Here are five areas of concern as the St. Louis Rams open training camp Friday at Earth City, Mo.:
1) Is new quarterback Nick Foles capable of pushing the Rams’ offense to a higher level?
Rams fans have to hope that Foles is closer to his 2013 version (27 touchdowns, two interceptions) than the guy that struggled at times in 2014 (13 TDs, 10 sacks) before a season-ending collarbone injury kept him out the final eight games. Foles won’t be asked to do as much here as he was in Philadelphia’s fast-paced, intricate offense of Chip Kelly. The specter of former first overall pick Sam Bradford is gone with the Rams sending him to the Eagles for Foles. Also in the final year of his contract, Foles has a lot of reasons to succeed here but will be calling signals for an offense with plenty of questions. There’s also a new offensive coordinator in Frank Cignetti and two new offensive assistants in former QBs Jeff Garcia and Chris Weinke.
2) How will a revamped - and potentially young - offensive line hold up?
The only known quantities on the Rams’ offensive line are second-year left tackle Greg Robinson and veteran left guard Rodger Saffold. After that it’s a three-way battle at center between veteran Tim Barnes, oft-injured Barrett Jones and Demetrius Rhaney, in his second season. Rookie being counted on to man spots on the right side are Rob Havenstein and Jamar Brown. That’s asking a lot unless another veteran or two emerges during camp.
3) Is this the year the Rams get some major production from their wide receiving corps?
The Rams obviously have great confidence in what they have at this position as they failed to make a major upgrade outside of re-signing veteran Kenny Britt (48 catches, 748 yards, 3 TDs in 2014). The team has yet to find a way to fully utilize 2013 eighth-overall pick Tavon Austin. Brian Quick showed great promise early last season (25 catches, 375 yards, three TDs) before being sidelined because of shoulder surgery. Look for more production from Stedman Bailey but Chris Givens’ role diminished significantly a year ago.
4) Is the Rams defense ready to join the elite units in the NFL?
All the pieces are seemingly in place. Two heat-seeking defensive ends in Robert Quinn and Chris Long and a second-year tackle in Aaron Donald coming off a season in which he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (nine sacks, 17 tackles for loss). Second-year linebacker Alec Ogletree and defensive tackle Michael Brockers have made progress and veteran James Laurinaitis is back at middle linebacker. Young cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and E.J. Gaines are backed by Trumaine Johnson and Marcus Roberson. Safeties Rodney McLeod, T.J. McDonald and Mark Barron also showed flashes of brilliance. Can the Rams find a way to consistently stop the run while applying fierce pressure on opposing QBs?
5) Can rookie running back Todd Gurley become a significant factor in the offense?
The Rams known what they have in talented young running backs Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham, but 2015 10th overall pick Todd Gurley gives them the potential hone-run threat with star power. Gurley racked up 3,285 yards and 36 touchdowns in parts of three seasons at Georgia. The only problem is Gurley is coming off a left anterior cruciate ligament injury that ended his 2014 college season and while he recently passed the Rams’ conditioning test, the questions remain. The presence of Mason and Cunningham should allow the team to bring Gurley along slowly before getting him back to full speed, but as they have seen with Bradford — who suffered two ACL injuries — NFL players are one hit away from a significant injury.