NFC West: St. Louis Rams

Rams Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp.
  • On a beautiful night in St. Louis, legendary Rams quarterback Kurt Warner took in the practice as part of his role with NFL Network. Warner spoke to quarterback Sam Bradford, spoke to the media and signed plenty of autographs but really held the crowd's interest when he stayed after practice and threw some passes to receivers Tavon Austin and Chris Givens. The crowd, one of the biggest the Rams have had at a training camp practice in St. Louis at 2,291 people, certainly had plenty to watch.
  • And it wasn't limited to what was happening with Warner. The top offense finally found some traction in Sunday's practice and Bradford appeared to settle in a little more as he went through his third consecutive practice. Bradford connected with receiver Kenny Britt a few times, including in the red zone and also found Brian Quick for some big plays. Quick's finest moment came when he ran a deep in during red zone drills and use his frame to box out cornerback Janoris Jenkins for a touchdown. Quick later connected with Bradford again for a deep ball down the left sideline as Bradford threw a good ball with the blitz bearing down. Bradford even drew some cheers from fans who might be worried about his mobility when he took off scrambling in team drills near the end zone. It wasn't all good for the offense though as there were still some leaks in the offensive line and there were a couple of false starts on linemen during red zone team drills.
  • In today's edition of as the offensive line turns, the Rams made good on their promise to continue rotating their linemen with a slightly altered look. Rodger Saffold and Greg Robinson swapped spots with Saffold moving outside to tackle and Robinson in to left guard. Tim Barnes took another turn at center with Scott Wells not practicing. The right side remained steady with Joe Barksdale at tackle and Davin Joseph at guard. Joseph, by the way, has looked pretty good in the opening days. He's a strong guy and one of the few who seems to be able to get his hands on defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
  • On the injury front, not much has changed but there were a couple new additions to the list of those sitting out practice. Offensive lineman Brandon Washington and cornerback Trumaine Johnson joined the usual group that includes safety Christian Bryant, fullback Kadeem Jones, linebacker Johnny Millard, end Sammy Brown, Wells, offensive tackle Jake Long, end William Hayes and defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks, on the sidelines. Johnson appeared to tweak something in Saturday's practice and did not return then before sitting Sunday.
  • With Johnson out, extra reps have been available for some young corners including Darren Woodard, Brandon McGee and, on Sunday, rookie Lamarcus Joyner. Joyner got some work as the nickel with the first team defense as the Rams shuffled the secondary in Johnson's absence.
  • Rookie quarterback Garrett Gilbert is not lacking for snaps in this camp so far. He took a lot of reps Sunday, including some with the second-team offense. The results have been mixed. He dropped in a couple of nice throws early, including one to tight end Lance Kendricks for a touchdown in the modified seven on seven early in practice. Later, he airmailed a throw intended for open tight end Cory Harkey that should have been a touchdown. Clearly, the Rams are interested in getting him up to speed quickly.
  • Zac Stacy, who is still the primary running back with the first team offense, has looked sharp in the opening days and had another good day Sunday. On one run in team, Stacy hit the hole, made a defender miss and took off for what would have been a long gain to the sounds of loud cheers from the crowd. Worth noting that Isaiah Pead is getting some work with the second unit as is Benny Cunningham and a few for Tre Mason. Appears to be plenty of rotating going on behind Stacy.
  • The Rams are eligible to begin wearing the pads Monday and they will do so according to coach Jeff Fisher. But, per Fisher's custom, the plan is to have a special teams practice in the morning as a way of getting the majority of the roster acclimated to being back in pads. For those that aren't participating in the special teams practice, there will be work in the recovery room. By the time the Rams have their next open practice, scheduled for Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. ET, the full squad can officially be back in pads.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Life in the NFL comes with a pecking order in everything teams do. Parking spaces at the team facility are no exception.

The closer to the door you are, the longer you've been around. Rookies are farthest from the entry, and if you play in St. Louis, that means more time to bake in the summer heat or freeze in the frigid winters as you make your way to work.

Seniority is a valued commodity in the NFL -- much as it is in most walks of life -- but for the St. Louis Rams, a look at the parking assignment sheet reveals that, yes, once again the Rams will be one of the youngest teams in the league. Perhaps, for the third straight year, the youngest.

"We’ve got third-year guys down there at about the fourth or fifth spot, so it is a young group," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.

When Fisher and general manager Les Snead took on the massive rebuilding project in 2012, they quickly came to terms with the idea of being young. They weren't only OK with it, they were actively seeking it. The haul of picks they poached from the Washington Redskins for the No. 2 overall pick in that draft almost ensured it.

And those young teams, the youngest in the league each of the past two years, had their share of ups and downs in a pair of seven-win seasons. But youth is no longer an excuse for this team. Make no mistake, the Rams are going to be brimming with youth once again. But for right now in St. Louis, age really isn't anything but a number.

"Because of the fact that we have players now in their third year and guys last year in their second, they’re familiar faces, they’ve matured, they have the playing experience," Fisher said. "So despite the age on paper, the team doesn’t act that way. The team acts much more mature and will be much more prepared.”

Using the secondary as an example, the four projected starters have an average age of just 24, but the quartet of safeties Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson has combined for 105 games played and seven seasons of NFL experience. They're young, but they aren't without experience.

"We’re young there still, but those (corners) have played two years," Snead said. "I’d rather have that. That’s where you start thinking you can ascend. They’re still young, but they’ve got playing time."

And because of that playing time, the Rams can really only be viewed as young in terms of age. Much of the roster, at least in some of the most valuable positions, has plenty of experience to go with the youngsters who have played right away. Quarterback Sam Bradford and guard Rodger Saffold are entering their fifth seasons. Defensive end Chris Long is going on year seven and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is about to embark on his sixth. Players like Jared Cook, Jake Long, Scott Wells and Kendall Langford have put in a combined 27 years in the league.

Sure, there are second- and third-year players dotting the roster at other positions -- even some rookies expected to contribute right away -- but for the guys who have reached veteran status, the idea of letting the kids grow up has become stale. They have their own clock to worry about and they want to win now.

Laurinaitis, for one, has made it clear since the spring that he no longer wants to hear about how young his team is.

"When you’re young, you make a lot of mistakes, it’s hard to get them shrunk," Laurinaitis said. "But now we have guys who are still young, but we have guys that this is their third year starting now. So I don’t consider that young. They say after eight games of your rookie year, you are not a rookie anymore. You have seen enough plays and the speed to adjust, and now we have a lot of guys like that."

The task of getting the Rams to move from the NFC West's least desirable parking spot to something much closer to the playoff door falls in their hands.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams remain optimistic about the impending return of left tackle Jake Long from offseason knee surgery.

Long had his right anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments repaired in late January, making his return this preseason something of a questionable proposition. But he surprised some when he showed better than expected mobility during organized team activities, and coach Jeff Fisher said the expectation was for him to be back in action about midway through this training camp.

Those hopes remain but in the meantime, the Rams have apparently concocted a detailed plan for how they're going to deploy the offensive line in the meantime.

“Yeah we’re going to move everybody around," Fisher said. "The two rookie sessions that we had, we had [OL] Greg (Robinson) out their getting some work. Greg actually worked out there today, we’re just going to move people around. Jake is doing well, we expect Jake barring any setbacks to be ready for the opener. That’ll give some of the younger players opportunities to line up out there and play during the preseason.”

Amongst the Rams staff, there has been unwavering faith that Long will be ready for the regular season opener on Sept. 7 against Minnesota. But it still remains to be seen whether he'll be able get back on the mid-preseason schedule the Rams were hoping for. With no definitive timetable on that and Long still doing some work on the side and participating in walk through paced things in camp, the Rams are moving some things around on the offensive line.

In the first two days, it's been the rookie Robinson handling the bulk of the snaps at left tackle, something he did earlier in the week when it was rookies only for a couple of practices. That represents a departure from his projected starting spot of left guard, the position that Rodger Saffold has been playing though he projects to start the season at right guard.

Davin Joseph, the veteran signed from Tampa Bay after the draft, has been handling right guard duties. And with presumed starting center Scott Wells not participating in the first two days, the Rams have alternated between Tim Barnes and Barrett Jones in the middle.

All told, only right tackle Joe Barksdale is currently manning the spot he's expected to start the season.

But just because that's how the line looks now, doesn't mean that's what the Rams are going to stick with throughout the preseason. In fact, Saffold said there's actually a schedule telling each lineman where he'll line up and play from practice to practice.

"I actually do," Saffold said. "I switch a couple of times during the day and then from week to week I might change. You never know what I might have. I might line up outside as a tight end standing up running a route but trust me, I’m going to catch the ball."

Jokes aside, nobody on the line knows the value of playing multiple positions more than Saffold. He can even quantify it as something in the range of $19 million guaranteed after he signed a lucrative five-year deal in March.

The Rams re-signed Saffold on the basis of that versatility but also on the belief that he could be a Pro Bowl caliber guard if he gets the opportunity to play there consistently. Still, even though Robinson is getting thrown into the fire at his projected long-term position -- and facing end Robert Quinn every day in drills is about as hot as the fire can get -- the Rams are well aware they can lean on Saffold should Long have a setback or not be ready to go when the season starts.

"I think now coach Fisher, offensive line coach [Paul] Boudreau, they trust me to do whatever," Saffold said. "If anything ever happened, they’re just like ‘Well, Saffold’s got it.’ So that’s the goal."

One way or another, the Rams are taking no chances on having backup plans for an offensive line that has its share of injury questions heading into the season.

Rams Camp Report: Day 2

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp.
  • For the first time since suffering the knee injury that ended his 2013 season nine games too early, quarterback Sam Bradford practiced on back-to-back days as he went through another entire workout Saturday. Bradford appears to be feeling just fine and also looked to be throwing the ball a bit better Saturday than he did Friday as he continues to knock some rust off. According to coach Jeff Fisher, the challenge for Bradford isn't knee-related as much as making sure his arm is managed. Bradford's excitement for returning to action has to be controlled a bit and the Rams have had to back him off of throwing on occasion.
  • Now that camp is here, we can finally start talking about football when it comes to rookie defensive end Michael Sam. From Saturday, there were some good things to discuss as Sam flashed some of the pass-rush ability that afforded him so much success at Missouri. The caveats that the Rams aren't yet in pads and he's working against backups such as offensive tackle Sean Hooey need to be mentioned, but Sam took a good step in the right direction Saturday and drew some praise from some of his coaches. He beat Hooey several times to get to the quarterback in team drills and followed by doing the same in one-on-one pass-rush drills. On one play in team drills, Sam beat Hooey quickly and forced backup quarterback Shaun Hill to throw the ball sooner than he'd like, resulting in an interception for cornerback Lamarcus Joyner.
  • The daily offensive line update didn't change much from Friday. Greg Robinson (left tackle), Rodger Saffold (left guard), Davin Joseph (right guard) and Joe Barksdale (right tackle) were in the same positions as Friday. But with Scott Wells still not practicing Saturday, Barrett Jones got some work with the first-team offense. Tim Barnes took the bulk of the repetitions Friday, but it's clear the Rams are set on following through with their plan to mix and match.
  • Most of the same names as Friday did not practice Saturday. That includes Wells, safety Christian Bryant, fullback Kadeem Jones, linebacker Johnny Millard, end Sammy Brown and offensive tackle Jake Long. End William Hayes did some work on the side, but Sam took his reps with the second-team defense. A few Rams were also shaken up during practice. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson departed with an apparent leg injury and did not return, though it didn't look serious and he watched the rest of the practice standing on the sideline. Receiver Emory Blake and tight end Justice Cunningham also came up with injuries. Joyner briefly left the field but was able to return and finish practice.
  • The Rams had some interesting twists on a couple of normal drills during Saturday's practice. During one-on-one passing drills, the coaches are putting an emphasis on getting the defensive backs to cover without using their hands as much. So defensive quality control coach Dennard Wilson gave the corners a pair of tennis balls before each play. When the ball was thrown, the defensive backs were allowed to drop the balls to make a play on the football. Clearly, the Rams are hoping to cut down on defensive pass interference and illegal contact in 2014. Also, the Rams changed things up to work on leverage in some individual drills, clearing space in the crowd and having the linemen take turns driving each other up the hill on the south end of the practice field.
  • By league rule, the Rams can't put the pads on until early next week. When they do, they're almost certainly hoping that it evens things up a little bit when it comes to pairing the top offense against the top defense. Once again, the defense controlled the action for most of the team drills with Bradford having little time to throw in the face of consistent pressure. It's coming from all angles, whether it's ends Robert Quinn or Chris Long or up the middle from tackles Kendall Langford, Michael Brockers or Aaron Donald. On one play there was light contact on Bradford, but it didn't bother him much. Still, they'll have to be careful as camp progresses. For what it's worth, Fisher said the top offense won't match up with the top defense as much when the pads come on.
  • Stedman Bailey looks like the most consistent receiver on the team in terms of route-running and catching the ball. He had a good day again Saturday, creating separation with a double move for one touchdown and beating Janoris Jenkins down the sideline for another. Fellow receiver Kenny Britt made a nice grab on a contested ball against rookie cornerback Marcus Roberson.
  • The Rams are back at it Sunday with a 6:30 p.m. ET practice.

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Apparently intent on sending a message about the state of his surgically-repaired left knee as he arrived at his fifth NFL training camp, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford left little doubt about his status during mandatory conditioning tests.

“We’re just going to go and if we have to back down, we’ll back down. But at this point he finished the conditioning test," coach Jeff Fisher said. "I won’t mention the names of the people that crossed the line after him, but he did well. He’s worked really hard.”

While Fisher and a few other Rams declined to name names, it was clear that Bradford's efforts in the conditioning test placed him above some players you wouldn't expect.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonThe Rams say that Sam Bradford, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2013, entered training camp in top physical condition.
“Guys that you would think would do a lot better," linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. "How does that sound?”

It sounds like the Rams have their quarterback back in the fold at full speed and with little to no restrictions aside from wearing a knee brace. That was Bradford's goal in the spring and it appears it's one he's reached this summer.

During organized team activities in June, Bradford came along slowly, participating in a little more than half of the team workouts but with those appearances kept to a minimum of a couple of segments of seven-on-seven and a little bit of work in team drills, particularly in the hurry-up offense.

In the time since, Bradford hasn't had any clearly defined moment where he was cleared so much as a continued gradual build toward returning to the field at full speed. He was essentially full go in the final week of OTAs, but the Rams didn't push him knowing that he'd be ready to go for training camp.

Bradford felt good enough to have his usual summer get-together with some of his receivers and tight ends in Norman, Oklahoma, an annual event in which Bradford picks up the tab so he can spend some quality time throwing to and hanging out with the young pass-catchers. This year, Bradford worked with receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Brian Quick and tight ends Lance Kendricks and Cory Harkey.

After apparently dominating the conditioning test, Bradford got an even better test Friday when he joined his teammates for the first day of training camp. It was far from Bradford's best day as he regularly faced pressure from all angles. Although the Rams aren't yet in pads and contact is not allowed, the pressure made it difficult for Bradford and the offense as a whole and it was clear there is plenty of rust to knock off.

On the bright side, Bradford moved around well and came out of the practice feeling good about his physical status.

“I feel great," Bradford said. "My knee feels really good. It feels better than when we finished OTAs. I finished those last two OTAs pretty strong. It feels even better now. In talking to Coach [Fisher] and [head athletic trainer] Reggie [Scott], they feel good about having no limits. If it starts to get a little sore and we feel like we need to pull back we can always do that. Out of the gate I’m going to try and do everything.”

As Bradford enters his fifth season, the more he can do, the better. It's no secret that the court of public opinion has yet to render a verdict on Bradford as a quarterback who should hold a starting job for the long-term future though there are certainly those who have made up their minds on both sides of the fence. But regardless of outside opinion, the Rams have committed to Bradford for at least the 2014 season and it's obvious he's going to get another chance to make a statement that he deserves to stick around for awhile.

The phrase "make or break" has been thrown around seemingly every year when it comes to Bradford but with only one more year on his contract beyond this season, it seems the Rams have no choice but to truly figure out what they have with their quarterback this time around. If nothing else, a fully healthy season would go a long way toward helping the Rams make a legitimate determination on Bradford's future.

Even Bradford, who steadfastly (and wisely) refuses to read or listen to any praise or criticism of him as a player, is aware of the seemingly annual "make or break" discussion.

“I don’t really pay attention to that -- I think that question’s probably been asked every year since I’ve been here," Bradford said. "Every year is a make it or break it year according to someone."

For now, Bradford says his focus is solely on making sure he's back to full speed and doing all he can to help a team that he believes is on the cusp of a breakthrough season. The simple act of getting back on the field is at least a baby step in the right direction though the real tests still await.

“It might be a little different the first time we step on the field for a preseason game or a regular-season game -- the bullets are live,” Bradford said. “But at this point, I haven’t noticed anything.”

Rams Camp Report: Day 1

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the highlights from St. Louis Rams training camp:

  • Quarterback Sam Bradford has been cleared to be a full participant in this camp and took the repetitions with the first-team offense Friday afternoon. Coach Jeff Fisher indicated that Bradford can do everything and actually embarrassed a few players he didn't want to name in the team's conditioning test. According to Fisher, Bradford might not do everything in camp and the preseason, but they aren't going to have any hesitation to use him, and if they back him off, it will be a decision made at the time because of soreness rather than a set schedule.
  • Fisher said the Rams still expect left tackle Jake Long to be ready to go for the season opener. What's interesting is the plan in the meantime. Fisher said the offensive line will rotate the linemen to different positions throughout camp to give everybody a look at a different spot. Rodger Saffold told me the Rams gave him a schedule that actually has what position he'll be playing and when at various times during different practices. On Friday, it was a little bit of a surprise to see rookie Greg Robinson at left tackle rather than left guard. Robinson played some left tackle in the rookies-only portion of practice earlier this week, but he's going to get a lot of opportunities to do both during this camp. For what it's worth, Saffold lined up at left guard with Robinson at left tackle and Davin Joseph at right guard. Tim Barnes took the reps with the first team at center, and Joe Barksdale handled his usual spot at right tackle.
  • Speaking of center, Scott Wells did not participate in practice, though he did light running on the side in the warm-ups and other parts of practice. With Wells not participating, Barnes handled the bulk of the reps in the middle with the first-team offense.Joining Wells on the did-not-participate list: Long, defensive end William Hayes, safety Christian Bryant, fullback Kadeem Jones, linebacker Johnny Millard, defensive end Sammy Brown and defensive tackle Ethan Westbrooks.
  • As for the happenings on the practice field, it's more than fair to say the defense is ahead of the offense at this early stage. That should be no surprise, as that's often the case, but it was tough sledding for most of the day with a few early exceptions in seven-on-seven when Bradford connected with tight end Lance Kendricks a couple of times. Once team drills began, though, life became even more difficult with the defensive line consistently wreaking havoc on Bradford. When Bradford did get a pass off, it usually came a beat or two after he would have been sacked in normal game speed. Bradford and receiver Stedman Bailey had a clear miscommunication on one deep ball early in practice that fell easily into the waiting hands of cornerback Brandon McGee for an interception. Bradford looked a bit rusty overall and lacked zip on some of his throws (perhaps because of the pressure), but he did move well. He said after practice he believes the added challenge from the top defense should only serve to make the offense better.
  • Working mostly with the second-team defense, rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald continues to be a terror. He made life miserable for the second-team offensive line and quarterback Shaun Hill. Hard to tell what's going to be more difficult: keeping Donald off the field or trying to block him.
  • Quick roster note: The Rams signed defensive end Kourtnei Brown and released wide receiver Austin Franklin. Brown is wearing No. 93.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With training camp rapidly approaching, St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead started to get the football itch. He could feel the time for football was close and he was growing so eager for it to start he actually considered cutting a family vacation short.

Upon returning to St. Louis, Snead walked back into Rams Park with full knowledge that this season must be different from the first two years of his and coach Jeff Fisher's regime. Under Fisher and Snead, the Rams have won 14 games in two seasons, far better than what they'd done in the five years before their arrival, but still well removed from something more than vague progress.

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonDT Aaron Donald is just one of the many young players the Rams will lean on in 2014.
The third year of any regime comes with a certain amount of inherent expectation but here in St. Louis, Snead openly acknowledges now is the time for a team that has been the league's youngest each of the past two seasons to move past mediocrity.

"The goal is to win the division," Snead said Thursday. "We have played San Fran, we’ve played Seattle and we’ve played Arizona and we’ve beat them all in the last two years with these guys. All they’re doing is getting better and more experienced."

Clearly, the Rams enter the 2014 season hoping that their willingness to allow their many young players to start and play the majority of the snaps will pay off. The potential of the league's youngest roster must at some point turn into production if the Rams are to elevate to contender status.

Fisher and Snead set about a major roster renovation in 2012 knowing that they would hit their share of speed bumps along the way. They improved to 7-8-1 in that first season after combining a boat load of draft picks acquired in trade with Washington with some big free-agent spending. They followed a similar path in the 2013 offseason, trying to find a few emerging young veterans to complement the youth movement coming via the draft. The result was last season's 7-9.

In steadfastly sticking to their plan, Fisher and Snead entered this past offseason ready to mostly roll with what they've got.

"To get experience you have got to play and to learn how not to spill milk you have got to spill some milk," Snead said. "So I have always used that analogy. You have got to hope that experience keeps you from spilling milk and now you can pull it up and drink it a lot faster."

Of course, there's also plenty of risk that goes with betting big on young, mostly unproven players even players who have played a lot of snaps in their first couple of seasons.

The secondary, for example, has no projected starters with more than two years of experience. At wide receiver, only Kenny Britt has spent more than three seasons in the league. Zac Stacy, entering his second season, is the most seasoned running back on the roster in terms of carries.

While many of the team's young players have flashed the potential to become solid or better NFL starters, they simply still have yet to prove themselves on a consistent basis. And it seems overly-optimistic to think that all of the players the Rams are banking on will take the necessary step forward to help the team reach the next level.

But Snead believes there has been enough evidence, even if the sample size is relatively small, for many of those players to do what is expected. There's even an air of quiet confidence that the belief is more than just the usual summertime hopes and dreams of a franchise in need of wins.

"I think that’s the best way for us and the way we were setup to do it," Snead said. "I always use the example, you saw what Robert Quinn did. So what happens is those guys are maturing too and not only physically but also mentally and psychologically and in their life and in their game and they really want to be good and they had two years or one and they say ‘I did that last year and I was actually kind of nervous. It was my rookie year and now I got this.’ So all those things come into play. You have got to just let them evolve."

Snead and the Rams are well aware the evolution of a young team into playoff contender is not going to be an easy task. They find themselves in the NFL's toughest division and will, for the third season in a row, play one of its toughest schedules. If the Rams are to survive the crucible of those two things and come out on the other end still playing in January, they will have plenty of bumps and bruises along the way.

In some ways, they enter this training camp ahead of where they were last year. They have a clearly defined identity on both sides of the ball, even if it's one that doesn't promote the promise of Greatest Show on Turf recollections. They have the defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams they wanted all along leading a talented group.

"I think just having an identity, that helps you rally instead of 'What are we today?'" Snead said.

As they begin camp today, the Rams are still the team hoping the promise that comes with youth turns into the production of a team much older. Where they stand at the end of the season will tell us if they were right.

Let's chat about the Rams

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The day has finally arrived. The St. Louis Rams will officially open training camp today at 4:30 p.m. ET.

But before we get into the real action, we're going to have our weekly Rams chat. At 1 p.m. ET today, I will pop into the chat room and answer your pre-training camp questions about all things Rams and anything else NFL-related you might have on your mind.

You can submit your questions now and/or join us when we go live. Hope to see you there.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- This summer, Pro Football Focus ranked the NFL rosters from one to 32 and drew the ire of St. Louis Rams fans for placing the team at No. 31 in the league.

In part, that ranking was the result of the fact that much of the team's roster is young and largely unproven. On Wednesday, the Football Outsiders offered the opposite side of the PFF coin when they revealed their rankings of the team's with the most under-25 talent in the league. You didn't have to look too far to find the Rams in Football Outsiders' rankings as they topped the list Insider on the ESPN Insider post.

The rankings of the teams with the most young talent in the league were based on a number of factors, including the number of games started by players under 25 in 2013, relative positional value of the young players playing those games and snaps, the expected number of key starters and reserves under 25 projected for the 2014 season, and the team's recent track record of developing young players.

With the Rams at the top, Football Outsiders pointed to the big trade they made with the Washington Redskins in 2012 as giving them a leg up on adding top young talent. From the Insider piece:

"The real reason behind what powered the Rams to the top here: There may not be a better front seven in the league. ... It was really (Robert) Quinn's All-Pro season with 19 sacks that edged St. Louis to the top. There are several players with great potential here, but Quinn's the one to actually have started building a track record. If more Rams can follow his lead, then this team will compete in the tough NFC West."

In some sense, it should be no surprise to see the Rams at the top of this list solely based on how they fit the criteria. They have been the youngest team in the league each of the past two years and could be again this year. Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have been unafraid to not only devote resources to young players, but also give them ample opportunities to play.

The hope is that those young players will turn that youth and potential into production, something the Rams have targeted for the 2014 season since Fisher and Snead arrived.

Put simply, it's nice to have a lot of young talent so long as it develops. Some of it, especially Quinn, has taken off under the guidance of this coaching staff, but there are plenty of others who still have a lot to prove. If the bulk of the young players in prominent roles take the next step, this roster can move from topping lists based on potential and climb on lists about actual production.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Under normal circumstances, Garrett Gilbert's offseason methods for learning the St. Louis Rams' offense would have put him in hot water with parents Gale and Kim Gilbert.

With no whiteboard to use, Gilbert spent each night with some dry erase markers going through the X's and O's on the windows of his parents' Austin, Texas, home. But Gilbert didn't get grounded or have his allowance taken away for making a mess.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Gilbert
Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoRams rookie QB Garrett Gilbert worked during the offseason to learn the West Coast offense.
That's because he had a partner in crime, his father Gale, who played 10 seasons in the NFL with Seattle, Buffalo and San Diego. Despite a modest protest from Kim Gilbert, she was outnumbered by her football-loving son and husband.

"My mom wasn’t too pleased," Garrett Gilbert said. "[My dad] loves going through that stuff, so it was fun to go through it and teach him a little about what we’re trying to do."

Of course, the ultimate purpose of the nightly playbook exercises was meant for the younger Gilbert to learn the Rams' offense as he embarks on his rookie season in the NFL.

A sixth-round choice out of Southern Methodist, Gilbert is the first quarterback the Rams have selected in the three drafts guided by coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead. Expectations for Gilbert are minimal with Sam Bradford in place as the starter and veteran Shaun Hill set as the primary backup.

But the Rams wouldn't mind having Gilbert take hold of a potential third roster spot for a quarterback and become the type of developmental prospect worth keeping around so he can one day become a serviceable backup.

To get there, Gilbert, like all rookies, especially quarterbacks, has a lot of learning to do. And before he can do much of anything, he must learn all he can about coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense. It's a tall order for any player but especially Gilbert. After playing in seven offenses in eight seasons, Gilbert has learned enough different language and terminology that he could create and sell a quarterback version of Rosetta-Stone.

Of those many offenses, the one he ran for the Mustangs was perhaps the most different from the one he's now learning. SMU was a spread team with Gilbert spending most of his time taking snaps out of the shotgun and throwing it all over the field. It was a system he knew well and the results were impressive. He finished his senior season with 3,528 passing yards and 21 touchdowns with six more scores on the ground in 10 games.

That's a far cry from the run-heavy, West Coast-driven offense Gilbert is now tasked with understanding in St. Louis.

"It’s definitely a transition," Gilbert said. "I think any time you are playing quarterback at this level there’s going to be a transition from the collegiate level regardless of where you played college football. You get rare exceptions like Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning where they come in and they’re immediately successful, but there’s definitely a transition period and learning curve. It’s really a lot of fun for me to challenge myself."

As Gilbert is quick to point out, learning a new offense at this point isn't so much about knowing where receivers are going to go as understanding the protections and adjustments to be made at the line of scrimmage.

That's why Gilbert didn't have as much "down time" as the rest of his rookie teammates. So he and his father spent each night going through a different install with the younger Gilbert making notes on each day so when that installation comes up during camp, he can ask the appropriate questions of Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti. He also called Bradford to ask questions and get clarification when needed.

Upon arrival for Tuesday and Wednesday's rookies-only practice sessions, Gilbert said he felt much more comfortable getting in and out of the huddle and handling things at the line of scrimmage. It's a basic function for a quarterback but at least it's a start.

There's still a long way to go in this training camp and preseason and if the Rams are to keep a third quarterback, Gilbert will have to fend off Austin Davis for the job. With Bradford recovering from knee surgery, there might even be additional repetitions available for Gilbert in camp and preseason games. Without the pedigree or draft status of a first-round pick, Gilbert is well aware that nothing is promised.

"I’m out here to compete, learn and just become the best player I can every single day," Gilbert said.

Rams tweak roster before camp

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams don't officially begin training camp until Friday, but they took care of a little housekeeping before the veterans join the rookies and they get down to business.

In a flurry of moves Tuesday evening into Wednesday, the Rams released four players, signed four more and put two players on the non-football injury list. All the moves dealt with players at the bottom of the roster.

The Rams released wide receiver Diontae Spencer, linebacker Tavarius Wilson, linebacker Caleb McSurdy and offensive lineman Abasi Salimu. All four were rookie free agents signed after the draft in May. They had all spent organized team activities and the offseason program in St. Louis.

To fill the vacated roster spots, the Rams signed offensive tackles R.J. Dill and D.J. Morrell and linebackers Pat Schiller and Lawrence Wilson. That quartet also doesn't come with any noteworthy NFL experience, as none have played in a regular-season NFL game.

Schiller, who played his college football at Northern Illinois, actually comes with a bit of an interesting story. His journey to the NFL was chronicled by the New York Times in 2012.

Elsewhere, the Rams added rookie defensive tackle Ethan Westbrooks and safety Christian Bryant to the non-football injury list. Bryant has continued rehab from a foot/ankle injury since the Rams drafted him. Coach Jeff Fisher said at the end of the offseason program there was a good chance Bryant would not be available to open camp. Westbrooks' injury is unknown.

Bryant and Westbrooks still count toward the 90-man roster, and the Rams can activate them at any time once they've been medically cleared by a doctor.

The non-football injury list functions similarly to the physically unable to perform list but designates players differently. The NFI list is for players who either suffered an injury away from football or, for rookies, players who suffered injuries playing football in college or a league other than the NFL.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- While the discussion of Tony Dungy's comments -- that he would not have made defensive end Michael Sam the first openly gay NFL draft pick -- continued from Monday afternoon into Tuesday, Sam was reporting to the St. Louis Rams for his first NFL training camp.

Sam was busy making sure he passed his conditioning test so he could begin practice with teammates. He was busy weighing in at 257 pounds, down 13 from what he weighed at the end of organized team activities. He was busy preparing himself to work at right defensive end for the first time since his arrival in St. Louis.

With all of that going on around him, Sam was wholly unconcerned about Dungy's words. Asked early Tuesday evening what he thought about the former coach's statements to the Tampa Tribune, Sam pointed to the obvious and promptly took the high road.

"Thank God he wasn't the St. Louis Rams' coach," Sam said, laughing. "I have a lot of respect for Coach Dungy and like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions."

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Michael Sam
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images"Thank God he wasn't the St. Louis Rams coach," Michael Sam said, laughing. "I have a lot of respect for Coach [Tony] Dungy and like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions."
In the past two days, the only opinions carrying any freight in his mind were the ones belonging to coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead and the rest of their respective staffs.

In other words, while the word "distraction" has become something of a catchall buzzword as a means for avoiding details, Sam seems to have a good handle on the only focus he should have at this time of year: making the Rams' roster.

It's a focus that Sam expressed when the Rams drafted him with the 249th overall selection in the May draft. He has mostly stuck to that, with the exception of the three-day firestorm created by the news of a potential documentary series on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Sam has made it clear that he would not have made a public pronouncement about his sexuality if he didn't think he could handle some of the negative things that might be said about him afterward.

"I knew what I was coming into," Sam said the night the Rams drafted him. "Are there going to be idiots out there who say some stupid stuff? Yeah. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about the guy next to me, the guy in front of me. I have got to prove myself. I have got to make sure the vets know I’m a team player and I love this game and I want to show the coaches that I’m a team player and a hardworking guy. What I do on the field will determine how great Michael Sam will be."

That time has finally, mercifully, arrived.

One practice into his first training camp with no veterans, no pads and no oppressive heat to deal with, Sam's biggest task Tuesday night was adjusting to playing on the right side. He had spent all of the spring playing on the left and was admittedly rusty when he switched sides for Tuesday's workout.

Of course, as a seventh-round pick working to make the roster on one of the league's deepest defensive lines, Sam is truly in "the more you can do" mode. For that same reason, Sam made it a point to come back for training camp lighter and faster so he can contribute on special-teams coverage units.

Although he spent his summer doing a lot of traveling from Los Angeles to New York to Kansas City, Sam arranged for a trainer to work with him in each city. In the process, he trimmed 13 pounds off his previous weight of 270.

The ability to contribute on special teams could give Sam a leg up for a potential ninth roster spot on the defensive line because there aren't many linemen who can run down kicks. The Rams have kept nine on the defensive line in each of the past two years. There are eight spots that seem all but sewn up this season, and the ninth one could come down to a battle between Sam and undrafted rookies such as Ethan Westbrooks.

"My focus is on making this team," Sam said. "I don't really care what people come up and tell me. My job is to make this team. That's my No. 1 priority."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- It's pretty common to see a rookie who has never played a game show up on the list of the NFL's best-selling jerseys before training camp even begins. Many college players simply carry the name-value and fan following that makes proving themselves in the NFL unimportant when it comes to purchasing a jersey.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonMichael Sam's No. 96 Rams jersey ranks No. 6 in jersey sales from April 1 to July 17.
You don't, however, see rookie seventh-round draft picks on the list before they've ever taken a snap. But as we already knew, St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam is clearly not your run-of-the-mill seventh-round draft choice. As the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL, Sam has already become one of the most well-known seventh-round picks of all time.

If you needed any further evidence, simply take a look at the list of the top 10 in jersey sales on from April 1 to July 17. Sam's No. 96 jersey checks in at No. 6 on the list, behind established NFL stars such as Denver's Peyton Manning and Seattle's Richard Sherman and ahead of the future Hall of Fame quarterback trio of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Heady company, for sure.

Sam is also one of only two defensive players -- Sherman the other -- to make the top 10. Clearly, Sam's historic announcement and pursuit of a roster spot in St. Louis has transcended his draft position and made his jersey a hot commodity among fans.

If nothing else, Sam's jersey is already considered something of a collector's item. It will likely continue to sell well, but it's still a piece of memorabilia that could have a short shelf life. There aren't many fans who buy jerseys of a player who is far from a lock to make his team's roster.

That's much different than the situation in Cleveland, where quarterback Johnny Manziel is No. 1 on the list in no small part because of his larger-than-life personality and the profile he brings into the league as a first-round pick. Manziel is a lock to make the roster and the only question surrounding his status in that regard is whether he'll be the opening-day starter.

Sam doesn't enjoy the same luxury as he pursues a spot on the team's initial 53-man roster with the possibility that those No. 96 jerseys could be out of date only months after they were purchased.
For the second consecutive season, St. Louis Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar has made headlines for the wrong reasons near the start of training camp.

Reports from The Associated Press indicate that Dunbar was involved in a fight outside a Miami nightclub early Sunday morning. Dunbar got into an altercation with NBA free-agent forward Donte Greene outside Dream Nightclub, according to Miami Beach Police Detective Vivian Thayer, who said both men were arrested and will face charges of battery and disorderly conduct.

With further details unavailable at this time, this could be nothing deeper than a fight between a couple of athletes. But in Dunbar's case, it's not this incident that is alarming so much as the unsightly pattern that has begun to form when it comes to him and off-field incidents near the start of training camp.

The Rams have seemingly made it through the scariest part of the offseason without any serious issues, and while a fight doesn't really qualify, it does add another negative mark on Dunbar's record as the team opens camp this week.

Last year, Dunbar entered camp as a presumptive starter at outside linebacker, but those plans took a U-turn when the NFL suspended him four games for violation of its policy against performance-enhancing substances. A clearly irritated coach Jeff Fisher made it clear he was unhappy with Dunbar, and instead of keeping him on the roster during the suspension, the Rams released him and signed veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon.

Dunbar re-signed for the rest of the 2013 season after serving the suspension but came back to reduced snaps with Alec Ogletree handling three-down duty alongside James Laurinaitis. Dunbar finished with 39 tackles in 12 games and 10 starts.

Despite the underwhelming season, in March the Rams brought Dunbar back on a two-year deal worth up to $3.5 million with hopes that reuniting him with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who coached Dunbar in New Orleans, could get him back on track.

While more information needs to be gathered and the legal process still has to play out, Dunbar is obviously not doing himself any favors as he attempts to hold down the starting job opposite Ogletree. As it stands, Dunbar is projected to remain the starter, but second-year linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong has impressed coaches enough to get more opportunities to contribute and was already poised to push for an expanded role in 2014.

Whether or not Dunbar faces any further punishment from the team or the league, it's fair to wonder if Armstrong could now get an even closer look when camp opens.

St. Louis Rams' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
Examining the St. Louis Rams' roster:

(Note: WR Stedman Bailey is expected to make the team but is suspended for the first four games of the season and will not count on the initial 53-man roster)

Bradford and Hill are locks. Gilbert is likely competing against the roster number more so than Austin Davis for a potential third quarterback spot. The guess here is the Rams will keep a third after keeping just two entering 2013.


The Rams went heavy on running backs last year, keeping five, but with Pead handling more special teams duties, it could make Chase Reynolds expendable and allow them to keep an extra body elsewhere.


With Bailey suspended the first four weeks, the Rams could take a longer look at another wideout for the first quarter of the season, but Bailey plus the five listed here seem to be in pretty good shape. It will be more interesting to see how this group shakes out in terms of playing time.


The first three are probably pretty safe, but the Rams could have an intriguing competition for a potential fourth tight end if they opt to keep one. Cunningham intrigues them, but undrafted rookie Alex Bayer showed some promise in the spring and could surprise.


The Rams could easily go heavy here and keep another lineman or even two as they did in 2013. The first seven listed here should be in good shape, but beyond that, the competition is wide open. Players like Sean Hooey, Brandon Washington, Mitchell Van Dyk and Demetrius Rhaney could be heard from before preseason is finished.


The first eight listed are all but locks barring injury, but the Rams have kept a ninth defensive lineman each of the past two seasons. The battle for that spot should be fierce with Sam trying to fend off the likes of Sammy Brown, Matt Conrath and undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks. Sam's ability to emerge on special teams will likely determine his fate.


Don't be surprised if the final tally here looks different than the above. Beyond the first four listed, there could be plenty of room for change, including the potential for a veteran to provide depth. Bates is a strong special teams player and should stick, but Steward will face plenty of competition from an eager group of undrafted rookies.


Jenkins, Johnson and Joyner should be set, but there could be some good battles in camp for the spots behind that trio. McGee has a year under his belt and an inherent advantage that goes with it, but he will face competition from the likes of Gaines, Greg Reid and Marcus Roberson. It also wouldn't surprise if the Rams kept a sixth cornerback instead of a fifth safety.


There is plenty to sort out at this position with Alexander, Daniels and rookie Christian Bryant coming off injury. Bryant didn't participate in the spring, so he is difficult to project at this point. Davis should stick for his special-teams contribution, but there is little guaranteed here.


It would take a serious injury to disturb this strong trio.