While the St. Louis Rams’ most-seasoned players peeled out for their summer vacations last Friday, first-year players are still on the clock. And since it’s rookie week — days the freshest faces on the team will spend conditioning and doing off-field work — there might as well be a quiz, too.
No multiple choice.
Here are five pressing questions the baby Rams need to answer.
1) Can Austin take a hit?
Tracking Tavon Austin was the treat of the Rams’ organized team activities.
The West Virginia speedster did a little bit of everything. He ran routes and made cuts sharp enough to send defensive backs to the ground. He wrestled passes away from taller defenders for touchdowns. He lined up in the backfield and took handoffs. He even returned kicks and punts, once juking Rams punter Johnny Hekker so severely that Hekker feigned a hamstring pull to save face.
But one thing was missing: contact.
Austin’s size (5-foot-9, 174 pounds) creates a whole lot of concern. You can hear he hasn’t missed a game in eight years, and it’s seriously impressive. But still, the worry is there, and Austin knows it.
“That’s definitely never going away,” Austin said the night he was drafted. “I just have to keep my heart up, keep my mind right and keep grinding every day in practice.”
Austin will get hit. Eventually, he’s going to get hit hard. Anxiety about his undersized frame will disappear every time he gets up, dusts himself off and gets back to work.
2) Can Ogletree continue to impress?
Ask football coaches about a rookie at this point in the year and you’re likely to get a response that includes a dose of optimism (“He looks good so far.”) mixed with uncertainty (“We have to wait until we see him in pads.”).
With Alec Ogletree, though, things are different.
“We expect big things out of him,” Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton said last week.
Rams coaches are giddy about the Georgia linebacker whose draft stock took a dive due to off-field trouble.
He was a sure bet to snag at least one interception during every open OTA. By all accounts, he’s understanding the Xs and Os. And he’s staying out of trouble.
Will this feel-good story last?
3) Will Stacy move ahead of Isaiah Pead?
Fisher has said his backfield could feature as many as four players. And while the plan is to get everyone touches, some backs are surely going to get more than others. The Rams’ final draft pick, Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy, might have a chance to be second in line.
There’s no reason to believe Daryl Richardson won’t be the starter. He was the most used and most productive out of any of the returning backs. But a strong camp and preseason success might be enough to push Stacy past Isaiah Pead, the second-year back who was sparsely used as a rookie.
Fisher said Pead’s one-game suspension to start this season — a reprimand Pead received from the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy — won’t hurt Pead’s chances in the backfield competition. However, it will mean more touches for Stacy in preparation for that game. If he takes advantage of the opportunity, it could turn into a depth-chart promotion.
4) Where does Jones fit in?
Barrett Jones should be healthy come training camp, and that means the Rams are going to have to figure out what they’re going to do with the former Alabama offensive lineman they acquired in the draft.
Jones, who is fresh off a foot surgery, played a little bit of everything — both tackle positions, both guard positions and center — during his college career with the Crimson Tide. And he was pretty good at every single one. That experience will help him patch any offensive-line hole he’s asked to fill this season. But he will still need a position to call home.
If he’s tabbed as a center, he will compete with current backup Tim Barnes. The current starter at the position, Scott Wells, was limited to just seven starts last season due to injury.
5) Can McGee take advantage?
Brandon McGee was understandably peeved when his draft dreams took a tumble. The speedy Miami cornerback figured he would go in the third round. The Rams picked him in the fifth.
But there is a bright side. Since Bradley Fletcher signed with Philadelphia, the Rams only have four returning cornerbacks on their roster: Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Quinton Pointer.
If McGee can turn his frustration into fuel, like he says he will, he might make a spot for himself as a solid reserve in the St. Louis secondary.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org