It's apparent that St. Louis Rams fans have cause to be slightly more optimistic about the Rams' chances this season in a weak conference with a favorable second half schedule now that holdout running back Steven Jackson has signed a new contract that guarantees him $11 million in bonus money and $20 million over three years if he stays healthy.
But anyone who believe Jackson was the last missing piece of the puzzle for the Rams to return to the playoffs is sorely mistaken. This team has some glaring personnel problems that have yet to be fixed. Even if Jackson exceeds expectations, no one should expect this team to compete for a playoff spot, and here's why...
Quarterback: I've never been a believer in Marc Bulger, even when he was playing at a Pro Bowl caliber, at least statistically. He's been beat up with sacks and hard hits for three seasons now, and he's definitely got that Chris Miller concussion vibe going now. Happy feet, poor accuracy, lack of leadership. Teams rise and fall with their QB, and Bulger doesn't have what it takes to lead a team into the playoffs.
Offensive Line: The line is putting most of its hopes into the healthy return of Orlando Pace. But even if the Big O is healthy, he's still been in the league for more than a decade. That type of wear takes its toll. Where else did the O-line improve? Center? Right tackle? I didn't think so. Jackson won't run for much if that line doesn't open holes for him.
Running Backs: Jackson can't carry the ball 40 times a game. Who's gonna spell him? Who's the fullback? Who can come in as a blocking back on passing downs? Who can catch a pass out of the backfield on second and short? After Jackson, this team has no depth.
Receivers: Other than Torry Holt, is there anyone who can catch a pass on this team? Is there anyone who can get downfield and hope that Bulger actually puts the pass in their area code? Maybe Jackson can catch a few passes out of the backfield, but since defenses will key on him, that doesn't seem like a great option.
Defense: We can hope that Leonard Little and Chris Long put pressure on the quarterback, but the inside of that line is dismal in terms of both stopping run and getting to opposing quarterbacks. The linebackers are even worse, and let's not even talk about a secondary that continues to get burned in the passing game. This is going to be an atrocious defense this year, maybe one of the worst in the league.
Coaching: I was a Scott Linehan fan when he was running Daunte Culpepper's offense in Minnesota, but those days are long gone. He's working with a team that doesn't respect him, and even with Al Saunders running the offense, it's unlikely that Linehan will survive this season as head coach unless the team finishes above .500.
I'm glad Jackson ended his holdout, but he's proven to be mentally and physically unprepared for games in the past. The fact that he's also been injury prone doesn't help, since he hasn't had a full camp to get into game shape. He's unlikely to be a real factor in a game until weeks four or five. I wish I had better news, but to paraphrase Rick Pitino from another time and place, Marshall Faulk isn't walking through that door.