Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rams' 2014 pre-draft visits

It's that time of year again... all 32 NFL teams are allowed to invite 30 draft prospects (plus an unlimited number of prospects "local" to each team) to their facilities for pre-draft visits, mainly another chance for the staffs to get to know the players better.

Under Jeff Fisher and Les Snead, the Rams' annual guest lists have been very informative of which players' names they're going to call on draft day. For sure, four of the Rams' first six picks were in for pre-draft visits in 2012, and I believe every player they drafted last year had come for a visit. It's also worth noting that last year's invite list was pretty heavy with WRs and LBs, which is where the Rams went with their first two picks.

I'm not positive if Zac Stacy visited last year or not, and therein lies a little problem. Either because they're unable to have their ear to the ground at the right times, or the Rams ask to have some visits kept quiet, local media hasn't reported all of the pre-draft visits here in the Fisher era. We only found out T.J. McDonald and Stedman Bailey had official visits last year after they were drafted. I'll remain vigilant in keeping the list of visiting players up-to-date, but I'll need some quality help, OK?

Here's who we know has visited Rams Park so far, or is expected to: (updated 4/17)

Maurice Alexander, S, Utah State (local)

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Joel Bitonio, T, Nevada

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (told a reporter he's coming here)

Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt (only rumored for now)

Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri (local)

Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Reggie Jordan, TE/FB, Missouri Western (local)

Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan

Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (April 9-10)

Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M (scheduled to visit, per Jeff Fisher)

Greg Robinson, T, Auburn

Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh

Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame

Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota State (April 16)

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson



I'll update and bump this list to the top of the blog as updates come in.

-$-

Rams' preseason opponents announced

The Rams will open the 2014 preseason at home against the Saints sometime between August 7th and 11th. (I'll guess the 10th.) They're also at home for the second week of preseason before going on the road for the last two games. The schedule:

August 7-11     New Orleans

August 14-18   Green Bay

August 21-25   @ Cleveland

August 28-29   @ Miami

Closing the preseason with two road games makes me wonder if the Rams get to open the regular season at home. If they are, I'll guess the Vikings or Raiders as the opening week guests. Denver @ Seattle is probably the league Thursday night opener. 49ers should be home the first week to open their new stadium. Arizona opened here last year, doesn't seem fair to make them do it again. And the league will prefer more marquee week 1 matchups for the Cowboys and Giants.

It's been noted there's no Governor's Cup for the second straight preseason, but it'll be on the line when the Rams play in Arrowhead in the regular season. It wasn't held in Kansas City last year because of some conflict with the Royals, so let's charge the Chiefs for a loss for that one.

-$-

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pillars of the Rams community, and not

Dear Rams front office:
These are the kind of things we fans love to hear that Rams players are doing off the field:

* Robert Quinn and Will Witherspoon went to Kenya and I believe Uganda last month with the Starkey Hearing Foundation on a mission to provide hearing aids for the hearing impaired. 

* James Laurinaitis and Jake McQuaide visited child cancer patients at a local hospital.

* Austin Pettis hosted a charity basketball game and football camp for kids in Orange, California, as a benefit for his charitable foundation. Trumaine Johnson, T.J. McDonald and Brian Quick all took part in the festivities.

* Jared Cook will host a golf tournament in May to raise money for military families. Before coming to the Rams, he was the Titans Community Man of the Year.

Here, on the other hand, is the type of off-field activity we're not so thrilled about:
* Within a week of signing with the Rams as a free agent, cornerback Greg Reid was thrown in jail in Georgia for violating the terms of his probation. He was riding in a car that got pulled over for a seatbelt violation, and was arrested because there was a warrant out on him, reportedly for failing to check in with his probation officer. I'd hardly call Reid a thug for allowing this to happen, but it's at best a MAJOR oversight on his part. You're an NFL player, you have to take enough responsibility for yourself not to let this kind of thing happen. This should give the Rams plenty of reason, as if there wasn't enough already, not to put themselves in a position of relying on Reid, but instead, they scrambled as fast as they could at Rams Park to say the arrest wouldn't affect his status with the team. Lovely.

* Lovelier: the signing of disaster-waiting-to-happen WR Kenny Britt to a one-year contract last week. Mr. Britt's vital statistics:

2009: (rookie year) 42 receptions, 701 yards, 3 TDs.

2010: 42 receptions, 775 yards, 9 TDs, arrested twice, in New Jersey and Tennessee, for at least five different moving violations.

2011: 17 receptions, 289 yards, 3 TDs, torn MCL and ACL,  and FOUR arrests. One because he didn't pay a friend's bail as promised. One for causing a police chase in April. That was pled down to careless driving, which he pled guilty to in June. THE NEXT DAY New Jersey narcotics officers arrested him for resisting arrest for allegedly trying to hide a joint from them. In July he turned himself in to Tennessee authorities for lying on his driver's license application.

2012: 45 receptions, 589 yards, 4 TDs, and a DUI arrest in Kentucky, marking the eighth time he'd been arrested since being drafted. Suspended by the league for the first week of the season.

2013: 11 catches, 96 yards, no TDs. Eventually benched by Titans coaches for dropped passes and dumb penalties. Also had an incident in January where he didn't cooperate with police after taking a friend who'd been involved in a stabbing to the hospital.

Wonder if the was the same friend whose bail he was supposed to pay in 2011.

The Rams are so bad at wide receiver that I get why they signed Britt. His first two seasons were very promising. They are in awful need of the big-receiver and deep-ball skills Britt showed those first two seasons. Maybe if you get him away from that one friend, and don't let him drive himself ANYWHERE, maybe Jeff Fisher gives him what appears to be needed tough-love surrogate parenting, maybe Ray Sherman remembers how to coach up big WRs again, maybe you have a big redemption story.

Maybe it's the guys in the first part of this letter that even make it possible to think that hopefully of a career idiot like Kenny Britt. I'd encourage Britt to prove me wrong by staying clean and playing his butt off.

But I'd encourage the Rams to do more to give us players we can root for because of what they do instead of being fed more and more players we're asked to root for despite themselves. At least try. Signing numbskulls like Britt and Reid isn't even trying.

Thanks, and go Rams,
Mike

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rams free agent signing: Shaun Hill

AP / mlive.com
RamView hasn't had the kindest things to say about quarterback Shaun Hill over the years. Namely: he's a "hack"; he throws a football like he's trying to launch a shot put; he telegraphs his throws; his passes have hang time and are challenged to cut through a modest headwind; and he has a noodle arm to make Steve Walsh look like John Elway. But, the Rams had to fill a roster hole at QB2 after losing Kellen Clemens to San Diego, and in signing Hill, they've upgraded at the position.

Hill, 34 years old, 6'3" 220, has a .500 lifetime record, thanks in part to his mesmerizing sway over the Rams. Not only has he never lost to the Rams, in 2008, he led the 49ers to a 35-0 victory over St. Louis, and 2 years later, led the Lions over the Rams in an even more humiliating 44-6 fiasco. Most of Hill's career action has been in that 2008-2010 timeframe; he's only thrown 16 passes the past three seasons (completing 12). His numbers add up, though. His career passer rating (85.9) is better than Sam Bradford's (QB controversy!!). He's completed 61.9% of his career passes (62.8 in 9 games in 2008, 61.8 in 11 games in 2010). The number of Hill's I, and I'm guessing Jeff Fisher, like best is that he has a nearly 2:1 career TD:INT ration (41:23). That's a huge advantage over Clemens, who's been more in the 1:1 range. And though, hell no, Hill doesn't have a big arm, Clemens' arm strength advantage is trumped by Hill's accuracy and ability to avoid INTs. Hill's been an effective game manager and an accurate short passer who'll kill a defense with checkdowns and underneath stuff if you give him time.

The main caveat about Hill is that he's coming off offseason foot surgery for the second straight season and isn't a lock to participate in OTAs. But, unless he'd have difficulty with Brian Schottenheimer's system, which no one anywhere expects, the Rams have landed one of the better backup QBs in the league and still have a QB aboard good enough to keep the offense afloat if (when?) Bradford gets hurt again.

-$-

Rams free agent signing: Alex Carrington

Associated Press
The Rams addressed a depth issue at defensive tackle by signing 26-year-old free agent Alex Carrington (6'5” 301) away from the Buffalo Bills. A third-round pick in 2010 as a defensive end, Carrington was a wash-out in Buffalo until they figured out to kick him inside. He's graded out negatively inside as a run defender, but has been a strong bull-rusher and a consistent pass pressure factor as a DT. Mike Waufle will like that Carrington can play all over the line and provide pocket push off the bench the Rams haven't really been getting at DT. John Fassel will like that Carrington blocked FOUR kicks in 2012.

It's not like Carrington is any kind of sack machine. Pro Football Focus loves his ability to penetrate the pocket to the point they have called him a “secret superstar”, but he has a whole 4 career sacks and was never higher than fourth on the DT depth chart in Buffalo. He also missed almost all of last season due to a torn quadriceps. But he should be comfortable enough in the Rams' system, and the team needed to get better depth behind Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford. He's more athletic and more productive than either Jermelle Cudjo or Matt Conrath. Carrington's pass rush ability gives the Rams someone they can rotate in and have the two stud Dts fresher for the 4th quarter.

Also, you can't have a dynasty without a Carrington. (Ask your parents.)

-$-

Rams free agent signing: Greg Reid

Sports Illustrated
With holes in a secondary that was disappointing last season anyway, the Rams made a low-risk signing March 23rd of former Florida State cornerback Greg Reid. Well, low-risk in that it won't cost anything if they end up cutting him. An undrafted 2013 rookie free agent, Reid himself is a pretty high-risk combination of Janoris Jenkins' off-field record and Danario Alexander's knees. Reid started shooting down a pretty promising football career in 2011, getting kicked off the FSU football team for “multiple arrests”, including a marijiuana possession/driving with suspended license combo. He transferred to Valdosta State in 2012 but tore an ACL and missed the season. He was invited to the 2013 NFL Combine, but while training for it, learned he had torn that ACL again. As a result, he hasn't played football in 2 years.

Reid's on-field resume at Florida State wasn't half-bad. He was a freshman all-American punt returner, leading the NCAA with an average of 18.4 yards a bringback. He started at nickelback the next two season, intercepting 5 passes, with 14 pass breakups and 17 pass defenses just in 2010. He returned three punts for TDs and would have broken Deion Sanders' school record for career kickoff returns had he finished out his career at FSU. (Yet, curiously, Jeff Fisher, who must not have actually watched any of the Rams' kickoff returns last season, recently said the Rams do not have a need for a returner.)

Pros from the scouts: Electrifying special teams player. Natural playmaker, tremendous elusiveness and field vision makes him a threat to score any time he touches the ball. Aggressive tackler and vicious hitter. Moves fluidly and tracks the ball well. Shows well in big games.

Cons: Only 5'8” 178. (Has been listed as high as 190.) Too small to line him up outside. Only did 10 bench presses; Rams owner Stan Kroenke has done 12. His 40 time has been reported at 4.58, but Gil Brandt reported him at 4.69 with an underwhelming 30” vertical. He actually pulled a hamstring on his 2nd run. Instincts and technique need to be better. Gets beaten in man coverage and gives up big plays.

Early speculation has already got Reid installed as the Rams' nickelback ahead of disappointing 2013 rookie Brandon McGee, but let's slow our roll just a bit. We're talking about a guy who's too small, too weak, too slow, and hasn't played in two years. Might just want to wait till at least training camp before we start sending the guy to the Pro Bowl. The Rams were reportedly happy with his workout, though, and since Jenkins seems to have very much cleaned up his act after getting kicked out of a major program, there's reason to believe Rams Park will be a good place for Reid to pull his career back together. Who knows, maybe he can even return kickoffs in the event Jeff Fisher figures out the Rams need someone who can do that.

-$-

Rams free agent signing: Etienne Sabino

Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Etienne Sabino" sounds more likely to be the answer to "Who are you wearing?" than "Who's that at linebacker?", but Sabino's designs are indeed on playing LB for the Rams, who signed him as an unrestricted free agent March 24.

Just 23 years old, Sabino's a rookie for all intents and purposes; the 6'3" 237 LB didn't play last season after the Giants cut him in training camp. He had been projected as a 6th-round pick in the 2013 draft but was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. He ran a 4.75 40 at the 2013 Combine, with 24 bench presses and a 9'6" broad jump. He recorded a 34" vertical and a 4.41 shuttle at Ohio State's pro day.

Sabino's Ohio State career sounds like a lot of unfulfilled promise. He actually backed up James Laurinaitis in 2008, coming to Columbus as the #1 high school inside LB in the country. He was a special teams ace as a freshman and sophomore, winning one game by returning a punt he'd also blocked for a TD. He didn't start for the Buckeyes until 2011, though, earning all-Big Ten honorable mention in 2012, getting 45 tackles in only 8 games, missing the rest of the season due to a broken fibula.

Scouts like Sabino's smarts, his athletic frame and excellent range. He covers sideline to sideline and can run people down from behind. He's an effective downhill player, an athletic blitzer who's hard to keep out of the backfield on A-gap blitzes. He has strength, length and violent hands to shed blockers and fight through blocks, along with a powerful punch that can disrupt pulling blockers. He doesn't miss tackles, always hustles to the ball and has enough speed to string out outside runs. He's got the potential to help the Rams at Mike LB or at Sam.

There are serious concerns both with Sabino's short-area quickness and instincts, though. He doesn't have good change of direction or burst and has to think way too much out on the field, all of which consistently leaves him a step behind in coverage. He doesn't move well laterally and doesn't have a good feel for pass coverage. He needs to play with better balance and take better angles. He tends to leave his hands down when attacking blockers, but otherwise plays too high and doesn't break down well against runners in the hole.

Sabino sounds like a very good athlete who just lacks the instincts to be an elite player. Theoretically he's taking over Will Witherspoon's vacated roster spot (the Rams have not shown any interest in re-signing Will), and has a chance to contribute on special teams and back up Laurinaitis. Realistically, he'll be challenged again to make it past training camp, where he'll be at best the 6th LB, with Jo-Lonn Dunbar the first LB off the bench and Daren Bates and Ray Ray the Penalty Machine likely to be in line to play on the 2nd unit defense. Sabino also likely will have to beat out practice squadder Caleb McSurdy and a draft pick. He has a lot of flaws to fix, but he's got a good chance to develop under the Rams' excellent defensive coaching staff. It's an opportunity he'll have to make the most of.

-$-