|Chiefs QB Matt Cassel (left) and Rams QB Sam Bradford are hoping to help turn their teams around.|
The St. Louis Rams, in my estimation, will make the biggest improvement, in terms of games won, of any team in the NFL in 2012. They finished with a 2-14 record in 2011, but I think they'll win seven games in 2012. I think they're going to surprise a lot of people this season.
Rams fans will need a program to identify the faces that will end up on the final roster. I think as many as 25 new guys will end up making the cut.
St. Louis had a great draft in April. Second-round pick Janoris Jenkins, who had faced questions about his character, will start at cornerback; he looked fantastic. During a passing drill toward the end of one practice, with the temperature around 104 degrees, I saw Jenkins make an unbelievable interception. The fact that Jenkins, as a rookie, had the wherewithal and drive to go hard like that, in that kind of heat and with practice winding down, is a great sign. The Rams are going to do everything they can to help him avoid trouble, and I think he'll be as good as any rookie cover corner in the league.
First-round pick Michael Brockers, who will strengthen the run defense, is going to start at defensive tackle. He looked great in practice. Folks talk about defenders who can fill a hole; Brockers can fill a hole-and-a-half. He's a big guy, very active, who has worked extremely hard. He also has a great attitude; the veterans can get on him, and it doesn't seem to faze him.
Greg Zuerlein, a sixth-round pick, is going to be a fabulous kicker. He has an unbelievably strong leg; during one scrimmage, he hit field goals of 59 and 53 yards and missed on a 64-yarder that had plenty of distance but was wide left.
Steve Smith, the former Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants receiver, looked completely healthy. He looks like someone who's going to catch a lot of passes and be a go-to guy for quarterback Sam Bradford, who also played well.
It's easy to see why new Rams coach Jeff Fisher has had such a successful career. Unlike a young or inexperienced coach, Fisher knows what he's doing. He's going to do some dynamic things with this franchise, provided Bradford can stay healthy. He's like a new CEO hired to bring a company back from the brink of bankruptcy. Everybody relates to the idea that his past success will translate to future success. That's the attitude that's defining their camp.
The Kansas City Chiefs have a new coach in Romeo Crennel, and I sensed the players and coaches are carrying themselves with a different attitude. They're practicing in a completely different atmosphere. When I watched the Chiefs practice last preseason, I saw three illegal procedures and a Matt Cassel interception within the first several plays. This year, everything was smooth; there was no turmoil. Players worked harder and faster than they did in 2011.
Injuries and a less-than-stellar run defense held the Chiefs back in 2011. Cassel, who had to miss seven games in 2011 with a hand injury, looked great in practice. He spun the football well and showed really great accuracy.
First-round pick Dontari Poe is a massive, athletic nose tackle who should help shore up the defense. But the real surprise was Anthony Toribio. The former undrafted free agent should start in 2012 and contribute to the run defense in a big way.
The Chiefs did a great job improving the roster. Free-agent signee Eric Winston, who should start at right tackle, will be a major upgrade in 2012, while Stanford Routt replaces Brandon Carr at cornerback. Tight end Kevin Boss and running back Peyton Hillis were also very good pickups. Receiver Dwayne Bowe, meanwhile, hasn't been at camp yet, but players told me they expect him to show by next Monday.
The best thing I saw: There were a lot of folks on hand to watch them practice, and the Chiefs players were plenty willing to spend some time with them. Last year, I remember guys being anxious to get off the field and up to the locker room. It's another example of the new attitude within the organization.
The most important thing for the Chiefs is that they stay healthy this year. If they can do that, I think they should finish with a 9-7 record.