Billy Devaney came to the Rams in 2008, and took charge of the team in January 2009. He was empowered by Chip and Lucia Rosenbloom to clean house, and he did so, top to bottom. But he preached patience at the time, pledging to rebuild the team’s core aggressively, through a judicious combination of free agency and the draft.
The Rams immediately started replacing worn out older players with young draft picks in 2009, and with the switch from Bulger to Bradford in 2010, had one of the youngest starting lineups in the league. The Rams seemed to be following in the footsteps of the NFL’s dominant franchises, the Packers and Steelers, in building slowly, patiently, from within.
Before the 2011 draft, Devaney praised the Packers and Steelers for following that approach.
Oh man, I love it. Is that awesome? I think both teams combined maybe had four starters that they got through free agency. The vast majority were draft picks, a couple of street free agents here and there, but those two organizations _ they’ve done it the way that everybody else aspires to do it. Putting it together with the foundation of hitting on their draft picks, and doing a great job keeping their guys.
But somewhere along the way, that vision got lost this year. After aggressively adding talent via trade and free agency — most on one-year deals — the Rams now are right back to where they were in 2008, with one of the oldest rosters in the league. And zero wins to show for it.
This morning, another draft pick went by the wayside, as the Rams released 7th round pick Jabara Williams this morning. This despite the fact that the veteran holding his spot on the depth chart, Ben Leber, has been inactive for the last two weeks, and essentially invisible for several weeks before that.
These last two weeks should have been a chance for the young kid, a high-motor, hard-hitting player, to make an impression on this team. But according to Pro Football Focus’ game tracking stats, Williams didn’t get a single snap on defense. Nor did he make any plays on special teams.
The tape doesn’t lie: Spagnuolo played only three linebackers in Week 6′s loss to the Packers, and four in Week 7′s loss to the Cowboys. Despite Dallas’ run-heavy gameplan, Spagnuolo often subbed out his outside linebackers for extra defensive backs, as he has all season long. Outside linebacker remains the least-valued position in Spagnuolo’s scheme.
Now, you could argue that Williams showed he wasn’t good enough to crack the starting lineup. Arguably, so has Leber. But given the choice of releasing one, the Rams chose the younger, undeveloped player, over the older, underperforming one.
If you want an optimistic answer, it’s possible that the Rams want to slip Jabara down to the practice squad, and will continue to develop him. He may still have a shot here.
If you want a realistic one, it’s because the Rams coaching staff has given up on the idea of patience and youth. The only draft pick from 2011 to get significant playing time has been Lance Kendricks, and that’s partially because we have no one better in his spot. This offseason’s free agent splurge forced a lot of Devaney draft picks off the roster, and with those losses went young, hungry players who had bought in to this coaching staff.
Veteran players have an advantage in knowing how to play at the NFL level. But they also know how to recognize a stagnant team and a lame-duck coach when they see one. They also know how to cash checks, give the minimum effort necessary to get through the week, and hope for a better landing spot next year.
In losing their commitment to youth, the Rams might also have lost their commitment to this coaching staff. Hope for a fresh start this season gets harder and harder to find.