Until the Rams actually put on pads and the offense works against the defense on Tuesday, it’s hard to evaluate a lot of what we’re seeing at Rams Park so far. But some things are either evident or intriguing, and have caught my eye in the early going.
1. All of the hype surrounding Aaron Donald certainly has foundation. Yes, I always say that you can’t really assess linemen until the pads are on. Donald is decidedly different. His quickness has made him unblockable so far. The same things we saw in his college games (and I advise you to check “Aaron Donald highlights” on YouTube), we’re seeing on the practice field in Earth City. Donald has uncommon burst and quickness, along with an amazing ability to innately shed blocks, which allow him to blow past offensive linemen. Plus, he’s remarkably strong. It’ll be interesting to see what he does in games, but his college career and his performance in practice so far lead me to believe that Donald is going to be a dominant force in the NFL. And as coach Rick Venturi pointed out at Sunday’s practice, once Donald starts attracting attention, Michael Brockers is going to be freed up one-on-one. The pass-rushing presence of the first-rounder should make the Rams pass rush even more fierce.
2. Some of the draft “experts” pointed out that Michael Sam had nine of his 11 ½ sacks against weaker competition in Arkansas State, Florida and Vanderbilt last season. What they didn’t point out what that Sam got pretty consistent pressure throughout the year, even though he wasn’t always getting sacks. He had nine quarterback pressures last year for Mizzou, to go with 18 tackles for loss. As camp has unfolded, Sam has shown that he can rush the passer. Under the tutelage of the Rams’ superb defensive line coach, Mike Waufle, Sam just might become one of those low-round pass rushers who seem to dot the NFL landscape on a regular basis. Jared Allen was a fourth-round choice of the Chiefs in 2004. Robert Mathis was a Colts fifth-rounder in 2003. The Eagles took Trent Cole in the fifth round in 2005. Elvis Dumervil was a Broncos fourth-rounder in 2006, and James Harrison was undrafted for the Steelers in 2002. I’m not saying that Sam will collect more than 65 sacks during a career, but there is something to be said for producing the way he did in the SEC. He might be the kind of guy who, with NFL technique work and his tenacity, could become a more-than-serviceable designated pass-rusher in the NFL.
3. On the field, Kenny Britt is fun to watch. He’s always talking. He caught a touchdown pass over Janoris Jenkins, hovered over the beaten corner and said something, then helped Jenkins up. After another play, he returned to the huddle from out of bounds and said something to and fist-bumped the equipment guy who was holding the down marker. He makes plays, but must consistently make plays in games. The Rams’ plan, like it was last season, is going to be to run the ball, draw eight or nine defenders into the box and then strike deep on play-action passes. The key is going to be making the catch against one-on-one coverage. A guy like Britt can become a star with his size-speed combination if he can simply hold onto the ball. If he makes the team, there’s no doubt that is personality will fit in with what Jeff Fisher likes. The Rams are a team that wants to have some swagger, and Britt definitely has that.
4. Another player who will be a key in the passing game is another former Titan, Jared Cook. Like last season, he’s off to a great start in camp. Cook is a guy who should be able to make plays all over the field. He should be Sam Bradford’s security blanket on third-and-short plays. He made a couple of sensational catches in Sunday’s practice. Perhaps having Bradford for the full season will propel Cook to a Pro Bowl level. He certainly should have the opportunity in this offense to make plays and be a key, contributing factor.
5. The Rams said they were going to mix-and-match their offensive linemen in camp, and they’ve definitely done that. Rodger Saffold had lined up at left tackle, left guard and right guard. Davin Joseph has lined up at both guard spots. Barrett Jones has worked with the ones and the twos. Sean Hooey has lined up at both tackle positions. And first-round pick Greg Robinson is getting plenty of reps at left tackle. The Rams have a lot of talent on the offensive line, and want to make sure their five best guys play. The best way to find out who the best five guys are is to move them around. We’ll learn more about that group starting Tuesday, and definitely in preseason games.
It’s great to have football here. We’re less than two weeks away from a game.