The San Francisco 49ers kick off the 2016 season facing an old rivalry in the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams returned to LA this offseason, and it reignites the California side of this rivalry a little bit more. The two teams are expected to finish in the bottom half of the NFC West, but it shouldn’t take too much shine off the rivalry. The questionable offenses on the other hand can do plenty of that.
So much is changing for the Rams, and yet Jeff Fisher remains, so much remains the same. I chatted with 3k of Turf Show Times, and we talked about the good, the bad, the ugly, and the Jeff Fisher of the 2016 Los Angeles Rams.
Niners Nation: So what exactly has the relocation to LA been like? I know a lot of Rams fans are not from St. Louis, but what has this done to the fan base, both positive and negative?
Turf Show Times: I think it's a bit hard to gauge this soon after relocation. You've clearly got a huge groundswell of new support in LA as evidenced by turnout in the Rams' two home preseason games. There's also a new audience in LA that is, how should I say, eager to be receptive but unsure of the product. This is a combination of casual fans adjusting to having a home team in the market as well as NFL fans who latched on to another team in the last 22 years and are perhaps open to converting over to being Rams fans, but are maybe reluctant due to...well, the Rams being the Rams.
In terms of what's been positive, the scale of support in LA. You've got fans of my era and older, obviously, who were fans before the LA move. Those Rams fans in LA have been ecstatic to have the franchise back in SoCal, and they proved it in the last month. On the negative side, I think it's unfair to ignore the process the Rams exploited in the move back to LA. Whether it was the outright lying from nearly everyone involved feigning some lack of institutional knowledge of the effort to relocate or the subjugation of the old class of ownership or the unnecessary tarnishing of St. Louis by the Rams throughout the process, but most notably in the relocation filing...it was just ugly.
It has been fascinating to observe a franchise, let alone an NFL franchise given the state of this league in the American pop culture zeitgeist, traverse the relocation arc in the social media age. I think in the end, some fans will remain fans, plenty of St. Louis fans will support other teams (as was the case for tons of LA fans when the Rams left LA) and the new city will pick up a new fandom. The real question is if the on-field product will help sustain the new surge of support.
NN: The latest reports have Jared Goff inactive for Week 1. How do Rams fans feel about that? Do you think he makes a start this season, or will it be a proverbial red-shirt year?
That about sums it up.
And Rams fans are torn on how much to expect from Goff at this point. It's not as if Case Keenum is going to light up the fantasy football QB position, but there's no doubt Goff didn't do anything to "win" the job.
As for a redshirt year, the last prospect the Rams did that with: OT Isaiah Battle, their pick a year ago in the 2015 NFL Supplemental Draft. The cost? Their 2016 NFL Draft fifth-rounder. The result? After sitting out all of last year (as in not getting a single snap), Battle...didn't even make the 53-man roster this year.
Color me worried.
NN: How does Jeff Fisher still have a job? Feel free to explore the studio space in talking about Fisher, his strengths and weaknesses, and what naked pictures he holds in his possession.
TST: So the bottom line is that it's less about Fisher and more about the Rams. They just don't live and die by wins and losses right now. It's not just that Fisher's still employed; the Rams are close to reaching a contract extension with he and GM Les Snead.
It's strange to have to consider as a fan when all most of us really care about is the wins and losses, but that's just not the way the Rams operate right now. They're focusing on expanding the business and operational priorities more than, well, winning football games and demanding as much.
NN: The defense is considered a strength, but what weaknesses does the unit have?
TST: I'd change the verb tense there. The defense has been considered a strength. I'm not sure what kind of defense we're getting from the Rams in 2016 after losing four starters from last year and drafting 0 replacements. DE Chris Long, MLB James Laurinaitis, CB Janoris Jenkins and FS Rodney McLeod all left this offseason. All are being replaced by some upward shifting of the depth chart. It's not that the new starters can't contribute sufficiently. It's that they weren't the starters over those ex-Rams for a reason. And perhaps more worrisome, the 2015 depth that is sliding up into starting roles now leaves their depth slots vacated. The 2016 NFL Draft provided the Rams with a single defensive rookie.
So I wouldn't be certain that the defense is considered a strength. Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams has his toughest task to date with the Rams this year.
NN: What can you tell us about the offensive line?
TST: It's basically unchanged from a year ago, and that's by design. The Rams stacked up a ton of new talent on the line last year drafting four new lineman headlined by RT Rob Havenstein and RG Jamon Brown while adding Garrett Reynolds in free agency. When G Rodger Saffold went down to injury, a yearly tradition, Reynolds filled in amicably. Brown's injury later on hurt a bit more as he was midway through a strong rookie season. Havenstein, for his part, was the only tackle to play in 12 or more games and not give up a sack.
Overall, it wasn't a great season for the Rams' O-line. The hope is that individual skill set improvements will be enough to carry the team through, because they're not getting any help otherwise.
NN: Bonus - Is there anything that is the most "LA" about the Rams now?
TST: The hype. Hard Knocks. The billboards. That effort is more important to the franchise than winning. That the style is more than the substance. That's not a knock on LA. I was born there. I love it. It's just, there's a way to sell to LA. The Rams understand that. Hell, we had Marilyn Monroe and Homer Simpson announce a damn draft pick. The question is if the bottom will fall out. The franchise doesn't really care what's propping it up right now. They're selling Todd Gurley so hard, they've got him on ESPN The Magazine covers for their NFL preview. The question is one of how long Los Angeles will buy that glitz before falling in with the rest of Rams fans who recognize the irony of having Todd Gurley, who headlined the NFL's worst offense in 2015, on a magazine cover touting "The Revenge of the Offense."
Then again, the Rams are doing pretty well selling hype in and of itself.