round talent. Battle has had some off-field issues, and that is why he slid to the fifth round. Having not taken part in the off season program, Battle will be way behind the others, but the Rams can’t afford to cut him. He will get claimed right away if the Rams try and get him through to the practice squad. Defensive Line The heart and soul of the St. Louis Rams is the defensive line. Even with the loss of defensive tackle Kendall Langford, the Rams D-Line is one of the best in the NFL. At the end positions are two All-Pros in Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Both are tenacious pass rushers and top competitors. Long only played six games last year but is back healthy. Behind them is veteran William Hayes, who started and played well when Long was out. Also in the mix at end is Eugene Sims, who has shown he can rush the passer from both inside and out. At the tackle spots are last year’s top defensive rookie Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. Donald may be undersized, but he never takes a down off and is very technically sound with a great motor. To replace Langford, the Rams signed former Detroit Lions' defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Fairley gives the Rams another excellent inside pass rusher. Linebackers At the Mike and Will linebacker positions, the Rams are as strong as any team in the league. Mike linebacker James Laurinaitis is smart and instinctive. He calls the defensive signals and is always around the ball. Will ‘backer Alec Ogleltree keeps getting better with experience, and with this being his third season, he should become one of the best Will’s in the NFL. On the strong side, it will be either free agent Akeem Ayers or holdover, Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Regardless of who starts, each will play. Dunbar is also able to back up at all the linebacker positions. Darren Bates is the other key backup, and he is also very good on special teams. Secondary The Rams are strong in the secondary. At one corner is Janoris Jenkins, who has tremendous talent but will make the occasional mental mistake. Who lines up at the other corner will be determined in training camp. Trumaine Johnson is the incumbent starter, but he missed time last year with an injury. Second-year man E.J Gaines started 15 games as a rookie and played very well. No matter who starts, when the Rams go to nickel, all three will be in the field. The fourth corner is second year man Lamarcus Joyner. Joyner didn’t live up to expectations last year because of injuries, but he could come on in 2015. He was one of the better corners in the 2014 draft. At safety the Rams have three talented and solid players. The starters are T.J. McDonald at strong safety and Rodney McLeod at free. Both fit defensive coordinator Gregg Williams's scheme very well. Last year, the Rams traded for former Buc first round pick Mark Barron. He, too, is a solid fit, and after taking a while to learn the scheme, is ready to contribute more in 2015. Outlook In 2015, the Rams offense will be a work in progress with a new quarterback and such a young offensive line. It might be midseason before everyone gets on the same page, and the offense plays in sync. Because of that, the defense has to hold the fort and possibly win games. With Gregg Williams's sophisticated pressure packages, the defense should be able to do what is asked. The Rams may still be a year away from challenging the Seattle Seahawks for the division crown, but one thing is certain, the arrow is pointing up, and the Rams are a team to be reckoned with. This can be a very exciting team to watch in 2015. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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