Head coach Jeff Fisher called Monday a "bittersweet" day around Rams Park, as the players came in for their exit physicals, a team meeting, and then departed for the offseason.
“Everything went fairly well as far as the physicals were concerned. Then we had our wrap-up meeting at 1 o’clock,” Fisher said. “There’s a lot of energy in the building. Guys are looking forward to getting started, but, obviously, they need some rest.”
With a 7-9 finish for third place in the NFC West, St. Louis’ season did not go as planned. There were myriad reasons for it, but Fisher said one of the top priorities will be to improve the offense for 2016.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us this offseason. That’s where we’ve got to go. We’ve got to score points,” Fisher said. “Points, and third-down efficiency, and red-zone [efficiency] are very, very important to us.”
After Sunday’s contest, the Rams finished No. 32 in total yards, No. 32 in passing yards, and No. 29 in points. The issues at the quarterback position were well documented, though Case Keenum played well in spurts in relief of Nick Foles down the stretch.
Fisher said, as of Monday, the Rams would have Keenum as the incumbent starter for next season. Lack of consistency at the quarterback position has undoubtedly hampered the team’s development as a whole over the last few seasons, as Fisher also said. But, Foles and Sean Mannion figure into the team’s plans at quarterback, too.
“We’re going to give Nick a chance to compete,” Fisher said. “There will be competition when we come back, and I think we have a promising young talent in Sean that will be in the mix as well.”
Coinciding with Keenum improving the offense was Rob Boras’ assumption of the duties of offensive coordinator. Fisher said there has not yet been a decision on if Boras’ role will become permanent, but there have been some endorsements.
“I’ll be addressing that over the next couple of days, but I have not made a decision with a respect to Rob. But, Rob certainly is deserving of an opportunity to take this over because I thought he did a really good job,” Fisher said.
“I thought Rob jumped in and took advantage of a very, very difficult situation. And I thought he handled it really well,” Fisher added. “I’ve had a number of players come by my office today saying, ‘We like coach Rob.’”
One area on offense where the Rams did excel was in the run game, led by rookie Todd Gurley. The running back out of Georgia finished No. 3 in yards rushing with 1,106 -- one of only seven players to eclipse 1,000 yards in 2015. Fisher said he’s expecting Gurley to be even better in 2016 with a full offseason under his belt.
“You come off this injury and that first year back, you can see the light and things,” Fisher said. “But, with an offseason program and strength and conditioning, he should be a different running back next year.”
“It’s pretty impressive how we protected the quarterback, especially over the last few weeks once we settled down up front,” Fisher said. “This is going to be a good group and it’s going to be a good group for a long time with depth.”
Defensively, the Rams made strides but, according to Fisher, gave up too many explosive plays -- particularly in the run game.
“We struggled in key games at times during the year in our run defense and we have to work on that,” Fisher said.
As the club heads into the offseason, there will be a number of decisions to make on upcoming restricted and unrestricted free agents. That goes for the Rams’ secondary in particular, as starters Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, and Mark Barron are headed into free agency.
“We’ve got some key free agents that we have to get back. That’s going to be our focus, especially in the secondary,” Fisher said. “We’ve drafted well there. They’ve produced. We’ve developed them and we don’t want to develop them for anyone else. So, we want to be sure that we’re able to get them back. We’re confident we can do that.”
“They want to be here,” Fisher added. “They’ve talked to enough players around the league and they know what it’s like elsewhere. They all want to be here, which is good.”
Though the Rams’ 2015 record was not what anyone wanted, Fisher said he still has confidence that the team is heading toward a bright future.
“Looking back, two or three games, a couple of missed field goals, a couple of overtime games and things are different,” Fisher said. “I believe in this team. I believe in the direction that we’re going. I believe that we’re building it right.”
Before the players went their separate ways, the club distributed a few awards to some deserving recipients.
Todd Gurley received the Carroll Rosenbloom Memorial Award as the Rams’ Rookie of the Year. Among NFL rookies, Gurley finished No. 1 in rushing yards (1,106), No. 1 in yards from scrimmage (1,294), No. 2 in total touchdowns (10) and No. 1 in 100-yard games (five) despite playing in only 13.
Cory Harkey received the Carl Ekern Spirit of the Game Award, which is given to the player who best exemplifies sportsmanship, ethic, and commitment to his teammates.
Brian Quick is the Rams’ winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, an honor he received for going through a strenuous rehab process after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in 2014.
And Chris Long is the Rams’ Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner, in recognition of his community involvement in the St. Louis region as well as his dedication to bring clean water to East Africa through his Waterboys initiative.