With preseason looming, much to sort through for Rams ..
• By Jim Thomas
The preliminaries are over for Rams training camp. Preseason or not, let the games begin. Most of the starting jobs are spoken for, but there’s still a lot to sort out between now and Sept 8, when the regular season begins at home against Arizona.
As the days dwindle down to Thursday’s preseason opener in Cleveland, here’s a quick observational run through of the top of the roster, by position (more or less), and realizing a lot could change in exhibition play:
As is the case with most quarterbacks, earning Sam Bradford’s trust is a key to getting the ball thrown your way. Bradford may not have a security blanket like Danny Amendola on this roster, but he clearly has a comfort level with Austin Pettis, Jared Cook and Chris Givens. The chemistry with Cook is developing quickly. The top three wide receivers at this point clearly are Givens, Pettis and Tavon Austin. Brian Quick has made strides but still has work to do.
There are certain routes he excels at, such as the fade pattern in the end zone. But he needs to display more consistency catching the ball and get better at using his size to grab contested or 50-50 balls.
Quick looks like the No. 4 but unlike last year in camp, he has gotten plenty of practice reps with the starting offense.
At the moment, Stedman Bailey looks like the No. 5 receiver. He has good hands but needs to do a better job tracking the deep ball.
Those who seemed to have the best chance for the No. 6 receiver job early in camp, Nick Johnson and Lindenwood University rookie Andrew Helmick, are sidelined because of hamstring injuries, although Johnson might try to play against Cleveland.
And that’s assuming the Rams keep six wideouts; they could go with just five.
One of the biggest questions about the tight end position after the signing of Cook in free agency was the role of Lance Kendricks.
Would Kendricks’ playing time be cut? Would he factor as much into the passing game as he did last year (42 catches, 519 yards)?
In theory, Kendricks could be used on the line of scrimmage as well as in the backfield like a fullback, while Cook does his thing in the slot or outside. But there are no current clues because Kendricks has yet to practice.
Right now, there’s only one fullback on the roster in undrafted rookie Eric Stevens.
The Rams probably won’t use as many two-back sets this season, so a healthy Kendricks plus backup tight end Cory Harkey, who can also block out of the backfield, could eliminate the need to keep Stevens.
At running back, Daryl Richardson is listed as the starter on the unofficial depth chart, and he and Isaiah Pead clearly are at the head of the pack, with Zac Stacy No. 3. If that’s the case, that leaves Terrance Ganaway and Benny Cunningham fighting for the No. 4 spot. Coach Jeff Fisher kept four running backs last year. That might be bad math for Chase Reynolds, but he’s hoping his special teams value earns him a spot among the final 53.
On the offensive line, Rodger Saffold is getting accustomed to playing right tackle and getting a workout in the process every day from defensive end Chris Long. At left guard, Shelley Smith and Chris Williams have alternated working with the first unit on a day-by-day basis. Smith works with the ‘1’s’ one day and Williams does so the next. In the short term it doesn’t look as if Barrett Jones is in the picture there; since returning from the non-football injury list, he has been working at center.
At quarterback, the only intrigue is whether Fisher will keep three QBs or two on the final roster, and whether the No. 2 will be veteran Kellen Clemens or second-year man Austin Davis. Not much separation has occurred between the two so far; they have been alternating on a daily basis with the second-team offense.
On defense, the only question up front is depth at tackle. Last year, Jermelle Cudjo was the No. 3 tackle, but he has yet to practice this camp because of a foot injury. That has left Matt Conrath as the No. 3.
At linebacker, the coaching staff is pleased so far with the work of Alec Ogletree, the first-round draft pick from Georgia — so much so that he has been part of the team’s nickel package, a role that was manned last year by Jo-Lonn Dunbar.
Even with the arrival of Will Witherspoon, a backup spot or two is there for the taking.
Jabara Williams had been running with the second unit before being sidelined with a hamstring injury.
In the secondary, the top four spots at cornerback look secure, with rookie draft pick Brandon McGee at No. 4 behind the top three of Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson.
If the Rams keep five corners, it could be Quinton Pointer vs. St. Louisan Robert Steeples.
At safety, rookie T.J. McDonald and Darian Stewart have a secure grip on the starting spots. McDonald’s had a few rough moments trying to cover Cook in practice — but who wouldn’t?
So far, Stewart has stayed healthy and stayed on the field and has gotten better defending the deep ball as camp has progressed.
On special teams, it’s all about the return game and finding core players. Backup jobs could be won or lost depending on how players cover kicks or block on returns.
It looks as if it will be Austin on punt returns. Will it be Austin on kickoff returns as well? Or Pead, or Givens?