Living on the Edge - Nick's Preseason "Prove It" Team
With two preseason games under their belt, the Rams have two glaring issues to address in the coming days. The first is obviously the preparation for their third preseason game against the Chiefs, which takes place Saturday night at 8:30 pm EST. This will likely be the most we see of the offensive and defensive first units this preseason, as coaches typically use the third game as the biggest warm-up for their starters.
But that doesnít mean that we wonít get a good taste of the Ramsí depth on Saturday. After all, the second issue that needs to be taken into consideration is the roster cut, the first of which takes place in five days on August 29th with the second final cut scheduled for September 2nd, eight days from now.
With only one more preseason game on the schedule before first cuts begin, some Rams are looking at their final chance to prove to the coaching staff that they deserve a spot on the roster. On top of that, some players who seem secure in their roster spot still have things to prove to the loyal St. Louis fanbase.
In fact, one could almost make an entire starting unit of players that need to prove their worth in one way or anotherÖ
Nickís ďProve ItĒ Team
QB: Dave Ragone. The Rams went so far as to trade for Ragone, and despite an edge with the coaching staff heís yet to separate himself from last yearís third string quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Ragone doesnít outplay Fitz in this coming preseason game, Iím not sure the coaching staff will have a reason to keep him on the roster over the Harvard youngster, especially (per my understanding) since they donít lose any draft pick should Ragone not make the roster.
RB: Moe Williams. Like Ragone, Williams was brought to this team due to connections with the staff. Heís expected to be the Ramsí short yardage pounder. But this week, the Rams confirmed that veteran workhorse Stephen Davis was in for a visit and was even offered a contract. With Davisí starting days well behind him, the only role he could conceivably play on this team is a short yardage carrier. And while Davis is on his last legs, there are many who would likely take him over Moe in those situations. Maybe the decision is in Davisí hands now, but Moe can still secure a spot on this roster by proving his worth.
FB: Madison Hedgecock. A favorite from the late Martz era with many fans, Hedgecock looked to have the kind of potential the Rams hadnít seen in a fullback since James Hodgins. But now Hedge has lost his starting job to Paul Smith, who has clear connections to offensive coordinator Greg Olson. Will this team carry two fullbacks into the regular season? If Hedge has more drops like he did in the Colts game, then the answer will be no.
WR: Marques Hagans & Brad Pyatt. Thus far the best shot for both of these players toward at making this team is by showing something on special teams as return men. Pyatt has experienced some time on kick returns while Hagans has had his chance on punt returns. Both have shown promise, but neither in my opinion have shown enough to suggest theyíre significantly better than other options on the team. Itís been reported that Linehan is looking for one man to hold down both kick and punt returner jobs, and whether or not he shows something, the likelihood of Hagans being that man is strong as I suspect a first year coach would be hesitant to cut a fifth round draft pick at this point in the year.
TE: Jerome Collins. This is it for Jerome. Heís been on special teams, released, signed, moved to the practice squad, advanced to the active roster, and now heís battling Dominique Byrd for the third tight end position. Really, this one was over before it started. Unless Jerome Collins looks to be the second coming of Antonio Gates out there, thereís really no chance that the Rams cut Byrd to make room for Collins. Thereís a slim chance the Rams bring four tight ends into the regular season, and that could largely depend on what Collins shows the staff this weekend. But really, I envision that as his only hope for the active roster.
OT: Blaine Saipaia. The Texans first string defense made Saipaia look foolish in the second quarter of the second preseason game. Blaine was already behind schedule somewhat due to injury, and that performance does not leave me feeling confident in our depth at right tackle. The Rams already have veterans Todd Steussie and Drew Strojny at tackle and it seems there are a number of young contenders at guard. Saipaia may be the odd man out if he doesnít show up strong in the coming days.
OG: Tony Palmer. Letís face it. For a seventh round pick to make it through first and final cuts, theyíve really got to prove themselves. Palmer has been making some strides this offseason, but how good of a shot does he have at making the cut? Well, if the rumors are true about Claude Terrell possibly being out for the year should he elect to have additional wrist surgery, then Palmer has a solid chance at catching on here in St. Louis. With Terrell out of the picture (sounds like a mob movie, eh?), Palmer would likely be in the mix as the back-up to Adam Timmerman and Richie Incognito, competing with fellow seventh round pick Mark Setterstrom.
C: Donovan Raiola. Larry Turner is hardly the future at center. Maybe Donovan isnít either, but at least Raiola has some potential that keeps fans guessing about whether or not he could win that back-up job. Either way, the Rams need to look for a future starter at this position. The fact that halfway through the preseason Donovan hasnít leapfrogged Turner for this job yet does not speak favorably of his chances come Tuesday.
DE: Matthew Rice and Brandon Green. First of all, I donít believe Brandon Green is in danger of losing his job. But strong performances from rookie Victor Adeyanju may cause defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to cut into Greenís on the field time in favor of the rookie. Likely? Who knows. Possible? Sure. Green has shown flashes in the past of being a solid situational player, but heís going to have to step up his game to keep the rising young rook off of his heels. As for Rice, letís be real. He looked good against marginal competition in the first preseason game, but thatís about it. Rice was noticeably silent during the Texans contest, which does not suggest good things for his future.
DT: Jason Fisk. The Rams signed Fisk to provide veteran depth at the nose tackle position. They elected to sign Fisk over the massive Grady Jackson, who recently signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons. Some have wondered how much Fisk will be able to bring on the field, and while I donít believe heís in danger of losing his roster spot, Fisk would silence some critics by coming out and showing what heís got on the second team defense this weekend.
OLB: Raonall Smith and Jon Alston. Smith was brought in from Minnesota, with obvious past ties to head coach Scott Linehan despite Smith playing on the other side of the field. Thereís no question that Smith has the physical tools to play competitively at the SAM linebacker position, but Smithís biggest obstacle is his health. Currently he remains behind a somewhat shaky Brandon Chillar at that strong side position, making many wonder if he was truly worth the acquisition in the first place. On the weak side, the Rams spent a third round pick on athletic linebacker Jon Alston, envisioning him in a LB/SS hybrid role that would operate similar to how Adam Archuleta was used in some packages. Thus far, Alston has yet to make much of an impact on this team, and though not in danger of being cut, may not have the kind of immediate impact many fans envisioned when he was drafted.
MLB: Tim McGarigle. Drafted in the seventh round as a tackling machine in college, McGarigle has had every opportunity to step up into the back-up role, especially after Trev Faulkís release in July. But instead of stepping up into the mix, McGarigle has seemingly been passed up by Jamal Brooks, a preseason player for the Browns last year before being sent to NFL Europe. While most teams would idly take all of their draft picks into the season with them, it would not be uncommon for the Rams to do without a seventh rounder here or there. And McGarigle may be the odd man out should he remain third on the depth chart at middle linebacker.
CB: Jerametrius Butler and DeJuan Groce. Ask many Rams fans who the best cornerback on the team is, and youíll get more than a few who would offer up Butlerís name. But is that still the case? Butler missed all of 2005 with a significant leg injury, and hasnít been able to stay healthy as heís struggled with hamstring problems since early in the summer. He just returned to practice today, and one has to wonder if Travis Fisher and Fahkir Brown have cemented in their starting spots. Furthermore, does the Ramsí commitment to Tye Hill lock him into the nickel role? Itís not inconceivable that Butler, once considered the Ramsí best cornerback, could be used primarily in dime packages only should he continue to struggle with injuries. As for Groce, the Rams are in no pressing need to keep five cornerbacks on the roster considering that free safety Ron Bartell has experience at the corner position. Groce came up with a nice interception in the first preseason game, but is clearly the odd man out on a team that might not have the luxury of taking a deep secondary into the regular season.
FS: Ron Bartell. A second round pick in 2005, Bartellís journey into the NFL was one that required patience right from the start. Having come from a small school, there were few who expected Ron to make an immediate impact in the league. But with that said, Bartell has been virtually shut out of the cornerback role with the acquisitions of Fahkir Brown and Tye Hill. His only option was a move to free safety, where he currently backs up 2005 third round pick OJ Atogwe. Bartell is an excellent athlete who could eventually challenge Atogwe for that starting job. Scratch that Ė he should eventually challenge Atogwe for that job, because you donítí spend second round picks on back-up players. Bartellís development needs to continue to be monitored with patience, but hopefully now heís at a position where he can excel.
SS: Jerome Carter. His 2005 rookie campaign wasnít what I would call impressive. Carter showed flashes of potential combined with plays that made you slap your forehead in frustration. Then again, who on the 2005 Rams defense could not fit that description? With veteran Corey Chavous primed to handle the starting strong safety role for at least the foreseeable future, Carter is in no rush to prove heís starter material. But that being said, heís going to have to show the Rams something this year, with a contract year looming in 2007. If Carter canít prove heís at least a potential option for the future of the strong safety position, the Rams may be more than happy to let him walk as his contract expires, or even worse, release him after this season.
Re: Living on the Edge - Nick's Preseason "Prove It" Team
Hmmm...."because you don't spend second round picks on back-up players..." Um, seems to me we had this discussion about a week ago. Isn't this just what I said about picking "back-up" Byrd over potential starter Watson? Granted Bartell was a second round pick, but since Byrd was selected only one round later why wouldn't the same parameters apply?
At any rate, great article Nick; and keep 'em coming!
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Re: Living on the Edge - Nick's Preseason "Prove It" Team
Hey Mods, Earlier today I posted a response to this article. Do you know why it has not been posted? Please respond in this forum or by e-mail to Rivervalley3@aol.com. Thanx.