2012 Rams season begins; Rams fans slowly thawing out

Why yes, that is Han Solo frozen in carbonite on the back of my iPhone. Why do you ask?

The long, mostly peaceful slumber of the offseason is nearly over. Unlike most warm-blooded beasts who slow their blood and unconsciously eat their own fat while dreaming vacant, endless dreams throughout the deep winter, we footballers spend our summer months drowsing wearily through sun-baked parking lots and over-cooled cubicles, piling up popsicle sticks and frozen custard containers alongside our empties; functional, perhaps, but not really alive. 

With all that said, it’s tough to snap right back into football with all brain cells firing. Especially when the sun is still actively trying to set fire to your eyeballs, and you don’t stop sweating until you’ve been inside for at least fifteen minutes. (Fall me, maybe?)

But the Rams’ first open practice is but a week away, and if you’ve been catnapping through the minicamps like I have, protocol dictates that you spend a little time catching up before making the drive out to Earth City. Some quick notes:

Obviously, everything hinges on Sam Bradford.

Your friend and mine, Tevin Broner of Turf Show Times, put out an open question a little while back (expect a writeup soon, I would think) on who the ten most important Rams are heading into 2012. If there is anyone besides Sam Bradford at the top of the list when all the responses are tallied, I would be shocked. No, shocked isn’t a strong enough word. I would be dead. 

No matter how much of an emphasis on defense and the run that Jeff Fisher puts on this team, wins will only come if Bradford makes the big leap forward as a passer and a leader. Now entering his third year, he doesn’t have the new-rookie smell any more. He doesn’t even have the mantle of “next big thing” that gets applied to all promising second-year players. No, he’s entering the “PROVE IT” portion of his career.

The bad news is that he is having to start over from scratch – again – with a new coach, new offensive coordinator, the stink of an awful season hanging over the team, and renewed doubts about his durability. (Not his toughness, mind you. His durability. Two different things.)

The good news is that expectations have been reset completely. He doesn’t have to be the instant savior any more … but he does need to pick himself off the turf metaphorically speaking. It would help if he didn’t have to do that so literally so often. 

Here’s a quick table of starting quarterbacks who’ve taken at least 70 sacks, among other assorted punishments, in their first two seasons, sorted by QB Rating. (Thx, pfref)

  1. Ken O’Brien (Jets) – 89.7 (31 TDs, 15 INTs)
  2. Tony Eason (Pats) – 85.3 (24 TDs, 13 INTs)
  3. Charlie Batch (Lions) – 83.8 (24 TDs, 13 INTs)
  4. Jim Kelly (Bills) – 83.5 (41 TDs, 28 INTs)
  5. Jake Plummer (Cards) – 74.3 (32 TDs, 35 INTs)
  6. Sam Bradford (Rams) – 74.2 (24 TDs, 21 INTs)
  7. Jeff George (Colts) – 73.8 (26 TDs, 25 INTs)
  8. Warren Moon (Oilers) – 73.1 (27 TDs, 33 INTs)
  9. Donovan McNabb (Eagles) – 73.0 (29 TDs, 20 INTs)
  10. Tony Banks (Rams) – 71.3 (29 TDs, 28 INTs)
  11. Rick Mirer (Seahawks)  – 68.4
  12. Steve Fuller (Chiefs) – 67.0
  13. David Carr (Texans) – 65.5
  14. Archie Manning (Saints) – 63.3
  15. Phil Simms (Giants) – 61.7
  16. Jim Plunkett (Pats) – 56.7
  17. Dennis Shaw (Bills) – 56.1

Notable in this list is that a good number have high draft pedigrees: George, McNabb, Mirer, Carr, and Plunkett were all picked #1 or #2 overall, like Bradford. Also notable, if you click on the link and examine the full table – not a one completed 60% of their passes.

As you can see, there’s an awful lot of “busted potential” and “just another guy” on this list. But there are a few, like Plunkett and Simms, who despite their rough starts got all the way to the promised land. (Kelly damn well should have, if he’d had a defense.)

Lots of folks like to make the Troy Aikman – Sam Bradford comparison, but Simms is an interesting comp after two years as well. 

Years 1 & 2 Simms Bradford
QB Record 9-15 8-18
Yards/Att 6.09 5.99
Sacks/game 3 2.7
Comeback/game-winning drives 1 1

Simms showed improvement in his third year but continued to take singificant punishment playing for a bad Giants team. His career didn’t take off until head coach Ray Perkins gave way to defensive-minded Bill Parcells – who promptly benched Simms, making him earn his way back into the starting lineup.

The rest, as we like to say when we get tired of writing, is history.

Not a good look for a couple of defensemen

Robert Quinn renewed a rather unpleasant tradition among St Louis defensive ends, getting arrested for a DWI after a one-car crash in the wee hours earlier this month. It may be the only time that Quinn might be grateful to have not hit anyone. But it does start the season on an uncomfortable foot for Quinn, of whom much growing up is expected in year two.

Meanwhile, Janoris Jenkins remains unsigned and might be missing in action in that season-opening practice. The Rams are trying to turn Jenkins’ signing bonus into a series of staggered rewards for good behavior… perhaps an early indication of the tough love that Fisher brings to his handling of so-called “trouble” players.

The Rams want to get social-media crazy

With a new coaching staff comes a host of new people in various parts of the front office, and a new approach toward reaching out to the fans. A hint – it appears to involve heavy doses of social media. Expect to see a lot of promotions geared around their Facebook and Twitter presences … now they just need to get wireless signals working inside the Dome.

This year’s ant in the magnifying glass: Brian Quick

Every year in camp, a player comes in with a set of outlandish expectations hung on him, fairly or unfairly, and all eyes in practice and preseason games are on that player.

Two years ago (in the non-Bradford category), it was Chris Long, who was struggling to live up to his draft-day billing. Long exploded in a big way, and carried that through into a dominant pass-rising season. Last year, arguably, the spotlight glared most harshly on Austin Pettis as the “new blood” of the receiving corps, especially with fellow draftmate Greg Salas hampered early. Pettis’s confidence wilted, though he was hardly alone as part of a whole-sale offensive meltdown in St Louis. 

This year, all eyes will be on Brian Quick – especially Steven Jackson’s, who has already issued a challenge to the team’s new outside threat. Like any rookie, he’s going to have ups and downs, but it will be interesting to see how much chemistry he can establish with Bradford early on. Sam is notorious about developing “favorite” receivers while others languish in a one- or two-target doghouse. 

There are 30 or 40 tight ends on the roster

The Rams might have issued a wee little challenge to disappointing tight ends Lance Kendricks and Mike Hoomanawanui, by shopping for competition at Overstock.com. I have no idea how they’re going to work out that many tight ends, but the team’s widest competition – and most confusing numbers game – appears to be here.

Notably, most of them appear to be in the “block-first” category, a clear sign that Lance and Mike might be locked in single combat for the coveted “Dustin Keller” role in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense while the Rams look to beef up their running game with more pure blockers.

Pardon us if we don’t even attempt to learn a good number of these names untill the wheat gets separated from the chaff. Expect numerous sideline tweets like “Great wipeout block by …um… thatguy.”

But hey, it’s still early August. You can’t expect us hibernaters to be all there yet.