Fisher, Rams face Lions in season opener

Youth must age. There comes a point when the reservations end, results begin and experience shapes a vision into cold, hard production. Potential, after all, can’t wait forever.

So it is with the Jeff Fisher era. Welcome to the start, but doesn’t it seem like so much has already happened? Draft picks were traded and selections were made, free agents were signed and Gregg Williams was suspended, Jason Smith was labeled a bust and Austin Davis was declared a surprise. And all that occurred before Fisher cracked wise this week about cartoons and Froot Loops when talking about the St. Louis Rams’ 17 rookies on roster.

Yet little about what lies ahead will be a joke. Make no mistake: This will be a Rokevious Watkins-sized reconstruction, and improvement should be the goal this season. Will the Rams make a run at the San Francisco 49ers atop the NFC West and clinch their first playoff spot since the long-faded 2004 campaign? Probably not – unless Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt exit retirement having sipped from the Fountain of Youth.

The past is just that, but there’s intrigue with how the Rams will begin their stride forward against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, past the hollow Steve Spagnuolo/Billy Devaney years, past the pain.
Tomorrow starts now. Enjoy the ride.


 
How will rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers’ injury affect the defensive line?
 
The preseason’s cruelest development will linger in Week 1. The 6-foot-6, 322-pound load lumbered with a thick boot in the Rams locker room after sustaining a high right ankle sprain during a victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the final dress rehearsal. The 14th overall pick was expected to be a plug to fill a gap that allowed 2,433 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns last season (only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2,497 yards were worse in the category).

St. Louis’ loss is Detroit running back Kevin Smith’s gain. Brockers’ injury was a reminder of the risks included in a rebuild. Fisher, wisely, thought his starters needed work in the often-fluffy final preseason game. However, the decision cost him an estimated month of Brockers’ presence on the field. Such is the risk/reward reality of Fisher’s job.

That leaves the Rams with three able-bodied defensive tackles: Kendall Langford, Jermelle Cudjo and Kellen Heard. It also gives the rest of the line more responsibility. Expect Detroit to test the teeth of St. Louis’ defensive front with a simple goal: Find space and make more.
 
How will right tackle Barry Richardson perform?
 
Time to prove it. Richardson pulled the surprise of camp by unseating former first-round pick Jason Smith. Now comes Step 2: Showing he can be trusted.

This is no small test, considering what’s at stake for him and the franchise. Sam Bradford’s health is in the balance, as well as a chance for Richardson to reshape his reputation. That’s heady stuff, sure, but the possible payoff is huge.

The Rams’ free-agent addition started 33 games in the last four years with the Kansas City Chiefs. Some tabbed him as the NFL’s bottom man at his position. That’s far from a ringing endorsement for someone on a revamped offensive line that will face a frothing defensive front with veterans Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril and Ndamukong Suh. The stat has been published often, but it bears repeating to show what the Rams’ must avoid this season: St. Louis allowed an NFL-worst 55 sacks during a sorry 2-14 campaign in 2011. Will Richardson be part of a turnaround? Or will opponents turn him around on their way to decking Bradford?

The answer will reveal a lot about Richardson and the Rams.
 
What will happen?
 
Search for confidence on both sides of the ball. Scour for sustained drives. Spotting a few key defensive stops wouldn’t hurt either. Week 1 is about unknowns, and the Rams will learn these truths about youth Sunday: It’s exciting but maddening; it’s promising but frustrating enough to make you rip your hair.

It’s inspection time at Ford Field. The offseason has been filled with glowing talk of progress and fixing a bumbling brand of football. We saw a little of everything in the preseason. There were nights when Bradford looked sharp and others when he seemed off. We saw nights when a recovery looked possible and others when it seemed distant.

So this should come as no surprise: Expect inconsistency Sunday.

Keep in mind that foundations aren’t dug in a day. Still, it’s reasonable to demand control. Fisher and first-year general manager Les Snead have remade the roster in their image. The study of their performance starts in Week 1.

Will their changes be enough to steal a victory against a returning playoff team? It’s hard to see it. Still, youth must grow older sometime. The future is now.
 
Pick: Lions 28, Rams 17

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.