NFL Nation: Shaun HIll

INDIANAPOLIS -- General manager Les Snead met with the media Wednesday at the NFL combine. Here's what we learned about the St. Louis Rams:

1. In support of Bradford: As is often the case at Lucas Oil Stadium at this time of year, rumors begun churning about the Rams and quarterback Sam Bradford. One report indicated the Rams have given Bradford's agent Tom Condon permission to seek a trade. While that has to happen for those discussions to take place, things aren't always what they seem. In other words, the Rams aren't shopping Bradford. The bottom line is the Rams want to reduce Bradford's scheduled $16.58 million cap number and the easiest way for both parties to get a feel for Bradford's market is for his agent to have conversations with other teams.

Snead made it clear the team has no intention of getting rid of Bradford and conversations about how best to keep him have started.

"We've had dialogue with Sam and his people," Snead said. "Deleting him is not the answer."

2. Barksdale likely to test the market: Free agency is less than a month away, which means that if you aren't a player receiving the franchise tag, then you're probably going to see what the market bears when the new league year starts March 10. All signs point to Rams right tackle Joe Barksdale being one of those players, even though he's one potential free agent the Rams would like to keep.

"With Joe, that one, he was a starter, we've had some pretty serious dialogue with those guys," Snead said. "A lot of times players once they get through, they get close, it's good to test the market. And it's not the worst thing for the team, either, because now no one is guessing. Hey, here's the options. I think it makes the club, the player especially because he now knows reality versus make believe. And it helps the agent make the best decision."

3. Keeping the other quarterbacks: The Rams also have two quarterbacks who technically aren't under contract at the moment in Austin Davis and Shaun Hill. It seems unlikely both will be on the roster next season so long as all options are healthy, but Snead indicated it's possible both could return.

"Austin is really technically not under contract but it's not like he can go seek another job," Snead said. "He's the easy part of the equation. We are definitely chatting with Shaun's people. We have been chatting with them."

4. Long progressing, also under discussion: Like Bradford, offensive tackle Jake Long is coming off two ACL surgeries and carries a heavy price tag for 2015. His cap number is $10.5 million and the Rams could save $8 million by releasing him.

Snead said retaining Long wouldn't be a bad thing for the Rams but, like with Bradford, dialogue is open between the Rams and Long's representative, who happens to also be Condon.

"I do think as he rehabs if he can get back to Jake Long previous knee, he can help the team win," Snead said.

5. Where Barron fits: In a question that was a bit out of left field, Snead was asked where he sees safety Mark Barron fitting in moving forward. Snead said that's an ongoing process but the offseason should allow the team more time to figure out how best to deploy Barron.

Don't be surprised if the Rams use the "big nickel" they used near the end of the season as more of their base defense in 2015. The alignment puts Barron on the field as a de facto but versatile linebacker while also keeping safeties Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald on the field.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In assessing his team's performance in 2014, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher ran down a list of things he felt his team did well during the course of the season.

As Fisher discussed the performance of the defense, he pointed to that group's ability to keep opponents out of the end zone. And then he pointed to the thing that often seemed to cancel out much of the good that the defense was able to accomplish.

[+] EnlargeJeff Fisher
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsOne reason why Jeff Fisher's Rams went 6-10 -- they allowed 10 returns for touchdowns.
"Our defense, in points allowed, I think was fourth or fifth at 17.7 points per game," Fisher said. "If you exclude the returns."

Ah, yes, the returns. When all was said and done in the Rams' 6-10 campaign, they were on the wrong end of 10 opponent returns for touchdown either from special teams or while the Rams were on offense. Those 10 returns for touchdowns, usually coming in the form of interceptions brought back, were the most in the NFL this season.

Making matters worse, eight of those returns came in the second half of games when the result was usually still hanging in the balance. It doesn't take John Nash to figure out the math on how those returns often influenced the outcome of many of the Rams' close losses.

The Rams had an interception returned for a touchdown in a three-point loss to Dallas, gave up two return scores in what turned into a six-point loss to Philadelphia and coughed up a fumble that was returned for a score in a three-point loss to San Diego. There's no way to know how those games would have played out otherwise but that's at least three examples of games there for the taking were it not for such miscues.

"Our offense, on the other hand, we only scored 18 points per game," Fisher said. "When you’re allowing 10 returns for touchdowns, then you have a point differential of less than a point -- you’re going to lose some football games. That’s kind of what happened to us. In our five returns for touchdowns, we won four of those five games. It’s not new news, it’s just reality of the National Football League. It’s hard to overcome those kinds of things. There’s one team in the playoffs right now that is minus in takeaway/giveaway and that would be the [Indianapolis] Colts. Everybody else that’s minus is watching this weekend."

The timing of those mistakes also made a big difference in games that turned out more lopsided than they really were as a direct result of the costly giveaways.

In losses at Seattle and Arizona and at home against San Francisco, the Rams were down by seven or less in the fourth quarter in all three games only to have turnovers returned for touchdowns that immediately expanded the deficit to a point the Rams could not make up.

“It’s not only when they take place, it’s against who that they’re taking place in close games," Fisher said. "Those things, ball security’s got to be very, very important to us."

Until the Rams can have an offense good enough to overcome such mistakes, ball security must be not just a top priority but the top priority.


Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

December, 28, 2014

SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 20-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at CenturyLink Field:

What it means: Another losing season for the Rams comes to a merciful end with a three-game losing streak. Worse, the team's 6-10 finish is a step backward from the seven wins of the previous two seasons under coach Jeff Fisher. There were some highs, including upset wins at home against Seattle and the Denver Broncos, but those were more than canceled out by clunkers against the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants. The Rams were once again inconsistent, but the big-picture results remain mediocre, at best.

Stock watch: QB Shaun Hill -- Down. This isn't breaking any new ground to say the Rams must find a way to upgrade at quarterback in the offseason. That's a mission they'll take on, along with about half the league, but it was a point driven home by what happened Sunday. The dormant Rams offense was finally driving in a 6-6 game with a chance to take a lead, but after a holding penalty, Hill threw another incomprehensible interception. The play was designed to be a screen, but the Seahawks had it covered. Instead of throwing it away, Hill tried to throw it into the ground, but it went right to Seattle defensive tackle Jordan Hill. Seattle scored the game's first touchdown soon after, and the Seahawks never relinquished the lead.

Line dancing: The Rams had a couple scary injury moments. They lost left tackle Greg Robinson and right tackle Joe Barksdale at various points in the game. Both returned but the value of Rodger Saffold -- himself an injury risk over the years -- was again clear. Saffold filled in for both and played his usual spot at left guard. Not many in the league could move around the line like that, and it was much needed on a day when the Rams had just seven offensive linemen active.

Game ball: DT Aaron Donald was not only the Rams' best rookie but also their best player in 2014. It took five weeks for Donald to elbow his way into the starting lineup, but once he did, he was one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the league. It was no coincidence the ailing Rams pass rush that had set a record for sack futility in the first part of the season soon took off. Donald finished with nine sacks, including a streak of five games with a sack near the end of the season. Without Donald in the starting lineup, the Rams had one sack, gave up 152.5 rushing yards per game and averaged a sack on 0.9 percent of opponents' pass attempts. In the 11 games since Donald entered the starting lineup, the Rams had 36 sacks, gave up 93 rushing yards per game and averaged a sack on 8.8 percent of opponent's pass attempts.

What's next: The Rams enter another offseason as postseason spectators with the major chore of finding a long-term quarterback solution and upgrading at other key spots, such as the offensive line and in the secondary.

QB snapshot: Shaun Hill

December, 23, 2014
A quick observation of quarterback Shaun Hill and how he played in the St. Louis Rams' 37-27 loss to the New York Giants in Week 16:

Hill finished with his best performance of the season in terms of passing yards (290) and his 69.9 QBR was his second-best total of his eight starts this season. Overall, he was 24-of-32 for 290 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for a passer rating of 110.2.

But Hill missed some big opportunities, including a wide-open Stedman Bailey in the back of the end zone on a drive that resulted in a field goal and a wide-open Tavon Austin down the field on a deep pass.

Once again, Hill didn't get much help from his offensive line as he was under fire for much of the day, and Hill continues to struggle when under duress. He was 1-of-7 for 1 yard when hit, under duress or both against the Giants. For the season, Hill is now 20-of-42 for 143 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 36.1 and a 13.2 QBR in such situations.

By way of comparison, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was 6-of-7 for 181 yards and a touchdown under similar circumstances.

It's not breaking any new ground to say the Rams need help at quarterback in the offseason, but plugging some holes on the offensive line also would go a long way toward helping whomever that quarterback might be.

QB snapshot: Shaun Hill

December, 16, 2014
A quick observation of quarterback Shaun Hill and how he played in the St. Louis Rams' 12-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15:

After helping the Rams to wins in three of his first four starts since returning to the top job, Hill struggled mightily against Arizona's stout defense. Hill didn't get much help in the way of protection as the Cardinals pressured him on 28 percent of his 43 dropbacks.

True to its personality, Arizona brought the blitz on 48.8 percent of those dropbacks and got to him for two sacks. But whether it was the Cardinals' blitz or the simple threat of it, Hill was skittish as the pocket around him broke down repeatedly. The right side of the offensive line, in particular, was mostly overmatched by Arizona's front.

Against Arizona's standard pass rush -- four rushers or fewer -- Hill was 8-of-18 for 123 yards with two sacks and an interception. He finished the game 20-of-39 for 229 yards with no touchdowns and an interception for a QBR of 22.4. That's his lowest QBR as a starter for the Rams.

Despite the struggles of the Rams' offense, St. Louis had an opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter. Hill missed receiver Stedman Bailey on third-and-3 at the Arizona 43. What should have been an easy completion for a first down and probably more fell incomplete, and the Rams' drive died a play later.

"He [Bailey] had running room," coach Jeff Fisher said. "He had a lot of space if he catches that ball. It’s a high throw, Shaun missed him, but that was a potential big play for us.”


QB snapshot: Shaun Hill

December, 9, 2014
A quick observation of quarterback Shaun Hill and how he played in the St. Louis Rams' 24-0 win in Week 14:

Hill once again offered the Rams exactly what they need, which is to say a solid if unspectacular performance against the Washington Redskins. With the Rams' defense rolling, Hill's mission is simple: Take care of the ball, and take advantage when opportunities arise.

Against the Redskins, Hill was able to do both, though it wasn't a flawless performance. He finished 16-of-22 for 213 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 133.3 and a QBR of 47.6.

Many of Hill's struggles came when the protection broke down. He was sacked four times, including one blindside hit on which he fumbled, but the Rams were fortunate enough to recover. Hill still does a much better job of handling pressure than Austin Davis. He completed both of his pass attempts against the blitz for 10 yards and a touchdown but was also sacked twice in those situations.

Hill has now won three of four starts since he returned to the top job. If he can again play 60 minutes without turning the ball over, the Rams will again have a chance to win. For what it's worth, Hill has never started three consecutive games without a turnover, so that's something he'll try to accomplish Thursday against the Arizona Cardinals.

QB snapshot: Shaun Hill

December, 2, 2014
A quick observation of St. Louis Rams quarterback Shaun Hill and how he played in the Rams' 52-0 win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 13:

With Hill under center, it's probably best for the Rams to start devising ways to get him out in space to make things happen on the run. OK, not really, but Hill did manage to score his first rushing touchdown since 2008 against the Raiders.

Of more importance, though, was how Hill was able to manage the game in the early going and stake the team to a quick lead. In this space last week, we discussed how rare it is for Hill to go consecutive games without a turnover, but he managed to not give it away against the Raiders. That's a tribute to where Hill is in terms of comfort with the offense.

Given Hill's experience, Rams coach Jeff Fisher trusts the quarterback to make decisions at the line of scrimmage before the snap. That paid off in a big way against the Raiders, as Hill was able to get the Rams into good looks and diagnose where blitzes were coming from beyond the basic checks that most quarterbacks are given.

Hill was 7-of-12 for 87 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 121 and a QBR of 82 against the blitz Sunday.

If Hill can be that productive this week against a Washington Redskins unit that blitzes the fifth-most of any team in the league, the Rams will be in good shape to win consecutive games for the first time this season.

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

November, 30, 2014

ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 52-0 win over the Oakland Raiders at the Edward Jones Dome:

What it means: Finally free from the brutal schedule that saw them play nine consecutive games against teams with winning records, the Rams showed what they can do when faced with an inferior opponent. Yes, an inferior opponent. That phrase hasn't been linked to many teams the Rams have played in the past decade or so, but it was clearly evident Sunday. The Rams haven't yet reached the level of a playoff team, as evidenced by their 5-7 record, but they've at least made enough progress to be able to handily defeat a team they should. You couldn't say the same for other Rams teams of recent vintage.

Stock watch: Up -- WR Stedman Bailey: After Kenny Britt's big day against the Denver Broncos two weeks ago, the Chargers made a concerted effort to take him out of the game plan last week, and Bailey made them pay. The same thing happened this week, and Bailey again stepped up with a big performance. He had five catches for 100 yards, a new career high, and would have had more, but the Rams didn't try to pile on in the second half. He even chipped in a tackle on special teams. Expected to be a legitimate top-two receiving threat entering the season, Bailey is starting to make good on that promise.

Hill bounces back: Shaun Hill's disappointing finish in San Diego last week left him answering questions all week about how he would bounce back. As it turned out, the 13-year veteran appeared entirely unfazed. In the first half alone, Hill was 13-of-22 for 183 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a rating of 116.3 as the Rams scored touchdowns on their first five possessions. Oakland's record is clearly awful, but the Raiders' defense entered the game 17th in the league in yards allowed per game.

Long returns: Defensive end Chris Long returned from the injured reserve list after the Rams activated him Saturday, and he played for the first time since the season opener against Minnesota. Long played quite a bit and delivered his first sack of the season in the third quarter and recovered a fumble in the fourth after a Robert Quinn sack.

Game ball: RB Tre Mason -- There were many choices here in such a blowout, but none offered the combination of immediate production with immense potential for the future of Mason. Mason flashed his speed on an 89-yard touchdown run that was the second-longest in franchise history and shiftiness on his 35-yard catch-and-run for the team's first touchdown. He finished with 164 total yards on 17 touches with three scores for the best performance of his young career.

What's next: The Rams head back out on the road for some Robert Griffin III-related fun as they take on the Washington Redskins. Safe to assume the big 2012 trade the teams made will be discussed at length as the Rams again seek consecutive wins for the first time this season.

QB snapshot: Shaun Hill

November, 25, 2014
A quick observation of St. Louis Rams quarterback Shaun Hill and how he played in the Rams' 27-24 loss in Week 12:

Hill made his 29th career start against the Chargers and had his share of struggles after a strong outing against Denver last week. He finished 18-of-35 for 198 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 54.2 and a QBR of 27.4. He also had a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown.

None of those passes will stand out more than the last-minute interception Hill threw to Chargers safety Marcus Gilchrist with the Rams going in to take the lead or, at worst, tie it. Turnovers were a problem with Austin Davis, and the Rams hoped Hill would rectify the issue with his experience.

But Hill's history suggests that might not happen. Only twice in his career has he gone two consecutive starts without a giveaway and he's never strung together more than two without turning it over.

Oakland is next on the schedule, and the Raiders rank 31st in the league with eight takeaways in 2014.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After an early evening Thursday practice, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher made it clear that a decision on the starting quarterback will again be made before Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys.

But the decision could be a little more difficult this week with veteran Shaun Hill making progress toward a return from an injured thigh. Hill remains limited on the official injury report but did more Thursday than he did Wednesday. Austin Davis continued to get the vast majority of the work with the first-team offense.

"Shaun was limited today," Fisher said. "He did more, but we're still day to day. It will most likely be a pre-game decision like it was last week."

The Rams worked Hill out before last week's game against Tampa Bay and decided he could be active as a third quarterback capable of taking shotgun snaps in an emergency. He could follow a similar path this week if the Rams decide to go with Davis on game day.

Elsewhere on Thursday's injury report, the Rams did not have guard Rodger Saffold because of an illness and cornerback Brandon McGee was downgraded from limited participation to did not participate because of a foot injury. Center Scott Wells, who did not practice Wednesday, returned to full participation Thursday.

Here's the full breakdown:

Did not participate: WR Tavon Austin (knee), TE Cory Harkey (knee), CB Trumaine Johnson (knee), OL Barrett Jones (back), Saffold (illness), McGee (foot)

Limited participation: Hill (thigh/calf)

Full participation: Wells (not injury related)
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Per the St. Louis Rams' policy, quarterback Shaun Hill hasn't been available to speak to the media since after the regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

 Injured players are off-limits until they start doing more in practice. But Hill, who practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday, was made available for the first time since after that game and injuring his thigh/calf.

That's because he's starting to make genuine progress toward a return. While Hill has yet to do any work in 11-on-11 team drills, and his status for this week remains uncertain, he said Wednesday he's making strides.

“Better and better every day, absolutely," Hill said. "That’s about all I can say about it. It certainly is getting better every day.”

Wednesday's practice offered the most tangible evidence since the injury that Hill is indeed improving. He was also listed as limited in last Friday's practice though that was a bit generous given how little he did. In Wednesday's workout, Hill did more in individual drills and appeared to be moving around better than he did late last week or even in pre-game warmups last week in Tampa Bay.

Since he suffered the injury, coach Jeff Fisher has been clear that Hill is still his starter so long as he's healthy. The question has been when Hill will meet that standard. Fisher has also emphasized the need not to rush Hill back to avoid making the injury worse.

Asked Wednesday what he needs to see from Hill to plug him back into the starting lineup, Fisher reiterated those thoughts.

“More than what we’re seeing right now," Fisher said. "Again, this is about not setting him back so we don’t want to put him in position out here on the field to where we’re risking setting him back. He’s day-to-day, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Austin Davis, who started last week against the Buccaneers, took the vast majority of the reps with the first team Wednesday with backup Case Keenum getting a few more reps. Davis led the Rams to a win in that game and will start again this week in the event that Hill doesn't show Fisher and the coaching staff what they need to see.

“I think that’ll be determined later in the week," Hill said. "But, the idea going in is to just keep progressing and see what happens when we get later in the week.”

Hill opened the first game against Minnesota 5-of-5, but the lingering memory of his interception near the end of the first half has persisted.

Hill and Fisher have said that interception was due in part to the injury, offering that Hill was trying to throw it away but couldn't get it out of bounds because he lacked the leg strength to drive it that far while on the run.

For Hill, whose last start (prior to this season's opener) came in 2010, the injury has been frustrating even if it isn't a severe one.

“That is something I struggled with, big time, originally when it happened," Hill said. "It’s been hard for me to get on the field, especially the last few years. And finally when you get the chance, for that to happen, it’s harder to come back off. What can you do? You pick yourself back up and get yourself back as quick as you can.”
TAMPA, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams' 19-17 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

" Rams coach Jeff Fisher had plenty of options when handing out the game ball after his team's first victory, but he opted for quarterback Austin Davis, who finished 22-of-29 for 235 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a passer rating of 99.1 in his first NFL start. Fisher pointed to Davis' poise as a primary reason for Davis' initial success, a trait apparent as he converted a pair of third downs on the winning drive with clutch throws.

" Davis' performance was enough to have many wondering whether he'd done enough to earn another start regardless of the status of veteran Shaun Hill's injured thigh. Fisher quickly put those thoughts to rest after the game.

"No, when Shaun comes back, he's our starter," Fisher said. "I'm really proud of Austin but Shaun's our starter."

" Receiver Tavon Austin left the game in the second quarter with an apparent knee injury just before a 51-minute lightning delay. When the team returned to begin warming up, Austin gave it a go but ultimately did not return. Fisher said Austin will have further tests on the knee Monday morning.

Rams' quarterback situation unresolved

September, 12, 2014
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams wrapped up their work week Friday afternoon but coach Jeff Fisher isn't ready to make a call on who his starting quarterback will be against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

That's because presumptive starter Shaun Hill did not practice most of the week and was extremely limited in Friday's practice because of a quad/thigh injury. The choice between Hill and Austin Davis might not be made until hours before kickoff.

"(Hill is) probably a game-time decision," Fisher said. "We got Austin some reps and Austin is much better suited to play this game this week because of the starter reps he took this week, so we’ll see what happens."

[+] EnlargeAustin Davis
AP Photo/David RichardThe Ram are confident in QB Austin Davis should starter Shaun Hill be unable to play.
Fisher indicated Friday that Hill had made progress on his injured leg throughout the week, but there wasn't enough to go on to make a decision at this point. Hill was at least in uniform for Friday's practice, but he really didn't participate much as Davis took the bulk of the reps.

Based on the week of practice, one would assume Davis is primed to make his first NFL start, but Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Hill is far enough along in the offense that he could start without any meaningful practice reps during the week.

"He’s been dialed in, doing everything," Schottenheimer said. "We actually make him call the plays of the quarterbacks in a lot of the walk-thrus that we do. No, if he’s ready to go, we have no problems that he’d go out there and perform well."

And if Hill is not ready to go, Davis will take his long-awaited turn as the starter. Davis got his first NFL game experience last week against Minnesota, going 16-of-23 for 192 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Those numbers weren't too bad on the surface, but a closer look at the performance revealed plenty of rough patches.

Looking back at his debut, Davis pointed to communication and basic operation as "spotty," pointing out he simply had not had a chance to huddle with the first-team offense before. He also took four sacks, some of which were the product of his inability to get rid of the ball or throw it away. Davis is hopeful that having a week's worth of practice and his three years of knowledge in the offense should allow him to clean up some of those areas.

"There's not a play call that I don't know exactly what the read is and exactly where the ball is supposed to go," Davis said. "It's really just getting game experience. It was great last week to get in and play ball, but I feel very, very comfortable with what we're doing."

The Rams apparently share that sentiment. Schottenheimer said Davis' knowledge of the scheme is such that he wouldn't need to scale the offense back for him.

"He’s really grown, he’s really developed," Schottenheimer said. "Coming from Southern Miss, it’s been a long process, he’s worked really, really hard. Very comfortable calling the game with him. Trust that he’s going to know what to do, do the right things. Again, I think that’s a credit to him."

The other part of the equation is whether to keep two or three quarterbacks active against the Bucs. Third-team signal caller Case Keenum now has a total of six practices with the Rams, but has impressed coaches with his work ethic and desire to get up to speed as fast as possible.

If Keenum is active and does have to play, the Rams will have a much smaller set of plays to work with.

"He beats the coaches in here most days," Schottenheimer said. "He really does. We’re here later than he is, but he’s here early working hard. By the looks of that he’s obviously got ability, and if he has to go for some reason, we’ll keep it simple."

Rams vs. Buccaneers preview

September, 12, 2014

It's tough to call the second game of the season a "must-win" situation. But that might not be far off what the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are facing this week.

Both teams are coming off embarrassing losses that could set the tone for disastrous seasons. But a victory in Week 2 could save a season -- at least for the moment.

ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas take a look at this matchup:

Yasinskas: Nick, let's cut right to the chase. Are the Rams as bad as they looked against the Vikings in the opener?

Wagoner: I don't think the Rams are as bad as they were in Week 1, but I can understand why some might view it that way. That isn't to say this team just had an off-day and is about to string 15 wins together. The issue in Week 1 boiled down to the Rams failing to do the things they believe they will do well this year. Namely, this is a team built to run the ball to set up play-action on offense and dominate defensively, but they didn't control the line of scrimmage well enough on either side of the ball to do that. On paper, this looked like an offensive line that could be really good if everyone is healthy -- but even healthy, it looked like an aging group unable to block basic four-man rushes.

Still, I expect the Rams to be more competitive this week, so long as they have veteran quarterback Shaun Hill back from a quad injury.

I suppose the best option now is to redirect back at you: The Bucs disappointed in Week 1 against a backup quarterback, and either way, they're going to see another this week against the Rams. Are they as bad as they showed against the Panthers? How do they bounce back?

Yasinskas: The Bucs were horrible offensively for more than three quarters. Their defense, which is supposed to be a strong point, wasn't much better against Carolina backup Derek Anderson. There weren't a lot of good things to come out of the opener, and I'm not trying to make it out to be more than it was. But the Bucs did score 14 points in the fourth quarter, and they made it a game. It took a long time, but their offense finally showed some rhythm in the fourth and they had a chance to win at the end. Maybe this offense isn't that good, or maybe it just took some time to get things going in the right direction.

I know hopes were high with Sam Bradford, and that all changed with his injury. How much of a difference will it make if Hill is able to play?

Wagoner: Let's be honest here: It's not like the Rams are choosing from a quarterback trio of Elway, Marino and Montana. But of the three they have on the roster, it's pretty clear Hill gives them the best chance to win at this point. He's a steady hand and actually got off to a pretty good start against the Vikings last week before a dropped screen pass and a bad throw that resulted in an interception just before the half. For what it's worth, Jeff Fisher said Hill was trying to throw that ball away but couldn't get it out of bounds because of the quad.

Either way, the Rams need Hill under center because the options behind him -- Austin Davis and Case Keenum -- simply aren't going to get the job done. Of course, it won't matter who is under center if the offensive line doesn't perform better than it did the past week. That group has to give Hill time to throw and open some holes in the run game for this offense to have any chance of success against that Tampa defense.

Speaking of that defense, Lovie Smith once coordinated the group in St. Louis, and we all have a pretty good idea of what he likes to do. But now that he's back with the Bucs as the head coach, what are some wrinkles he's bringing to the table, and how good can that group be with guys such as Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David in the system?

Yasinskas: McCoy and David are two excellent cornerstones around which to build the defense. But as we found out against Carolina, the Bucs need more than that. The key to a Smith defense is getting pressure from the front four, and the Bucs didn't do that against the Panthers. They came up with one sack (by McCoy) and got no pressure on the outside. Defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Michael Johnson have talent, but they have to be more productive for Smith's defense to really work. If the defense gets pressure, the turnovers will flow. If it doesn't get pressure, the defense will be nothing more than ordinary. McCoy and David are the stars of the defense, but the Bucs need Clayborn and Johnson to really make things click.

Tampa Bay's offensive line is a huge question, and the Bucs might be without injured guard Logan Mankins. Like any quarterback, Josh McCown is going to struggle if he's pressured. Are the Rams capable of putting a lot of pressure on McCown? If so, that will stall Tampa Bay's offense.

Wagoner: The strength of the Rams' defense is certainly found in the front four and the pass rush in general. Of course, that wasn't all that evident this past week against Minnesota. The Vikings only allowed one sack, and that came because of a botched snap. But Minnesota had a good game plan and made it a point to get the ball out quickly, which negated the Rams' pass rush. In fact, Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel averaged the fewest air yards per attempt of any quarterback in Week 1.

The Bucs know exactly what the Rams' pass rush can do after Robert Quinn gave them all kinds of headaches in the past year's meeting. But the Rams have to be better in coverage on underneath stuff if they want their pass rush to take off as it should.

McCown had some success throwing against the Rams last year when he was with the Bears, and the Bucs have a couple big, physical receivers on the outside. If things are going how the Bucs want, what type of challenges do they present to the Rams' defense?

Yasinskas: Let's assume for a second the offensive line plays a decent game. If that's the case, McCown will have time to throw, and he has some nice targets to work with. Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are all at least 6-foot-5. That creates all sorts of matchup problems for a secondary. Evans and Seferian-Jenkins are only rookies, but they can be impact players. Jackson is a proven receiver who probably doesn't get the recognition he deserves.

But like I said, the offensive line will be the key. If McCown has time to throw, he can be an efficient quarterback. If he doesn't have time, he'll show why he's been a backup most of his career.

Shaun Hill misses practice again

September, 11, 2014
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the second consecutive day, St. Louis Rams quarterback Shaun Hill did not participate in practice.

Hill sat out Thursday's practice with a quad/thigh injury, allowing Austin Davis to take the majority of the repetitions with the first-team offense once again. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer indicated Hill might not have to practice this week in order to be able to play Sunday in Tampa Bay because of his experience and knowledge of the offense.

Defensive end Chris Long is not on Thursday's injury report because he was officially moved to the injured reserve list with the designation to return. In his place, the Rams moved defensive tackle Matt Conrath from the practice squad to the active roster. Defensive end Kourtnei Brown was signed to the practice squad to take Conrath's place. Brown spent training camp with the Rams.

Elsewhere on the report, the only move of note from the Rams' perspective involved cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. Joyner was downgraded from limited participation to did not participate.

Here's the rundown:

Did not practice: CB Trumaine Johnson (knee), OL Barrett Jones (back), DB Lamarcus Joyner (back), QB Shaun Hill (thigh).