Be warned: Quinn believes he can improve

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Forget for a moment the freakish athleticism. Put aside the elite speed. Don't acknowledge the explosive ability to transition from quickness to power.

All of those things combine to form the pass rushing terror that is St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn.

Now consider Quinn just turned 24 in May and members of his coaching staff still believe him to be something of a pass rushing neophyte.

That thought is where a full night's rest for offensive coordinators and tackles goes to die.

"It's scary for offensive tackles, not scary for us," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He's got a great future ahead of him."

Quinn's past and present are none too shabby in their own right. Now entering his fourth season, Quinn's breakout 2013 caught on as fast as he bends the edge around helpless offensive tackles. By the time Quinn was through destroying offensive game plans, he had 57 tackles, 19 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Quinn earned first-team All-Pro honors and made his first trip to the Pro Bowl. In about a year, he's not only landed on various top players lists but found himself near the top. Grantland's Bill Barnwell ranked Quinn as the seventh-most valuable player in the league in his trade value rankings. ESPN's Mike Sando and Mel Kiper Jr. placed Quinn second on their list of the 25 best players under 25 years old.

But the scary part of Quinn's age isn't the number itself so much as the potential for continued growth that accompanies it.

Put simply, Quinn can and will get better. For proof, one needs only to see his growth as a run defender in 2013. While his pass rushing abilities have never been a question mark, his struggles against the run often resulted in a rotation which took him out of the mix on obvious running downs.

Quinn clearly improved in that regard in 2013, coming up with 26 run stuffs (solo tackles on plays considered an offensive failure) according to Pro Football Focus.

That's also the area of his game Quinn still sees in need of most improvement. Quinn spent his offseason working on a little bit of everything. He says he added strength and made it a point to work on increasing leverage and hand usage.

"(I want to) be more stout in the run," Quinn said. "I'm a smaller end so they might attack me a little more, so I constantly want to push myself to be the best complete player I can be and try to take any weakness out of my game."

While Quinn's ability to stop the run is important, let's be real here, it's his ability to get after quarterbacks that will earn him a mega payday. For the record, the Rams have him under control for less than $10 million total over the next two seasons, but don't be surprised if the Rams start extension talks with him next offseason.

When that time comes, however, there's a very real chance Quinn will have done nothing but increase his standing as the league's best 4-3 defensive end.

Quinn's speed off the edge and agility to bend around tackles is so jarring that he often beats offensive tackles by simply running around them. But there are ways he can better use his hands to disengage blockers, and he'd like to add more counter moves to his arsenal.

"Pass rushing is an art and you can get better at it," Fisher said. "You can anticipate, you can get better with counter moves, get better on each opponent. He's taking a lot of time, studying, and I think he knows how to approach each opponent week in and week out, he understands the system very well. One would think he'd probably have better numbers than he did last year."

Improving upon 2013 will be tough but if he can do it, Quinn has a chance to approach Michael Strahan's season sack record of 22.5.

One way that could be possible is for the Rams to more consistently build a lead in games. Nine of Quinn's sacks came with the Rams leading and four more came in tied games in 2013.

On the rare occasions when the Rams held a double-digit advantage, Quinn was at his best. Six of his final eight sacks came with the Rams leading by at least 10.

And though Quinn figures to draw more attention from blockers, the Rams have plenty of other linemen more than capable of generating pressure and a defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams who can create it with blitzes if necessary.

Fellow end William Hayes, who is part of that defensive line depth, doesn't believe additional attention will affect Quinn. He's just too much to handle.

"Rob's not just cool with what he had last year," Hayes said. "Rob wants to be the best. Rob's the best football player I've ever seen in my life. I'm saying at any position. He does stuff I've never seen. He's special."

In discussing his goals for 2014, Quinn has played coy. He offered a resounding "maybe" when first asked if he was targeting Strahan's record. After asking if he could plead the fifth when asked again, Quinn acknowledged that it's at least crossed his mind.

"I'm sure any D-lineman or anybody coming for sacks wants to take down that record but you've got to go one sack at a time," Quinn said. "I've got a lot of work to do to better myself."

For those who stand in his way, it's a terrifying idea. What makes it worse is that it's true.