St. Louis Rams: What to Watch for at OTAs
The St. Louis Rams are wrapping up their rookie minicamps, which means it's time for the next phase of the offseason—organized team activities (OTAs).
It will be the first time rookies such as Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree get to suit up and play alongside the veterans. It's a vital first step in building team chemistry and integrating the newcomers into the system.
This is a sluggish time of the year for NFL football, but OTAs will give us a sneak peak at the 2013 Rams and give us an idea of what to expect when training camp arrives.
So, based on the questions surrounding the team this offseason, here are several key items to keep an eye on during OTAs.
Who Is the Front-Runner at Left Guard?
Left guard is by far the most deep and unpredictable spot currently on the roster, and OTAs may give us hint on who's leading the race.
Between Rokevious Watkins, Shelley Smith, Chris Williams, Brandon Washington and rookie Barrett Jones, there's no telling who will pull ahead and secure the job for Week 1.
Even Rodger Saffold could be in the mix for the job. He is out at left tackle as a result of the Jake Long acquisition, and it's possible the Rams will see him as a guard rather than a right tackle.
So, with possibly six players competing for the gig, it's going to be an interesting battle to follow.
Watkins won the job last year but was sent to injured reserve after the first game of the season, so he could be considered the favorite, but he didn't have any real competition a year ago.
Smith and Williams both saw playing time last year as backups and played well, so they're both realistic options as well.
Also, Jones is a talented rookie capable of surprising everyone and running away with the job. His injuries and lack of experience will hold him back, but he's certainly in the mix.
This position is a tough one to predict, so hopefully OTAs will shed some light on the situation.
Which Safeties Are Taking 1st-Team Reps?
Though the safety position is not as unpredictable as left guard, it's still one of the major question marks facing the team, and OTAs will be the first step in formulating some answers.
Rookie third-round pick T.J. McDonald is a hard-hitting weapon and is possibly the best safety on the roster, but his sloppy coverage and inexperience surely gives the coaching staff some concern.
Darian Stewart is the only safety on the roster with starting experience, so he tops the list as the other starting safety, but he has injury concerns and his play is far from consistent.
And since the Stewart and McDonald tandem is anything but impressive, it's reasonable to consider both safety spots wide open for the taking.
Youngsters Rodney McLeod, Matt Daniels and undrafted rookie Cody Davis will all be taking reps at safety, and due to the lack talent at the position, they all have a shot at eventually winning a starting job.
It will be interesting to see if McDonald and Stewart are initially viewed as the starters, or if McLeod and Davis can earn some first-team reps as well.
If the safeties struggle to impress during OTAs, don't be surprised if the Rams re-sign veteran Quintin Mikell before training camp, as he was a vital part of the defense last season.
Where Is Stedman Bailey on the Depth Chart?
As of now, we know Chris Givens is the top wide receiver on the roster, and rookie Tavon Austin's status as a top-10 draft pick practically guarantees that he'll see first-team reps at OTAs, but the rest of the depth chart is a bit blurry.
Stedman Bailey—St. Louis' other rookie receiver draft in the fourth round—is an exciting prospect and was extremely productive in college, but will he immediately see action with the first-team offense?
The team is still high on 2012 second-round pick Brian Quick, while Austin Pettis is entering his third year and could start to blossom as well.
Bailey will have nothing handed to him and will be forced to earn his playing time, but it will be interesting to see where he stands on the depth chart as of now.
Will Sam Bradford Have Immediate Chemistry with His New Arsenal?
Despite losing Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola in free agency, the Rams still had an excellent offseason as far as improving the offense.
The free-agency signing of Jake Long gives them arguably the best left tackle in the game (assuming he's healthy), while the Jared Cook pickup provides the offense with a dangerous 6'5" tight end who can stretch the field.
Meanwhile, rookies Austin and Bailey will provide Sam Bradford with two talented weapons at receiver to replace Amendola and Brandon Gibson.
It seems the Rams are finally serious about providing Bradford with weapons, but with all the brand-new pieces in place, how long will it take for the offense to develop a solid chemistry?
The OTAs will give Bradford an opportunity to work with his new toys, so the offense's performance during these practices will tell us what kind of learning curve we're dealing with.
With Jackson out of the picture, Bradford is now the leader on offense, so it will be up to him to get the offense on the same page and have them ready to roll Week 1.
Is Jake Long Healthy?
Jake Long was St. Louis' top acquisition in free agency, but his availability was due to recent struggles with injuries.
Long suffered a left triceps injury last December and missed the remainder of the 2012 season, but his surgeon confirmed that his recovery in on track, according to ESPN.com.
But healing the injury is just one aspect—Long also needs to get into football shape before he can return to his dominate form.
OTAs will be Long's first experience with the Rams, so St. Louis fans will be eager to find out if he's taking all of his reps, or if the coaches are planning to hold him back.
Is Isaiah Pead Leading the Charge?
Daryl Richardson—a seventh-round draft pick from 2012—was able to beat out second-round pick Isaiah Pead for playing time last season, but Pead now has a full offseason under his belt and will be eyeing the top running back job.
Pead saw very little action in 2012 and has been a major disappointment as a high draft pick, but he'll have every opportunity to regain his focus and fight to become the player he was drafted to be.
Along with Richardson and second-year player Terrance Ganaway, the Rams grabbed rookie Zac Stacy in the fifth round of the draft, so Pead will have plenty of competition this offseason.
The number of Pead's first-team reps during OTAs will tell us how much confidence the coaching staff truly has in him.
With Jackson leaving the team in free agency, one of the backs will have to step up and become the go-to guy.
Which Undrafted Player Stands Out?
There's plenty of hype surrounding St. Louis' acquisitions in free agency and the rookie draft class, but there are also several undrafted rookies talented enough to make a splash.
Safety Ray-Ray Armstrong has been converted into a linebacker, which is a major hurdle to overcome, but he has the talent to surprise the coaching staff and excel on defense.
Meanwhile, Texas Tech safety Cody Davis has great athleticism and plenty of collegiate experience, so he has a realistic shot at making an impact, especially since the Rams are weak at safety.
OTAs will provide the undrafted rookies with a golden opportunity to get noticed by the coaching staff, so keep an eye on which players create the most buzz on the practice field.