Rams hungry for more in Year 2 with Fisher

The Robert Griffin III trade helped speed the St. Louis Rams’

arc from sad sack to respectability. In coach Jeff Fisher’s second

season, they’ll be counting on more high-profile youngsters they’ve

stockpiled to take the next step.

Surplus picks from the deal with Washington for the second

overall pick in 2012 gave the Rams confidence to trade up for wide

receiver Tavon Austin this year. Austin and fellow first-rounder

Alec Ogletree will start for a team that improved to 7-8-1 last

year with two rookie starters on defense and both specialists as

rookies, too.

While the Redskins made the playoffs last year, the Rams had

more needs to fill and they’re getting Washington’s first-rounder

next year, too. They remain among the NFL’s youngest teams, so

expect more learning on the job that’ll require patience at the

top.

There are increased expectations, fed in part by the addition of

free agents Jared Cook and Jake Long. There’s a feeling the Rams

belong in a stacked NFC West, too, after going 4-1-1 in the

division, but will have to show it over the long haul to post the

franchise’s first winning record in a decade.

”Now is when you’re got to learn grit,” general manager Les

Snead said. ”They’re going to know we’re coming.”

If the Rams were playing on the PGA tour, Snead last year they’d

have been satisfied making the cut. No more.

The Rams have been here before only to fall back, winning seven

games in 2010 only to crash the next season, losing their first

six, going 2-14 and getting Steve Spagnuolo fired. It shouldn’t

happen again under Fisher, and here are five things to know about

the Rams heading into the Sept. 8 opener at home against

Arizona:

FISHER’S TEAM: The roster overhaul has been drastic, with eight

undrafted free agents among the 18 rookies to play last year. There

are about a dozen holdovers from the failed Spagnuolo and Scott

Linehan regimes that combined for just 15 wins in five seasons, the

worst stretch in NFL history. A few have been simply too good to

show the door. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis has led the team

in tackles all four of his seasons, defensive end Chris Long is the

top pass rusher and though Sam Bradford has yet to crack the NFL’s

elite cadre of quarterbacks, the Rams are satisfied with him.

They’ve had a while to adjust to the biggest camp setback, plugging

in veteran Will Witherspoon at outside linebacker the first four

games. Though Jo-Lonn Dunbar’s suspension was announced in early

August, the team had known it was coming barring a successful

appeal for some times.

REPLACING JACKSON: The biggest question heading into camp,

finding a successor to Steven Jackson, was settled prior to Week 3

of the preseason when Fisher named Daryl Richardson the starting

running back. Richardson was the next-to-last pick of the 2012

draft but is no surprise anymore, beating second rounder Isaiah

Pead for the backup job last year and impressing this summer with

quickness and decisive moves. Two rookies, fifth-rounder Zac Stacy

and undrafted Benny Cunningham, are also in the mix.

SPEED SPEED SPEED: For years, the Rams ignored wide receiver.

Now they’re well stocked. Austin showed game-breaking potential at

Denver with an 81-yard punt return and will be used all over the

field to keep defenses guessing. Both Austin and Stedman Bailey are

coming off prolific seasons at West Virginia. Incumbent Chris

Givens won a number of foot races as a rookie last year after

emerging ahead of Brian Quick, chosen two rounds earlier in the

second round. Quick has shown promise in the preseason he’s ready

to handle more. The rookies must adapt, though, to a more complex

playbook.

BRADFORD BREAKOUT?: For the first time since getting picked

first overall in 2010, the quarterback didn’t have to spend the

offseason learning a new scheme. A second season with offensive

coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s scheme should help expand the

options for Bradford, who is coming off his best statistical

season.

”It seems like now I’ve just had so much more experience and

I’ve seen things that it’s rare that I see something that catches

me totally off-guard,” Bradford said.

FRONT LINE: The Rams have a pair of former No. 1 overall picks

on offense, with Long (2008) protecting Bradford’s blind side at

left tackle. Center Scott Wells was among the top additions last

year and is healthy after a delayed debut in 2012 and right guard

Harvey Dahl is durable, efficient and feisty. Chris Williams and

Shelly Smith, alternating starts at left guard during the

preseason, are both solid. Former left tackle Rodger Saffold is an

upgrade on the right side after an inauspicious start, injuring his

shoulder on the second snap of the preseason. He returned for Week

3.

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org