While OTAs and training camp always have competition for jobs, the more interesting position battles for the Rams are at safety, wide receiver, tight end and linebacker.
Receivers Laurent Robinson and Brandon Gibson, and safety Kevin Payne said competition is part of life in the NFL.
“Everyone’s competing, that’s just how it is,” said Payne, a former Chicago Bear who the Rams signed this offseason. “I’ve been a starter, and you’ve got to compete for your job. I’ve been a backup, and you’ve got to compete. You’re always competing. That’s the NFL. We get new drafted players in every year. That’s just part of the job.”
Payne is one of six safeties on the team battling for two positions. James Butler was the starter last year at strong safety while Oshiomogho Atogwe was the free safety. Atogwe is an unsigned unrestricted free agent, and if the Rams were to play a game tomorrow, coach Steve Spagnuolo said Craig Dahl would be the starting free safety. That leaves David Roach, expected to back up Butler, Payne and free agent rookies Darian Stewart and Jeromy Jones battling for roster spots.
The two rookies appear to be the odd men out and Payne is a guy who play either safety position.
At receiver, there are 10 players on the current 91-man roster for what will most likely be five spots on the final 53-man, opening-day roster.
Gibson and Robinson are joined by Keenan Burton, undrafted rookies Dominique Curry and Brandon McRae, Danny Amendola, Donnie Avery, rookie Mardy Gilyard, Jordan Kent and Brooks Foster.
Burton, Robinson and Foster are all coming off season-ending injuries in 2009. All three are back in practice and Spagnuolo said Burton “looks natural” on the field with no signs of an injury.
The locks to make the team are leading receiver Donnie Avery, entering his third season, Gilyard, a fourth-round draft choice and explosive kick returner and Robinson, whose size (6-2, 197) can make him a viable No. 1. So that leaves seven guys for two spots.
With Gilyard on the team, I cannot see Amendola making the team. His return average last year was among the best in the league, but he did not have the speed to break and punt or kick return for a touchdown. He had a 50-plus yard kickoff return against Houston for his longest of the season, but was caught from behind. I like Amendola’s toughness and grit, but just can’t see him making the team.
Gibson and Foster, both rookies last year, are the favorites to land the final two spots. Foster, taken in the sixth round of the 2009 draft, missed all of his rookie year with an ankle injury. You’ve got to think that the Rams will give him a chance to show his skills this year. Gibson had an up-and-down rookie campaign after being plucked off Philadelphia’s practice squad. His first home game was phenomenal, but then he was inconsistent and has so far in OTAs dislocated a finger and tweaked a hamstring.
That could open things up for the two rookies, Curry and McRae, both of whom have displayed impressive hands in the rookie mini-camp, as well as OTAs. That probably spells bad news for Kent, who is the best non-kicker kicker on the team, but his ability to kick line-drive field goals on the practice field will not land him a permanent job with the Rams.
One of the things that makes the linebacker battle so interesting is the four Ohio State Buckeyes—Na’il Diggs, James Laurinaitis, Larry Grant and Bobby Carpenter—at the position. Including David Vobora, those five appear destined to play for the Rams in 2010. With possibly seven players on the final roster, the Rams have six guys for the final two spots.
K.C. Asiodu and undrafted rookie Cardia Jackson have been the least impressive during OTAs, so let’s cast them aside. Spagnuolo has praised the play of seventh-round pick Josh Hull, who led Penn State in tackles last season. The other three linebackers are Dominique Douglas, Chris Chamberlain and Freddie Harris, a second-year player who was Asiodu’s teammate at Central Oklahoma.
A pair of rookies bring intrigue to the tight end position. The Rams selected Illinois’ Michael Hoomanawanui in the fifth round, then took Houston’s Fendi Onobun at the top of the sixth round. The two rooks join incumbents Billy Bajema and Daniel Fells and Darcy Johnson, a free-agent acquisition from the New York Giants this offseason. Eric Butler, listed as a tight end last year, has been moved to fullback.
Onobun played just one season of football, his first year of football since middle school, after focusing on basketball and playing four years at the University of Arizona. A freakish athlete still trying to learn the game of football, Onobun’s likely opening-day spot is on the practice squad.
Bajema, a solid all-around player with exceptional blocking skills and underrated hands, and Fells, who tied for the team lead last year with three touchdowns, will make the team. Hoomanawanui has probably had the best hands of any tight end during OTAs. But things can change when the pads come on, and the Rams didn’t bring in Johnson just to cut him a few months later.
Teams typically keep three tight ends for the opening day roster, so either Hoomanawanui or Johnson could be searching for a job in late August/early September. Who knows? Maybe they’ll keep them both. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.
This article can also be found at The Alton Telegraph .