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SPORTS DIGEST: Rams have solid foundation to build winning team

INGLEWOOD — Now that the dust has settled and everyone is anticipating the return of the Rams to Los Angeles, its time to take a look at what we are actually getting.

The Rams were 7-9 this past season, third in the National Football Conference’s Western Division. That’s a tough division, with the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks ahead of them.

Jeff Fisher, a former USC defensive back, is the head coach, heading into the last season of a five-year contract.

Fisher has changed the direction of the Rams, but hasn’t been able to get them over the .500 mark.

The Rams had high hopes for quarterback Sam Bradford when they made him the first draft pick overall in 2010, but after losing him two consecutive years to knee injuries, the Rams shipped him to Philadelphia for quarterback Nick Foles prior to last year.

Foles wasn’t the answer, either, and Case Keenum finished the season at quarterback for the Rams.

The National Football League is a quarterback league. If you don’t have a good quarterback, you usually don’t have a good team, so the Rams need help there.

Whether they use the draft, trades or free agency, the Rams need to find a franchise quarterback if they are to be successful.

At the skill positions, the Rams have two potential stars: first-year running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver and kick returner Tavon Austin.

The Rams gambled on Gurley and won, drafting him 10th overall in last year’s draft even though he blew out his knee late in his junior season at Georgia. The Rams brought him along slowly and he blossomed into a top-notch running back.

After three years, Austin should be more established but he only has 123 career receptions for nine touchdowns. But Austin can break away at anytime, as his three career punt returns for touchdowns show.

This year, the Rams let him carry the ball as often as they threw it to him (52 catches versus 52 carries). He averaged eight yards a carry and added three touchdowns on the ground.

The Rams have a young, improving offensive line that should get better in the coming year.

Defensively, the Rams have one of the best young linemen in the game in Aaron Donald and a solid Chris Long (Howie’s son), when he is healthy.

The Rams had injury problems on defense this past season, with linebacker Alex Ogletree, safety T.J. McDonald and linemen Nick Fairley and Robert Quinn ending the season on the injured reserve list.

The Rams have a good nucleus, but they need to improve to give Los Angeles and Inglewood fans a playoff team.

At a rally and press conference at the Forum in Inglewood Jan. 14 to welcome the Rams, Inglewood Mayor James Butts made it a point to reinforce that the Rams will eventually play in Inglewood.

“I wanted ESPN to know we have our own city and we have our own mayor,” Butts said, drawing cheers from the fans.

Rams owner Stan Kroenke drew his own cheers when he emphasized the new stadium would seek to host some of the major sporting events of the year, including Super Bowls, NCAA basketball tournament Final Fours and the NCAA football championship games.

It looks like Inglewood means it when it says it wants to revive “the city of champions” as a motto.

Former Dorsey High School quarterback Hue Jackson, shown during his days as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, has another chance to be a head coach in the NFL after being hired by the Cleveland Browns last week. (Photo by Mario Villegas)
Former Dorsey High School quarterback Hue Jackson, shown during his days as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, has another chance to be a head coach in the NFL after being hired by the Cleveland Browns last week. (Photo by Mario Villegas)

GOOD BREAK FOR HUE: It was nice to see Hue Jackson get a second chance at an NFL head coaching job.

Jackson, a star quarterback at Dorsey High in the early 1980s, guided the Raiders to an 8-8 season in 2011, but was let go after that one season after Reggie McKenzie was brought in as general manager and hired Dennis Allen.

After leaving Dorsey, Jackson played two years at Glendale College and two more at the University of Pacific (Pete Carroll’s alma mater as well), before starting his coaching career at Pacific in 1987.

He was the offensive coordinator at USC under head coach Paul Hackett from 1997 to 2000, recruiting and coaching Carson Palmer at the start of his career.

Jackson moved to the NFL after Hackett got fired and has coached in Atlanta, Baltimore, Washington and Cincinnati, most recently as the Bengals offensive coordinator, before being hired to right the Browns’ ship.

You wonder when Jackson will catch a break. He was Al Davis’ last hire as head coach of the Raiders when they were truly horrible and now he is with the Browns, their ninth head coach since 2000. Five of the nine coached two years or less, so it’s not the most stable franchise in the league.

Rumor has it that Jackson has asked the team to part ways with former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who made more headlines off the field than on the field in his two years with the Browns.

More than 22,000 fans showed up at Dodger Stadium for the 2015 FanFest. This year’s FanFest will be held Jan. 30. Admission is free but fans will have to go online to get tickets. (Courtesy photo)
More than 22,000 fans showed up at Dodger Stadium for the 2015 FanFest. This year’s FanFest will be held Jan. 30. Admission is free but fans will have to go online to get tickets. (Courtesy photo)

DODGERS FANFEST: The Los Angeles Dodgers are holding their fourth annual FanFest at Dodger Stadium from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 30.

The FanFest is free, but the team is asking fans to obtain free tickets online.

FanFest will feature appearances and autographs from Dodger players, coaches and legends, as well as various family friendly activities.

FanFest’s main stage will feature interviews with current and former Dodgers and fans can hang out in the Dodgers social media lounge, which will also feature a charging station, photo area with oversized MLB.com Clubhouse stickers and RBI Baseball on Xbox.

Photo opportunities inside the Dodger dugout and with the World Series trophy also will be part of FanFest.

To obtain free tickets, visit www.dodgers.com/fanfest.

YOUTH BASKETBALL PROGRAM: The L.A. Sports Council Foundation and UCLA Athletics are launching “Hoops for Youth,” a program designed to annually send hundreds of economically disadvantaged children to Bruin men’s basketball games at historic Pauley Pavilion.

The program is funded through tax-deductible contributions from both individuals and corporations. Each $25 donation to the L.A. Sports Council Foundation will enable a child to attend a game; UCLA Athletics will distribute the tickets to youth groups affiliated with its athletic department.

“For many of these young individuals, this will be their first-ever opportunity to see a college basketball game in person,” UCLA Director of Athletics Dan Guerrero said. “At the same time, it may also very well be their first chance to visit the UCLA campus — an experience that will hopefully inspire them to pursue a college education.”

Hoops for Youth is modeled after and replaces the Sports Council’s longtime “Touchdown for Youth” program, which ran for 19 years in conjunction with USC football.

Over the life of that program, more than 48,000 young people attended football games at the Coliseum and enjoyed a glimpse of what sports and university life can offer.