With 18 of their 22 starting positions spoken for, the St. Louis Rams are entering 2013 with a lot more solidity and much more certainty than a year ago.
Even though there's only a handful of starting spots available, there still figures to be intense competition for those spots. Also, there'll be some less-publicized battles for certain backup spots, such as the No. 2 quarterback role.
This piece will dig into some of the more well-known battles that we've been looking forward to, and we'll predict a winner in each case.
1. Starting Running Back
Candidates: Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson, Zac Stacy
Daryl Richardson (5'10", 196 pounds) was the No. 2 running back behind Steven Jackson a year ago and added a great deal of speed and flash to the backfield.
With 98 carries during his rookie campaign last season, Richardson has more carries than anyone currently on the St. Louis roster, and his production was quite impressive—he ended the year with 638 total yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry, but failed to find the end zone.
His production as a rookie may lead some fans to believe that he's their guy in 2013, but his sharp decline in the second half of 2012 suggests otherwise.
Take a look at his game logs from the final five games of the season:
Racking up just 24 rushing yards on 16 carries during this stretch does not exactly instill confidence in the coaching staff moving forward.
And while 24 yards in the final five games is bad, it still manages to surpass the production of Isaiah Pead (5'10", 197 pounds), who carried the ball only 10 times in 2012 and ended the year with just 54 rushing yards.
Pead was a second-round pick in 2012. Last summer, if you told any Rams fan that Pead would finish the season with just 10 carries, he'd laugh in your face.
In Year 2, Pead will look to put his disaster rookie season behind him and enter training camp determined to be the starter. He will be desperate to show why the Rams drafted him.
After all, it's no fluke that he was drafted in the second round. Just watch the highlights from his days at the University of Cincinnati:
Since neither Pead nor Richardson are overly appealing options, the Rams used their 2013 fifth-round pick to secure an insurance policy in Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy (5'8", 216 pounds)
Stacy is a smaller back, but he lives between the tackles. He's basically a Maurice Jones-Drew clone—Jones-Drew stands at 5'7" and 210 pounds, and also runs well between the tackles despite his smaller size.
Stacy's shorter stature allows him the get low and produce leverage, which makes it very difficult for opposing tacklers to get underneath him and wrap him up.
Stacy ran for 1,141 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012 against some of the best defenses in college football, so don't count him out.
Predicted Winner: Isaiah Pead
2. Backup Quarterback
Candidates: Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis
Sam Bradford has the starting quarterback job secured for the fourth-consecutive year, but there's still some debate as to who will win the backup job.
Veteran Kellen Clemens was the No. 2 in 2012, but there's a lot of hype surrounding second-year pro Austin Davis, who was the third-string quarterback last year.
Clemens has some advantages working in his favor. On top of being a 30-year-old veteran who has seen some action in this league, he has played in Brian Schottenheimer's system for the majority of his career (six of his seven NFL seasons).
However, regardless of his experience, he is not effective as a starter. He has a career completion percentage of 51.9 and a career quarterback rating of 62.2. Out of 378 career passing attempts, he has only produced seven touchdown passes. He may know Schottenheimer's system better than anyone, but that doesn't mean he can execute the plays on Sundays.
We know what we're getting with Clemens. He's a below average starter, and the Rams season is over if he has to start for an extended period of time.
With Davis, on the other hand, we don't know what we're getting. We know he has potential, but he has very little experience, and we have yet to see him perform on Sunday. But there's also a chance he'll surprise us if he's thrown to the wolves. With Clemens, that's not a possibility.
With that in mind, the Rams will continue to groom Davis and keep him on as the No. 2.
Predicted Winner: Austin Davis
3. Left Guard
Candidates: Rokevious Watkins, Shelley Smith, Chris Williams, Barrett Jones
Four of the five offensive line positions are locked up, but there's still a wide-open competition at left guard.
Rokevious Watkins won the job in 2012 by default, but he appeared in just one game before he was sent to injured reserve for the remainder of the season. And in that one appearance, he looked overwhelmed.
Also, Watkins will miss Week 1 of the upcoming season to serve a one-game suspension, which certainly hurts his chances.
Shelley Smith is an interesting option. As an unknown waiver-wire pickup in 2012, he started six games and held is own.
Chris Williams started 38 games for the Chicago Bears from 2008 to 2011. He was also picked up by the Rams on waivers and appeared in the team's final two games of the 2012 season.
As of now, according to StLouisRams.com's Nick Wagoner, who was present for OTAs, the Rams are currently rotating Smith and Williams at left guard with the first-team offense.
It appears that it will come down to either Smith for Williams, who will duke it out for the job, but there's also a dark horse in the mix...
Barrett Jones' primary role will be backing up center Scott Wells, who missed nine games in 2012 due to injury, but the rookie is a versatile weapon who can play anywhere on the line, including left guard.
Jones is a talented prospect who likely would have been a first- or second-round pick had it not been for a nagging foot injury that hindered his predraft efforts. As it turned out, the Rams got a steal when they selected him in the fourth round.
Jeff Fisher is going to field the best five linemen on the roster, and it's not outlandish to believe that Jones will end training camp as one of the top five.
Regardless of who wins, the "losers" of this competition will still play a vital role, as they'll be backing up a line that has seen numerous injuries in recent years.
One way or another, most of the names mentioned here will likely see action at some point.
Predicted Winner: Shelley Smith
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