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Five Critical Questions For the St. Louis Rams

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Jeff Fisher took over the St. Louis Rams head coaching job three years ago and it’s clear to see the improvements the team has made. During Fisher’s tenure, St. Louis has hovered around the .500 mark each year, but they’ve failed to break through.

In order for St. Louis to take the next step, there are five vital questions they must answer.

Is Nick Foles the right guy for the job? 

It’s rare to see teams exchange quarterbacks, but that’s exactly what happened between the Rams and Eagles this off-season. St. Louis selected Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, but his time in St. Louis was riddled with injuries. Bradford showed flashes of his potential, however, it wasn’t enough for Rams general manager Les Snead to keep him around.

“When we said deleting Sam Bradford wasn’t the solution, that was true,” Snead said. “There was no trade in place. In anything in life, things change. The key point is deleting a good quarterback from your team is not right and I don’t blame teams for wanting Sam. He’s got good years left. But we were able to add Nick Foles to our roster. That’s what changed.”

Nick Foles knows a thing or two about injuries himself, as his season was cut short last year after breaking his collarbone. With that being said, the Rams are hopeful they’re getting the 2013 Foles, who had a touchdown to interception ratio of 27 to 2 to go along with a QB rating of 119.2

According to Kenny Britt, the receiving core is infatuated with their new quarterback.

We love him,” Britt said. “Great deep ball, he puts it on the money every time. He can throw every pass in the book.”

Hopefully for the Rams sake, their receivers will still love Foles this fall.

Will the offensive line be too inexperienced?

For Nick Foles to reach his full potential in St. Louis, their inexperienced offensive line will have to grow up fast. The Rams used four of their nine draft picks on offensive linemen, with there being a good chance rookies Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown will end up starting on the right side of the line.

St. Louis selected Havenstein in the second round out of Wisconsin and he was a big reason for Melvin Gordon’s historical year on the ground. Now, he’s looking forward to helping Todd Gurley do similar things.

“That’s one of the things coach Fisher has told me is we’re going to run the ball,” the seond-round pick said.  “We definitely ran the ball a lot (at Wisconsin) and from everything coach Fisher has told me, I’m going to have an opportunity to do that as well.”

With only two starters from the line back in the fold, Rodger Saffold is prepared to take on a leadership role.

“It’s definitely something I embrace,” Saffold stated. “These young guys, they got the big eyes, the same eyes that I had when I first walked into the building. . These kids are really doing a good job of learning the offense, understanding what we tell them and being accountable for their mistakes.”

Last year, St. Louis allowed 47 sacks and were ranked 28th in total offense.

Will Todd Gurley be ready?

The Rams created shock waves after selecting Todd Gurley with the 10th overall pick. What made the pick even more interesting is the fact they have Tre Mason, who was the second-best rookie running back last year statistically.

Mason went on to express his feelings on the pick.

“I was in shock, really, because I thought I did a good job last year,” Mason said. “And at that time, I’m thinking a pick like that — that’s a replacement.”

No one seems to really know when Gurley will be ready. The Georgia product suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament back in November.

“I’m just going to keep progressing,” Gurley  told ESPN. “I’ll be here in July, I hope so, for training camp. I hope I at least get to go do some individual stuff. So that’s the next goal right there.”

Well, we’re in July now and reports say Gurley is expected to start training camp on the Non-Football Injury list.

Whenever Gurley returns to the field, Mason’s focus won’t be altered.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to win a championship and the only way I can do that is to just keep doing me, to become the best me I can be,” said Mason. “I’ll just continue to chase greatness. That’s been the mindset since school; find the record and go out and break it. … Realistically, it’s a competition because there’s usually just one running back out there at a time. But honestly, that’s not my mindset. I can’t worry about anybody else; I have too much work to do. I’ve been working on my long-distance speed; I know I can burst through the hole, but I want to try and get more long runs this year.”

During Mason’s rookie campaign, he rushed for 765 yards on a 4.3 yards per carry average to go along with four rushing touchdowns.

Can the secondary match the defensive line?

The Rams have one of the premiere defensive fronts in the league, as they totaled 40 sacks a season ago. On the flip side, their secondary gave up too many big plays last year.

As a whole, all 11 starters are back and according to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the players are physically ready.

“The guys took it to heart and really had a very good spring in the weight room, in the training room and then here on the field,” Williams said. “It’s light years ahead of where we were last year (at this time) because they didn’t know me, I didn’t know them.”

Considering the consistent pressure the Rams front seven puts on opposing quarterbacks, there’s no reason why the secondary shouldn’t be able to get more than 13 interceptions, which was their total last year.

Janoris Jenkins had two of those interceptions, which he ended up returning for touchdowns. Couple Jenkins with second-year cornerback E.J. Gaines and the Rams may have something brewing.

Is Jeff Fisher’s clock ticking?

Now, let me reiterate something from earlier. The Rams definitely improved once Fisher took charge, but are they stuck in neutral?

During Fisher’s three years in St. Louis, he’s accumulated a record of 20-27 and has failed to reach .500 once. To be fair, the Rams have suffered some crucial injuries, with the main ones being to former quarterback Sam Bradford.

At the same time, how much longer will the Rams accept Fisher’s mediocrity?

In all actuality, Fisher’s fate may lie in the hands of Foles.

“This is where I want to play,” Foles said. “As a player, you want to be somewhere and you want to play there the rest of your career. This is where I want to be, but that’s why we have agents. My most important thing right now is just to continue to work with my teammates and continue to be the best player and person I can be, so we’ll see what happens. I want to be here. I love Coach Fisher and the staff and everybody in this building, so I’m very fortunate to be here.”

With this possibly being the Rams last season in St. Louis, these questions must be answered sooner rather than later.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.