Rams are excited about offensive upgrades

ST. LOUIS — Training camp remains weeks away, but quarterback Sam Bradford and the Rams already are aflutter about their revamped offense.

And they should be, at least when it’s compared to the unit that finished 25th in scoring last season.

Through the free-agent market and the draft, the Rams have added a host of offensive upgrades. They signed a four-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Jake Long, and a tight end with a receiver’s skills, Jared Cook. They used first- and third-round draft picks on a pair of speedy receivers out of West Virginia, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.

While they lost their bruiser running back, Steven Jackson, they have built a stable of young and quicker backs to take his touches.

All this newfound speed, in fact, is why offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has noticed his quarterback is wearing a happy face these days.

“I understand why Sam has a smile on his face. It’s been a really, really great offseason,” Schottenheimer said after the Rams’ latest organized team activity Tuesday.

For Bradford, not having to learn a new system for the first time in his young career was reason enough to be excited about 2013. Surrounding him with more potential playmakers than he has worked with in St. Louis adds to his enthusiasm level — as well as his teammates’.

“The league hasn’t seen what he can do when he’s not under pressure,” guard Harvey Dahl said. “Give him time and he’s going to be pretty special.”

When Dahl says give him time, he is referring to keeping Bradford on his feet when he passes. But Dahl also could be talking about the time Bradford and the entire offense need to come together as a unit.

They have a lot to figure out, starting with what kind of offense they will be. Will they start letting Bradford throw the ball downfield to utilize the newfound speed? Will they focus their attack on the ground? If they know the answer, they aren’t ready to say.

“We’re still trying to find what our identity is going to be,” Schottenheimer said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Adds Bradford: “I don’t know if we’re going to throw the ball more — I’d be fine with that — but I definitely think we’ll move more to the one-back world, spread people out. That’s probably the direction we’re going.”

No “probably” about it. To best utilize their speed, the Rams will spread out their offense more. The result should be more passing plays, though Schottenheimer isn’t ready to admit as much.

While improved speed is the main reason behind the change, the addition of Long might mean even more. With him around, Bradford should not be hearing nearly as many footsteps rushing at him in the pocket.

“We upgraded big time,” Dahl said. “With Jake coming in, with some of the core guys being here consecutive years, there’s going to be a huge improvement.”

First, though, the Rams must find the answer to numerous questions. Among them:

* Can the rookie receivers step in and be productive? More than speed is needed, as the Rams found out last year with the struggles of Brian Quick, the team’s second-round pick in 2012.

* Can Long stay healthy? The Rams would not have given him four years and (up to) $36 million if they didn’t believe so, but Long has had his share of injuries in the past two seasons. His 2012 was cut short by biceps and triceps injuries, and he dealt with back and knee issues.

* Who will emerge as the No. 1 running back? Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy are the leading candidates, but the best bet is on none of the above. Or, more likely, all of the above.

“You need multiple backs in this league,” Schottenheimer said. “We’re going to try to play to their strengths. With Jack(son) last year, it was different. It was harder to do the committee because every time you took him out, you were missing his leadership and toughness. This year, we have nice pieces to try to blend in and use them differently to attack people.”  

Now all they have to do is figure out how to best use them, as well as the rest of the offense.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.