Training camp for the St. Louis Rams has begun in Earth City. Saturday's practice was be the first open to the public, and from this day forth fans will wander around Rams Park and watch humongous men lightly hit each other and run mundane drills while thinking to themselves "hey, these guys just might have a shot... they look pretty good to me!"
The NFL, to its credit, is the one professional sports league where truly awful teams can become playoff contenders year to year. So this wild-eyed optimism from some fans may seem quite ridiculous, but on the other hand, strange and miraculous turn-around stories seem to crop up every single season in the NFL.
So, perhaps, the Rams can make a run for the postseason. Maybe?
I know, I know. Getting nine to 10 more wins than you had season over season is not likely. And I wouldn't feel comfortable taking even a small wager on it, if gambling on the NFL were legal. But what if? How would that even happen? What would it take?
Glad you asked.
These 6 things must happen for the St. Louis Rams to make the playoffs in 2010.
Steven Jackson must be the MVP.
Not just in the discussion for the best player in the NFL honors, but a clear and unassailable pick for the award. So good that he makes Chris Johnson's 2009 look like child's play. So good we struggle to put it in perspective with any of Marshall Faulk's masterpieces.
He's capable of this. He's shown extended flashes of brilliance in his tenure with St. Louis. But he hasn't had that signature season where every Ram fan says "Steven Jackson had the best season ever..." and was able to hold his own in a bar argument.
His back health will obviously factor in this, so a subset of this point would be health for SJ39's back. If he misses more that 1 game with some sort of ailment, this won't happen. And neither will the Rams playing in late January.
Mardy Gilyard must be the new DeSean Jackson.
I would argue to anyone that the most glaring weakness of the Rams the past 3 seasons has been the complete and total absence of any playmakers on either side of the ball. Guys who find the ball and make people miss in space.
Mardy Gilyard doesn't have good measurable. He's too short, too slow and not all that athletic. But anyone who watched a Cincinnati Bearcats game in 2009 saw a guy who got the ball and made everyone look foolish. He made big plays in clutch times and generally was one player that relished the opportunity to bury the opponent.
DeSean Jackson had a bad reputation that caused the Eagles to steal him way later than his value a couple years back. Gilyard needs to be an even bigger steal for the Rams. Have him return punts and kicks. Set him up in special formations and let him make plays. The other receivers on this team are what they are. Gilyard is a wild card. He's got to turn up everywhere.
The defense has to listen to James Laurinaitis.
And not just on the field as he's calling defenses from his MLB position. Off-the field as well. James Laurinaitis was heads and shoulders above the other defensive players in the 2009 season as a rookie and all indications are that he was wholly disgusted with how the season went. He's dedicated himself to making himself a dangerous force in the middle for the Rams.
It's not common for a second year player to be the heart and soul of a defense, but in the Rams' case, it's true.
The other players on this side of the ball must surrender any ego they have and emulate JL to the fullest of their capabilities. Follow this guy implicitly and do as he says. Do as he does. Become intimate with how he acts and plays. Do whatever he is doing at all times and you'll have to be a better defender.
Sam Bradford better earn his money.
He's going to get the most money guaranteed in an NFL contract. Ever. So expecting him to be the best player in the NFL might be a bit of a reach. Especially since he's already missed a couple of practices, and the coaching staff will hold these absences against him 6 weeks from now when they bench him for the opener.
But when he does get on the field, we better all be going ‘WHOA!'
He's going to do rookie things. And people are going to point this out pretty much every game, all game. But if we can forget that he's a rookie for long stretches at a time and just watch him play football- then the Rams might be on to something.
If Mr. Bradford is constantly struggling or giving away big possessions with turnovers or sacks, then the Rams are in trouble and their shot at the playoffs is done. He doesn't need to be Peyton Manning, but he's going to have to contribute in a healthy way.
St. Louis must get fired up.
I go to almost every Rams home game. Even some on the road, when I can. And without a doubt, the dome is not nearly as intimidating a place to play as it once was. Fans expect the worst and the Rams have done their very best to provide it to us in heaping helpings of fail.
But the best thing about losing so much is that winning only a few in a row will re-energize a base.
Take the Cardinals for instance. They're in a virtual tie for first place in the NL Central and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone feeling real positive about the team. They've set the bar high and are not meeting expectations.
The Rams, however... if they were in a tie for first place 3/5 though the season? It'd be awesome. The fans would be packing the EJD again and the momentum of a frenzied crowd really does help a team in the NFL.
I've always maintained that there is no better place to be on than in a packed NFL stadium on a Sunday. A little miniature three-game winning streak may be what Peyton Manning craps out at night, but in St. Louis, the Rams could ride the momentum a long way.
The Rams have to stay dressed.
Good teams in the NFL have depth. The Rams barely have enough guys that can start, let alone come in and replace the investable injuries with reasonable approximations of the starters. Guys are going to get banged in this sport- but they can't be the season ending jobs that have been way too pervasive the past 3 seasons in St. Louis.
Guys have to be on the field. And if they absolutely must miss a game or two, it can't all of a sudden turn into an IR situation.
There is no possible way for the Rams to prepare for this, good or bad. It's just sheer luck. Something that has been in great shortfalls recently for the team and the fans.
Will any of this happen? Maybe.
Will most of this not happen? Probably.
But at least we've got football on the horizon. And with a boatload of great fortune and incredible luck the Rams might just be looking at the postseason.*
* We will revisit this piece in about 8 weeks and see just how ridiculous it is. That should be fun.