While the St. Louis Rams play in the NFL’s toughest division, they were still hoping to compete for the NFC West title. Coming off of a 7-9 season that saw starting quarterback Sam Bradford miss most of the season with an ACL tear, the Rams were certainly looking to be competitive. Unfortunately, the team is in disarray again after losing Bradford for a second straight year to a torn ACL.
During Saturday’s preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, Bradford was hit by lineman Armonty Bryant. He then began clutching his left knee, the same one that he had operated on for an ACL tear last year. Initially, Bradford thought that he was okay, but that’s clearly not the case now.
Head coach Jeff Fisher will now hand the ball to 13-year veteran Shaun Hill, who’s mostly been a backup in stints with Minnesota (2002-05), San Francisco (2006-09) and Detroit (2010-13). Hill may get the longest starting role of his career since he’s only made 26 starts, going 13-13. So is this all terrible news for diehard St. Louis Rams bettors? Well, it’s definitely not good news…
The Rams were already facing an uphill battle in a division that includes Super Bowl champ Seattle Seahawks, NFC Championship participant San Francisco 49ers and the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals. Having Hill under center doesn’t exactly inspire the confidence that St. Louis can topple these NFC West giants.
It’s clear that they expect to stick with the veteran for now, but if that doesn’t work out, there are other options. Josh Freeman, Kyle Orton and Tyler Thigpen are all available through free agency. None of these QB’s sound particularly enticing, but they are there for the picking.
They could also swing trades with Washington for Kirk Cousins, or with Philadelphia for Mark Sanchez. The Cousins trade would be particularly attractive since he played well for Washington last year and is rumored to be outplaying Robert Griffin III. However, all of this may wait until Fisher and the front office have had a chance to see Hill starting a couple of regular season games.
“It makes no sense to jump and react right now and try to fill the hole, whatever it costs,” Fisher said. “We’re gonna take our time and evaluate this. There’s gonna be some quarterbacks that are released and there may or may not be some quarterbacks out there that have trade value. We just don’t know. It’s way too soon.”
What’s Left for the Rams?
One positive that’s left for St. Louis is their offensive line. This unit was notably bolstered in the offseason when the Rams drafted OT Greg Robinson with the second overall pick. The line was one reason why big things were expected for Bradford; now maybe we can expect above-average things for Shaun Hill.
Tailback Zac Stacy should also benefit from the linemens’ work. Stacy was one of the league’s best running backs over the second half of the season after racking up 973 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. And a large portion of his stats were accumulated after Bradford went down with a knee injury. The backfield will also feature Tre Mason, a third-rounder out of Auburn who’s slated for change-of-pace duties.
Besides the running game and O-line, one more definite strength for St. Louis will be their pass rush. The team returns Robert Quinn and Chris Long at defensive end, and Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford at tackle – this group combined for 38 sacks together. Look for the D-line to be even nastier with the second-round selection of Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald.
In most other divisions, the Rams would still have a shot at making the postseason. They have depth on defense and some nice offensive pieces in Robinson, Stacy and Mason. However, they’ll be playing six games against the Cardinals, Seahawks and Niners – three superior teams. So look for St. Louis to play out this season and search for an insurance quarterback in the draft.