After the Rams number one offense and defense were annihilated in Dallas, I sensed a great deal of backlash from fans for the loss. It’s almost as if some Rams fans expect this team to not only be good, but to be great right away.
Perhaps they were so spoiled by what happened in 1999, when Dick Vermeil’s team rebounded from 4-12 to 13-3 and the Super Bowl Championship, that they EXPECT that’s going to happen again. I have news for you; that was an amazing, magical, unprecedented season. It had never happened in the NFL before, and it hasn’t happened since. Teams just don’t go from being terrible for long periods of time to great.
Remember when the Rams went to Cincinnati for game three of the ’99 season? They were tied with the Bengals for the worst record in the 1990’s, and the loser of the game would be the worst. In that game, Az-Zahir Hakim scored four touchdowns, the Rams rolled, and reversed years of futility.
But that team had a returning superstar in Isaac Bruce, a pair of superb rookies in Torry Holt and Dre’ Bly, several breakout starters in London Fletcher, Billy Jenkins, Jr. and Tom Nutten, and solid free agent contributors like Adam Timmerman, Ray Agnew and Todd Collins. To top it off, the Rams were able to trade for the incomparable Marshall Faulk and fell into a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Kurt Warner.
This 2012 team added what they hope will be foundation starters in Kendall Langford, Scott Wells and Cortland Finnegan. There isn’t a Bruce on hand already, there wasn’t a Holt available with the sixth pick in the draft, there aren’t sensational undrafted free agents that have been seasoned for a year like Fletcher, Jenkins and Nutten…and there certainly isn’t a Faulk or Warner.
The 2012 Rams are similar to an expansion team. Of the ninety players on their roster, 57 weren’t here last year. 33 rookies are on hand. A significant group of players were set back by poor coaching, which led to bad, losing habits. The new staff is not only implementing new systems on offense and defense, but trying to untangle the disasters inflicted by the previous regime. Players like Rodger Saffold, Lance Kendricks, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas, Bradley Fletcher, Jerome Murphy and Sam Bradford were all, to different extents, done disservices by Steve Spagnuolo’s staff. Former offensive line Coach Steve Loney, tight ends coach Frank Leonard, receivers coach Nolan Cromwell, cornerbacks coach Clayton Lopez and, well…nobody at quarterbacks coach hurt the franchise and set those players back. It’s notable that Loney is a number two O-line coach in Tampa Bay now, that Leonard isn’t coaching in the NFL, that Cromwell has a nebulous “senior offensive assistant” title for his old friend Mike Holmgren on Pat Shurmer’s Cleveland staff, and Lopez is the number two DB’s coach with the Raiders.
Of course, Bradford was inexplicably left to his own devices last year, a second year player given the job of coaching himself. It’s unbelievable that a franchise would do that with their biggest investment, but the Rams did.
So, they have a ways to go. Paul Boudreau has work to do with that offensive line, but he has a great pedigree. He’s done great work in the past with playoff teams in New Orleans, Detroit and Atlanta, among others. Rob Boras developed Jacksonville’s Marcedes Lewis into a Pro Bowl tight end, and did great work in Chicago before that. Receivers coach Ray Sherman helped develop Javon Walker, Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson in Green Bay, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant in Dallas…and most notably coached Drew Bennett to 58 and 46 catch seasons with the Titans. Chuck Cecil’s Tennessee DB’s were second in the NFL in interceptions when he coached them, and third in picks in the three years he was defensive coordinator. Frank Cignetti helped develop Aaron Brooks into a playoff quarterback while working under offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy in Green Bay.
In short, the last staff wasn’t very good, and their current position in the league is evidence of that. This staff has DONE IT in the NFL, and the numbers back that up.
Are the Rams going to be great out of the gate? I don’t expect that. This is going to be a building process. But, individual players will most certainly improve under this regime, and that will make for a better team as time goes on. It’s hard for a fan base that has watched fifteen wins, eight at home, in the last five years to be patient. But that’s what being a fan of Jeff Fisher’s Rams requires. And it’ll pay off in the long run.