2009 NFL Preview: #31 St. Louis Rams

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Offseason Additions: Jason Brown (C); James Butler (CB); Kyle Boller (QB); Billy Bajema (TE).

Offseason Losses: Torry Holt (WR); Orlando Pace (OT); Pisa Tinoisamoa (LB); Nick Leckey (C); Anthony Becht (TE); Fakhir Brown (CB); Jason Craft (CB); Dane Looker (WR); Brett Romberg (C).

Player to Watch: Laurent Robinson, WR.
The Rams acquired the former third round pick from Atlanta this offseason and thus far, he has impressed. He’s already solidified the No. 2 receiver position across from Donnie Avery and could emerge as the Rams’ top playmaker in their passing game. At 6’2, 194-pounds, Robinson has excellent size, speed and has demonstrated this summer that he can catch the ball in traffic. Injuries forced him out of Atlanta, but he’s making a name for himself in St. Louis and could become a household name by the end of the season.

Team Strength: In the past three years, the Rams have invested two first round picks in their defensive line and with the guidance of former Giants’ defensive guru Steve Spagnuolo, the unit could become a strength this season. Of course, that will depend on whether or not former second overall pick Chris Long can take the next step in his development and if former ’07 first round pick Adam Carriker can stay healthy. Defensive ends tend take a couple years to develop, but Long has the drive and tenacity to inevitably succeed. Although he’s getting long in the tooth, Leonard Little still brings plenty to the table as a pass rusher and could help free up Long to make plays on the other side. Assuming Carriker and Little can stay healthy and Long blossoms in his second year, the D-line could be one of the few positives for the Rams this season.

Potential Weakness: Even with the additions of free agent Jason Brown and second overall pick Jason Smith, the O-line is still a work in progress. In fact, Smith still can’t beat out the ineffective Adam Goldberg at right tackle. Alex Barron (who is in a contract year) will fill the void left by long-time starter Orlando Pace at left tackle. Barron is athletic and has a good reach to help protect quarterback Marc Bulger’s blind side, but he must cut down on the false start penalties that plagued him last year. Left guard Jacob Bell was a massive free agent bust last season, although he put on 15 pounds this offseason so that he won’t get pushed around as much in the running game. Perhaps the biggest weakness is at right guard, where the team failed to upgrade over the inconsistent Richie Incognito.

Outlook: Spagnuolo worked wonders for the Giants’ defense in New York, but he has his work cut out for him in St. Louis, where the talent the Rams do have needs to be molded. Expect the Rams to keep the ball on the ground with Steven Jackson this season and not rely on the fading Marc Bulger and a talented, but inexperienced receiving corps to win games. The O-line upgraded at center with Brown and could do much worse with Barron at left tackle, but it’s troubling that Smith can’t beat out Goldberg on the right side. Defensively, the line could be a strength as long as Little and Carriker can stay healthy and Long develops, but the Rams are putting a lot of faith in rookie James Laurinaitis (who struggled getting off blockers while in college) at middle linebacker. Re-signing Ron Bartell will boost the secondary, but the Rams are ultra-thin in their defensive backfield, especially after trading corner Tye Hill to the Falcons for a seventh round pick.

The Rams will struggle again this year, but Spagnuolo is setting the groundwork for brighter days in St. Louis. If Bulger can stay healthy and motivated, the Rams have enough offensive talent with Jackson, Avery and Robinson to be effective. But the more likely scenario is that this team will sink to the bottom of the NFC West again.

2009 Prediction: Fourth, NFC West.

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