National Football League

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Rams’ Intriguing 53-Man Roster

The Rams’ initial 53 man roster as they get ready for their opener against Seattle on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome has a type of intrigue that we’ve never seen in St. Louis.

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DT Aaron Donald is entering his second year with the Rams.

The level of stability on defense is pleasantly notable, and the amount of change and inexperience on offense could be the 2015 Rams’ best chance for success if they grow up quickly.

In a nearly unprecedented occurrence in the NFL in this day and age, there’s only one change among the defensive starters. Jo Lonn Dunbar was released in the final cutdown, and Akeem Ayers will start at strong side linebacker.

Otherwise, the defensive line is the same last year at the end of the season, with a line of Robert Quinn and Chris Long at the ends and Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers at the ends.

James Laurinaitis returns at middle linebacker and Alex Ogletree on the weak side. And in the secondary, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson man the corners while Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald are the safeties.

With the same defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams, there’s no reason for this group to not be great.

Also notable about the defense is the fact that ten of the eleven starters are home grown. Ayers is the only starter on defense who didn’t get his NFL start with the Rams. Along the lines, the Rams are unusually home grown.

Last year, Kendall Langford started the season at defensive tackle and was replaced by Donald. The group of Long, Donald, Brockers and Quinn is the second home grown defensive line for the Rams in St. Louis, following the 2005 group of Leonard Little, Jimmy Kennedy, Ryan Pickett and Anthony Hargrove.

This will be the first time that the entire starting offensive line has been home grown since the Rams moved to St. Louis.

There has always been a free agent or trade acquisition in the group, from Dwayne White to John Gerak to John Flannery to Adam Timmerman, to the Jason Browns, Jacob Bells and Harvey Dahls of the world. The group of Greg Robinson, Jamon Brown, either Tim Barnes or Demetrious Rhaney, Rodger Saffold and Rob Havenstein comprise the first group of Rams starters up front that were either drafted by or originally signed by the St. Louis Rams.

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Saffold is the most experienced member of the Rams’ O-Line.

That continuity and those roots are a good thing, if the players can play. Now they must by coached and nurtured.

By the way, the only Rams offensive lineman on the roster not originally given his start by the organization is Garrett Reynolds, so credit must be given to the scouting and drafting departments.

That being said, it’s highly unusual to have the amount of inexperience the Rams do up front. It’s going to be difficult for this group, outside of Saffold, to stand up to what they face early on.

In week one, the Seahawks have one of the top defenses in the league, as we know. In week three, the Rams host Pittsburgh. Then they face the great Arizona defense and the Packers, where Dom Capers will provide some looks and stunts they haven’t seen yet.

To succeed this year, the Rams are going to have to overcome that inexperience up front.

To be effective, they’re going to have to provide the group a simple game plan with easily understandable zone schemes. Quarterback Nick Foles is going to need to be given the opportunity to get the ball out quickly on passing plays, and receivers are going to have to get separation and win one-on-one battles with defensive backs.

This would be a great time for tight end Jared Cook to become the impact player the Rams are paying him to be.

In the running game, it’ll be more of the same. Simplicity will be a key, especially once Todd Gurley is ready to go.

While communication, technique and knowledge are keys to pass blocking, great run blocking can be achieved by being aggressive and mauling the competition. If the Rams can drive the opposing defensive line off the ball and open a hole for Gurley or Tre Mason, they can achieve quality in the run game.

If Gurley is given the opportunity to beat a linebacker or safety one-on-one, he has the size and strength to run him over, and the speed and moves to get around and run away.

Of course, if the run game starts clicking, all bets are off for the passing game because play action passes are what head coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti want, and what Foles does best. If, as the season goes along, the running game starts clicking, this will be an offense capable of putting up points.

And with their young veteran defense, everything else being equal, eventually they should be able to score more than they allow. Of course, that “everything else being equal” includes avoiding costly penalties and not turning the ball over.

As the Rams get ready to roll against Seattle, they’ll need some quick growing up and some luck. But the home grown talent should evolve and be enough to give them a chance to win on many Sundays.

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