It is a long time since 1999, when Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Marshal Faulk and co were taking the St Louis Rams to Super Bowl glory.
The 2013 season was supposed to be a big season for the team. The season in which Sam Bradford finally showed that he could be the man capable of leading the franchise to the next level. The season that the team was able to kick on and take the fight to their divisional rivals, Seattle and San Francisco in particular.
It hasn’t worked out that way. The Rams currently sit at 4-6 and lie at the bottom of the NFC West. Their main rivals are playoff-bound again and Rams fans have another offseason of reflection ahead of them.
Sam Bradford’s torn ACL in week 7 against Carolina ended his (and effectively St Louis’) season as the Rams replaced him with back-up Kellen Clemens, instead of a more experienced option from outside the organization.
Up until that point, Bradford had played reasonably well in leading the Rams to a 3-3 record. A passer rating of 90.9 thanks to 1,687 yards and 14 touchdowns had put him in pole position to set career highs in all major passing categories. He had also shown that he had the potential to lead the team to victories and was finally beginning to live up to the expectation that comes with being the first overall pick of the 2010 draft.
How Bradford bounces back from this injury setback will shape the future of the franchise, but in his absence, two rookies have stepped into the breach and shown that they have the skills and potential to lead the team going forward.
Tavon Austin came into the league with plenty of expectation placed upon him. The Rams traded up in the first round of the 2013 draft, persuading Buffalo to give up the eighth overall pick so that the Rams themselves could snare the man considered to be the top wide receiver prospect in the whole draft.
Until week 10, Austin has been woefully underused in the St. Louis offensive scheme. Since starting off with six catches in each of his first three games he had faded away, failing to grab a single pass in their match against Tennessee. All this changed as the Rams embarrassed Andrew Luck and the Colts.
Austin snared just two catches in the game, but on each reception showed the speed and elusiveness for which he was drafted. Both reception were taken for lengthy touchdowns; one of 57 yards and the other a mammoth 81 yards. Added to this was a 98 yard punt return touchdown, meaning that his three scores had done much to see off the playoff bound Colts. With this kind of production, he could be a dual threat in the league for years to come and repay the faith that St Louis showed in him on draft day.
The second impact making rookie is more of a surprise story. Zac Stacy was selected with the 160th overall pick in this year’s draft and, as such, carried much less expectation oh his shoulders. He did not get any significant game time until week 5’s clash with the Jaguars, but has not looked back since then; 78 yards on 14 carries in that game was followed by 79 on 18 against Houston in the next game.
Stacy has exploded in the past two games, with 134 yards against the Seahawks and 127 against the Titans as he began to make his mark on the NFL. To this point in the season, he has amassed 537 yards at 4.2 YPA and has also added 15 catches. If he can continue this form then the Rams have managed to unearth a back who can give them a two pronged threat offensively.
With two first rounds picks in the 2014 draft, St Louis has the potential to add two more impact players to their roster. Much will depend on Bradford’s recovery, but don’t be surprised to see them sorely tempted to take a signal caller with one of their picks.
What can be said for sure, however, is that the second half on 2013 is the time for Austin and Stacy to stand tall and prove that they have what it takes to help take the Rams forward. Early signs are good and these two men have got the talent and potential to be key players for St Louis for many years to come.