St. Louis Rams 2009 Position Battles: This Is Sparta!

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St. Louis Rams 2009 Position Battles: This Is Sparta!
(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The traditional understanding of a positional battle in professional sports is when two or more athletes are vying for one spot, usually a starting role.

When your entire team is comprised of players trying to earn regular playing time, that's not a series of positional battles. That's a war of attrition. Those left standing at the end are the ones with roster spots.

So before the Leonidas-like cries start rising from Rams camp this summer, lets take a look at how the battles break down, combat-style.


Quarterback
   
Status: Skirmish

Even with Marc Bulger's poor play in recent years, his contract (and ostensibly the new regime's faith in him) was big enough that he survived the cleaning of house this offseason.

Rather than opt for the veteran backup a la Trent Green again this year, the Rams instead brought in some new blood in Kyle Boller.

The rap on Boller, as per his old teammate and new Ram Jason Brown, is that he got skittish in Baltimore and began hearing footsteps, a story Rams fans are all too familiar with.

Boller is still young and possesses ridiculous arm strength, though, so he has the ability to push Bulger this season. In the end, the job is still Bulger's to lose.


Running Back

Status: Olive Branch

See: Steven Jackson. An interesting backstory could be who backs up Jackson. Antonio Pittman is the incumbent and with Brian Leonard now gone, he looks to be the odds-on favorite as well.

But seventh-round pick Chris Ogbonnaya was drafted for a reason, and if he impresses enough, he may supplant Pittman and serve as the thunder to Jackson's...well, bigger thunder.

Kenneth Darby is the dark horse of the group, but he's the darkest of horses at this point.


Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
   
Status: War


When your best returning receiver has 53 career receptions, there may be some roster spots up for grabs. Donnie Avery is the apparent No. 1 receiver in Rams camp, but after that, it's anybody's guess.

Laurent Robinson, Keenan Burton, Derek Stanley, Tim Carter and Brooks Foster are all names that could, at best, emerge as weapons for the Rams in 2009, and at worst it looks as thought one of them is at least going to have to man the No. 2 position until help is found through the draft or free agency next year.

Of the group, Robinson has the best combination of size, speed and experience, so I'll give him the edge early.

At tight end, a healthy Randy McMichael will handle the pass-catching duties and newly signed Billy Bajema should serve as backup and run-blocker extraordinaire.

This might leave Joe "Clippety" Klopfenstein on the outside looking in. Klopfenstein has had multiple chances to win the starting job but repeatedly gets lost in the shuffle. His time might be near.

 
O-Line

Status: Scuffle
 
The front five seem to be set, but there are still potential pitfalls that could shake up the starting roster.

Jason Smith, though highly touted, is still a rookie. Alex Barron is moving back to the left side after spending most of his professional career at right tackle. Barron has also struggled with false start penalties in his career.

Richie Incognito's temper and inability to stay healthy has left him on the sideline more than once in the past few years, so he's never an absolute guarantee to be on the field. Still, talent-wise, the line has its starters.

In 2008 the Rams learned the value of quantity as well as quality, though. With last season's train wreck that was the offensive line still fresh in their minds, the team has a few viable options at backup.

Adam Goldberg, John Greco, Mark Setterstrom, and Roy Schuening all should make the team and provide valuable depth. Rookies such as Phil Trautwein and Ray Feinga will be trying to earn a spot as well.

Where the starters lack excitement, the battle for reserve among the O-linemen should be good to watch.


D-Line

Status: Attrition

The defensive line is simply in need of warm bodies. The youth movement ran La'Roi Glover out of town, and the recent Leonard-for-Orien Harris trade could be one viewed as a trade out of necessity.

Chris Long was drafted as a member of the Rams' future, so his spot on the end is secure; Leonard Little on the other side will be in on almost all downs considered passing downs.

James Hall was a starter before Long arrived, and Victor Adeyanju has established himself as Little's other half on running downs. Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan are established inside players, with Harris and fourth-round pick Darell Scott serving as the primary backups.

Eric Moore and C.J. Ah You stand the best chance to stick at end, but only one might survive the cuts.


Linebackers

Status: More Attrition

Before the release of Pisa Tinoisamoa, the linebacker corps was thin on experience. Now they're downright baby-faced. Will Witherspoon and Chris Draft are the only linebackers likely to make the team who have more than two years experience in the league.

The presumed third starter, James Laurinaitis, was drafted in the second round of the 2009 Draft. Guys like Chris Chamberlain, David Vobora, and Quinton Culberson were all either rookies or second-year players on last year's team.

All six 'backers listed should make the team, and without any unforeseen circumstances it should be Witherspoon, Draft and Laurinaitis starting the opener.


Secondary

Status: Brawl

The Rams defense as a whole in 2008 was nothing to write home about, but the defensive secondary actually had a few bright spots emerge. Ron Bartell and Oshiomogho Atogwe both emerged as starters and future stars, and only Corey Chavous' “wet paper bag” approach to tackling and the merry-go-round at the other cornerback spot kept the unit from being a strength.

There's no lack of able bodies at the position, so this may be one of the few battles that could actually result in a "he earned the job"-type situation.

Tye Hill is a former first-round pick who has shown some signs of potential, but who needs to produce on a more consistent basis. Justin King could surprise—he was a contender for the job last year before tearing a ligament in his left big toe.

Third-round pick Bradley Fletcher could contribute right away, but probably isn't more than a nickel back candidate for 2009.

Between King and Hill, I'll give Hill the advantage. Someone obviously saw something in him at Clemson that warranted a mid-first round pick, so if the new coaches can find that again, he could be just as good or better than Bartell in time.

New SS James Butler knows head coach Steve Spagnuolo and the system already, so he should be an on-field leader immediately.

Backup Todd Johnson is a veteran and should be safe in his role. Johnson even started a few games near the end of 2008, so he's more-than-capable of filling in if need be.


Punter/Kicker

Status: Death Match

Just kidding. Come on, it's not like we’re talking about the Cowboys here. Josh Brown and Donnie Jones are the Rams' only kicker and punter, respectively. No battles to be found here.


So before you call the local authorities and report a Gerard Butler-esque growl coming from Rams Park, pause and ask yourself: Didn't that sound a little bit like Coach Spags?

 

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