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Rams mailbag: Finding a breakout candidate

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams still haven't started organized team activities but they are moving ever closer. With the spring owners meetings in the rearview mirror, it's clear there's no shortage of things to talk about.

So let's not waste any more time.

As always, you can find me @nwagoner on Twitter. Be sure to use the hashtag #RamsMail.

@nwagoner: That's a good question. I guess we have to start with narrowing down who would qualify as "breakout." For example, I expected DT Aaron Donald to be even better in year two but it's not really a breakout when a player already is as good as he is. So I'll go with a couple of defenders as my choices. First, cornerback E.J. Gaines. He got a lot of respect for how he played as a rookie, but he's already so polished and should only be better with a year under his belt. I expect him to win a starting outside corner job and be even better and more consistent in his second year. Also, safety T.J. McDonald made strides last year, but he should continue to build on how he finished the season now that he's in coordinator Gregg Williams' defense for a second consecutive year. McDonald looked like a legitimate Pro Bowl candidate at times during the second half of the season. If he can be more consistent all year, it wouldn't be a surprise if he started to get more national recognition.

@nwagoner: I guess I'd respond to the question with a question: Talented enough to do what, exactly? Are they talented enough to consistently produce and keep defenses honest? I think they are, but I also think your overall point has merit. I'd stop short of saying they need a Hall of Fame running back to balance that out, but I do think a strong running game would be beneficial to the receivers. The Rams don't have a true No. 1 receiver on the roster, in my opinion, but considering the type of offense they want to be, they can get away with it if indeed the run game revs the way they hope it will. Quick and Britt won't be seen running free in many secondaries, but with their size, they can win contested catches. If they do it enough, the Rams will be OK at receiver. An upgrade at the position still wouldn't hurt at some point, though.

@nwagoner: Yes, I think they value him. They clearly value their high draft picks and are hesitant to give up on them (see: Pead, Isaiah). But valuing a guy and being able to use him are two different things. If you want to look at the glass as half full, Austin could represent a nice change-of-pace piece to a big, physical, grind-it-out offense. If you want to see it as half empty, then you look at who the Rams are now trying to be offensively and wonder how Austin fits in. I tend to lean toward the latter. New coordinator Frank Cignetti has said they believe they can find better and more ways to use Austin in the offense. Time will tell. There's no denying his talent and ability. The question is, once again, whether the Rams can figure how best to bring it out of him. Otherwise, he's just a dangerous punt returner at this point in his career.

@nwagoner: Interesting question, given what the Rams are doing with the offense. They actually signed a true fullback as an undrafted free agent in Zach Laskey from Georgia Tech. Jeff Fisher had good things to say about Laskey when asked about him at the team's rookie orientation. We'll see if he gets a real chance at winning that job. Otherwise, I think you've got the right idea but the wrong tight end to fill that role. Cory Harkey did most of that job a year ago and is a key piece of the offense moving forward. I'd expect him to be the guy to handle most of those duties again in 2015.

@nwagoner: As I wrote on Friday, the Rams are a candidate because of the way the league has set up the guidelines for the show. Teams with a new coach, teams that have appeared in the playoffs in the past two years and/or teams that have appeared on the show in the past decade are exempt. That leaves nine organizations that can be chosen by the league and "forced" to do it. The Rams are one of those nine teams. But it's almost certain they won't be doing it. They have never had much interest in appearing and the league and HBO already seem to be favoring different options. I wouldn't expect anything to materialize here.