The Rams are counting on Brian Quick to be their go-to receiver.
When coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead took over in St. Louis last spring, they saw an aging roster that lacked a lot of talent.
So what did they do? They blew it up with an influx of youth.
The Rams have 31 rookies, including 10 draft picks, on their 89-man training camp roster. That’s more than one-third of the players in camp. Let that soak in for a minute.
The Rams have just five players on the roster over the age of 30, and 32-year-old linebacker Mario Haggan is the oldest player on the team.
“If you’re going to build, you want to build with youth, and that’s one of the things that we committed to weeks ago that we’ve got to start young,” Fisher told the media in March at Snead’s introductory press conference. “We’ve got to develop players, we have to build this thing mostly through the draft. We looked at both markets. We felt, ‘Okay, here’s a couple options here in free agency, let’s attack these. Let’s see if we can have some success here.’”
Several rookies will be asked to contribute this year, namely wide receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, punter Johnny Hekker and placekicker Greg Zuerlein.
Ron Clements is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
Rookie quarterback Austin Davis is competing for the No. 3 job in St. Louis.
Davis put up monster numbers at Southern Mississippi, breaking almost all of Brett Favre’s school records. It was a mild surprise that Davis (6’2”, 221) went undrafted. He’s got the arm strength to make every throw, but has to learn a pro-style offense after running the spread for the Golden Eagles.
Davis has done very well since the Rams signed him in late April. He excelled at the rookie mini-camp and continued that tremendous play through organized team activities and the June mini-camp. Davis has a real shot of beating out Tom Brandstater for the No. 3 job behind Sam Bradford and Kellen Clemens. His stock continues to rise.
Isaiah Pead should be the primary backup to Steven Jackson.
Pead was the third of the team’s three second-round picks and comes to St. Louis following a productive college career at Cincinnati. He ran for 3,288 yards and 27 touchdowns for the Bearcats and was the MVP of the 2012 Senior Bowl. Pead can be that change-of-pace speed back for starter Steven Jackson, but is also looked at as Jackson’s possible successor.
Richardson is another speedster from Abilene Christian. He was the team’s seventh-round draft choice, and his speed was very evident from Day One. He will be one to watch at Saturday’s intra-squad scrimmage and then in the preseason games.
Schwieger finished his college career as the all-time rushing leader at Dartmouth. While he has little chance to make the team, he’s one of those players every coach loves—a humble, hard worker with an interminable motor.
Middleton is an undrafted rookie from Jacksonville State and has displayed moments of brilliance in the offseason practices and early in training camp. He’s got good size (5’11”, 220) and decent speed. Whether that’s enough to land a roster spot remains to be seen.
Todd Anderson is one of those tough Big Ten fullbacks.
Anderson is one of those Big Ten fullbacks who knows how to block, catch the ball and looks like a football player. Don’t believe the Rams are satisfied with either Brit Miller, a special teams standout more than anything, or Ben Guidugli, a converted tight end from Cincinnati who went undrafted last year and spent most of the season on the practice squad.
The Rams did sign 32-year-old veteran Ovie Mughelli, who went to a pair of Pro Bowls while with Altanta. Mughelli has had a successful career, but is also coming off a horrific knee injury last October. The Rams will probably keep two fullbacks as insurance, and Anderson could bump the younger veterans out of a job.
Chris Givens could give the Rams some exposiveness on the outside.
The Rams selected Quick at the top of the second round in hopes that the 6’3”, 220-pound former Appalachian State star can be their top receiver for years to come. The Rams have been lacking a true No. 1 since the “Greatest Show on Turf” days, and Quick has been impressive since the day he arrived.
The thing that initially stood out was how much bigger he looks on the field compared to the other wideouts. His speed and hands have also been lauded by quarterback Sam Bradford and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Quick is on the fast track to a starting job, which is what the Rams were hoping for when they drafted him.
Givens was the team’s fourth-round pick and also appears to be a lock for a roster spot. He is fast and can go up and get the long ball. Givens is stronger than one might think and has also drawn compliments from the quarterbacks and coaching staff.
Johnson is essentially a camp body. The undrafted Henderson State rookie is one of 10 receivers in camp and will eventually get lost in the shuffle when the final cuts are made.
Cory Harkey found the end zone just twice in college.
Of this trio, Peterson is the one whose stock is rising the most. That may be because Harkey missed all of the OTAs and the mandatory mini-camp because of the NFL’s rule that prohibited the UCLA alumnus from attending offseason workouts until the school’s senior class had graduated. It’s a ludicrous rule that needs to be changed.
Harkey, the son of former New York Yankees pitcher and current Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey, isn’t that fast, but is a big body with good hands. He isn’t known as a pass-catcher, but seeing him in practice, it’s obvious that receiving is an underrated aspect of his skill set.
Peterson, undrafted from LSU, was specifically mentioned by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer following the team’s June 14 mini-camp practice as a player who could create matchup problems.
Childers went undrafted out of Coastal Carolina and is a smart, big (6’5”, 230) player, but will find it difficult to make the roster ahead of the other two rookies and veterans Lance Kendricks, Michael Hoomanawanui, Mike McNeill, Matthew Mulligan and Brody Eldridge.
Long has football pedigree. His older brother, Jake, was the first overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft and has been to the Pro Bowl every year since.
If Joe is half the player Jake is, the Rams got a gem in the undrafted rookie from Wayne State. The younger Long started a school-record 49 games at Wayne State, was a Division II All-American selection and was invited to the East-West Shrine Game. He is a likable player who could have practice squad written all over him.
Rokevious Watkins is in competition for the spot at left guard.
The mammoth Watkins (6’3”, 338) was the team’s fifth-round pick from South Carolina. He dropped in the draft because of concerns about his work ethic. That worry was confirmed when he reported to camp overweight.
If he can shape up, literally and figuratively, Watkins could wind up as the team’s starting left guard.
Coach Jeff Fisher seems willing to be patient with Watkins, saying they’ll “work him back in.” To his credit, Watkins realizes he messed up and is trying to atone for his mistake.
T-Bob Hebert knows football and loves to talk.
Hebert is the son of former New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert.
He grew up around the game and has a great football IQ. He is likable and verbose—two things media folks love. The only question is whether he is athletic enough to find a roster spot.
Michael Brockers, the team's first-round pick, is one of three rookies from LSU.
The Rams have big plans for the big Brockers. The first-round pick, 14th overall, from LSU was a dominant run stuffer in his one season as a starter for the Tigers. His size (6’5”, 322) and strength will allow him to eat up double teams and fill gaps.
What he also has is a quick step off the ball and the ability to collapse the pocket. That could free up the ends to get to the quarterback. The Rams expect Brockers to start, and so far, he’s lived up to that expectation.
Conrath is a practice squad player at best. He went undrafted out of Virginia and doesn’t seem to have the body type (6’7” 290) to be an NFL-caliber D-tackle, but doesn’t have the speed or pass-rushing skills to play end.
Jamaar Jarrett (92) had 40 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, last season at Arizona State.
When you look at Jarrett from afar, you almost think C.J. Ah You has returned to the Rams. Jarrett, undrafted from Arizona State, has the same kind of build and could be a marginal practice squad player.
Jarrett also failed a drug test at the NFL combine.
It’s unlikely that Jarrett (6’5”, 265) or Smith remain in St. Louis.
Smith (6’7”, 261) is a Hawaii native and Texas Tech who fills the role of a camp body. He was thought of highly when initially signed, but hasn’t shown enough to compete for a roster spot.
Aaron Brown was one of the team's two seventh-round draft picks.
The group doesn’t have a lot of size or speed, but all four of them were very productive players in college.
Aaron Brown was one of the team’s two seventh-round draft picks. The former Hawaii standout is only 6’0”, but is 237 pounds and was an All-WAC first-teamer last year after recording 103 tackles with 13 for a loss, 4.5 sacks and three interceptions. He’s played well in camp and could be a special teams contributor.
Sammy Brown (6’2”, 242) went undrafted out of Houston and led the nation in tackles for a loss last season. While veterans Mario Haggan, Rocky McIntosh and Jo-Lonn Dunbar are the frontrunners to win the two starting jobs at outside linebacker, Brown could be a darkhorse in that competition.
Hoffman-Ellis (6’0”, 232) has the best hair on the team, but doesn’t have the speed to keep up with NFL running backs. Fellow rookies Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson are constantly creating separation against him out of the backfield.
That being said, Hoffman-Ellis does have a knack for finding the ball and did get a couple interceptions during OTAs. He had 253 tackles with four interceptions over three seasons at Washington State and could be a solid special teams player.
Keller, from the Ohio University, has the least chance to make the team. Keller (6’1”, 242) runs a 4.6 40-yard dash and is behind starter James Laurinaitis and Josh Hull at middle linebacker.
A gifted athlete, Janoris Jenkins has looked smooth in Rams camp.
Everything that was written or said about Jenkins and his play on the field has been spot on. Dude can flat-out play.
The second-round pick from North Alabama fell in the draft because of a multitude of off-the-field troubles while at Florida. Regarded as a first-round talent, Jenkins has been the most fluid athlete on the defensive side of the ball and continues to impress everybody who watches. He has been working with the starters on defense, and it appears as if it’s his job to lose.
Johnson was a third-rounder from Montana, and he has also played well. His stock is rising, and he should comprise what could be a very good secondary in St. Louis.
While he’s a very good athlete, it’s going to be hard to find a roster spot for the 5’9” Pointer, undrafted out of UNLV. Pointer is the seventh man in what will probably be a six-man group.
Former Duke safety Matt Daniels is one of the league's best undrafted rookies.
Daniels is regarded by some, including former NFL player personnel director Gil Brandt, as the best undrafted player in the 2012 rookie class. His athleticism on the field is evident, although he did get dinged during OTAs.
Daniels (6’0”, 211) has been solid during training camp, and his stock has risen enough to where he could bump a veteran like Craig Dahl off the roster.
McLeod (5’10”, 183) has the speed and cover skills to play corner if needed. Somebody who can help out on special teams while being used at safety and in nickel situations is good to have. It’s just that McLeod really has not done much yet to distinguish himself as somebody worth of a roster spot.
Johnny Hekker had a punt of minus-4 yards last season against Wisconsin.
Tripucka is the son of former NBA player Kelly Tripucka. The former UMass standout is competing with second-year incumbent Jake McQuaide, who beat out veteran Chris Massey for the job last year. Massey had been with the Rams for 10 years.
Now, McQuaide finds himself in a similar situation, only this time, he’s the veteran being challenged by an undrafted rookie.
Tripucka is almost a clone of Massey in terms of body build, and with a new coaching staff in place, it’s an open competition that will get fired up this weekend at the scrimmage and grow even more intense once the team starts playing its preseason games.
The Rams parted with longtime kickers Donnie Jones and Josh Brown to make way for two rookies. Jones, one of the league’s best punters over the last five years, had the worst year of his career last year, and the Rams let him depart as a free agent. He signed with the Houston Texans.
Brown was released the day after the Rams selected Zuerlein in the sixth round of the draft. Brown was then quickly signed by the New York Jets. Zuerlein attended tiny Missouri Western State University and has a strong and accurate leg. Although the Rams also have Garrett Lindholm in camp, this is Zuerlein’s job.
Hekker is also joined in camp by another punter, journeyman Tom Malone. Hekker has been anointed as the starter. He has a big leg, but is a very erratic kicker. He has the lanky build (6’5”, 227) that special teams coach John Fassel likes, but will have to become more consistent to last in the NFL.
The Rams definitely don't want to see any punts of minus-four yards like Hekker had while at Oregon State.