There must have been something about going 2-14 in 2011.
Under new head coach Jeff Fisher, St. Louis won five more games than it had the previous season, finishing with a 7-8-1 record. More significantly, while the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks both won 11 games last year and were playoff-bound, the Rams owned the NFC West's best record within the division (4-1-1).
Unfortunately, that also meant a 3-7 mark vs. the rest of the NFL. Still, you have to crawl before you can walk.
But onto 2013, and here we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success this upcoming season. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.
So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the St. Louis Rams:
QB Sam Bradford: The No. 1 overall pick in 2010 comes off a bounce-back season, throwing 21 touchdown passes and only 13 interceptions. A year earlier, Bradford was limited to 10 games and threw just as may touchdown passes as interceptions (6). The Rams have upped the ante for their young signal-caller this season, adding rookie wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to an already young pass-catching corps. Free-agent pickup Jared Cook (Tennessee Titans) gives the club a downfield target at tight end.
RB Daryl Richardson: After nine seasons, including the last eight when he totaled 1,000 or more yards rushing, running back Steven Jackson opted to leave St. Louis and take his talents to Atlanta. Enter Richardson, a seventh-round pick from Abilene Christian a year ago who rushed for 475 yards on 98 carries in 2012. Rookie Zac Stacy will spell Richardson until second-year pro Isaiah Pead returns from his one-game suspension, but the Rams are hoping to improve on the NFL's 19th-ranked running game last season.
WR Tavon Austin: Say hello to the Rams' version of Percy Harvin. St. Louis moved up to the No. 8 spot in April's draft to grab the playmaker from West Virginia who hopes to help a team that has been remarkably consistent when it comes to not scoring points. St. Louis has now gone six consecutive seasons without reaching the 300-point mark, which means the club is averaging less than 20 points per game over the stretch. Austin figures to be a triple-threat in terms of receiving, rushing and returns.
OLB Alec Ogletree: Along with Austin, the Rams added another player via the first round in April with the drafting of Ogletree, who figures as the starter on the right side, opposite Jo-Lonn Dunbar and next to prolific tackler James Laurinaitis. The former Bulldog was one of many University of Georgia defensive players selected in the 2013 draft. Despite plenty of talent up front via defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn (the Rams tied for the NFL lead with 52 sacks last season), Ogletree could help this unit improve on its play against the run.
CB Janoris Jenkins: Without much fanfare, the second of St. Louis' second-round draft choices in 2012 enjoyed a very productive debut campaign. Jenkins led the Rams in passes defensed, totaled a team-high four interceptions (three of those returned for scores), and also returned a fumble for a touchdown. He teams with veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan to give Fisher's team a potent tandem. The addition of rookie free safety T.J. McDonald could be a boon to a secondary on the verge of breaking out.
So what can we expect from the Rams in 2013? Can the team post its first winning season since 2003? And who else will play an extremely pivotal role in the team's fortunes this season?
Jumping past the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West won't be easy.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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