NFL Nation: Isaiah Pead

St. Louis Rams practice report

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With the "official" end of training camp coming and going Wednesday, the Rams practiced without any eyes other than media watching Thursday afternoon. Along with that, the rules change a bit in terms of what can and can't be discussed. But Rams coach Jeff Fisher did offer some updates on some things that were noticeable on the field.
  • First, Fisher said Thursday's practice was used largely to get his team familiar with Cleveland. It's the first time in the preseason the Rams have done anything resembling some game planning. Some of that even included having a couple of players put on the red jersey to emulate different Browns players.
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) did a little more than on Wednesday, including a bit of work in team drills. Fisher said the decision on whether Laurinaitis will play against the Browns has not yet been made but it's clear Laurinaitis could probably play if he had to. Clearly, he doesn't have to but the option is realistic.
  • Fisher did indicate that left tackle Jake Long (knee), defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) would all be available and are expected to play. That would allow the Rams to have their projected offensive and defensive lines together for the first time in the preseason.
  • Speaking of groups working together in a game for the first time this preseason, Fisher said he's looking forward to seeing the secondary get some work together. That means Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson at cornerback and Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald at safety. Fisher even went so far as to acknowledge that rookie Lamarcus Joyner would work with the top offense as the nickelback.
  • As for playing time for the starters, Fisher indicated that group will play the bulk of the first half. He also again mentioned the gradual build he prefers means that group could play even more in Miami in the preseason finale. That's how they've done it in his first two seasons in St. Louis and it doesn't sound like it's going to change.
  • Amongst projected starters, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar is the only one not to practice at all this week. So even if the Rams get Laurinaitis back, they likely won't be at full strength defensively.
  • The Rams again hosted the Ferguson-area high school teams at their facility Thursday as McCluer, McCluer North and McCluer South-Berkeley held practice on the team's indoor field.
  • Running back Isaiah Pead officially cleared waivers and now reverts to the team's injured reserve list. Pead does not count against the team's 90-man roster.
  • The Rams will wrap up their preparation week with a walk-through Friday before traveling to Cleveland for Saturday night's game against the Browns.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Most likely, injured St. Louis Rams running back Isaiah Pead will land on the team's injured reserve list as he rehabilitates from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

But the move the Rams made Wednesday afternoon at least leaves the door open for the long shot chance he could land elsewhere. The Rams waived Pead with the injury designation on the league's official transaction list.

By placing Pead on waivers, the other 31 teams in the league have 24 hours to claim him. But it would come as a surprise if another team opted to pick up Pead given his $757,100 price tag and injury status. Assuming Pead clears waivers Thursday, he then reverts to the Rams' injured reserve list unless the sides come to an injury settlement.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher's comments in announcing Pead was lost for the season would indicate the plan is for Pead to land on injured reserve and do his rehab in St. Louis before coming back in 2015.

"He worked very very hard to get in the position to where he was a very productive special teamer for us," Fisher said. "And we had high hopes for him doing some things out of the backfield for us as well. So he’ll be undergoing surgery in the next 10 days to two weeks, which is typical with these injuries. So he’s got a long road ahead of him, but I’m confident that as he’s matured over the last couple years that he’ll get back in good shape next year."

The Rams originally drafted Pead with a second-round pick in 2012, but he's had little impact in his two seasons in St. Louis. In 25 games, he has 75 rushing yards and 94 receiving yards. He settled in to a special teams role last season and earned high marks from the coaching staff for his work there. Fisher said the Rams had plans to use Pead in a similar role this season with the occasional contribution to the offense.
ST. LOUIS --A quarter of the way through the 2013 season, the St. Louis Rams were on pace to be one of the worst rushing teams in the history of the NFL.

After parting ways with veteran Steven Jackson, who posted 1,000-yard seasons like clockwork, in the offseason the Rams insisted they would be able to replace Jackson's production with a variety of options. Daryl Richardson figured to get the first shot with Isaiah Pead waiting in the wings. That plan left the Rams at 1-3, averaging less than 50 yards per game on the ground through the first four weeks.

[+] EnlargeZac Stacy
Michael Thomas/Getty ImagesZac Stacy emerged this season as St. Louis' top option out of the backfield.
A dreadful 19 carries for 18 yards as a team against San Francisco in Week 4 left Rams coach Jeff Fisher and his staff looking to get back to their run game roots. At the center of that plan was finding a back capable of carrying the load. Rookie Zac Stacy had one carry in the first four weeks after falling behind because of some injury problems in training camp and the preseason.

Stacy took over as the starter in Week 5 against Jacksonville and never looked back.

"I was given the opportunity and I pretty much just took advantage of it every week," Stacy said. "There’s really no secret sauce to what I’m doing. It all started up front with the offensive line and just being a pro about yourself. Staying an extra hour watching tape, staying an extra hour working on your footwork and craft and stuff like that. That’s one thing I’ve taken from guys like Chris Long, James Laurinaitis. One thing they told me is just be a true pro about yourself. Eat right, take care of your body. Little things like that."

After nearly a decade of relying on Jackson as the workhorse of the offense and running game, the Rams attempted to go to more of a committee approach but Stacy's emergence took them back to the method that had worked in the run game. Stacy handled the bulk of the work from that point forward, finishing with 973 yards on 250 carries and 26 catches for 141 more yards and eight total touchdowns.

For the most part, Stacy was a strong, reliable centerpiece for an offense that was at its best when Stacy was at his best. But that doesn't mean Stacy didn't have his share of struggles in his rookie season.

As teams loaded the box to try to stop the run more and more, Stacy ran into some difficult games. Seattle and Arizona shut Stacy down completely, holding him to 40 yards on 29 carries. He finished the season with an average of just 3.89 yards per carry. He also battled small injuries that never cost him a game but kept him out of games for stretches of time.

Likewise, Stacy's pass protection got better during the season but can use work in that area as well. That's just one example of the details Stacy plans to attack in his first NFL offseason.

"Just doing all the little things," Stacy said. "Getting a better grasp of the playbook from that standpoint. Obviously getting faster, stronger. It’s a long season that I’ve learned from a rookie standpoint. You have got to be able to take care of your body as well. Keep doing all the little things right, from the weight room standpoint, flexibility, all of that stuff."

By the end of the season, Benny Cunningham was the primary backup with Pead next in line and Richardson inactive as he battled injuries all season.

The Rams seem to have plenty of options for the running game, making it unlikely they'll need to spend much in the way of money or draft capital on another back though a speedy complement might be an option. Stacy might not have answered the running game question in full but he appears to have done enough to earn another shot at starting in 2014.

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

November, 10, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 38-8 win over the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: The Rams have been waiting for a big breakout game from rookie receiver/returner Tavon Austin after making him the first skill-position player picked in the NFL draft in April. After a series of near misses, many of which were caused by penalties, Austin announced his presence in the league with a resounding proclamation. The Rams moved to 4-6 with the convincing victory, and although any hopes of a postseason run remain in the pipe-dream category, this game provided some tangible evidence of progress. As the youngest team in the league, that's the most important thing as the Rams build toward the 2014 season. The Rams' 30-point win was their second overwhelming win against an AFC South opponent on the road this season and their largest margin of victory since a 31-point win in Week 13 of 2003, when they beat Minnesota 48-17.

Stock watch -- rising: There were a few choices here, but Austin is the obvious winner. Austin has been frustrated by the penalties that have kept him from breaking out and has had his share of drops. All of that seemed to vanish in the period of time it took Austin to cover the distance of one of his lightning-strike touchdowns. Austin finished with 314 all-purpose yards. He is one of only three players in NFL history to have three touchdowns of 55 yards or more.

Stock watch -- falling: Running back Isaiah Pead. Maybe it's not possible for his stock to drop any further, but Pead remains buried on the depth chart and did nothing to help his cause against the Colts. While Pead didn't get any carries or touches with the offense, he managed to pull off the oh-so-rare taunting penalty on the game's opening kickoff. Mind you, the kickoff went for a touchback and there was no reason to taunt anyone on said play. As for the running back part of the job description, Zac Stacy remains the primary runner and Benny Cunningham, banged-up thumb and all, continues to get carries as his backup.

The mighty Quinn: Perhaps lost in Austin's breakthrough game was the performance of a player having a breakthrough season. Defensive end Robert Quinn set the tone for the game by sacking quarterback Andrew Luck on the game's opening drive and causing a fumble that Chris Long recovered and returned 45 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Rams a 7-0 lead they would never relinquish. Quinn added another sack and has 12 sacks and five forced fumbles on the season. He's clearly the Rams' best defensive player, and it might be time to start thinking about where he ranks in the league.

What's next: Most coaches will say there's never a bad time for a bye week, but one has to wonder whether the Rams wouldn't mind to try to ride the wave of this performance for another week or two. Regardless, the Rams are off next week before a home date with the Chicago Bears on Nov. 24.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After two of the ugliest offensive performances any team in the league has put up in the past couple of weeks, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher wants to make some changes.

“We’re going to have to, as we’ve already started, kind of adjust our offensive philosophy to, I think, what’s probably better suited for us right now,” Fisher said. “And that’s to hand it off, and everything else spins off of that.”

After an offseason of adding speed on the perimeter with the likes of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin with the intent to build an offense around the right arm of quarterback Sam Bradford, a philosophical shift is coming, but not the one anyone expected.

Despite the offense’s success in up-tempo, no-huddle looks, the Rams want to get back to what Fisher has had the majority of his coaching success doing: run the ball.

[+] EnlargeDaryl Richardson
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceWith Daryl Richardson and the Rams run game scuffling, coach Jeff Fisher said he may consider outside options for a solution.
One pretty big problem with that: The Rams have showed absolutely no ability to do that effectively in 2013. The offensive line hasn’t opened many holes, and there isn’t a running back on the roster who has proved capable of making anyone miss or picking up yards after contact on a consistent basis.

The Rams have just 189 rushing yards this season, which ranks 29th in the league. Mind you, the Rams rank that low despite having played one more game than every team in the league except San Francisco. They’re averaging 2.59 yards per carry, which is second to last in the NFL, and are getting 1.15 yards after contact per rush.

That anemic run game has been even worse in the past two weeks, gaining 1.71 yards per attempt on 31 tries with a long of 11 yards. The Rams also sit 31st in the league in third-down conversions at 25.9 percent in no small part because of an inability to gain yards on the ground to get into more manageable third downs and move the chains on the few occasions they get into third-and-short.

“Frustrating,” Fisher said. “It is. We’ve got work to do. It’s been -- again, 75 carries against any defense for that matter is difficult over that period of time in a short week and we talk about teams that can run it.”

Clearly, the Rams need to get the running game going in some capacity, and I have to believe that when Fisher speaks of running the ball more, he simply means he wants to find ways to be successful as his teams in the past have been rather than some sort of major shift in which the Rams suddenly line up in power I-formations and hammer away with a fullback.

Either way, it’s going to be difficult for the Rams to get the run game going until one of their backs shows the ability to take over the job.

They hoped it would be Daryl Richardson, who won the starting job early in camp. Richardson has been slowed by a foot injury but has struggled rushing anyway. A one-cut-and-go runner in his rookie season, Richardson isn’t particularly adept at making tacklers miss or shaking loose when a defender gets his hands on him.

Isaiah Pead was also supposed to factor, but after he missed the first game because of a substance abuse suspension, he wasn’t even active against San Francisco.

“He’s had a couple moments, yeah, over the last couple of weeks,” Fisher said. “But I didn’t put him down because of that.”

Fisher said the Rams intended to use Austin in the backfield against the 49ers in a role similar to what Pead had played, but those plans were scrapped early.

Rookie Benny Cunningham has had some opportunities but hasn’t had much success either, and fifth-round pick Zac Stacy was active last week but played just one snap.

Clearly, the Rams’ drastic inability to run the ball isn’t solely the product of the backs. They aren’t getting much help from the offensive line. And that doesn’t even touch on the struggles of the backs to help in pass protection.

“We’ll evaluate the running back situation based on the types of things we come up from the run game need,” Fisher said. “We’re going to look at it this week, and we’ll definitely have a plan in place when we come back.”

The Rams don’t appear to have any obvious solutions for the position in house, and it would make a lot of sense to, as Fisher says, look at possible outside options to at least give them some semblance of a run game and some reliability picking up the blitz.

Rams RB Pead a surprise inactive

September, 26, 2013
ST. LOUIS -- Running back Isaiah Pead is among the St. Louis Rams' seven pre-game inactives in something of a surprise move.

With starter Daryl Richardson battling a foot injury, Pead was prominently involved in last week's game against Dallas but he doesn't factor into tonight's plans, apparently.

Pead's inactivity allows rookie running back Zac Stacy a chance to play and it seems likely he'll get some touches to help spell Richardson. Of course, if Richardson aggravates his foot injury again, the Rams will be awfully thin at running back with only Stacy and fellow running back Benny Cunningham having any professional carries under their belt.

This can't be viewed as anything but another step back in Pead's young career. He's struggled to gain traction in a number of ways and missing the chance to help an ailing run game doesn't speak well of his current place in the pecking order.

On the other side, no surprises as linebacker Patrick Willis is inactive for San Francisco and tight end Vernon Davis is active and available.

Here's the complete inactive list for both sides:

Rams: OT Rodger Saffold, DE William Hayes, OT Mike Person, OL Barrett Jones, OL Brandon Washington, RB Isaiah Pead, TE Mike McNeill

49ers: QB B.J. Daniels, WR Chris Harper, WR Marlon Moore, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, FB Owen Marecic, LB Patrick Willis, G Joe Looney

Rams must get running game going

September, 24, 2013
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- There was a time not so long ago where the thought of trying to get an ailing running game revved up against San Francisco 49ers' defense would have spelled disaster for the team attempting to accomplish the feat.

This week, that’s precisely what the Rams need to do if they want to get the offense going and come away with a home victory against the division rival 49ers.

“Being one dimensional isn’t really helpful to an offense,” Rams running back Isaiah Pead said. “We need to go out and let the 49ers know and everyone else that is coming to play us that we can run the ball also.”

So far, that message has apparently been sent using a carrier pigeon instead of UPS overnight. The Rams' run game has been stuck in neutral for the first three games, accumulating 171 yards on the ground, 29th in the league.

[+] EnlargeSean Weatherspoon
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesDaryl Richardson is the Rams' leading rusher, but he's averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
What’s worse, the Rams are gaining just 3.17 yards per attempt, which ranks 27th in the NFL. They’re also one of four teams without a rushing touchdown in the first three games.

When asked about his team’s rushing woes, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has repeatedly pointed out that the Rams have found themselves trailing early and forced to abandon the run before it can find any rhythm.

“We’ve just got to hand it off more,” Fisher said. “We haven’t had the opportunities -- we’ve gotten behind. We’ve got to get back to that early in the game.”

There’s some truth to the idea that the Rams have had to get away from the run sooner than they’d like. They have just 54 rushing attempts so far this season, more than only three teams in the league.

Of course, the Rams could allow for more rushing attempts if they ran the ball more successfully on those earlier attempts.

In the first three games, the Rams have attempted 12 runs and gained 35 yards in the first quarter, less than 3 yards per carry. None of those dozen rushing attempts has resulted in a first down.

Logically, if the Rams are having more success running the ball, they’re picking up first downs, extending drives and creating more chances to keep attacking on the ground.

The bigger issue here seems to be an offensive line that has struggled to get consistent push and a young group of running backs from which no one has emerged as a consistently reliable option yet.

“We have got to do a better job upfront of moving guys off the ball, get on the second level, get to linebackers, let the running backs hit the hole,” left tackle Jake Long said. “The last few weeks we have been down so much we have had to play catch up and pass the ball a lot so that takes away from the run game. It all starts up front, we’ve got to move guys off the ball and stay on our blocks.”

It’s not all on the offensive line, though. Starting back Daryl Richardson leads the team with 98 yards on 30 carries. He’s been slowed by a foot injury but hasn’t been particularly impressive on his rushing attempts.

Pead and Benny Cunningham have had a few chances of their own and neither has done much to distinguish himself. Part of the problem is none of the backs have showed much ability to make defenders miss or run through contact. The Rams have 71 rushing yards after contact, which ranks 31st in the league.

The Rams have alternated among their various backs in the first three weeks.

“A rhythm is a running back’s best friend,” Pead said. “To have that rhythm is always a plus. We’re a running back committee right now. Daryl is the starter, but whoever gets in there has to answer the call.”

Allowing one back to stay in and get a rhythm would be made easier if one of them would have some measure of success.

In a departure from the usual San Francisco defensive dominance, the Niners are giving up 138 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 29th in the league. Last week, the Colts bludgeoned the Niners with the run, carrying 39 times for 179 yards on their way to a time of possession edge of 12 minutes and 50 seconds.

It’s not realistic to expect the Rams to do the same without proven backs like Indianapolis has in Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw but some sort of reasonable facsimile would serve the Rams well in their quest to even their record at 2-2.

“When we get the opportunity to run the ball, we’ve got to run the ball,” Long said.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As passing numbers rise to record levels around the league through the first two weeks, the corresponding rushing numbers have been taking the obvious dip.

That’s certainly true in St. Louis, where quarterback Sam Bradford is off to his best statistical start but the Rams’ running game has yet to rev to a level beyond mediocrity.

There are plenty of factors that have contributed to the Rams posting just 136 rushing yards (25th in the NFL) in the first two weeks but there are a couple that stick out to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer: the youth of the team’s backs and the early penchant for falling behind.

[+] EnlargeSean Weatherspoon
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesDaryl Richardson hasn't been able to get on track through the first two weeks, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
“In the running game, I think there’s plenty of room for improvement,” Schottenheimer said. “I think it just comes down -- we’ve got young backs. We put ourselves in some positions where we haven’t had favorable numbers, whether it was the scoreboard or just some heavy boxes and stuff trying to run against.”

In many ways, the running game in the league simply isn’t what it used to be. Teams are spreading things out and throwing more and, in many cases, using the short passing game as an extension of the run.

There’s been evidence of that approach in St. Louis where Schottenheimer said the Rams have looked closely at using the short passing game as a substitute for the run game in certain situations.

“I think [those are] certainly things you talk about, even during the week game plan wise,” Schottenheimer said. “Can a quick slant or something make me six or seven yards, where a great run makes me four or five yards?”

When the Rams have tried to get the running game going, they have yet to find much success. In the first two games, the Rams averaged 3.24 yards per carry, 23rd in the league and Bradford’s 23-yard scramble against the Falcons is the team’s longest run so far this season.

The Rams also have yet to register a rushing touchdown or convert a third-down with a handoff on four attempts.

While Daryl Richardson emerged early in camp as the team’s starting back, he has yet to fully establish himself as the type of back the Rams can hand it to and expect big numbers over the course of a game.

Fellow backs Isaiah Pead, Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy haven’t had many opportunities in the opening games though Pead was on the field quite a bit against Atlanta when the Rams went to their up-tempo, no-huddle look.

Richardson has also been nursing a foot injury that has caused him to miss some practice time. Again this week he looks to be ready to play but Pead could again factor when the Rams decide to push the pace a bit.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious every day I walk in here,” Pead said. “But I can’t call the shots, I can’t put myself in so I can only work hard every day and wait for that time.”

Last week, the Rams played an Atlanta team that was for all intents and purposes one-dimensional but still found a way to get the job done in the passing game. The Rams would prefer not to eschew the run all together, especially knowing how important it can be to salt games away with it when you have a late lead.

Instead, look for the Rams to keep finding ways to get the run game going. Now that Bradford and the passing game have shown an ability to pile up yards, the Rams should get more favorable looks to run against. It’s just up to the team’s young backs to take advantage of those opportunities.

Two weeks in a row we’ve seen the Rams throwing to catch up from a deficit but what happens when they are looking to protect a lead?

“I know the thing we want to do is be balanced,” Schottenheimer said. “That’s a big part of it. Games come down to the fourth quarter and sometimes you’re going to have to try to throw it like we did last week and try to come from behind. Other times, you’re going to have to run the football in four-minute and try to put people away… nothing replaces the ability to run the football when the opponent knows you’re going to have to run it.”

Three things revisited: Rams-Falcons

September, 15, 2013
ATLANTA -- Looking back at three things worth watching from the St. Louis Rams' 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

1. On the line: The Falcons' offensive line didn’t entirely right the ship after a rough outing against New Orleans last week, but it did fare better against a Rams' defensive line that didn’t seem to get much pressure until the second half.

Atlanta’s inability to run the ball made it one-dimensional and offered some prime opportunities for the Rams’ front four to rush the passer with impunity.

The Rams got to Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan for two sacks, but spent most of the second half taking aim at him. They had eight quarterback hits according to the unofficial press-box statistics.

It was still an upgrade for Atlanta’s line from last week, and a bit of a downgrade for the Rams after they dominated Arizona upfront last week. The decision would go to the Rams in the battle upfront but it wasn’t as clear as last week.

2. Tight end battles: The Falcons made it clear they had no intention of allowing Rams tight end Jared Cook to carve them up the way he did Arizona last week. To that end, Atlanta used a linebacker to make contact every time Cook released from the line and added safety help over the top.

Cook’s line was much different than last week as a result, finishing with one catch for 10 yards on six targets. That did open things up for receivers Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, who posted 105 and 78 yards, respectively.

On the other side, Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez was relatively quiet in his own right. He had four catches for 33 yards, but did come up with some key first downs, including one that set up Atlanta’s final touchdown.

3. Revving the run game: Another week went by without much productivity from the Rams’ running game. Starter Daryl Richardson played after battling a foot injury in practice this week, but he wasn’t too effective, averaging 3.5 yards on his 10 carries.

The Rams didn’t get much work for their other backs, either. Isaiah Pead had one carry for 1 yard, and rookie Benny Cunningham got his first NFL opportunity with two carries for no yards.

Quarterback Sam Bradford actually provided the day’s longest run for the Rams, picking up 23 yards on a late scramble. All told, the Rams gained just 3.8 yards per attempt on 18 carries.

Three things: Rams-Falcons

September, 14, 2013
ATLANTA – Three things to keep an eye on as the St. Louis Rams visit the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon at 1 ET.

On the line.

The Rams have built their defense around one of the league’s best defensive lines. That group came through against Arizona last week with four sacks, including three from end Robert Quinn.

Bookend Chris Long is questionable this week because of a hip injury, but he hasn’t missed a game since entering the league in 2008.

After taking care of business against Arizona, the Rams’ line has a chance for another big game this week against an Atlanta offensive line that sprang many leaks in its opener against New Orleans. The Saints sacked or pressured Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan 12 times, and on Sunday Atlanta could be without left tackle Sam Baker, who is questionable with a knee injury. If Baker can’t go, the Falcons will probably move Lamar Holmes to the left side and plug in Jeremy Trueblood on the right side.

The Rams can greatly enhance their chances by generating consistent pass rush behind the strength of their front four.

“We’re going to have to find a way to get to Matt whenever possible, but it’s easier said than done,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “They’re going to get whatever issues they had last week fixed, I’m sure. We’ll just be prepared to adjust accordingly.”

Tight-end battles.

Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez is now in his 17th season creating nightmare matchups for opposing defenses, and in last week's opener he caught a touchdown pass. Gonzalez still has a knack for finding open spaces in zones and is one of Ryan’s primary red-zone targets.

“Over the years, he’s created the matchup problems for defenses,” Fisher said. “[He’s] very, very difficult to cover with linebackers if you’re lucky. Then, he’s got such good size and he bodies you out and keeps drives alive against the DBs. He’s been a great red-zone target all of his career.”

Rams tight end Jared Cook put on a Gonzalez-esque performance against Arizona with seven catches for 141 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Atlanta will almost certainly make slowing Cook a top priority this week after he abused Arizona linebackers when they attempted to cover him man-to-man.

Should the Falcons choose to double-team Cook, things could open up elsewhere for the Rams. But whether it’s as a decoy or as a top target, Cook and his presence in the passing game will go a long way in determining the Rams' offensive success, this week and all season.

Revving the run game.

In their first season in nine years without Steven Jackson in the backfield, the Rams struggled to find traction in the run game against Arizona. Daryl Richardson was more active than anticipated, carrying 20 times for 63 yards and catching five passes for 33 yards. He’s dealt with a foot injury all week but is listed as probable and expected to play this week.

Richardson’s workload may dip a bit against the Falcons because of the foot and because of the return of Isaiah Pead from a one-game suspension. Fisher said he wants to get rookie Zac Stacy more involved, and Benny Cunningham could also get some work.

Regardless of who is carrying the ball, the Rams must do better than 67 rushing yards on 24 carries this week. Atlanta was stout in stopping New Orleans’ rushing attack last week, giving up just 2.7 yards per carry on 29 attempts.

"We do take pride in running the ball, and basically we just want to be able to handle it when they throw eight, nine men in the box,” Rams right tackle Rodger Saffold said. “We have some plans for that and we are looking for success out of the run game.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. – Upon his departure for Atlanta as a free agent in the offseason, Steven Jackson exited a running-backs room full of talented youngsters who would suddenly have to grow up.

Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead are one week into their second NFL seasons, and rookies Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy provide depth. It’s a green group lacking in meaningful experience.

Heading into a matchup with Jackson’s Falcons on Sunday, the jury remains out as to whether the St. Louis Rams have the parts to equal the sum of Jackson’s whole.

[+] EnlargeDaryl Richardson
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceDaryl Richardson is one of a group of young running backs trying to fill the hole left by Steven Jackson.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher is pleased with where his young backs are in their progression but acknowledged that there’s plenty of work to be done.

“Well, it’s still early,” Fisher said. “The younger backs, obviously, have ability and it’s just going to take time. They’re going to need snaps and reps and plays.”

There is no shortage of opportunities for those younger backs at Rams Park these days. Richardson won the starting job relatively early in camp in a position battle that never really materialized.

Pead remains as the backup and a player the Rams still have high hopes for despite his early struggles with ball security and his one-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Stacy and Cunningham are promising rookies, but Stacy has just one carry to his name, and that’s one more than Cunningham at this point.

In parting ways with Jackson, the Rams figured to join an ever-expanding group of teams leaning on multiple backs rather than one workhorse.

Jackson is one of the last of a dying breed: a back who stays on the field all three downs and is at once the team’s best runner, pass-catcher and pass-protector. It’s a role that is going out of style so fast that Jackson was prepared to retire if a team wasn’t willing to provide him the chance to be the bell cow.

Replacing your all-time leading rusher is tough. Replacing your undisputed leader and finding one or more backs to fill the various roles Jackson did can be even more challenging.

In an ideal world, the Rams could find a piecemeal way to bring everything together and get the type of contributions they need from the position. Richardson would be the slashing, speedy back who gains the yards there to be gained. Stacy would be the pass-protector and short-yardage guy. Pead would work on third downs, picking up the blitz and catching passes out of the backfield. Cunningham would be a sort of X factor capable of doing it all.

That’s what things might look like if everyone turned into what the Rams believe they could be.

Quarterback Sam Bradford is hopeful the process of replacing Jackson can be expedited by the fact that players like Pead and Richardson worked in Jackson’s company for a year.

“I think they’re doing a great job,” Bradford said. “Obviously, it’s tough, ‘Jack’ meant so much to this offense and to this organization while he was here. They got to see the way he approached the game and the way he worked. I think that I’ve seen those guys try to emulate that during the week of practice and in their preparation, and I think they’re doing a really good job of that.”

On his end, Jackson has done what he can to provide guidance for the young backs in St. Louis, even from afar. He and Richardson grew particularly close last year, and the pair stays in touch on a regular basis.

Jackson said he talks to Richardson about more than football, providing tips on how to handle yourself off the field, how to take care of your body, even ways to conduct yourself during interviews with the media.

“It’s those dog days where no one wants to go to practice, no one wants to work, you have to push yourself forward and you have got to view yourself as the engine,” Fisher said. “When guys are down or you have a sluggish practice, you have got to come out running hard to motivate guys to up the ante.”

Someday in the not too distant future, it’s possible, if not probable, that Jackson will return to St. Louis when his career is over.

“We felt like it was in the best interest of everybody involved,” Fisher said. “This way the story ends real good. You’d like to think certainly his jersey’s retired back here whenever he’s done. We just wish him the best. He’s a class guy and was a tremendous leader in the locker room last year.”

Richardson missed Wednesday’s practice with what the Rams' injury report calls a foot ailment. Pead returned from his suspension and was plenty busy in his first practice back. Cunningham and Stacy had their opportunities as well.

Watching practice and seeing so many backs getting chances for carries served as a reminder that sometimes replacing a franchise legend is really difficult job. Sometimes it takes more than one to get it done.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams will welcome back running back Isaiah Pead this week after he served a one-game suspension for violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

Pead missed Sunday's game against Arizona, and Zac Stacy got what limited reps were available behind starter Daryl Richardson. Monday afternoon, Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Pead is already back in the fold.

"He's back in the building and he'll be on the practice field," Fisher said.

The Rams will have to make a corresponding roster move to add Pead back to the 53-man roster, but they don't have to make that decision just yet as his roster exemption hasn't expired.

With Pead back in the mix, the Rams appear to be a bit heavy with five running backs, though it might be hard to trim from that group given the special teams contributions of Benny Cunningham and Chase Reynolds.

When asked whether Pead's return means he's playing this week, Fisher didn't confirm or deny the possibility.

"We'll see," Fisher said.

Pead would be well served to hit the ground running upon his return. Beyond the suspension, he's had a rough go of it in his first year plus in the league. Expected to compete for the starting job in camp, that battle never materialized as Richardson separated himself early in camp.

From there, Pead battled ball security issues throughout the preseason and found himself fighting for reps as the second back rather than the starting job.

Based on Sunday's performance in the ground game -- the Rams ran 24 times with an average of 2.8 yards per carry -- the opportunity appears to remain for Pead to claim the backup job and be involved in the offense on at least a semi-regular basis.

Stacy got just one carry behind Richardson, picking up 4 yards. Fisher said he'd have liked to get Stacy more work, but the game didn't play out in a way to allow it.

"You want to try to do that, but sometimes the game just goes that way," Fisher said. "That's one of those things you talk about improving, we have got to work on the run game. It's a stout defense, but we are going to have to run the ball a little bit better as well."

St. Louis Rams cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
There were no real surprises among the 20 Rams released Saturday evening to bring the roster down to the league-mandated total of 53.(Note: The Rams have roster exemptions for suspended running back Isaiah Pead and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, both of whom were placed on the reserve/suspended list.)

Most significant move: Releasing linebacker Josh Hull. It’s not that letting Hull go was a surprise so much as where it leaves the team in his absence.

Removing Hull from the picture, the six linebackers the Rams currently have include four rookies, three of whom are undrafted free agents. Alec Ogletree is an expected starter, but for now is backed up only by rookie free agents Ray-Ray Armstrong, Daren Bates and Jonathan Stewart.

Veteran Dunbar is still around, too, but the Rams have a four-week exemption for his roster spot following his suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead are not afraid to trend younger, but they have left themselves with a quartet of unproven rookies behind veterans James Laurinaitis and Will Witherspoon.

Hull spent three seasons with the Rams, playing in 28 games, with most of that work coming as a core piece on special teams.

Armstrong, in particular, flashed the upside of a future starter, but unless the Rams add another veteran, they’ll go a quarter of the season without experienced depth against teams such as Atlanta and San Francisco.

Keeping Clemens: Last year, the Rams surprised many by cutting veteran quarterback Kellen Clemens in favor of undrafted rookie Austin Davis. Davis played well in the preseason and the Rams were concerned they wouldn’t be able to get him to the practice squad. They had the added benefit of bringing Clemens back after week one, making his contract non-guaranteed. This year, Clemens and Davis competed for the job throughout camp and neither really set himself apart until Clemens’ strong performance in the preseason finale. The Rams opted to release Davis, leaving Clemens as the backup for now and eschewing the chance to execute the same plan as last year.

What’s next? Probably a lot of scouring the waiver wire and looking for more help at the bottom of the roster. Fisher and Snead didn’t hesitate to take advantage of waivers last year, making four roster moves within 48 hours of the initial cut to 53. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if they were equally active this year, though they don’t have the benefit of the No. 2 spot on the waiver wire this time around.

In addition to linebacker, the Rams are light on experience on the offensive line and could look to bolster those areas with some veterans. Backup quarterback and safety are two more positions where they could do some tweaking.

Rams cuts:

QB: Austin Davis FB: Eric Stevens TE: Philip Lutzenkirchen, Zach Potter OL: D.J. Young, Ty Nsekhe (waived/injured), Sean Hooey WR: Nick Johnson, Emory Blake, Justin Veltung DL: Garrett Goebel, Sammy Brown, R.J. Washington, Mason Brodine LB: Josh Hull S: Rashard Hall, Cody Davis CB: Drew Thomas, Andre Martin, Darren Woodard

What to watch revisited: Rams-Ravens

August, 29, 2013
Looking back on five things to watch in the St. Louis Rams' 24-21 win against Baltimore in Thursday night's preseason finale.

1.Backup quarterback quandary. Starting quarterback Sam Bradford didn’t play a single snap as the Rams protected him in the final preseason game. That meant plenty of work for backups Kellen Clemens and Austin Davis. Clemens got first crack at the job, playing the entire first half. And though Baltimore played none of its starters, Clemens made the strongest case either backup has made in this preseason, finishing 13-of-18 for 188 yards for a rating of 105.8. Davis didn’t have as much success, though he did lead two scoring drives, finishing 6-of-13 for 50 yards with two touchdowns.

2. Sitting starters. Rams coach Jeff Fisher followed through on his statement that he’d make some “adjustments” to the starting lineup for the preseason finale. The majority of his usual starters did not start or even play a snap in the game. In fact, only six presumptive starters – guard Chris Williams, tackle Rodger Saffold, receiver Austin Pettis, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald – played. If you include safety Rodney McLeod, who is competing with Darian Stewart for a starting job, it brings the total to seven.

3. Coming out healthy. From all appearances, the Rams made it through the game and the preseason without suffering any serious injuries to a key contributor. Tight end Cory Harkey will miss a bit of time from his injury suffered last week against Denver, but the few starters who did play against the Ravens made it out of the game OK.

4. Last chance. A full evaluation of players who might have earned or cemented roster spots won’t come until the final cuts are made tomorrow or Saturday, but a few players made some good cases. Safety Matt Daniels might have made the best. Aside from a missed tackle on a Baltimore touchdown run, Daniels was all over the field. He finished with two tackles, two passes defended and an interception in unofficial press-box statistics. Daniels was likely in good shape to make the final roster before Thursday night. He seemed only to help himself with his performance.

5. Running in place. Starter Daryl Richardson did not play, a logical move considering the Rams still need to sort out their backup running back situation. Once again, there wasn’t much room to run as the backups on the offensive line couldn’t create many holes. Zac Stacy and Isaiah Pead got the first opportunities. Pead got off to a rocky start, fumbling the opening kickoff before the Rams recovered. He carried seven times for 27 yards and caught two passes for 16 yards. Stacy didn’t have much room to run but finished with 37 yards on 11 carries and scored on a 1-yard run. He could become a factor in short-yardage and goal-line scenarios given his size and style. Benny Cunningham got some limited late reps and was the most effective of the group. He finished with 76 yards on eight carries and one grab for 7 yards as he likely cemented a spot on the roster. Chase Reynolds even got in on the act with a 17-yard catch and run to give the Rams the lead in the fourth quarter.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- There has never been much suspense about which Rams player will handle the team’s punt returning duties in 2013.

Essentially from the time the Rams moved up to No. 8 to select multi-purpose weapon Tavon Austin in April’s draft, that’s one of the jobs that has clearly belonged to him.

Nearly a week and a half from the start of the regular season, the Rams are still figuring out who will handle the kickoffs from a group that includes receiver Chris Givens, running back Isaiah Pead and running back Benny Cunningham.

“I think we’ve got a punt returner,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “And then we’ve got Chris Givens and we know what he can do. I like what Isaiah has done on the practice field, he’s getting better at it and I’m perfectly comfortable with Benny doing it. He got 15 yards on his own, by himself the other night.”

[+] EnlargeBenny Cunningham
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsBy displaying an ability to return kicks, Benny Cunningham has boosted his chances of making the St. Louis roster.
It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Austin could get some work on kick returns and he’d almost certainly be the most dynamic option the franchise has had since Tony Horne in 2000.

For now it seems the Rams would prefer to use Austin only as a punt returner in addition to his role in the offense.

Givens handled the job for most of last year, returning 23 kicks for an average of 23.4 yards. Entering his second season, Givens’ role in the offense has increased substantially and the Rams may prefer not to put him on special teams and risk injury.

Pead would be the most logical candidate considering he’s a backup on offense and does have a little experience, returning 10 kicks for 223 yards as a rookie. He also had ball security issues, coughing up two fumbles on returns against San Francisco, one of which the Niners recovered.

The Rams have given Pead the first crack at the job for most of the preseason, but he has underwhelmed with an average of 19.8 yards on four attempts.

Perhaps the most intriguing option of the group is the player who has had the most to prove in Cunningham. The undrafted rookie out of Middle Tennessee State has only had two opportunities but he’s made them count with gains of 36 and 33 yards.

Cunningham had just one kick return in college but said he did work on it while there. It seems quite likely that Cunningham is going to make the team’s 53-man roster out of camp, but more good work in the return game could certainly cement that spot or even potentially give him a shot to win the job.

“Me being possibly the odd man out, I feel like I have to attack special teams, so that’s something I have been trying to do every day,” Cunningham said. “Wherever I can help the team pretty much just attacking it in practice.”

The constant evolution of the rules regarding kick returns has nearly made it an extinct aspect of the game. When the NFL moved the kickoff spot to the 35 from the 30 in 2011, the amount of touchbacks around the league has increased dramatically.

In 2012, the Rams had just 38 return opportunities, down from 55 in 2011.

Having fewer opportunities does make it a tough spot to evaluate.

“We are doing our best to prepare ourselves as a kickoff return unit to bring it out every time, so we want to make sure everybody is in position, setting up their blocks,” Fisher said.

Although return chances are fewer and farther between, it would serve the Rams well to have more success when they do bring it out. They haven’t had a kickoff return for a touchdown since Chris Johnson (the cornerback) took one 99 yards in 2005.

Of more pressing and recent concern was the overall inability to generate decent field position in 2012.

Givens, Pead and Co. averaged 21 yards per return on their combined 38 attempts last year and the Rams’ average starting field position of the 24.4-yard line ranked second to last in the NFL.

That number gets worse when boiled down to average starting position after a kickoff, as the Rams’ average drive in those situations began at the 20.3-yard line, also 31st in the league.

After starting 56 drives inside their own 20, the Rams often found themselves having to piece together long drives to get points on the board. The offense ran an average of 8.58 plays per scoring drive in 2013, fifth highest in the league.

It is those types of numbers that pushed the Rams to spend large dollars and high draft picks on game-breaking talents such as Austin in the offseason.

While legitimate kick-return opportunities are harder to come by each year, finding a reliable returner would go a long way toward improving field position and eliminating the need to cover almost the whole field to put points on the board.