Updating St. Louis Rams' Key Position Battles in Training Camp
To paraphrase Heidi Klum's line regarding the fashion industry: In today's NFL, one day you are in, and the next day, you're out.
During the NFL preseason schedule, depth charts can change from game to game and practice to practice.
A player's best impression is only as good as their last one.
Now that the St. Louis Rams have almost three weeks of practice, and one exhibition game, behind them, here is an update on the key position battles for the Rams in training camp.
Offensive Tackle: Jason Smith vs. Barry Richardson
Arguably the most important piece of the Rams offense this year is continuity on the offensive line, particularly at the tackle position.
If Sam Bradford is going to have any success in the passing game, he is going to need solid protection up front.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Former number two overall pick (2009), Jason Smith was supposed to be entering his athletic prime. He was supposed to be on the verge of multiple Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections.
Instead, Smith is fighting for his spot as a starter, and he’s competing against a former sixth-round pick and Kansas City Chiefs castoff, Barry Richardson.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted (via stltoday.com) that Richardson reported to spring practice in May out of shape and had to adjust to a new offensive scheme and play-calling language and that Richardson himself is surprised at the recent starting role he’s being given.
However, head coach Jeff Fisher has announced repeatedly that the starting right tackle position is an open competition.
Yet neither player seems to want the job. Richardson committed a false start penalty in the exhibition game last Sunday at Indianapolis. Smith apparently can’t show enough in practice to earn the trust of the coaching staff.
Too many Rams players have too much riding on the success of the offensive line: a very green wide receiving corps, an aging star at running back and a $78 million investment at quarterback.
Wide Receiver: Eight Guys, Six Spots?
Danny Amendola. Steve Smith. Brandon Gibson. Brian Quick. Chris Givens.
Who’s the sixth member of the Rams’ wide receiving corps?
The pool of candidates seems to include Austin Pettis, Greg Salas and Danario Alexander. Each, however, have their own problems.
Alexander just can’t seem to get on the field. He has barely practiced or caught live balls with the offense, let alone had any game-day action. His talent on film is obvious, but Alexander can’t make this team by working on the side with the strength coach.
Pettis is facing the second half of his four-game suspension from last season for using performance-enhancing drugs. Can Fisher afford to keep a dead roster spot until Week 3?
Salas has been relatively quiet so far this training camp. That’s not unlike his rookie season last year, when he dressed for only six games, catching just 27 balls.
I could see the Rams trying to sneak one of the three onto the practice squad, or maybe carrying seven WRs while Pettis finishes his suspension.
Defensive Back: Safety (Craig Dahl vs. Darian Stewart)
I’m probably excited about the potential of the Rams secondary more than any other position on team’s roster.
In a division that features multiple games against Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Vernon Davis, Sidney Rice and Terrell Owens, it is imperative that the Rams can handle the offensive deep threat.
Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins appear to have secured the starting cornerback positions, and Quentin Mikell is the team’s top safety. The real position battle among the DBs is at the backup safety positions.
It would seem likely that Craig Dahl has the inside track over Darian Stewart. Stewart has been banged up a bit and sat out the first preseason game against the Colts.
However, Dahl’s performance in the exhibition game was nothing to be proud of. He was slow in getting into position on one touchdown pass and allowed a touchdown by Austin Collie.
When healthy, Stewart and Dahl have been in a constant rotation among the starters in training camp. That will probably continue into the regular season.
Outside Linebackers (Dunbar vs. Haggan vs. McIntosh)
Three men enter the proverbial training camp ring, but only two may leave.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Mario Haggan appear to be in line for the starting positions flanking James Laurinaitis. However, Rocky McIntosh has been impressive in training camp, and reports are suggesting that McIntosh could be in line for a larger role.
Odds are that the three will rotate often between the two outside linebacker spots.
My money is on Dunbar and McIntosh, the youngest of the three.
McIntosh has the most extensive, and recent, experience as a starter, having started 12 or more games four times in the last five years.
Haggan is entering his 10th year in the NFL, but has only been a starter for two of those years.
The OLB position is important for the Rams defense, as they will need to maintain solid containment against NFC West running games led by Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch and Beanie Wells.