National Football League

10 Early Observations from Rams Camp

With just over a week in the books, here are some observations from Rams’ training camp:

+ The defense is well ahead of the offense as a collective unit. There have been times when Sam Bradford or the other quarterbacks can’t even complete a three-step drop because the defensive line is eating their facemask. It’s scary to think that Gregg Williams, who already has a penchant for blitzing, will also have the best front four in all of football at his disposal. He’s going to make a world of difference for a front seven that was already bordering on stardom.

Aaron Donald-3
Aaron Donald

+ I’ve been told by former NFL coaches and players that it usually takes defensive linemen three years before they make a significant impact at the pro level. But I’m ready to make Aaron Donald an exception after watching him for just one week. He’s so quick off the ball that he’s into his first pass-rush move before some of the Rams’ offensive linemen can even get their hands up. It’s too early to be making proclamations about the 2014 NFL draft, but I’m willing to bet that he’s going to be one of the better steals of the first round.

+ It’s been discouraging to see Michael Brockers leave two practices early due to injuries, but my hopes remain high for the third-year defensive tackle. He’s been stout against the run since his days at LSU, but I’ve always envisioned a better pass rusher than his college numbers indicated. If he can stay healthy, I think his floor is around seven sacks.

+ Williams’ aggressive game plans will hopefully mask some of the potential issues in the secondary, but depth remains a problem at cornerback. Janoris Jenkins has missed a handful of practices due to injury, and while Trumaine Johnson’s back to practicing in full now, the Montana product has missed some time. While I love what Lamarcus Joyner brings, and Brandon McGee’s improvement, there’s just not a lot of experience behind the starters.

+ Speaking of Joyner, he may only be 5-foot-8 and 184 pounds, but he plays like someone twice his size. There have been multiple occasions when he’s displayed his physicality, such as lowering his shoulder and smashing into tight end Cory Harkey (who is 6-4 and 259 pounds) following a completed pass, or tussling with Kenny Britt and Austin Pettis just before the whistle sounds. On Monday, in fact, things got so heated following a play that Joyner and Pettis threw a couple of Jack Johnsons and Tom O’Learys at one another. Earlier in that same practice, Joyner and Kenny Britt got so tangled up that Britt’s helmet came off. When Britt delivered a nasty crackback block a few players later, Joyner kept his pursuit of the ball carrier. He might be getting under his teammates’ skin now, but they’re going to love him when he focuses that energy on the opposition. Plus, the guy is a flat-out playmaker. He already has several interceptions, and while Tavon Austin has gotten the best of him on a few occasions, Joyner is one of the few defenders with enough quickness and agility to at least match up with Austin in open space.

+ Ray-Ray Armstrong could easily wind up being a starter this season. He’s the perfect complement to Alec Ogletree at outside linebacker, as he’s athletic, physical and fast off the edge. But I’d be more encouraged by his upside if he weren’t a 15-yard penalty waiting to happen on every play. It’s hard not to love his energy, but he’s constantly jawing after big plays, routine plays and plays when he’s not even involved. If Williams can get Armstrong to play with more discipline, the Rams could have one of the fastest, most athletic front sevens in the league.

Kenny Britt
Kenny Britt

+ Bradford’s play has been sporadic but encouraging. There have been times when he’s displayed excellent zip on his passes (there’s no doubt his velocity increased this offseason), fitting balls into tight windows over the middle or outside the numbers right as the receiver creates separation. Then there have been times when a wideout is open and he’ll throw behind them, at their feet or checks down to a safer play. There are also days like Saturday at the team’s third annual “Fan Fest” when he’ll drop a 60-plus-yard rainbow into Britt’s arms for a touchdown, then others when he shows a lack of anticipation and Britt has to adjust to an underthrown pass. But considering he’s coming off ACL surgery, fans should be ecstatic that Bradford is even practicing on a regular basis. I’ve also been encouraged to see him take shots downfield, which has been a problem for him and this offense over the past four seasons. Hopefully after a few weeks, his passes won’t even touch the ground.

+ Speaking of Britt, he looks every bit like a No. 1 receiver in my eyes. When the Rams signed him this offseason, I worried that they were getting damaged goods. I still liked the signing because the price was right and you figured Britt would be motivated, but even I admit to being more encouraged by the former Titan’s upside. Outside of his route-running ability and size, what’s impressed me about Britt is he’s winning contested passes downfield.

Even though the Rams are going to rely heavily on their running game, they still need to take shots downfield for their offense to truly pop. A year ago, they didn’t have a receiver on their roster with Britt’s combination of size, speed and aggressiveness. He needs to stay healthy (and let’s face it, out of trouble), but Britt finally gives the Rams the much-needed prototypical No. 1 threat that they’ve craved since Torry Holt was in uniform.

+ I don’t know if Britt has anything to do with how good he’s looked, but Brian Quick had a nice week of practice as well. Granted, Quick hasn’t practiced in full since late last week, but he looked excellent before being sidelined. He’s still a bit raw as a route runner, but he’s making plays downfield and, like Britt, he’s winning contested passes. Of course, we’ve been here before with Quick. It’s not like he didn’t show flashes in his previous two training camps. But maybe the light bulb has finally come on for Quick, who along with Britt would give Bradford two big targets on the outsides.

+ It’s a shame that Stedman Bailey will miss the first four games of the regular season, but I like how Jeff Fisher and his coaching staff have handled the second-year receiver. Instead of banishing him to a dark corner of the field, Fisher has rotated Bailey in with the starters throughout the first week. This has kept Bailey engaged and, more important, on the same page as Bradford. Considering he’s going to have a key role in the offense once he comes back, it makes zero sense to force Bailey to practice exclusively with the twos and threes.