Contrary to popular opinion, the world did not in fact end yesterday. Mike Zimmer promised that the sun would come up on Wednesday, and sure enough it did. Despite the devastating injury that ended Teddy Bridgewater’s season, there is still football to be played. The Vikings host the
St. Louis Los Angeles Rams in the final tuneup for a season that suddenly just got a lot more complicated.
Of course the stars of Hard Knocks have plenty of questions about their team as well. So I chatted with Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times about what to expect from the Rams on Thursday and this season.
Daily Norseman: Most reports indicate that #1 overall pick and future face of the franchise Jared Goff isn't quite ready for primetime yet, which means that Case Keenum is the likely Week 1 starter under center for the Los Angeles Rams. Do you see Goff sitting for most of the year or will we be seeing the rookie sooner rather than later? Do you think that starting Keenum is the right move for now?
Turf Show Times: Man, I have no idea.
So here's fact #1. Since camp broke and the preseason opened, Case Keenum has managed the offensive system better than Jared Goff has period. And it really wasn't even that close.
Fact #2. Keenum was a backup QB a year ago brought in by trading a seventh-round pick to the Texans while the Rams soon after spent a third-round pick on Sean Mannion.
Fact #3. The Rams then traded six draft picks, including a pair of 2017 NFL Draft picks one of which is their first-round pick, to draft Jared Goff.
None of that is good. None of that makes sense. And yet...it probably is the right move for now. Goff hasn't earned the starting gig. Keenum hasn't done anything to lose it. It's just uncomfortable to write that and mean it sincerely. As for when Goff starts, I've been of the opinion for a while that it's more a matter of when Keenum loses the job a la Nick Foles a year ago. Fisherball isn't meant to pile up yards. Foles was fine while the Rams scratched out a 3-2 start a year ago. When the wheels came off and they fell to 4-8, he was no longer a necessary component. Keenum now is cresting off of the benefit of helping the Rams to a positive finish to the season. Should the Rams struggle out of the gate? Sure, the fans will clamor for Goff. If the Rams can put up a winning record early behind the 175 or so yards per game Keenum will likely average? Wins cure everything. Even Fisherball.
DN: The Los Angeles Rams. Every time I see that combination of words it still feels like I'm playing Tecmo Super Bowl with Jim Everett. How weird is it to cover a team that just relocated in today's ever-connected blogosphere? Is the readership of Turf Show Times a much different group of people now that the team is in LA, or are you finding that most of the dieheard readers have stuck around after the move from St. Louis?
TST: Two things. One, I've been a fan since before the Rams left LA, so it's not as if I was a St. Louis Rams fan first and foremost. But more importantly, this relocation comes in the era of social media. And 24/7 media. And fan media. And media-focused media. What's been fascinating is how pervasive the coverage has been and yet how unrealistic. Much like labor talks or cultural topics (see: Colin Kaepernick), there's a vein of, uh, ugliness and a vein of wisdom that seeks the long-term effects and their meaning. I'd like to think TST contributed to the latter.
As for the audience? It's a work in progress. Certainly, we've lost a ton of St. Louis-area readers. Just like when the team left LA or when any franchise leaves, I don't disparage any fan from severing ties when their team leaves their hometown. I wish more people sympathized with that. And there's no doubt we've picked up a ton of new fans. Here's hoping we're able to teach them something about the Rams and about the NFL writ large.
DN: The Rams are this year's showcased team on the hit HBO show Hard Knocks. How accurately do you feel the team has been portrayed in the show? Are there parts of the team or certain players they're over- or under-selling? (Related: has Eric Kush started his own online tank top business yet?)
TST: It's Hard Knocks. It has to fill an hour covering football without getting into the Xs and Os. You've pretty much got 40 minutes from practices and preseason games and coaches yelling and swearing and that stuff. Then you've got 20 minutes of filler. Is it always "accurate?" Perhaps not. I'm not sure it's meant to be though. But damn if I wouldn't want this every year. And to come after the Rams are without former DE Chris Long and former CB Janoris Jenkins...I mean, those two could carry a show on their own.
DN: Since this is the fourth preseason game, most of the well-known players will be watching from the sidelines while the backups fight for roster spots. Which position battles are you most interested in heading into Thursday night's game? Are there any surprise cuts to previously established players that you see coming as the team whittles the roster down to 53 players?
The big ones for the Rams are at wide receiver and linebacker. Part of the issue is, as is always with the young roster fringe, special teams. The Rams have relied on three core special teams members in the last three years: LB Daren Bates, S Cody Davis and RB Chase Reynolds. Bates, a former Auburn standout, signed with the Raiders in free agency this offseason; Davis and Reynolds are no longer the youthful teams gunners of years past. So I think there's a fair chance that we see the Rams begin to groom a new crop of special teams-only guys. Last year, the Rams slotted seventh-round rookie LB Bryce Hager, UDFA LB Cameron Lynch and UDFA WR Bradley Marquez into teams roles (Marquez found some late-season WR snaps, but that's more a condemnation of the WR depth chart than an endorsement of Marquez as a wideout). So the chance the Rams select a group from the new wide receivers and linebackers to latch onto special teams work is pretty high, IMO. Who among the rookies makes the cut? Who the hell knows.
The Rams are overstuffed with young, undrafted talent. There's a coming decision between a trio of UDFA WRs in Nelson Spruce, Duke Williams and Paul McRoberts. Spruce is the superior possession wideout and helped confirm that in the Rams' first preseason game, though a injury since perhaps hurts the Rams' willingness to rely on his game readiness. Williams is overall the superior athlete, a 2014 stud at Auburn who fizzled in 2015 chiefly due to off-field "incidents."
At linebacker, Josh Forrest has perhaps a investment lead on the group as the sole draftee as a sixth-round pick over Nic Grigsby, Brandon Chubb and Cory Littleton. Chubb, Forrest and Littleton have gotten more special teams snaps in the Rams' three preseason games than any other player on the roster while Grigsby got more defensive playing time than anyone last weekend against the Broncos.
Surprise cuts for established players? Perhaps, but "established" isn't really something the Rams have much of after shedding DE Chris Long, MLB James Laurinaitis, CB Janoris Jenkins, FS Rodney McLeod and TE Jared Cook in a single offseason. Maybe QB Sean Mannion, the Rams' third-round pick from a year ago who got all of 7 snaps in 2015 and is now buried behind both Keenum and Goff on the depth chart? Maybe WR Brian Quick, the last of the Rams' three second-round picks in 2012 still on the team? After four NFL seasons (including a brutal shoulder/arm combination injury in 2014), Quick has averaged 16 receptions, 233.75 yards and 1.75 TDs per season, though his 2015 totals fell underneath all three of those. Maybe one of the aforementioned special teams core members in Davis or Reynolds. Jeff Fisher's not one to admit mistakes via late roster cuts very often...
DN: How good can Todd Gurley be this season? He's going extremely high in most fantasy drafts with good reason. How close is he to already being one of the best, if not the best, running backs in the league? Are there any parts of his game you'd like to see him improve this year?
TST: He's awesome. I guess if we're nitpicking, we could talk about blocking or receiving skill work, but those are asking for more from a player who gives plenty already. The bigger issue, as you guys know with Adrian Peterson and Rams fans (should...) know from Steven Jackson is that the running back position has limitations. There's only so much you can do as a RB to contribute to the most important factor...yanno, winning. Gurley won the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award while contributing to the league's worst offense in yards gained. Those two facts coexist. That should tell you something essential about the running back position in the modern era and, more importantly, something about the Rams offense under Fisherball.
DN: The Rams' defensive line is still stacked with players like Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and Michael Brockers. How do you see the rest of the defense stacking up this season? Are there any holes in the linebacking corps or secondary that concern you?
TST: Well, it's a huge question mark that we won't be able to answer for a couple of weeks. As I noted above, the Rams lost a starting defender at every level from 2015: a lineman in Chris Long, a linebacker in James Laurinaitis, a cornerback in Janoris Jenkins and a safety in Rodney McLeod. The Rams accounted for those losses by drafting exactly 0 starters to replace them.
Can the players tapped to fill those spots do so sufficiently in 2016? Perhaps. But it's worth pointing out that those players, whomever they are, were backups for a reason. Until we see them assume consistent performances that don't detract from the rest of the unit (and yes, it certainly helps to have the quality of the Rams' D-line they employ), there's fair reason for skepticism.
DN: A lot has been made about Jeff Fisher consistently going 7-9/8-8/finishing in the middle of the pack. His Rams teams usually do pretty well against the super-competitive NFC West but tend to falter against the rest of the league. Will this year be any different? Why or why not?
TST: There is exactly 0 reason to predict anything other than what we've seen from Fisherball only because we've seen so much of it. In all honesty, that's not what bothers me. What does is that the Rams are reportedly set to sign both Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher and General Manager Les Snead to contract extensions. (insert "everything is fine" comic here)
DN: Once you're done with Case Keenum, can we have him? (Only half kidding)
TST: I don't know what's sadder. That you're only half kidding or that we can't really afford to lose him right now.