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Monday, July 25, 2011
Rams back-to-work FYI

By Mike Sando

Readiness factor: The Rams must acquire or develop starters at right guard, free safety, defensive tackle, outside linebacker, wide receiver and tight end. They need depth at running back. They've got work ahead, but most of the heavy lifting has been done. The Rams return their quarterback and most of their offensive line while enjoying continuity on defense through head coach Steve Spagnuolo and key players in the front seven. That gives St. Louis a head start on its division rivals even though the Rams will be breaking in a new offensive coordinator.

Biggest challenge: Pat Shurmur's surprise departure as offensive coordinator threw up a hurdle heading into the Rams' second season with Sam Bradford behind center. The lockout has prevented new coordinator Josh McDaniels from getting Bradford up to speed as quickly as the team would have liked. The situation at wide receiver remains unsettled. The most promising tight end on the team, Lance Kendricks, faces a learning curve as a rookie. Those factors create challenges as the Rams seek to build on Bradford's promising rookie season. There's no need to panic, however.

Ownership impact: The Rams still haven't gone through a free-agent signing period since Stan Kroenke became majority owner. There's no indication the Rams will become significantly more aggressive in free agency now that Kroenke has given them an owner with deeper pockets. They do have the wherewithal, however, and the Rams should have some flexibility from a salary-cap standpoint. None of the team's own free agents will command big money this offseason.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Receiver Mark Clayton, defensive tackle Clifton Ryan, tight end Daniel Fells, tight end Billy Bajema, guard Adam Goldberg, defensive tackle Gary Gibson, receiver Laurent Robinson.