Season-Long Progress Is Evident for Rams Rookies

Posted Dec 25, 2013

Observing the contributions of WR Stedman Bailey and RB Zac Stacy in the Rams’ 23-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday would give little indication of their roles from the season’s outset.

Bailey and Stacy opened the year with just a single offensive touch through the season’s first four weeks, a 4-yard carry by Stacy in the Rams’ season-opening win over Arizona.

Since Week 5, Stacy has been in hot pursuit of just the third 1,000-yard rushing season by a rookie in Rams history, and Bailey has emerged as a favorite target of QB Kellen Clemens.

Over the past four weeks, Bailey has paced the Rams with 11 receptions for 162 yards. He also scored his first NFL touchdown on a 27-yard run against the Buccaneers.

“We’re pleased with it, we talk often about it,” said Head Coach Jeff Fisher, regarding the swift progress of Stacy and Bailey. “Sometimes, it takes a little bit longer, but we felt like both of them had the potential. That’s why we drafted them and just very pleased with their production. ‘Sted’ (Bailey) did an outstanding job yesterday, not only with the reverse, but the two catches and some tremendous efforts on specials teams that you really don’t see.”

For the second consecutive year, the Rams entered the season as the youngest team in the NFL, though the performances by rookies in the second half of the season has shown that youth carries with it a considerable amount of talent.

For Clemens, who is in his eighth NFL season, has difficulty finding a parallel to the Rams’ current rookie class.

“I think a lot of credit certainly goes to our scouting department for finding those guys,” Clemens said.  “And a lot of it just goes to their work ethic. We’re fortunate in some regards because some of these rookies still don’t know what they don’t know. I said it a couple weeks ago, we’re a football team that unfortunately is not going to the playoffs, but you would not know it by the way that we continue to come in, continue to work and continue to show up on Sundays. And a big part of that has been the contributions that we’ve gotten from some of these young players.”

While contributions from Rams rookies has been a common theme throughout the 2013 season, the impact of this year’s class was never more evident than in last week’s win over Tampa Bay, and was not limited to the offensive side of the ball. The rookie duo of LB Alec Ogletree and S T.J. McDonald combined for 15 tackles, two forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks.

Ogletree has recorded 10 or more tackles in each of the last five games, and entering the final week of the regular season, has already equaled James Laurinaitis rookie record of 144 tackles, set in 2009.

Of the quartet of Ogletree, McDonald, Stacy and Bailey, only Ogletree has started each of the team’s 15 games, though each has already positioned himself well to retain their role at the top of the depth chart into the future.

That goes without the mention of first-round draft pick Tavon Austin, who ranks second on the team in touchdowns (six) and first in all-purpose yardage (1,247) despite missing the past two weeks due to injury.

For a group that entered the year as something of an unknown quantity, the learning curve to established starters has been remarkably quick.

For Clemens, who is in his eighth NFL season, has difficulty finding a parallel to the Rams’ current rookie class.

“As rookies, we’ve all been working extremely hard all year, just trying to find our role as a professional football player,” Bailey said after Sunday’s win. “As you can see, it’s been paying off for a lot of us guys. We just continue to work hard, and just keep doing what we’re asked to do and everything’s paying off.”