Breaking Down St. Louis Rams' Biggest Training Camp Projects
Turning a late-round pick or an undrafted rookie into a capable starter is very cost efficient, as it gives the team an asset without costing a high draft selection or a lofty free-agent contract.
The Rams have a number of project players coming into camp this summer. More often than not, these players don't pan out. With any luck, however, St. Louis will turn a couple of them into players.
This article will cover five players who are total projects. There's not a clear spot in the lineup for these players, but all of these athletes have great potential that can benefit the team under proper circumstances.
QB Garrett Gilbert
Few players are entering camp with lower expectations than Garrett Gilbert. If the sixth-round pick loses the No. 3 quarterback job to Austin Davis, not one person would bat an eye.
Even if Gilbert gives Austin a great fight and wins the job, the road to a starting job will be long and treacherous. Gilbert is a pure example of a project player.
At 6'4" and 221 pounds, Gilbert has great size for an NFL pocket passer. His does not have top-of-the-line arm strength, but it's still adequate—perfect for a Brian Schottenheimer offense or any West Coast scheme.
With Gilbert, it's not so much the physical aspect that's holding him back, but rather the challenge of adapting mentally. After all, it took him until his fifth college season before he finally had a breakout year for SMU.
If the Rams can show a little patience, Gilbert could eventually pay off in a big way.
TE Mason Brodine
Mason Brodine flashed some potential as a defensive end for the Rams in 2013, but that position has become extremely crowded. As a result, Brodine will try his luck at tight end.
At 6'7" and 284 pounds, Brodine has pretty dangerous size for a tight end. As a former physical defensive lineman, he'll likely be expected to serve primarily as a blocking tight end. Also, his towering size could make him useful as a red-zone target, depending on his hands.
Learning a new position at the NFL level is always an incredible challenge. If Brodine is lucky enough to make the team, it will take time before he's contributing on Sundays.
DE Michael Sam
Michael Sam had a breakout year in 2013 for the Missouri Tigers and finished the season as the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year. His skills as a pass-rusher are obvious, but he has work to do before he's contributing at the NFL level.
The 261-pound Sam is a bit on the light side for a defensive end and tends to get overwhelmed against road-paving run-blockers (such as the game against Auburn in the SEC Championship), so that's an aspect to his game that needs drastic development.
Also, the coaching staff needs to determine how Sam will be utilized. It's possible he'll strictly be used as a pass-rushing end, but he needs to be tested as an outside linebacker as well. If Sam can show some versatility and play multiple positions on defense, the Rams may have use for him.
OL Barrett Jones
Barrett Jones is the Swiss army knife of the offensive line, as he can play every position other than left tackle. The question is, can he play any position well enough to earn playing time?
Jones practically had a redshirt year during his rookie 2013 season, so this year will basically be his true rookie campaign.
It's still unclear where Jones will see most of his reps. The Rams roster has him listed as a guard and center, so it's only logical to presume he'll be used primarily as an interior lineman. If that's the case, we still don't know if his primary purpose will be competing for the starting center job, or if he'll simply serve as the ultimate backup.
Center Scott Wells will undoubtedly see some competition for the starting job, primarily from Tim Barnes, but don't be surprised if Jones throws his hat into that race as well.
Jones is still raw, but he was a top-notch talent coming out of Alabama. If he shows up to camp ready to work, it's possible that the coaching staff will be able to tap into that potential. If that happens, he could run away with the starting center job.
DE Ethan Westbrooks
Believe it or not, Robert Quinn is not the player on the Rams who had the most sacks in 2013. That honor belongs to undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks, who finished with 19.5 sacks for West Texas A&M last season.
Westbrooks has the monstrous pass-rushing skills that the Rams look for in defensive linemen, but the small-school standout will have stiff competition in St. Louis. Dominating a NFL backfield is far different than overpowering a Division II offensive line.
Westbrooks is one of many projects entering training camp, but if he has the work ethic and the attitude, he could be a steal. The Rams have almost too much competition at defensive end, so it will certainly be a difficult battle.