In any sport, when a team falls out of the playoff race it often comes with a small silver lining – the opportunity to assess what the team has in some of its younger and backup players.
That is certainly the case with the St. Louis Rams. Although a week 15 loss to the Minnesota Vikings dropped them to 6-7-1 and lowered their playoff chances to almost nil, the Rams will enter the final two weeks with much to still be decided.
One area of particular interest is the wide receiver group. Some degree of uncertainty surrounds each of the Rams receivers. Will Danny Amendola, a free agent after the season, return in 2013? Have Austin Pettis and Brandon Gibson, two holdovers from the previous regime, done enough to earn a spot on next year’s team? Will rookies Chris Givens and Brian Quick, microcosms of a team with the lowest average age of any roster in the NFL, be consistent contributors going forward?
As far as the young receivers are concerned, quarterback Sam Bradford said the more time he has to mesh with them, the better.
“Since we are so young, I look at the wide receivers that I get to work with, just Quick and Givens and how far they’ve come and how much progress they make each week,” Bradford said. “Just watching the improvement and route running, understanding our system and what it is that they’re to do in our system. There’s no doubt that even though it’s Week 16, playing our 15th game, there’s still a lot of improvement that we can make and there’s still a lot of room for us to come together.”
Another spot worth watching in the final two games is running back. Much has been made about Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson’s ability to opt out of the final year of his contract after this season, leaving the future of the position in question. The Rams used two picks on running backs in the 2012 NFL Draft, including a second-round pick on Isaiah Pead, but there is still some concern as to whether either is fit to take over the workload if Jackson were to depart.
In sticking with a theme, the offensive line is also a work-in-progress heading into next season. The Rams have had starters Rodger Saffold and Scott Wells miss multiple games due to injuries, and starting right guard Harvey Dahl will miss the final two games with a torn biceps. The Rams rank 23rd in the league in sacks allowed and 24th in quarterback hits according to NFL.com, an area they’d like to improve in going forward.
The playoffs may be out of reach – despite head coach Jeff Fisher’s appeal to a Lloyd Christmas-type calculation of the odds after Wednesday’s practice – but make no mistake: for these young Rams, there’s still plenty left to play for in 2012.