Gordon: Rams display strengths, weaknesses

2012-08-05T09:15:00Z 2012-08-13T05:33:44Z Gordon: Rams display strengths, weaknessesBY JEFF GORDON stltoday.com
August 05, 2012 9:15 am  • 

The Rams did a fine job with a fan appreciation day at the Edward Jones Dome, running a crisp practice for better than two hours in air-conditioned comfort.

All in all it was a feel-good day. Fans could see for themselves which team areas were progressing nicely and which areas still need work.

The Rams are a long way from being even a .500 team again. Efforts to upgrade this team will continue through training camp -- and through the season as well as first-year coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead build a more competitive team.

Here are some observations on the state of the team.

• There is no quarterback competition. Charter Communications spokesman Sam Bradford has looked sharp thus far in training camp and back-up Kellen Clemens has looked, well, like Kellen Clemens. Since he did some good things as a fill-in last season and he worked with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer with the Jets, Clemens seems likely to get the back-up role here. But fans demanding that Clemens get a shot at the starting job need to check their medication. Kellen’s scattershot passing during Saturday’s drills reminded us that he is no where near Bradford quality.

• There is wide receiver competition. Post-Dispatch beat reporter Jim Thomas details the Brandon Gibson story elsewhere on the site. Gibson has a knack for showing well in camp. He is a bit of a tweener – not a big target and not a burner – but he keeps making plays in camp. For instance: He came back to make a diving catch on an underthrown Bradford deep ball during the scrimmage. Danny Amendola remains as the clear No. 1 receiving target. He is a great fit for the Schottenheimer offense, which features some of the West Coast principles the Rams deployed two years ago when Danny broke out. Greg Salas showed well Saturday and seems to offer the size, toughness and route-running skills to be effective over the middle. Rookie Brian Quick flashes potential but also reminds everybody that he needs work. He made a great one-handed grab on a fade route during drills, but he didn’t run a crisp route and forced the quarterback to throw the ball wide of the end zone. Later he used his size to seal off and make a catch on the other side. But he also dropped a Clemens pass on the right sideline during situation work.

• There is plenty of tight end competition, too. The top returning targets are Lance Kendricks and Michael Hoomanawanui, but Fisher is placing a premium on blocking skills at that position. Several of the eight tight ends in camp are blocking specialists. Kendricks did not participate in Saturday’s drills. Mike McNeill, bidding for work, made many notable plays in the Dome.

• The back-up running backs have much to prove. Rookie Isaiah Pead was far from perfect in the passing drills and potential No. 3 back Daryl Richardson did not practice Saturday. Will they show enough once the preseason games start, or will Fisher and Snead pluck replacements off the waiver wire once other teams start cutting down?

• The defensive front appears stout. Of course, it has only been working against the Rams offensive line to this point – and that group remains suspect. Right defensive end Robert Quinn picked up where he left off last year, turn heads with his speed rush. Rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers has been getting an excellent push on the middle of the line. Defensive end Eugene Sims continues progressing as a pass rusher.

• The offensive front is lagging. Or course, Scott Wells is still getting healthy. The Rams expect him to shore up the middle of that unit when he can go full speed. With rookie Rokevious Watkins still working himself into shape, six-year veteran Quinn Ojinnaka got an early leg up on Bryan Mattison in the left guard competition. Ojinnaka has been a utility lineman for the bulk of his career, filling in at guard and tackle at both sides of the line. Watkins made up for lost time with some nice moments during the blocking drills. He is a big man and he can move the man in front of him. As for tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith . . . well, there is some work to do there. Saffold, like Wells, missed Saturday’s work day.

The secondary could turn the corner. Free agent addition Cortland Finnegan looks ready to make a big impact at cornerback, as do rookies Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. Jenkins flashed his high-end talent Saturday, breaking explosively on the ball. Johnson made a nice break to grab an interception. Incumbent Bradley Fletcher finds himself fighting for playing time. He made some nice plays Saturday, including his nullification of a Clemens-to-Austin Pettis pass in the end zone.

Rookie place kicker Greg Zuerlein has a huge leg. It’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to the pro pace when the preseason games start. It’s a long way from Missouri Western to the NFL, but, as Bryan Burwell noted, the lad put on quite a show Saturday. He looks capable of drilling 60-yard field goals, especially in a dome.

• Injuries are inhibiting team progress. Former Mizzou star Danario Alexander is one example of that. His latest leg injury, a hamstring pull, caused him to miss the first week of work. He can be a playmaker when healthy but he needs to get on the field and show this coaching staff what he can do. He ran reasonably well while getting some work in Saturday. Safety Darian Stewart has also been slowed by nagging leg injuries, interrupting his job battle with Craig Dahl.

Fisher hasn’t backed off his goal of NFC West contention this season, but in this corner of cyberspace this still looks like a six- or seven-victory team.

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Jeff Gordon

This is the new home for STLtoday.com sports columnist Jeff Gordon. Here you'll find his columns on the Cards, Rams, Blues and more, plus his daily "Tipsheet" blog about who's in and who's out in the world of sports.

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