Rams in no hurry to give Sean Mannion opportunity at quarterback

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the eyes of many St. Louis Rams fans, rookie quarterback Sean Mannion is the most popular player on the roster.

That popularity is the product of an interesting conundrum: Mannion is the only one of the three quarterbacks not to start a game, which means the fact he's an unknown gives hope that he can offer hope to the team's quarterback woes. At the same time, that inexperience also makes him mostly unqualified to come in and play well right away in his rookie season.

After weeks of watching Nick Foles struggles and with Case Keenum coming off a concussion and struggling in his lone start, the demands to give Mannion an opportunity have grown louder. Mannion got his first taste of NFL action in mop up duty last week against Cincinnati, completing 6 of 7 for 31 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

By that time, the Bengals had made it clear they were willing to give up short completions and keep the clock running though Rams coach Jeff Fisher used his three timeouts despite being down 24 in an effort to get Mannion more reps. So while Mannion did OK in his small sample size, there wasn't much to take from it other than him getting a chance to get some NFL snaps under his belt.

“Well, he’s doing everything he can," Fisher said. "He’s been in the meetings with the quarterbacks every day since the draft. He got reps during camp. He got to play in preseason games. Once you get in the regular season, your ones and twos are getting the reps. It’s hard to get your three reps. Number one gets probably 95 percent of the reps. Your No. 2 gets to work against the defense. Last week because of the circumstances, Sean got a little bit more work against the defense. But, I think when he comes in the game in mop up situations like that where the defense declared itself and still 6 of 7 and making good decisions and putting the ball where he’s supposed to, there’s light there and there’s hope there.”

The Rams used the second of their third-round picks in this year's draft on Mannion, who, if nothing else, at least looks the part of a prototypical NFL quarterback at 6-foot-6, 233 pounds. Mannion appears to have the strongest arm of the team's three signal-callers (which admittedly isn't saying a whole lot), and he comes from a pro-style offense at Oregon State that has made his transition to an NFL scheme a bit easier.

But there are plenty of reasons not to just throw Mannion to the wolves right now. First and foremost, the Rams have been working to get Mannion to clean up his fundamentals and speed up his delivery. While that process has been underway, it's important to remember that Mannion doesn't get a lot of reps in practice to work on such things.

Mannion did get a small taste of the speed at which things have to be done in last week's game.

“You get a taste of it in the preseason," Mannion said. "Everybody tells you, and I think it’s true, preseason is a whole different animal compared to the regular season. It was great to get in there. I tried to play a simple game. I focused on getting the ball out of my hand fast, being accurate, completing some passes. I think the other thing is trying to stay engaged all game long on the sideline — helping the defense, doing whatever I can to help Nick [Foles] — tell him if I see anything, or ask if he wants me to look at anything in particular. I think staying engaged all game long really helped me to be prepared for the looks. I just tried to complete some passes and operate the offense.”

Adding to that, if the Rams view Mannion as a long-term option, they have to ask themselves if it's really wise to put him in the lineup with this offensive line in front of him. Playing in this offense at this point doesn't seem like a good option if you're looking to build confidence in a young quarterback.

The counter to that argument is that the Rams could get a look at Mannion over the final five weeks and try to use that as a barometer on just how deep their need for help at quarterback runs. Of course, a small sample size with a rookie quarterback in an unfavorable situation also isn't the best way to gauge his future in the league, either.

Which means that maybe the Rams' best course of action is to begin keeping Mannion active on gamedays and try to find snaps for him here and there. If they have more blowouts, he can come in and clean up late or maybe they can sneak him a series or two during games if and when things don't go well for Foles or Keenum.

Fisher said Monday that he and the Rams view Mannion as a potential long-term starter or else they wouldn't have drafted him when they did. Fisher also offered a reminder that, for him, long-term doesn't mean less than a year.

“That’s correct, yeah," Fisher said. "Not many teams have drafted a quarterback in the third round and started him as a rookie either. It takes time.”