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St. Louis Rams

Stadium: Edward Jones Dome | Coach: Jeff Fisher
Team RankingOverallRushingPassing
Offense25th106.2 (19th)213.1 (23rd)
Defense18th108.9 (14th)242.6 (19th)

Rams report: Strategy and personnel

The Sports Xchange
 
Strategy and personnel · Inside slant · Notes, quotes
 

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS
Starter -- A.J. Feeley. Backups -- Sam Bradford, Keith Null, Thaddeus Lewis.

Feeley is the starter entering camp, but how long will that last? That will obviously be the most prevalent question during the entire summer. Despite winning only one game last season, the Rams could see more than their fair share of national media during camp because of the presence of Bradford, the first overall choice in April's draft. Undoubtedly, Feeley knows the offense better than Bradford, which will make the opening-day decision for the coaches intriguing. Null should be able to hold off Lewis for the No. 3 job, although the latter does have some impressive athletic ability.

RUNNING BACKS
Starters -- Steven Jackson, FB Mike Karney. Backups -- Kenneth Darby, Chris Ogbonnaya, Keith Toston, FB Jamie McCoy.

It is assumed Jackson will be ready for camp after undergoing back surgery on April 15. However, treading lightly will likely be the plan as he becomes accustomed to contact again. Without a proven backup behind him, the Rams are once again faced with hoping he can last the entire season without suffering any setbacks. Darby entered camp as the No. 1 backup, but he will receive challenges from Ogbonnaya and Toston. Plus, there is always the chance someone else will be signed at some point in the summer. Darby's value is more as a third-down back. Ogbonnaya and Toston could emerge better than many expect. Ogbonnaya is also a good receiver, and only a lack of pure speed kept Toston from being drafted. Both will get plenty of opportunities in preseason games. Karney's season was somewhat disappointing in 2009, and injuries were a factor. He has to show he can stay healthy. McCoy showed some flashes during offseason work, and has the ability to be a receiver. However, he will have to show he can block to earn a job.

TIGHT ENDS
Starter -- Daniel Fells. Backups -- Billy Bajema, Michael Hoomanawanui, Darcy Johnson, Fendi Onobun, Eric Butler.

Place a large asterisk next to Fells' name. He wasn't able to practice during the offseason as he recovered from a 2009 knee injury, and while showing good things at times he wasn't consistent as a blocker or receiver. Now, the competition has been ramped up following the departure of Randy McMichael. Bajema and Johnson are likely competing for the job of blocking tight end. Bajema was with the team last season, while Johnson was previously with the New York Giants. Both have good size, while Johnson has better speed for the passing game. The wild cards will be the rookies, Hoomanawanui and Onobun. Hoomanawanui was used infrequently as a receiver in college at Illinois, but he showed good hands and the ability to get down the field during the offseason. He could end up being a bargain fifth-round pick, and an excellent West Coast offense tight end. Onobun, a sixth-round pick, has freakish athletic skills, but played only one season of college football. At 6-6, he could be a dangerous target in the red zone. To make the team, he will have to show he is capable of catching the ball in traffic and getting hit. The question will be whether the Rams want to take the chance of exposing him to waivers to get him on the practice squad. Butler was on the practice squad last season, and is unlikely to be around in September.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Starters -- Donnie Avery, Laurent Robinson. Backups -- Mardy Gilyard, Keenan Burton, Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Dominique Curry, Brandon McRae.

This position is where it appears the competition will be most significant, barring injury, of course. This is a key year for Avery to step up and show he can be consistent and injury-free. He believes a change in diet and an offseason regimen that added weight and strength will help. Robinson was on pace for 88 receptions when he was injured early in the third game last season, and could be the key to the receiving corps. He has to show he is fully recovered, and yes, stay healthy. Gilyard missed a significant portion of offseason work because of NFL rules, but his big-play ability should find a way into the offense. Gilyard could make Amendola expendable, with the only thing lacking in Amendola's game the ability to finish plays. If the Rams keep six receivers, the battle for the final spots will be strong. Burton also has to show he can stay healthy, as does Gibson, who was hampered in the offseason by a hamstring problem. Coaches raved about the offseason work from Foster, the fifth-round pick that missed the entire 2009 season. Kent is outstanding on special teams, but the question is whether he can show he's good enough as a receiver to win a job. Curry and McRae, both undrafted free agents, flashed in the offseason, and appear to be strong candidates for the practice squad.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starters -- LT Jason Smith, LG Jacob Bell, C Jason Brown, RG Adam Goldberg, RT Phil Trautwein. Backups -- T Rodger Saffold, G John Greco, C/G Hank Fraley, T Ryan McKee, T Eric Young, T Brandon Joyce, T Joe Gibbs, G Mark Lewis, C/G Drew Miller, G Mark Setterstrom, G Roger Allen III.

Like a broken record, health was the major question enveloping the offensive line as camp opened. Offseason work ended with six linemen on the sideline: Smith (toe), Bell (knee), Saffold (knee), Lewis (knee), Setterstrom (triceps) and Allen (knee). Allen's injury occurred in the final game of the 2009 season, but all the others occurred during offseason workouts. If healthy and together, the line looks good enough to enable the offense to compete. The main question is whether the rookie Saffold can overtake Trautwein and become a starter when the season begins. Smith is probably the biggest key. The second overall selection in the 2009 draft, he missed eight games because of a knee injury and concussion, and then suffered an injured toe in the offseason. Brown is the anchor in the middle, and Goldberg is best at guard. Competition for him could come from Greco. Fraley provides veteran leadership and depth at center and guard. Setterstrom is expected to be sidelined for the entire season after suffering a torn triceps near the end of offseason practices. The others will be battling for at most, one roster spot.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starters -- LE Chris Long, DT Fred Robbins, DT Clifton Ryan, RE James Hall. Backups -- E Victor Adeyanju, E C.J. Ah You, E George Selvie, E Hall Davis, E Eugene Sims, T Darell Scott, T Chris Hovan, T Gary Gibson, T Jermelle Cudjo.

Coaches hope this is a breakout year for Long. His rookie season was spent adjusting from a 3-4 college defense to the 4-3, and he then had to learn another system last year. The light appeared to go on in the second half of the season, and it is expected he will pick up where he left off, and do it from the left side of the line. He was always solid against the run, and the pass-rush production came when he had all five of his sacks last season in the final nine games of the season. The versatile Hall returns with his leadership and ability to play end and tackle. Adeyanju was forgotten for the first half of the '09 season, but contributed down the stretch. Ah You is coming back from a knee injury. The unknowns are three drafted rookies, all selected after the fourth round: Davis, Sims and Selvie. All have pass-rush ability, but will have to show they can do it at the NFL level. Inside, Robbins and Hovan add experience and depth. Ryan is solid on the nose. Scott played well as a rookie late in the season, and he will be the player to watch as camp unfolds. Gibson is returning from a broken leg that ended his 2009 season. Cudjo is a longshot.

LINEBACKERS
Starters -- WLB Bobby Carpenter, MLB James Laurinaitis, SLB Na'il Diggs. Backups -- OLB Chris Chamberlain, David Vobora, OLB Larry Grant, MLB Josh Hull, OLB Dominic Douglas, Cardia Jackson.

A weakness at the outside spots is believed to have been addressed with the offseason additions of Carpenter and Diggs. Carpenter, a former first-round pick, was never a fit in the Cowboys' 3-4 defense. The Rams believe he will be fine on the weak side, while being able to defend tight ends and running backs in the passing game. Diggs has a lot of NFL miles on him, but he is solid against the run. Laurinaitis was a revelation last year as a rookie, not only playing well, but also calling the defenses. He should be even better in his second year. The domino effect of adding Carpenter and Diggs also helped the depth. Vobora, who started on the strong side last season, can also back up in the middle. Chamberlain is excellent on special teams. The rookie Hull is also in the mix for special teams and as a backup middle linebacker. Grant must continue to show improvement, and appears safe if the Rams keep seven linebackers. Douglas and Jackson are extreme longshots.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Starters -- LCB Justin King, RCB Ron Bartell, SS James Butler, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe. Backups -- CB Bradley Fletcher, CB Kevin Dockery, CB Quincy Butler, CB Jerome Murphy, CB Marquis Johnson, CB Antoine Thompson, S Craig Dahl, S Kevin Payne, S David Roach, S Darian Stewart, S Martin Harris.

The Rams hope Fletcher will be the starter and not King, but there's still no way of knowing when Fletcher will be full-go. He was able to do individual work during the offseason, but no team drills coming back from a knee injury that ended his promising rookie season. Bartell is confident he will be the player he is capable of being after a quadriceps injury severely limited him last season. If Fletcher isn't ready, King is certainly no sure thing. He will have to hold off Quincy Butler, and possibly rookie Jerome Murphy. The undersized and feisty Dockery will compete as the nickel back, and the rookie Johnson will look to be noticed. The re-signing of Atogwe was important not only because of his big-play ability, but it made Dahl and Payne depth players. With James Butler at strong safety, the depth is as good as it's been in a while. If a fifth safety makes the roster, Roach has the early edge, but he could be challenged by undrafted free agents Stewart and Harris.

SPECIALISTS
K Josh Brown, P Donnie Jones, LS Chris Massey, KR Mardy Gilyard, KR Danny Amendola.

At least there is one part of the team with hardly any questions. Brown and Jones are two of the best at what they do in the NFL. Brown sometimes misses field-goal attempts he shouldn't, but there's no one better in the league from 50 yards and beyond. Massey should be fine coming back from a 2009 knee injury. The return game should be exciting. Amendola was very good last season, but didn't have the finishing power to turn long returns into touchdowns. Gilyard has that ability, which would be a plus for a team that has had two returns for touchdowns (one punt, one kickoff) in the last nine seasons after having seven from 1998-2000.

Copyright (C) 2010 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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