BY JIM THOMAS Posted: Saturday, July 24, 2010 12:00 am | (2) Comments

The offseason seemed to last 15 minutes. Ready or not, the 2010 NFL season is upon us. A couple of teams reported to camp this weekend, and the Rams join the rest of the league in assembling this week. Rookies and selected veterans report Wednesday at Rams Park. The first full-squad practice is Saturday, July 31. The Rams' preseason opener against Minnesota is less than three weeks away.

In the wake of a 1-15 season in 2009, and with just six victories in their last 48 games, the Rams are widely regarded as one of the worst teams in the NFL. If not THE worst. It's up to coach Steve Spagnuolo and staff to change that, with a little help from No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford at quarterback. For the first time since the days of the Greatest Show on Turf, there are no members of the Rams' Super Bowl XXXIV championship team or Super Bowl XXXVI runner-up squad on the current roster.

The road to respectability will be traveled largely by a cast of young, and unproven, faces. What happens with Bradford in the coming weeks will attract much of the attention at Rams Park, but there are personnel questions and depth chart battles throughout the roster which will sort themselves out over training camp and the preseason.

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Position-by-position overview of Rams


Let the office pools begin: When will Sam Bradford make his first NFL start? Bradford has the physical tools and appears to have the mental makeup to be a successful NFL quarterback. During the spring practices at Rams Park, he showed no ill effects from surgery to his throwing shoulder. But in order to take over as the starting QB, he must display a working knowledge of the Rams' West Coast scheme. He must also show, albeit in preseason play, that he can adjust successfully to the speed of the NFL game.

Otherwise, it will be veteran A.J. Feeley, who has worked with Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur in Philadelphia and knows the system. But Feeley hasn't thrown an NFL regular-season pass since 2007, so he needs a lot of preseason work, too, especially since he's the team's potential opening-day starter.

QBs on roster (4): Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis, Keith Null.

Running back

Four running backs is a low total for training camp; some teams keep that many on their regular-season roster. So it wouldn't be surprising to see the Rams add a body prior to camp or during camp. The need for a strong backup seems obvious, but the Rams are optimistic that Chris Ogbonnaya can be an effective third-down back, be it as a receiver or a blocker on blitz pickup. Undrafted rookie Keith Toston had a productive career at Oklahoma State. He's not a burner, but bears watching this preseason.

Of course, the team's offensive fortunes basically sink or swim with the health and well-being of Pro Bowler Steven Jackson. Jackson is coming off April back surgery, and missed all of the minicamps and OTAs. It will be interesting to see his state of readiness, and how much he is used, during two-a-days and the preseason.

RBs on roster (4): Kenneth Darby, Steven Jackson, Chris Ogbonnaya, Keith Toston.

Fullback/tight end

Entering training camp, Daniel Fells and Billy Bajema are firmly entrenched as the top two tights ends, with Fells more of the receiving threat and Bajema more of the blocking specialist. With Randy McMichael no longer around, Fells has a chance for a breakout season as a pass-catcher.

At fullback, veteran Mike Karney returns for his second season in St. Louis. The Rams probably will keep only one fullback on the final roster, perhaps keeping another on the practice squad.

The biggest uncertainty is the No. 3 tight end job, with rookie draft picks Michael Hoomanawanui and Fendi Onobun battling former New York Giant Darcy Johnson. Hoomanawanui looks like a solid blocker and pass catcher, and had a good spring. Onobun, who spent most of his time in college playing basketball, has loads of athleticism but is very raw and needs plenty of polish.

FBs/TEs on roster (8): Billy Bajema, Eric Butler, Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui, Darcy Johnson, Mike Karney, Jamie McCoy, Fendi Ononbun.

Wide receiver

The competition here should be one of the most interesting facets of training camp and the preseason. Last season, the Rams had only four wideouts on their opening-day roster. They'll probably enter 2010 with five or six on the 53-man roster, but the battle for the last couple of spots should be interesting.

Donnie Avery and Laurent Robinson will be the starters, and both players must stay healthy for the Rams to have any chance at fielding an effective receiver corps. Rookie Mardy Gilyard could eventually settle into a slot role as the No. 3 wideout. But Danny Amendola, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, and Brandon Gibson all will be scrapping for favorable position on the depth chart. Even with lots of candidates, it remains to be seen if the Rams have enough talent at this position, much less anything resembling a go-to receiver.

WRs on roster (10): Danny Amendola, Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Dominique Curry, Brooks Foster, Brandon Gibson, Mardy Gilyard, Jordan Kent, Brandon McRae, Laurent Robinson.

Offensive line

All eyes are on the tackle position, where the projected starters are Jason Smith at LT and Rodger Saffold at RT. Adam Goldberg could potentially open the season at right tackle if Saffold doesn't show he's ready. But when you draft a player No. 33 overall, as was the case with Saffold, the expectations are that he will start ASAP. Smith, meanwhile, moves into the all-important left tackle position after spending his rookie year on the right side. Injuries limited Smith to eight games as a rookie, so he still has much to prove.

When all is said and done, the Rams will be protecting the edges and their $70 to $80 million rookie quarterback with a pair of very young tackles. A little scary, eh? Jacob Bell and Jason Brown are set at left guard and center, respectively. Right guard remains undecided.

OLs on roster (16): G Roger Allen III, G Jacob Bell, C Jason Brown, C/G Hank Fraley, G Joe Gibbs, T/G Adam Goldberg, G/C John Greco, T Brandon Joyce, G Mark Lewis, T Ryan McKee, C Drew Miller, T Rodger Saffold, G/C Mark Setterstrom, T Jason Smith, T Phil Trautwein, T Eric Young.

Defensive line

The Rams hope the addition of veteran tackles Fred Robbins and Chris Hovan shores up the interior, particularly against the run. Robbins, who played for Steve Spagnuolo with the New York Giants, will start. Hovan figures to be a rotation player if he makes the final 53.

Clifton Ryan projects as the other starting DT, with second-year man Darell Scott who flashed potential late last season pushing for playing time if he continues to develop. Also in the mix is Gary Gibson, who started the first five games of '09 before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. At end, James Hall and Chris Long will start, with Victor Adeyanju providing quality depth. C.J. Ah You was a modest success story in '09 before a season-ending knee injury. Three late-round draft picks, including former South Florida star George Selvie, are trying to make the roster as rookies.

DLs on roster (13): DE Victor Adeyanju, DE C.J. Ah You, DT Jermelle Cudjo, DE Hall Davis, DT Gary Gibson, DE James Hall, DT Chris Hovan, DE Chris Long, DT Fred Robbins, DT Clifton Ryan, DT Darell Scott, DE George Selvie, DE Eugene Sims.


Say hello to the all-Ohio State starting LB corps of James Laurinaitis in the middle flanked by fellow Buckeyes Bobby Carpenter and Na'il Diggs on the outside. Carpenter (6-2, 249) and Diggs (6-4, 240) bring much-needed size, which in theory should help in run support. Carpenter, acquired from Dallas in the Alex Barron trade, has much to prove after falling well short of expectations with the Cowboys. Diggs, 32, must show he has some clicks left on his career odometer following his release by Carolina. Laurinaitis is coming off a productive rookie season, and already is stepping into a leadership role on defense.

Depth remains questionable. One of the backups, David Vobora, will try to regain the starting strongside job he held for most of 2009, a season marred by a four-game suspension for violating league policy on performance enhancing substances.

LBs on roster (9): Bobby Carpenter, Chris Chamberlain, Na'il Diggs, Dominic Douglas, Larry Grant, Josh Hull, Cardia Jackson, James Laurinaitis, David Vobora.


Safety is one of the few positions where the Rams appear set. Oshiomogho Atogwe, James Butler, Craig Dahl and Kevin Payne are experienced young veterans, ranging in age from 25 (Dahl) to 29 (Atogwe). The foursome has 133 regular-season starts between them, ranging from Dahl's 12 starts up to Atogwe's 60.

The camp/preseason intrigue will be at corner, a position that astoundingly did not record a single interception last season. Veteran Ron Bartell must return to form after being slowed by a nagging thigh injury last season, and the other starting spot is up for grabs. Second-year man Bradley Fletcher looks like the frontrunner if sufficiently recovered from last season's knee surgery. But Kevin Dockery, Justin King, and 2010 third-round pick Jerome Murphy all could be in the mix. At the moment, Dockery could be the frontrunner for the nickel corner job.

DBs on roster (15): S Oshiomogho Atogwe, CB Ron Bartell, S James Butler, CB Quincy Butler, S Craig Dahl, CB Kevin Dockery, CB Bradley Fletcher, S Martin Harris, CB Marquis Johnson, CB Justin King, CB Jerome Murphy, S Kevin Payne, S David Roach, S Darian Stewart, CB Antoine Thompson.

Special teams

There are no camp legs around this year, perhaps a concession to the firm 80-man roster limit in effect since the demise of NFL Europe. There aren't many better units in the NFL than the veteran troika of kicker Josh Brown, punter Donnie Jones, and long snapper Chris Massey. Barring injury, there will be no suspense here.

The return game is another matter. Danny Amendola set franchise records for kickoff returns (66) and kickoff return yards (1,618) last season, partly a function of all the scoring opponents did against St. Louis. Amendola's kickoff return average of 24.5 yards ranked 16th in the league. He was more effective on punt returns, where his 11.6-yard average ranked sixth. Amendola figures to be challenged for both jobs by rookie Mardy Gilyard, who returned five kickoffs or punts for TDs during his college career at Cincinnati.

Specialists on roster (3): K Josh Brown, P Donnie Jones, LS Chris Massey.