NFL

Already in tough in, Bradford's loss devastating to Rams

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Ken Rodney, TSN.ca
8/30/2014 8:49:45 PM
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Things were already going to be tough enough for Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams in the NFC West.

Trapped in what is considered to be the toughest division in the league, featuring the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, the team many believed to be the second best team last season, improving on their 7-9, 4th place finish was going to be tough.

The preseason loss of quarterback Sam Bradford to a torn ACL in his left knee, the second time in two seasons he's been wiped out with the same injury, will be devastating to the Rams chances of having any tangible success this season.

Before his Week 7 injury last season, Bradford was once again showing the skills that led to him being the number one overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.  He had 14 touchdowns and four interceptions before shredding his knee.

Of the 20 quarterbacks picked number one overall since 1976, only JaMarcus Russell and Alex Smith will have started less games than Bradford in their first five seasons.

So where do the Rams go from here?

Assuming no late season moves are made, journeyman QB Shaun Hill will take the reins as the starter.  Hill has not started an NFL game since 2010 while he was a member of the Detroit Lions, but the veteran made 26 starts between 2007 and the last time he was in the opening lineup.

He threw 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for the Lions in 2010 and 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions for the 49ers in 2008, the two seasons where he's played in at least nine games.

The big men up front have become even more important for the Rams and the health of left tackle Jake Long is already in the spotlight.  Trying to work his way back from his own ACL surgery, Long is one of the best offensive linemen in the league when healthy and will be needed.

Even before the Bradford injury, Fisher had talked about the importance of their running game and the success they need to get out of Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham.

Stacy last season rushed for 973 yards and seven touchdowns, but really came on in the season half of the season as he was given more of the load to carry as the season progressed.

Cunningham has been more of the story in the preseason as he has pushed himself further into the Rams backfield plans.  At this point the two look to be sharing the position heading into the season, which is probably the right move for a team that might need to keep the ball on the ground more than originally planned.

Defensively the Rams head into the season with what could very well be a breakout unit of players including defensive end Robert Quinn who is one of the best pass rushers in the game.

Last season his 19 sacks were second only to Indianapolis Colts' Robert Mathis who led the league with 19.5.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is known for getting the best out of this type of player and Quinn could very well be on track to have an even greater defensive impact this season.

Chris Long will be rushing the quarterback from the other side and he contributed 8.5 sacks to the cause last year and as Quinn becomes an even greater and more known entity, Long will find himself in a lot of one-on-one situations and could see his number rise back into the double digits as they were earlier in his career.

Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis will both be once again big players at the linebacker position for the Rams.

Ogletree was responsible for 95 tackles, a 98-yard interception return and six forced fumbles last season and in his second year in the league even more will be expected of him.

The Rams are a talented team that could still cause problems but in the tough NFC West, it would have been hard to see them improving on their standing with Bradford and even harder to see them do it without their star quarterback.

Jeff Fisher (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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