32 to 1: Youth and talent may not be enough for No. 12 Rams

St. Louis' roster is filled with emerging stars, but it will still be a challenge to make waves in the ultra-competitive NFC West.

NFL Roundtable: St. Louis Rams

JUL 21, 3:56 am
A talented defense, an experienced coach that knows how to win and a quarterback with plenty to prove. Do the Rams have what it takes to win in a very tough NFC West? Jay Glazer, Randy Moss, Donovan McNabb, Brian Urlacher and Joel Klatt figure it out.

The Rams finished at the bottom of their division, went 1-5 in the NFC West and ended the 2013 season with a 7-9 record. And yet they were one of the most feared teams in the NFL. That's the rub with playing in the NFL's best division. You can have one of the top defenses in the league and be a world beater on any given week and still fail to even compete for a playoff spot.

Rams fans hope the offense will catch up with the defense in 2014 and that their team can go from division basement dweller to Super Bowl contender in the third year of Jeff Fisher's St. Louis coaching tenure.

It's possible.

The Rams finished second in the league in sacks a season ago, led by end Robert Quinn's league-leading 19. Quinn and fellow end Chris Long make up one of the best edge rushing tandems in the NFL, and linebackers James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree each racked up more than 140 tackles a season ago. Across the board, the Rams, aided by a recent string of high draft picks (and the Robert Griffin III trade), are loaded with bright, young talent on defense.

The offense showed some flashes in 2013 but still has a long way to go before it's able to compete with the league's elite units. Prior to being lost for the season with a torn ACL after seven games, quarterback Sam Bradford was playing good football. His replacement, veteran Kellen Clemens, was more than competent and won more games than anticipated. Clemens is now in San Diego, but Bradford is expected to make a full recovery from the injury. 

Rookie wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey didn't make much of an impact until the second half of last season, long after Bradford was out of the lineup. There's hope that Austin, Bailey, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and free-agent pickup Kenny Britt can form a serviceable wide receiver group. Each has shown flashes in spurts but none has put it all together. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will look to get much more out of Austin, the 2013 eighth overall pick, in the 5-foot-7 game changer's second year as a pro.

Offensive tackle Greg Robinson and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, this year's first-round picks, could both be impact players from the start, and third-rounder Tre Mason should see some action in the backfield, spelling 2013 rookie standout Zac Stacy.

The talent and youth on this team is truly off the charts, but in a competitive NFC West, it'll take a breakout year from Bradford for St. Louis to emerge as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Executives Les Snead and Kevin Demoff have built a formidable team in St. Louis. After eight straight years of missing the playoffs and loading up on young talent, the Rams not only could, but should, compete for a postseason berth in 2014. 

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