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Thread: Sorting Out the 53
-09-02-2011 #1Registered User
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Sorting Out the 53
By Howard Balzer
It's over now, the preseason that is. In a dizzying 35 days, the Rams signed 12 unrestricted free agents, installed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' system, and went undefeated in their four practice games.
Thursday night's 24-17 victory over Jacksonville doesn't mean much in the scheme of things, but it's sure better to win than lose.
Most important, this team escaped the summer without major injuries except for cornerback Jerome Murphy's broken ankle, and appears primed to open the season on Sept. 11 at home against the Philadelphia Eagles' self-proclaimed "Dream Team."
Those Eagles are currently starting one offensive lineman that is the same from last season (left tackle Jason Peters), and they have only four starting defensive players from last season in the same spots, and they are playing a new defense.
There is also a rookie kicker and rookie punter. We won't get ahead of ourselves too much here, because there will be plenty of time next week to devote to dissecting this tantalizing matchup, but this game looks far less daunting now than it did when the schedule was announced in April.
This is a prime opportunity for the Rams to make a statement that they don't view the first seven games as difficult as most believe. Yes, there are four games against 2010 playoff teams - Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans and Baltimore - that had a combined record of 43-21 last season. And the 10-6 New York Giants will host the Rams on Monday Night Football in Week 2.
But if there's one thing coach Steve Spagnuolo does consistently, it's have his team focused on one thing: the next game. And now, that game is against the Eagles, and it doesn't matter what follows. Of course, Spagnuolo has been planning for the opener for a while.
Asked after Thursday night's game when he will start thinking about the Eagles, he said, "Two weeks ago." Truth be known, it was probably longer than that.
However, before preparations truly begin on Monday, there is the matter of getting the roster down to 53 players, and signing an eight-player practice squad.
This will be no easy task. By my count, there are 63 players anyone could make a case for being on the opening-day roster, and that doesn't include wide receiver Mark Clayton, who is expected to begin the season on reserve/physically unable to perform.
For now, some of the decisions are easier because there aren't many injuries, and loading up at certain positions won't be necessary because of that. The difference in players that make it and those that don't will often be determined by how many players are retained at each position.
Quarterback: Two or three? Thaddeus Lewis has earned a roster spot, but the third quarterback rarely plays. If he isn't on the roster, another position player can be kept. Let's stop the talk now of Lewis being elevated ahead of A.J. Feeley. Lewis has a future, but his exploits have occurred against backups, so Feeley's experience wins out.
Running back: Four or five, including fullback Brit Miller? Keith Toston is young and promising. Steven Jackson, Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood are all at least 28 years old (Williams is 29). Toston also plays most special teams, as does Miller, even though the fullback won't be on the field a lot. Chase Reynolds could be on the practice squad if Toston doesn't make it.
Wide receiver: Oh, boy. This can be debated for hours. Six or seven? Will the Rams try to get Austin Pettis through waivers and onto the practice squad? Is Donnie Avery, entering the final year of his contract, trade bait? The amount of time Mardy Gilyard got in preseason games might have been to showcase him.
Danario Alexander had a 43-yard play Thursday night. Last season, the Rams had six pass plays of 38 yards or more and Alexander had three while playing just eight games. No one else on the roster can do what Alexander does, and no one else stresses the defense like he can. Dominique Curry was on the opening-day roster last year before blowing out his knee and he rarely is talked about. Excellent on special teams, he might also end up on the practice squad. Good luck trying to sort this group out.
Tight end: The one position complicated by an injury to Michael Hoomanawanui. If he is on the roster, but isn't available for the first couple games, does Fendi Onobun make the roster along with Lance Kendricks and Billy Bajema, or do the Rams have just two tight ends active early on? Ben Guidugli has a shot for the practice squad.
Offensive line: Eight or nine? Quinn Ojinnaka has likely earned a backup job. The question is whether that knocks center Hank Fraley off the roster. Ojinnaka might be fine in a pinch at guard or tackle, but center might be an issue. Center/guard Drew Miller was pushing for a job, but he has an ankle injury. Versatile Adam Goldberg seems safe along with Renardo Foster, although he hasn't played as well as he did last summer.
Defensive line: The Rams entered 2010 with 10 defensive linemen. Will they do it again? Tackle Darell Scott and ends C.J. Ah You, George Selvie and Eugene Sims are fighting for the final one or two jobs.
Linebacker: Six or seven? Rookie Jabara Williams appears ticketed for the practice squad. Does Zac Diles make it? Only if seven are retained.
Defensive back: The search is on for a fifth cornerback. Unless rookie free agent Tim Atchison is on the roster, the Rams are on the lookout. Actually, if he makes the initial 53, the Rams will still be looking. Always remember, there is no such thing as the final cut. At worst, Atchison will likely be on the practice squad. Joselio Hanson of the Eagles remains a possibility in a trade, but that likely wouldn't happen until after the first game. The nickel back remains a question, whether it's Justin King or if Ron Bartell goes inside with Al Harris on the outside in passing situations. The question is whether Harris can hold up consistently in that role.
At safety, James Butler could be in jeopardy as he and Jonathan Nelson vie for the fifth spot. Jermale Hines appears safe.
Specialists: Finally, an easy one with kicker Josh Brown, punter Donnie Jones and long snapper Jake McQuaide.
Re: Sorting Out the 53
"Quarterback: Two or three? Thaddeus Lewis has earned a roster spot, but the third quarterback rarely plays. If he isn't on the roster, another position player can be kept. Let's stop the talk now of Lewis being elevated ahead of A.J. Feeley. Lewis has a future, but his exploits have occurred against backups, so Feeley's ".... out of any nfl team..... how can a rams lover take that position????? kind of dumb founded...
James butler I personally would consider letting go... isn't he getting like 4 mill or something?
Re: Sorting Out the 53
QB 3 is active all games this season as per the new CBA