2012 NFL Preview: St. Louis Rams

Five notes on the St. Louis Rams from our recently published 2012 preview page:

1. Fourth place not a given: One year ago, the Rams were riding a wave of positive feelings. They were a near-consensus choice to win the NFC West title. They finished 2-14 instead. Injuries and a tougher-than-expected schedule played a role in the Rams' demise. The team is clearly more talented at this time. Quarterback questions elsewhere in the division give the Rams a chance to surprise by finishing outside the cellar this year. For that to happen, however, the Rams will need to build some continuity on the offensive line. That has been a huge challenge to this point.

2. The offense has come full circle: The Rams were determined to lean on the ground game when Sam Bradford was a rookie in 2010. They wanted Bradford to carry the offense last season. Now, under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the Rams hope to be more run-oriented again. This will be the most run-oriented scheme the Rams have run since Scott Linehan was head coach, and probably longer. Running back Steven Jackson feels a responsibility to "set the tempo" for the Rams' offense to a degree he hasn't had to do in the past. He's going to get his carries. Only an injury figures to prevent Jackson from topping 1,000 yards rushing for an eighth consecutive season.

3. MLB has a chance to grow: London Fletcher, Antonio Pierce, Jonathan Vilma and Mike Singletary are among the middle linebackers to play in the general defensive system Jeff Fisher has brought to the Rams. James Laurinaitis is next in line. Laurinaitis has been a good player already. The Rams have gotten bigger at defensive tackle. Their new defensive system should let Laurinaitis grow. Laurinaitis: "When the quarterback makes a check, the mike 'backer has to be able to counter. When the quarterback makes a check, the mike 'backer has to be able to make a countercheck and just get a feel for a football game. I relish that role, I relish that responsibility. I love the fact that the coach is going to say to me, 'If you see something on the field, you make the call. You're not going to be wrong, you're the one playing, you make the call.'"

4. Onward and upward: The Rams weren't the only team to whiff with their first-round choice in 2009, the year they made Jason Smith the second overall pick. Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry and Andre Smith haven't exactly lit up the league as players drafted among the top six. The Rams' decision to trade Smith for Jets tackle Wayne Hunter shows that new offensive line coach Paul T. Boudreau was serious about playing the best five players, regardless of draft status. Boudreau never catered to early draft choices while with Atlanta, where Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo rose to prominence as undrafted players. The Rams are following a similar path.

5. Plenty of action for Jenkins: If the preseason is any indication, opposing quarterbacks will be firing quite a few passes Janoris Jenkins' way. The rookie cornerback has impressed during camp, but Tony Romo and others have had their moments against the second-round choice from North Alabama. Teams could be more willing to test Jenkins than veteran Cortland Finnegan on the other side. Jenkins has the talent to capitalize on the opportunities. He might need to be a little more patient, however.

Earlier: Rams Camp Confidential.

Parting shot from Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: "They had as good an offseason as anybody out there. They had a good free agency. The draft did not treat them perfectly but the trade with Washington was huge. They can build the team in Jeff Fisher's likeness. This defense has a chance to be quite good now, and only get better. Offensively, I still have my questions. The line is a mess. Is Sam Bradford going backward? I'm questioning that for the first time in his career. The receivers, they've thrown so much at the fan and I'm not sure it's going to stick. The vibe long term is favorable but they are in for a long year."