Once again, for Rams it’s wait till next year

If the Rams had any games left on the schedule, rookie Tavon

Austin said he would have definitely been back from a high-ankle

sprain that sidelined him three games.

And that would have at least made for some more excitement for

St. Louis.

”I hope in the future we have a lot of big plays coming up for

me,” Austin said Monday while cleaning out his locker.

The Rams (7-9) were eliminated from postseason contention two

weeks ago, but many felt their time to contend was coming.

Defensive end Chris Long says the youngest team in the NFL needs to

grow up and prove it on game day.

”Hey, listen, every year the community, the media, everybody is

always trying to make predictions for how close we are,” Long

said. ”We feel like we’re right there, but obviously we’ve said

that before, so I’m not going to get caught up in preaching.”

The Rams were more competitive in the second season under coach

Jeff Fisher and Les Snead, and soldiered through some tough

injuries, including the loss of quarterback Sam Bradford. The

bottom line: stuck on seven wins.

Given the franchise’s recent sorry history, 7-9 isn’t a terrible

pill to swallow. Prior to the new regime, the Rams totaled 15 wins

in five seasons.

Fisher said this team is ”significantly better than the team we

took in last year.”

”We’re closing the gap,” Fisher said. ”We’re not there

yet.”

The gap actually appears to have increased in the NFC West. They

were 1-5 against Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona and had

double-figure penalty totals on the road against all those teams,

perhaps reflecting frustration.

Last season, the Rams were 4-1-1 in the division.

”I think defensively, we can compete with these teams,” Fisher

said.

Certainly getting manhandled by the Seahawks in the 27-9 finale

Sunday could leave a sour taste for a while. The Rams were held to

158 yards and lost their cool with 12 penalties for 87 yards, plus

nine other calls that were offset or not accepted.

St. Louis was the second-most penalized team in the NFL.

”We’ll address that, we’ll correct that, we’ll get it fixed,”

Fisher said. ”Games we had too many penalties were not

successful.”

Fisher anticipated no coaching changes, and less roster churn

than a year earlier. Backup quarterback Kellen Clemens, who started

the final nine games, wants to be back but noted ”it’s a little

different than my senior prom” and ”I have to have a date for

this one.”

The Rams may not get much younger next year given they have two

first-round draft picks, including the second overall selection as

the final payment in the Robert Griffin III deal with Washington.

Areas of concern are offensive tackle and secondary, although

Fisher shed no light on that.

”The draft’s in May,” the coach said. ”So we’ve got a lot of

time to massage that and look at that.”

They may need help at both tackles, especially at the start of

2014. Jake Long might need more time to recover from an ACL injury

delayed for another month or so to allow an MCL tear to heal first,

and Rodger Saffold, who was shuttled around before ending the year

at left tackle, could leave in free agency.

”It’s not ideal but it’s all part of the game,” Long said.

”You’ve got to deal with it and I’ll come back stronger for

it.”

Saffold was off-limits to media because he’s suffering from

concussion-like symptoms.

The Rams may need a cornerback depending on whether Cortland

Finnegan can return from an eye injury, and they’re not heavily

invested in safety. The pass rush led by Robert Quinn, who set a

franchise record with 19 sacks and was voted MVP by teammates, at

times minimized those deficiencies.

”It’s a great honor for them to do that, it means a lot,”

Quinn said. ”We’ve got to be a little more consistent.”

Finnegan remains a question mark, visiting with doctors for a

progress report on a cracked orbital bone after the team

meeting.

”I’ll be back,” Finnegan said, ”and let you know.”

The Rams guessed right letting running back Steven Jackson leave

in free agency and turning that job over to kids. Zac Stacy fell 27

yards shy of giving the franchise a ninth consecutive 1,000-yard

rusher when the Seahawks held him to 15 yards on 15 carries, but

was a find in the fifth round.

”I was given an opportunity and I pretty much took advantage of

it,” Stacy said. ”One thing I’ve taken from guys like Chris Long

and James Laurinaitis, one they told me, just be a true pro about

yourself.”

Fellow rookie Benny Cunningham, who was undrafted, had a

100-yard game and averaged 5.6 yards in limited work.

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