NFL

The good news for the Los Angeles Rams offense: It has a lot of room for improvement

The Rams' return to Los Angeles has stirred a celebratory atmosphere. Fans cheered during a raucous news conference at the Forum and rushed to make deposits for season tickets.

Will they be as enthusiastic once the team starts playing?

Not if the losing continues.

"We're close," owner Stan Kroenke said. "We've got some things to do."

In St. Louis, the Rams won the Super Bowl after the 1999 season, but they have made only five playoff appearances in 21 years, the last in 2004. The Rams have not had a winning record since 2003, and they are coming off a 7-9 season.

Coach Jeff Fisher returns to Southern California, where he grew up and played at USC, and is in the final year of a five-year contract.

The Rams have time to make roster moves before they begin play at the Coliseum, their expected home for the next three seasons before moving into a new Inglewood stadium in 2019. Free agency begins in March, the draft is in April — the Rams have the 15th overall pick — and there is also the option to adjust the roster via trades.

They also are searching for an offensive coordinator. The Rams fired Frank Cignetti in December and promoted assistant head coach and tight ends coach Rob Boras on an interim basis.

Here is a look at the offense, which ranked last in the NFL this season in passing and total offense, as it stands now:

Quarterback

The Rams have been plagued for years by inconsistent play and injuries at the most high-profile position. Six players have started games in the last three seasons.

Last March, the Rams traded the often-injured Sam Bradford, a former No. 1 overall pick, to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles. Fisher benched Foles after nine games.

Your potential starting quarterback going into the 2016 season: Case Keenum, who will become a restricted free agent in March, meaning if he accepts an offer sheet from another team the Rams would have five days to match it and retain his services. If they lose him, the Rams could be granted one or more compensatory draft picks.

Keenum was a record-breaking passer in college at Houston, but he went undrafted in 2012. He signed with the Houston Texans, was on the practice squad and started eight games in 2013, losing all of them.

The Rams claimed him off waivers before the 2014 season and put him on the practice squad, but the Texans re-signed him and he played in two games. The Rams traded for Keenum before last season, sending the Texans a seventh-round pick in this year's draft.

Last season, Keenum passed for 828 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception. He was 3-2 as the starter.

The Rams lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 16-13, in his first start. Foles returned for two games and Keenum started the final four, going 3-1.

"Case is a blocked field goal and incomplete pass away from being 5-0 as a starter," Fisher said.

General Manager Les Snead said that Keenum, at one time during the final stretch of the season, "was playing like a top-10 QB. I'm not saying he is a top-10 QB, but he has the mind and the competitiveness to excel."

Still, the Rams will continue to seek ways to upgrade at every position, including quarterback.

"We're looking," Fisher said, "we're always looking."

Said Snead: "You're always searching."

Foles, entering his fifth pro season, will try to reclaim the starting job after passing for 2,052 yards and seven touchdowns, with 10 interceptions.

Former Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion, a third-round pick last year, is third on the depth chart.

Running back

The Rams had the 10th pick in the 2015 draft, and they used it on a running back coming off major knee surgery.

It was the right move.

Todd Gurley sat out the Rams' first two games and rushed for only nine yards in six carries in his debut. The former Georgia star went on to rush for 1,106 yards — third in the NFL — and 10 touchdowns.

The 6-foot-1, 227-pound Gurley became the first rookie to rush for 125 yards or more in his first four starts. He was the third rookie in Rams history to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing, joining Eric Dickerson and Jerome Bettis.

Tre Mason, who helped lead Auburn to the Bowl Championship Series title game against Florida State during the 2013 season, is second on the depth chart behind Gurley. Mason rushed for 207 yards and a touchdown and also caught 18 passes this season.

Benny Cunningham rushed for 140 yards and caught 26 passes.

Receivers

Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt were the starters for a team that had a league-worst 11 touchdown passes.

Austin caught a team-best 52 passes, five for touchdowns. He also was the second-leading rusher with 434 yards and four touchdowns, and he returned a punt for a touchdown. Britt had 36 catches, three for touchdowns, and averaged 18.9 yards per reception.

Bradley Marquez and veteran Wes Welker, who was signed in November, each caught 13 passes. Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey, who is recovering from injuries suffered in a November shooting incident in Miami, are among other receivers.

"We've got to add consistency to that position," Snead said, noting that receivers had multiple drops in the Rams' season-ending loss against San Francisco. "I think everybody who dressed at receiver in the game dropped one ball."

Tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks had 39 and 25 receptions, respectively, Kendricks converting two into touchdowns.

Cory Harkey, who played at UCLA, caught five passes and was a valuable blocker from the line of scrimmage and from the backfield.

Offensive line

Greg Robinson, the second overall pick in the 2014 draft, is the starting left tackle for a line that helped the Rams rank seventh in rushing. Robinson and center Tim Barnes started every game for a unit that reduced the number of sacks from 47 in 2014 to 18, though the Rams ran the fewest plays in the NFL.

After making Gurley their first draft pick, the Rams focused on offensive linemen. They selected tackle Rob Havenstein in the second round, Jamon Brown in the third, Andrew Donnal in the fourth and Cody Wichmann in the sixth.

All got experience alongside veterans such as Rodger Saffold and Garrett Reynolds.

"A lot of guys got a chance to play, which should make the competition for our starting five better," Snead said. "They're young but we're confident that we've got some good solid players that are going to keep developing."

Special teams

After two strong seasons, kicker Greg Zuerlein struggled in 2015. He made 20 of 30 field-goal attempts, though he converted one from 61 yards. He made 26 of 28 attempts in 2013 and 24 of 30 in 2014.

Cunningham averaged 28.6 yards per kickoff return. Austin averaged 7.9 yards per punt return and scored a touchdown.

THURSDAY: THE RAMS DEFENSE

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 20, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Pitch 'n' punt - The offense Rams are bringing to L.A. ranked last in NFL, due mainly to an inert passing game" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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