St. Louis Rams  

 

Rebuilding? Rams prefer to look at 2012 as restocking period

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams approached the 2012 NFL Draft embracing the reality that they were not one player away. As last year's 2-14 finish clearly illustrated, they were missing far more than that.

It's why they traded out of the No. 2 spot in a blockbuster deal with the Washington Redskins, and it's why they traded back again to set themselves up with five picks in the first 65 selections this year and much more in the future.

But turnarounds can happen fast in the parity-happy NFL -- just ask NFC West counterpart San Francisco -- and the Rams' new front office/coaching staff doesn't believe they are rebuilding.

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"I actually don't think we are," general manager Les Snead told NFL.com in his spacious second-floor office prior to a rookie minicamp session. "I think we're more talented, but we're young. We need to stack a couple wins. If we do that, we can be competitive and see what happens."

To set out on that path, though, the Rams chose to restock their roster in an intriguing way. St. Louis didn't use the draft to add a few players of need to deepen its roster across the board.

Instead, as Snead explained, the goal was to make the team better one unit at a time with as many picks as they could muster. Using the Super Bowl champion New York Giants as an example -- a team that consistently drafts into an already stout defensive line to make it dynamic -- the Rams are hoping for a piece-by-piece rehabilitation process of a franchise that has won three or fewer games in four of the past five seasons.

"A little bit like the New York (defensive line), if we could have a dominant DL, that causes the offense to have to adjust things," Snead said. "That DL, they're comin', there's not a weak link on it. So, the theme of the draft happened, it occurred naturally."

That theme was restocking, unit by unit.

On a defensive line that already boasted ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, along with free-agent acquisition Kendall Langford, there wasn't a need. But in came LSU's Michael Brockers in the first round to solidify it, anyway.

In the secondary, the big signing was star cornerback Cortland Finnegan to bolster a weak group. Yet in the draft, the Rams plucked two high-risk/high-reward corners in Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson. That's three players graded to be starters.

Sure, the linebacking corps could use depth, but the hope is it will be bolstered by two stout units.

"All of the sudden, you've got a strong DL and a strong defensive backfield," said Snead, in his first year as Rams GM after 13 years in Atlanta. "Realize we're young, so there's going to be (growing pains), but when you get units strong -- not just spreading out individual talent over the 11 -- units become, 'Wow.' The quarterback's got to get the ball off faster and then our DBs are good. We may steal some wins that we might not have done."

It was the same at receiver. Add 6-foot-4 Brian Quick -- a surprise pick at No. 33 that the entire organization is celebrating -- and fourth-round speedster Chris Givens to proven slot machine Danny Amendola, and that's a potentially effective unit. There might be matchup problems, especially with Quick's height.

And don't forget, former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford is back with plenty to prove at quarterback, and veteran running back Steven Jackson is still a beast. Sure, the offensive line could use an infusion of talent, but the goal is to find enough big plays to compensate.

"When you take a player you might not need or may go to a unit that is already strong, it just makes that unit dominant," Snead said. "Add in explosive skill and you're starting to model the Giants a little bit."

The Rams' recent history isn't pleasant. But Fisher, who takes over after three tough years for Steve Spagnuolo, isn't concerned with the rear-view mirror.

"We deleted last year," Fisher said.

It's not just Fisher offering lip service. Thanks to an active offseason, the front office has slammed the door on the past by ushering out many of the players who took part in those losses.

Of 384 possible starts in 16 games on offense, defense and special teams, the Rams have already said goodbye to 206 of them. On a 90-player participation chart for last season, 49 players are gone. Both numbers mean 54 percent of the team will turn over, at least.

In place of some of last year's experience is youth. Tasked with shepherding them toward victories is Fisher, the longtime Titans coach who is focused on similar success. Snead champions the coach's authentic nature and trusts that Fisher will put them in position to succeed. Snead lauded Fisher, just 54 years old but a 17-year head coaching veteran, for enthusiasm that pervades the building.

"He's going to raise these young kids," Snead said. "They're his crop."

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With this youthful group, new coaches and what the Rams hope are some improved position groups, Snead just wants to see some early success. He spoke openly of watching them win three in a row, "and all of the sudden you believe."

There is truth to what he's saying.

According to NFL Digital Media researchers, 67 percent of teams since 1990 that have won three in a row have had winning records, while 59 percent made the playoffs. Turnarounds can happen fast in this league, as 10 teams that won four or fewer games since 2000 have made the playoffs the following season.

History leaves the door open for the Rams.

"We want to improve this thing as fast as possible and thrive as fast as possible," Snead said. "Because there's no four-year plan. If we keep stacking good decisions, it's a snowball effect. It just creates momentum. Then you're on your way."

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @rapsheet

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