VanRam runs a great blog that covers the St. Louis Rams. He's also our SB Nation partner and opponent this Thursday. Kind enough to take time out of his busy day, VanRam sits down with us and gives us an impression and rundown of what to expect Thursday. Head over to Turf Show Times to see my and Jake's answers.
The Rams and Bengals have an interesting parallel in their respective drafts, picking an offensive tackle in the first round and a linebacker in the second. Cincinnati had Jason Smith near the top, if not the top, of their draft boards. How’s he looked so far?
VanRam: Smith has had a rough welcome to the NFL. In practice, he’s done well run blocking, but squaring off with Leonard Little has given him fits. Playing with the starting unit in last week’s game against the Falcons, he botched blocks on a run and pass play for back to back gains by Atlanta. He might not start when the season begins on September 13. Still, he has shown enough potential that it’s just a matter of time before he’s up to speed for the NFL.
For the Ohio State University fans out there, how’s linebacker James Laurinaitis looking?
VanRam: He played his way into the starting lineup early, which is no small task considering he’s being asked to call plays for the defense in his rookie season. As you might expect from a rookie, he hasn’t been flawless, but his strong play has far outweighed whatever normal rookie learning curve he faces. This is a big upgrade for the Rams at MLB.
Marc Bulger has a broken finger and it’s unlikely that he’ll play Thursday. Is there a backup quarterback competition between Kyle Boller and Brock Berlin and who do you expect to win the job?
VanRam: Boller has the job, barring unforeseen circumstances between now and the start of the season. Criticisms of his accuracy and decision making rang true in his start against the Falcons last week. We’re hoping for something better this week. Sixth round pick Keith Null and Brock Berlin are jockeying for the third QB role. Both had a nice game last week. Null looks the part, with nice poise and seems unflappable in the pocket. Berlin has some moves. It won’t be an easy decision, but the favorite is Null.
Steven Jackson led the league with 2,334 yards from scrimmage in 2006. Since then, he’s missed time in each of the past two seasons, struggling with injury to regain the form that earned him his lone Pro Bowl. Is there concern about Jackson’s durability?
VanRam: Of course, that concern has been echoed all spring and summer, eliciting numerous howls when the Rams didn’t do more to get a backup running back. Jackson’s injuries the last two seasons have much to do with the offensive line, which was so bad it forced more of the burden directly onto Jackson’s legs. The coaches are being extremely cautious with him. He hasn’t played more than two drives in the preseason.
Carson Palmer is the heart and soul of the Bengals offense. If he goes down to injury, the Bengals chances of winning dramatically increases. We figure that Jackson is critical to the Rams offense. Would it be fair to say that the offense depends heavily on Jackson and will he make or break the season?
VanRam: Absolutely. Without Jackson the Rams offense will suffer greatly. With so many needs to fill this offseason, the Rams didn't pick up a backup runner capable of stepping in should Jackson not be available to play. It seemed like, maybe, there were some options on the roster already with Kenneth Darby, Antonio Pittman and Samkon Gado. Nobody from that group has done anything with enough consistency through camp and preseason play to distinguish themselves. Of course, I could be wrong. If Bulger rebounds well, he could still do some damage with this offense. That's unlikely considering the Rams would lack enough of a serious threat on the ground to create the kind of balance an offense needs to keep defenses honest.
Bengals and Rams fans have one thing in common. Both are seeking to regain their high-scoring offenses. Are the Rams close to regaining that magic, or is the team taking on a totally different philosophy?
VanRam: The days of the Rams putting up 30 points (and spotting opponents 20) ended when the cast and crew from the Greatest Show on Turf got old, especially the linemen. With a better line and a healthy Steven Jackson they’ll move the ball. The passing game has looked much better than people expected, especially considering the inexperience we have at receiver. This is a grind it out offense now.
Since Mike Martz left early in the 2005 season, the Rams have seen several changes as the team’s head coach. Now that Steve Spagnuolo is the team’s fourth head coach since Martz, do you believe he’ll bring stability to the team and improve from a combined five wins in the past two seasons?
VanRam: The change in coaches and a front-office overhaul already seem to be doing wonders for the team. The losing culture is being slowly but surely extracted from the locker room. Players seem to be buying into it, and there’s a new sense of excitement in the building, especially as the team has gotten younger since the last year. Nobody expects a double digit win season, but improvement should be easy.
Now that Torry Holt has left St. Louis for Jacksonville, what’s the general feel with the Rams wide receivers?
VanRam: There was, still is, concern about the relative lack of experience at WR. However, the young guys, particularly third year pro Laurent Robinson, have looked sharp in early returns. Losing Donnie Avery hurts, but he is close to returning. Once he does, the should surprise more than a few prognosticators with a top three combo of Avery, Robinson and Keenan Burton.
I believe that predicting wins and losses for an entire season is a bit pointless. However, how do you see the Rams matching up in your division and do they have a shot at the playoffs?
VanRam: The NFC West is such a wacky division. The Cardinals certainly have the best team, but any single factor could knock them off the top...like, say, an injury to the elderly Kurt Warner. The Rams HAVE to win games against the 49ers and the Seahawks this year, and that's very possible. I think this is a six win team.