NFC West: St. Louis Rams

Rams roster breakdown: Defense

September, 1, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have their initial 53-man roster in place, and they are now in full preparation mode for Sunday's season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

Coach Jeff Fisher made it clear the roster could still have some tweaks, but for now let's take a look at how the roster looks. Earlier, we started with the offense . Now, let's take a look at the defense and special teams.

Defensive line (9) Chris Long, Robert Quinn, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Aaron Donald, Alex Carrington, Ethan Westbrooks

The deepest collection of talent on the team and perhaps the best line in the league, this group has a little bit of everything. The Rams kept nine in 2013 and it was no surprise when they did so again this week.

Linebacker (5) James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Daren Bates

This is the thinnest position on the defense and it would not surprise if the Rams looked to add more help, particularly if they can find a veteran with some experience. Because offenses around the league regularly play with three or four receivers, the Rams will be in sub packages quite a bit which means the need for help here isn't urgent. But a single injury of any note would certainly change that.

Cornerback (6) Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner, Brandon McGee, E.J. Gaines, Marcus Roberson

Johnson's sprained MCL will cost him four to six weeks and forced the Rams' hand to keep an additional body that likely came in the form of Roberson. McGee has an ankle injury which has cost him time in the preseason. Joyner projects to stay as the nickelback, with Jenkins starting in one spot on the outside. The interesting battle in the short term is who gets the nod to start opposite Jenkins. McGee has a little more experience but if he's not fully healthy, Gaines could get the first chance.

Safety (4) T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod, Maurice Alexander, Cody Davis

Instead of the five the team has carried in the past, the Rams are going with these four for right now. Alexander and Davis will be key special teams contributors right away, but neither offers any meaningful playing experience in the league as depth behind the starters.

Specialists (3) Johnny Hekker, Greg Zuerlein, Jake McQuaide

This trio should be together for the long haul.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams revealed their 10-man practice squad Monday afternoon as they head toward Sunday's season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

Sam
The 10 players on the practice squad are linebacker Denicos Allen, receiver Emory Blake, safety Christian Bryant, defensive tackle Matt Conrath, safety Matt Daniels, quarterback Garrett Gilbert, tackle Sean Hooey, linebacker Kevin Reddick, receiver Justin Veltung and guard Brandon Washington.

As coach Jeff Fisher hinted Saturday afternoon, the Rams went heavy at positions like linebacker and safety, where they don't have a lot of depth on the active roster, which ultimately left defensive end Michael Sam off the list. The Rams have five defensive ends on the 53-man roster.

Of the 10 players to stick around on the practice squad, only the two linebackers did not spend the preseason with the Rams. Allen spent training camp with the Carolina Panthers after entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State. Reddick spent time with the New Orleans Saints last year and through this preseason.

The other eight spent the offseason and preseason with the Rams.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the third consecutive year, the St. Louis Rams look like they will be the youngest team in the NFL.

Fisher
According to a yearly study from Philly.com after team's trim their rosters to their initial 53 players, the Rams once again have the youngest team in the league with an average age of 25.09.

In the past three years, the Rams have clearly been the league's youngest team, but what's interesting is they haven't exactly been older in consecutive years despite sticking to their youth movement.

When Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead took over in 2012, they cleaned house and made it clear they aren't afraid to roll with young players in prominent positions. That first year, they went from one of the league's oldest team to the youngest at an average age of 25.32 years.

They stuck to the plan last year and were actually younger with an average age of 24.96 years. They are a little older this year, but not as old as they were in 2012.

Regardless, there is something to be said for the Rams having a plan and sticking to it. There are no awards for being the youngest team in the league, but a lot of franchises pay lip service to the idea of building through the draft then panic and change the plan when things don't go well.

It's a bit easier for the Rams to stick to the plan with an experienced coach like Fisher in charge, but it should also be clear that youth is no longer an excuse for this team.

The Rams are young by design, but they also have a lot of players with plenty of playing experience. In fact, the Rams might only have one rookie -- cornerback E.J. Gaines -- in the starting lineup on opening day, and if they do, it's because of an injury to certain starter Trumaine Johnson.

Snead likes to refer to the mistakes of his young team as "spilling milk" and has said he hopes that two years of spilling milk leads to much less in 2014.

It will have to if the Rams' plan to break through this season is to come to fruition.

Rams roster moves may not be done

September, 1, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams trimmed their roster to the initial 53 players on Saturday afternoon. Not the final roster, the initial roster.

That's an important distinction to make at this time of year with rosters in flux all over the league. Rams coach Jeff Fisher didn't hesitate Saturday to mention that his roster could look much different soon enough.

"We got to 53 (players), as everybody else has," Fisher said Saturday. "I can’t say that we’re done. We’re no different than any other team in the league. We’re going to watch the wire and see if it’s at all possible for us to upgrade our football team over the next couple of days.”

In looking at the roster, there are a couple of positions that stand out as places where the Rams could tweak. Since starting quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Cleveland, Fisher has been open about the team's interest in potentially adding a quarterback to provide depth behind Shaun Hill.

As it stands, only Austin Davis remains on the roster behind Hill after the Rams released rookie Garrett Gilbert. The Rams have carried just two quarterbacks at times in two years under Fisher but Davis has never taken a snap in a regular-season game.

Fisher again mentioned the Rams have not engaged in any trade discussions for a quarterback but that they would keep all of their options open as they scour the market.

“Well we’ve gone into most games with two quarterbacks on the active roster," Fisher said. "We have one on practice squad here and there. That’s not an issue. The quarterback position is a position that we’re going to address, that we’re going to monitor. We’ll get the list (of cuts) and we’ll see what’s out there. I’m sure there’ll be workouts and tryouts and a potential to do some things at the position but right now as I said a couple of days ago, we’re not going to overreact. We’re going to apply patience to this situation.”

It would also stand to reason that the Rams will take a closer look at linebackers who come available. They only have five for now, which is at least one fewer than they normally carry. They don't have to add a sixth but the only backups are second-year players Ray Ray Armstrong and Daren Bates, neither of whom has played much other than special teams.

As for where corresponding roster moves could come from, tight end would seem a logical place to start. The Rams have five on the roster, including youngsters Justice Cunningham and Alex Bayer.

“It’s probably heavy at the position," Fisher said. "But it shows you what both Alex and Justice have been able to do and contribute. Again, there’s going to be some movement on the roster. We’ve felt like this year’s roster going in may be heavy here and there. We’ve got an additional spot, unfortunately, because (WR Stedman Bailey) ‘Sted’ won’t be with us for four weeks so you can go heavy here or there.”

A look at the Rams' roster makeup

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher was very open about the possibility of the 2014 roster taking on a different look than it has in his first two years in St. Louis.

Although it is certainly subject to change in the coming days or weeks, it turns out the Rams had some spots with a different look and others that were pretty standard.

Here's the breakdown of how many players the Rams are carrying at each position on the 53-man roster compared to what they had going into week 1 each of the past two years. (Previous numbers courtesy of ESPN's Mike Sando's excellent roster file)

Quarterback

2014: 2
2013: 2
2012: 2

Quick hit: The Rams will probably continue to look to add at this position but might wait a week to find a veteran so his contract won't be guaranteed.

Running back

2014: 5
2013: 4
2012: 5

Quick hit: Chase Reynolds counts as a fifth but he's here for special teams. Isaiah Pead didn't count as a fifth entering 2013 because of a suspension.

Tight end

2014: 5
2013: 4
2012: 3

Quick hit: The Rams are heavy at this spot and if they're to make a move to add at another position, this seems like a strong contender to provide the corresponding move.

Wide receiver

2014: 5
2013: 5
2012: 5

Quick hit: Stedman Bailey will return after missing the first four games because of a suspension. The Rams will then have to make a decision on where to trim elsewhere to put Bailey back in the mix.

Offensive line

2014: 9
2013: 10
2012: 9

Quick hit: The Rams are apparently expecting Barrett Jones to return soon enough, but in the meantime they'll carry just eight healthy linemen.

Defensive line

2014: 9
2013: 9
2012: 10

Quick hit: This is a deep, talented group but it's fair to wonder how healthy they are at end since William Hayes did not play in a preseason game and Eugene Sims missed practice and last week's preseason game with his leg in a brace.

Linebacker

2014: 5
2013: 6
2012: 6

Quick hit: The Rams could really use some more depth here, especially if they could find a capable veteran. They should be able to get by with five because they spend so much time in sub-packages but if they have injuries here, the depth is shallow and unproven.

Cornerback

2014: 6
2013: 5
2012: 5

Quick hit: With Trumaine Johnson working back from a knee injury, the Rams had to go a bit heavier here, hence the inclusion of undrafted rookie Marcus Roberson.

Safety

2014: 4
2013: 5
2012: 5

Quick hit: The decision to keep only four was an easy one considering there was no obvious option for the fifth spot. Like linebacker, the Rams have no proven depth with any sort of meaningful defensive snaps behind the starters.

Specialists

2014: 3
2013: 3
2012: 3

Quick hit: As dependable a group as you'll find in the NFL.


EARTH CITY, Mo. -- From the moment the St. Louis Rams used the 249th pick in May's NFL draft on defensive end Michael Sam, there was never any doubt that he'd have an uphill climb to win a roster spot on the team's deepest unit.

In so many ways, St. Louis was the perfect place for Sam. It's two hours from the University of Missouri, where he played his college football. There's a built-in fan base of the many Missouri alums in the St. Louis area. Owner Stan Kroenke is also an alum and maintains a home in Columbia. Former teammates such as center Tim Barnes and cornerback E.J. Gaines are already on the roster.

But in the way that mattered most -- the football way -- it was always going to be hard for Sam to make the roster. He found out just how difficult that was Saturday afternoon when the Rams announced Sam was one of the 21 players the team released.

[+] EnlargeSam
Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images"I was pulling for Mike, I really was. ... Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Michael Sam.
Before Sam even arrived in St. Louis, the Rams had eight defensive linemen essentially locked into roster spots. They've kept nine in each of the past two seasons, but Sam faced tough competition from undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks for that ninth spot.

"When we drafted Michael, we mentioned that it was going to be a tough road," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Those four defensive ends we have on the roster are good. And they’re very productive. As well as the tackles. That’s the strength of our football team. But again, it was a football decision."

It was a football decision that ultimately boiled down to two things: whether Sam could beat out Westbrooks and, barring that, impressing the coaches enough to persuade them to go even heavier on the line by keeping 10.

The competition between Westbrooks and Sam started out relatively even. Sam was a seventh-round pick, but Westbrooks was the team's prized find in rookie free agency as he received the largest signing bonus among the team's undrafted rookies.

Sam and Westbrooks dueled in the preseason, posting similar stats in the four games and playing more snaps than the other defensive linemen. But as the preseason wore on, it was clear Westbrooks offered every bit as much talent in a more versatile package.

"He was very, very productive in the preseason for us and played all four spots," Fisher said. "He’s a very, very talented young player that I think has a really good future."

With Westbrooks stating a case too good for the Rams to ignore, Sam's best shot to make the roster came down to whether the team wanted to keep 10 defensive linemen, a number well above the usual standard.

Although Sam played well enough to prove he belongs in the NFL, he wasn't so overwhelming that the Rams couldn't keep him. He played almost exclusively as a left defensive end, and any hopes that he could gain an edge by working on special teams never materialized.

Given the injuries to cornerback Trumaine Johnson and offensive lineman Barrett Jones and the need to keep an extra body at those spots, keeping 10 was just not palatable.

"Nine defensive linemen on a roster is a significant number, especially when you are a four-down lineman team," Fisher said. "Nine is a number that you look at to start the season. If you go with 10, then you are going to be short someplace else, and we are just not there."

The Rams could be is in a position to put Sam on the practice squad if he clears waivers. We'll find out Sunday at noon ET whether he will. Fisher declined to comment on the practice squad, but a league source said the team would like to keep Sam there if possible. Either way, that's no sure thing.

"I was pulling for Mike, I really was," Fisher said. "I don’t say that very often, but I was. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do."

Indeed, Fisher isn't exaggerating when he says Sam was not a distraction and his time in St. Louis was all about football. And football was the reason that his time on the roster came to an end Saturday afternoon.

St. Louis Rams cut-down analysis

August, 30, 2014
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videoMost significant move: From the moment the St. Louis Rams drafted him, it was no secret it would be difficult for defensive end Michael Sam to make the 53-man roster. Despite a strong preseason, Sam was released. This was simply a matter of the numbers working against him. The Rams kept nine defensive linemen on the depth chart, including the eight we already knew were well-positioned. The ninth spot was up for grabs but ultimately went to Ethan Westbrooks. His versatility and strong daily effort was simply too much for Sam to overcome. Now the Rams will wait and see if Sam clears waivers so they can bring him back to the practice squad.

Light at linebacker: It's no surprise the Rams cut four linebackers, leaving only five on the current roster. Though they are likely to continue searching for a sixth linebacker to add some depth, none of the rookies vying for a spot did enough to earn a spot. The Rams gave Phillip Steward plenty of chances to make a case to be on the roster, but he couldn't take advantage. Don't be surprised if the Rams add to the position before the opener against Minnesota.

Quarterback quandary: Again, nobody will be taken aback by the team's decision to cut sixth-round quarterback Garrett Gilbert. He wasn't able to provide the consistency needed to win a spot, though the team could bring him back to the practice squad. But since starter Sam Bradford was lost for the season, the plan has been to add another quarterback with some experience. Even if the Rams had kept Gilbert on the roster, it was almost certainly as a place-holder until they can find a veteran capable of backing up starter Shaun Hill.

What's next: The Rams will spend Saturday evening and Sunday morning piecing together their 10-man practice squad. Many of the practice squad players will be those released by the team in the past week. Some candidates include tackle Sean Hooey, defensive tackle Deantre Harlan, linebacker Lawrence Wilson, cornerback Greg Reid, guard Travis Bond and receiver Austin Franklin.

Rams moves: Released WR Emory Blake, G Bond, DE Kourtnei Brown, S Christian Bryant, DT Matt Conrath, S Avery Cunningham, WR Franklin, QB Gilbert, DT Harlan, LB Aaron Hill, T Hooey, DB Reid, LB Etienne Sabino, DE Sam, TE Brad Smelley, LB Steward, T Mitchell Van Dyk, WR Justin Veltung, OL Brandon Washington, LB Wilson and CB Darren Woodard.

WR Stedman Bailey will be placed on the reserve/suspended list for first four games.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams are taking their final roster decisions down to the wire as Saturday's 4 p.m. ET deadline to reach a 53-man roster approaches.

But Friday afternoon into Saturday, the team began making moves to get close. They've released 17 players already and will be able to place receiver Stedman Bailey on the reserve/suspended list for the first four games. That leaves the Rams with just four more moves to make to get from 75 to 53.

Released so far: WR Emory Blake, G Travis Bond, DE Kourtnei Brown, S Avery Cunningham, WR Austin Franklin, QB Garrett Gilbert, DT Deantre Harlan, LB Aaron Hill, OT Sean Hooey, CB Greg Reid, LB Etienne Sabino, TE Brad Smelley, LB Phillip Steward, OT Mitchell Van Dyk, WR Justin Veltung, LB Lawrence Wilson and CB Darren Woodard.

So with four moves to make, the Rams have some tough decisions as they try to balance the numbers with special teams with their efforts to keep the 53 best players on the team.

There are a few places they are still heavy.

At tight end, the Rams still have five players. They will likely keep four, leaving them a decision between Justice Cunningham and Alex Bayer. According to Jim Thomas, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cunningham suffered an ankle injury against Miami on Thursday night. That could easily mean Bayer makes the roster and the Rams make a move with Cunningham.

In the secondary, the Rams currently have 11 players on the roster including six cornerbacks. I expect them to keep six because of the injuries to Trumaine Johnson (knee) and Brandon McGee (ankle). But five safeties is probably too many. T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod and Maurice Alexander are locks. Cody Davis and Christian Bryant might be in a battle for what could be a final spot with special teams a strong factor.

At defensive line, the Rams have 11 currently on the roster with eight set in their spots. That leaves Ethan Westbrooks, Michael Sam and Matt Conrath jockeying for position. At this point, Westbrooks looks to be locked in. Conrath has been battling an undisclosed injury, which could require additional maneuvering in the form of a settlement if the Rams wish to part ways with him.

On the offensive line, Barrett Jones presents the biggest conundrum. He had back surgery and is out for an extended period. The Rams could place him on injured reserve if they don't believe he'll be back in a reasonable amount of time. If they choose to keep him, it would mean keeping 10 linemen, as they did last year.

And, at running back, the Rams have five currently on the roster but it's entirely possible they'll keep it that way. They carried five last season and Trey Watts and Chase Reynolds both have strong cases to stick.

We'll find out officially at today's 4 p.m. ET deadline.

Where things stand with Michael Sam

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams made 17 cuts on Friday, leaving them five roster moves short of having their initial 53-man roster pieced together.

There were no surprises in the first group of cuts, but there are some things worth noting that could play in favor of defensive end Michael Sam.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesWill defensive end Michael Sam make the St. Louis Ram's 53-man roster?
Here's a quick look at where things stand as the Rams work toward finalizing a decision on whether to keep or cut Sam. They'll have to do that by 4 p.m. ET today with coach Jeff Fisher scheduled to address the media at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Things working in Sam's favor:

-- Amongst the Rams' first 17 cuts were one quarterback and four linebackers. That's significant in the sense the Rams now have just two quarterbacks and five linebackers on the roster. Theoretically, they could move forward with those numbers at those spots. If they do, going lighter on numbers at those positions could leave an opening for the Rams to go heavy on the defensive line and retain both Ethan Westbrooks and Sam.

-- Ten is a big number on the defensive line, but it could be a necessity given the team's injuries at end. William Hayes is still working his way back from offseason surgeries. He's practiced but did not appear in any preseason games. Hayes looks like he could be ready for the opener but the Rams could take the precaution of having more insurance in the meantime. Eugene Sims is also battling an injury. He didn't practice last week and sat out the preseason finale against Miami with a brace on his leg. The status of both players remains to be seen, but if the Rams do have concerns that either or both could be ready, it could work in Sam's favor.

-- Sam's performance in preseason games showed he can play in this league. He had 11 tackles and three sacks in those four contests and even offered some production against the run in the finale against Miami. He's one of the 53 best players on this team and teams often try to keep the 53 best guys if they can find a way to make the numbers work.

Things working against Sam:

-- While injuries to Sims and Hayes could work in Sam's favor, there are other injuries that could work against him. Namely, the Rams are banged up at cornerback and will miss starter Trumaine Johnson for four-to-six weeks. Brandon McGee is also dealing with an ankle injury. The Rams cut some corners Friday but they're almost certainly going to have to carry six going into the season. The offensive line offers similar concerns with Barrett Jones working his way back from back surgery. The Rams could do some other things with Jones besides carrying him on the 53-man roster but if they don't, his inability to play right away will require the Rams to carry another body at the spot.

-- When this all started, special teams looked like a way for Sam to add to his value in his efforts to make the roster. Now, it might work against him. If the Rams are light on linebackers, they might have to go heavier somewhere like safety or receiver so they can have additional bodies to run down kicks and punts. Sam simply doesn't fit that type of role.

-- It's important to remember that these are not final rosters. These are initial rosters. Things can change as the days go by. The Rams have openly acknowledged they'll be looking for a veteran quarterback and will do the same at linebacker. So while the Rams are light in those spots now, that isn't necessarily a permanent condition.

#NFLRank: No. 6 Robert Quinn

August, 29, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The annual #NFLRank project got underway last week as a panel of 85 NFL analysts across ESPN's many platforms went through the process of ranking the Top 100 players in the league on each side of the ball.

 Though Thursday, three St. Louis Rams -- linebacker James Laurinaitis (No. 93 defense), left tackle Jake Long (No. 63 offense) and defensive end Chris Long (No. 37 defense) -- had cracked the list. On Friday's final day, the list revealed the highest-ranked Ram, defensive end Robert Quinn.

Quinn made the biggest jump of any player in this year's rankings, moving from unranked last year to No. 6 on defense this year.

Defense, No. 6, Robert Quinn

Stats & Info: Quinn led the NFC with 19 sacks last season, the most by a Ram since sacks became official in 1982. Quinn's seven forced fumbles also led the NFC last season.

My take: Although Quinn made quite a leap in this year's rankings and being called the sixth best defensive player in the league is no slight, I can't help but feel like Quinn is too low on this list. I suppose you could make the argument that he needs a little more of a body of work before he can crack the top five, but these rankings are based on the here and now. I have the privilege of seeing Quinn every day so maybe that clouds my view, but I doubt there's a defensive player in the league that has the combination of production and upside that Quinn showed coming out of last season. I personally would have Quinn only behind Houston's J.J. Watt, who is at No. 1 on the list, and Seattle safety Earl Thomas, who is No. 3. I have little doubt that Quinn's trajectory will only continue to point him upwards as these rankings continue. What's scary for the rest of the NFL is he's only 24 and still scratching the surface of what he can do.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher often talks about his preferred preseason method of bringing his starters along with a gradual build of snaps during the exhibition season.

In the past, Fisher sometimes has even opted to play his starters for a chunk of the fourth and final preseason game, a contest most teams usually hand over to the junior varsity in its entirety.

Fisher
But Fisher did things a little different Thursday night in Miami when he sat his starters. All of them. For the whole game. Miami coach Joe Philbin took a similar approach.

After what happened to Fisher's starters in Cleveland last Saturday, who could blame him?

"I think both coach (Philbin) and I were kind of on the same page as far as not playing players," Fisher said. "They had a lot of players out. We did so, too, not typically something that we do, but again, after what we experienced last weekend, we thought it was what’s best for our team. We gave a lot of younger players an opportunity to play."

Fisher hasn't always used the gradual build. In 2013, he sat most of the starters in the fourth preseason game, but he had hinted all this preseason that he was going to play them against the Dolphins. Then he watched helplessly in Cleveland as quarterback Sam Bradford was lost for the season to an ACL tear, cornerback Trumaine Johnson suffered a sprained MCL that will keep him out four to six weeks and three other starters -- defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford and offensive lineman Rodger Saffold -- left the game with ankle injuries.

When things clearly are going against you, it made sense for Fisher not to tempt fate by forcing the issue in Miami. There were a few Rams who probably could have used the work, including linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) and defensive lineman William Hayes (offseason surgeries), after sitting out the other preseason games. Laurinaitis even lobbied to play.

Weighing the benefit of a few snaps against Miami backups against the possibility of further injury or re-injury really made it an easy decision.

By the time the Rams' 14-13 loss to the Dolphins was complete, Fisher saw the result he wanted, even if the scoreboard might have indicated otherwise.

"There were some good things in there; there were some frustrating things," Fisher said. "You get frustrated with some of the young mistakes our players make. Overall, our training room is empty right now, so that’s good news."

St. Louis Rams' projected roster

August, 29, 2014
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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.)

QUARTERBACKS (3)
The devastating loss of quarterback Sam Bradford leaves the Rams with just the three players mentioned above on the roster. Davis is the No. 2 for now but the Rams will keep their eyes open for a veteran to add experience. These three could make the initial cut but the most likely scenario is they keep Hill and Davis and Gilbert goes to the practice squad after they locate a veteran.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
Chase Reynolds is difficult to leave off because of his value on special teams, but Watts has just offered too much upside for the offense and willingness on special teams to be left off. It wouldn't surprise if the Rams kept both but it's hard to do this without at least including Watts.

RECEIVERS (5)

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 there isn't one who has really emerged as worthy. Givens reminded many why he deserves to stick against the Browns but Pettis has been nearly invisible. Without Bailey, it stands to reason Pettis would stay but upon Bailey's return, that could change.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

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 four. Cunningham versus Alex Bayer continues to be one of the more interesting battles on the roster. Cunningham is the better blocker, while Bayer has shown more as a pass-catcher. It's really difficult to determine which flavor the Rams prefer but I'm going back to Cunningham because of his value as a blocker on special teams.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

The Rams have serious questions about their depth on the offensive line. Barrett Jones' situation remains in flux and few of the backups have stood out. It's hard to project the depth beyond Joseph and Barnes but the guess here is the Rams do something to stash Jones and save the roster spot then opt for Person and Bond in a tight race over Brandon Washington and Sean Hooey.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

This is the toughest decision on the roster right now. Westbrooks and Michael Sam have both done enough in camp and the preseason to stake a claim to a spot. At this point, it would be a surprise if Westbrooks didn't make it. Jeff Fisher has hinted at a different look in terms of roster composition this year and it's not out of the realm of possibility they could keep both. It's hard to project where they could chop elsewhere to create space, though. The other X factor here is the health of Hayes and Sims. Neither played against Miami and Hayes has yet to appear in a preseason game. Perhaps that could open the door for both Sam and Westbrooks to stay.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Barring injury, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the first five don't make it. But the sixth spot is more of a question mark. That spot is anybody's guess. Steward stays there for now but Lawrence Wilson and Aaron Hill could surprise. And the Rams will definitely scour the waiver wire for others.

CORNERBACKS (6)

With Johnson out four to six weeks, this looks like the spot that could keep Sam from making the roster. The Rams will have to carry Johnson on the roster but will probably need to keep another body for depth in the meantime. It's not easy to choose one from the group of Roberson, Greg Reid and Darren Woodard. Roberson has flashed the most in coverage, Reid is the best tackler and Woodard is sort of the happy medium between the two. We'll go with Roberson because he's gotten the most opportunities, an indication the coaching staff likes his potential.

SAFETIES (4)

Put simply, the Rams don't have anyone else who has showed enough to earn a spot and Joyner could play safety in a pinch. Alexander and Davis are core special-teams players.

SPECIALISTS (3)

These three are set in stone.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Only time and, eventually, the St. Louis Rams will tell how many defensive linemen they keep on their initial 53-man roster.

Those answers probably won't come in any sort of official capacity until Saturday, when the league mandates every team trim their roster from 75 to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET. In the meantime, the Rams are facing a difficult decision on what to do at the most-watched battle among fifth defensive ends in league history.

On one hand there's Ethan Westbrooks, the versatile, undrafted rookie out of West Texas A&M who has done nothing but make plays since the preseason began. On the other there's Michael Sam, the seventh-round draft choice out of Missouri who has done nothing but make plays since the preseason began. Both have done enough to show that they belong on an NFL roster.

If the Rams were hoping Thursday night would offer some final clarity, they didn't get their wish. Per usual, both players were up to the task of providing further food for thought. Westbrooks had four tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits. Sam showed he can do more than just rush the passer by offering production against the run with a team-high six tackles.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesMichael Sam had a solid training camp, but there are many factors at play that will determine whether or not he makes the St. Louis Rams roster.
It has long been expected that the Rams would keep nine defensive linemen, and eight spots essentially were locked up before camp even began. If that's the case, then the Rams must now finally choose between Westbrooks and Sam.

"This is the hard part about the National Football League in the next couple of days, reducing the roster to 53," coach Jeff Fisher said. "We’ll have some discussions tomorrow and we’ll go from there."

Those discussions will bring into play many factors beyond what can be seen in a stat book. If there's an advantage to be found in this conversation, it's easily seen in Westbrooks' versatility.

Westbrooks has impressed the Rams' coaches and personnel department with his ability to play multiple positions, and his pass-rushing ability from the interior of the line has been even better than they thought.

"If you are versatile, I feel like some teams can look at you like an end, some can look at you like a tackle and if you can do both equally well and teams like that, I feel like that’s a good value to have," Westbrooks said.

At this point, it would be a surprise if Westbrooks isn't on the roster, at least in this corner of cyberspace. But because both players have made strong cases to stick, there still remains the possibility the Rams could keep both players.

Earlier this week, Fisher said he could keep as many as 12 defensive linemen. He was joking (I think), but the possibility of keeping 10 can't be discounted. The question then becomes how they get to that number.

As with any roster decisions, the numbers game always comes into play. And there are factors that could be working against Sam, including injuries to players such as cornerback Trumaine Johnson and Barrett Jones that aren't serious enough to land them on injured reserve, but might effectively double their roster spots as the Rams carry them and an additional player at the position.

"Those are things that all fall into play with these decisions," Fisher said.

Conversely, the Rams also might have something of a need for bodies at defensive end. They played with just three down linemen against Miami because of injuries to backups William Hayes and Eugene Sims. Hayes did not play in a preseason game as he recovers from a trio of offseason surgeries and Sims watched practice this week with his leg in a brace.

The status of that duo moving forward could also be an X factor in the discussion.

Regardless of the Rams' decision, Sam has no plans to sit around and nervously wait, as he did during the draft. He'll head to his alma mater on Saturday to watch Missouri open the season against South Dakota State secure in the belief he did all he could to win a job somewhere in the NFL.

"I’m very confident I will be playing on an NFL roster this fall," Sam said. "I made some big plays in games and in practice I improved every week and I know I can play in this league."

Now we wait to find out where he'll do it.

Observation Deck: St. Louis Rams

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
10:30
PM ET

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher played coy all week about how much his starters would play against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night.

As it turned out, they didn't play at all. All 22 likely starters sat out and Miami took a similar approach. From the Rams' standpoint, that's completely understandable, given what happened in the first half in Cleveland last Saturday, when five starters left with injuries.

In the battle of the junior varsity squads, the Rams (1-3) jumped to an early lead but couldn't hang on late as the Dolphins scored 14 unanswered points for a 14-13 win.

Some more thoughts and observations from Thursday's game:
  • On defense, the Rams showed a lot of a three-down-linemen look with three linebackers and five defensive backs. Even with backups in, coordinator Gregg Williams was OK with showing a few blitzes. On offense, they spent a lot of time with two tight ends in the game, with little in the way of pre-snap motion or movement.
  • No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson received a lot of playing time, starting at left tackle. So much for putting him at left guard and letting him settle in there. It's fair to wonder at this point if he's going to start the season as a backup.
  • Defensive linemen Michael Sam and Ethan Westbrooks continued to make their cases for roster spots. Sam was particularly impressive against the run, which is a good sign for a guy who has mostly showed up as a pass rusher to this point. He finished with six tackles. Westbrooks continued to show his versatility and came up with his second sack of the preseason to go with four tackles and two quarterback hits. Backup ends Eugene Sims and William Hayes did not play, leaving a lot of work for Sam and Westbrooks.
  • Receiver Austin Pettis has been awfully quiet in this preseason with one catch for 21 yards in the first three games, but he did come up with an 11-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
  • With Trumaine Johnson out four to six weeks because of a sprained MCL, the Rams could keep as many as six cornerbacks. There's likely one spot up for grabs among the group of Marcus Roberson, Darren Woodard and Greg Reid. Woodard made the best case Thursday night, showing good instincts in coverage and solid tackling skills. But he missed a pair of golden opportunities to come up with interceptions that he had in his hands. Roberson also missed out on one late.
  • Trey Watts didn't lack for opportunities to make his final statement and answered the call again, flashing the shifty running style that has caught the staff's eye. He finished with 51 yards on 13 carries.
  • I thought linebacker James Laurinaitis might get a short cameo just to get a little game action before the regular season but that didn't happen. Laurinaitis didn't play in any of the four preseason games as he works his way back from an ankle injury.
  • It was another solid outing for quarterback Austin Davis, who started against the Dolphins. He finished 12-of-19 for 162 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 107.8.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Only the St. Louis Rams know exactly how many players they plan to keep at each position. Therein lies the difficulty in attempting to project a 53-man roster.

But that doesn't mean we can't take a quick spin around the roster and offer a look at some of the decisions the Rams might have to make when Saturday's 4 p.m. ET final cuts arrive.

For the players listed here, the opportunity to make a strong closing argument comes Thursday night against Miami in the preseason finale.

Quarterback: The question here is whether the Rams will keep two or three. Austin Davis is probably locked in as the second quarterback, at least until or if the Rams find a veteran option they prefer after the available signal-callers crystallize. Rookie Garrett Gilbert hasn't done much in preseason and would stick mostly because the Rams wouldn't want to be short in the event of an injury. But they could probably get Gilbert through to the practice squad with relative ease.

Running back: There are three locked in here, leaving two questions: will the Rams keep four or five? And if not, who wins between Chase Reynolds and Trey Watts? Reynolds is a core special teams player but Watts is working on that part of his game and is a better, more versatile contributor to the offense. Keep an eye on Watts against the Dolphins.

Tight end: The Rams will probably keep four here and it's no secret the battle likely comes down to blocking specialist Justice Cunningham vs. pass catcher Alex Bayer. This is truly a "pick your flavor" situation. Cunningham might have a slight edge because his blocking can also translate to special teams but a big performance from Bayer against Miami might make it tough to allow him to leave.

Offensive line: It's not unusual for the Rams to keep as many as 10 here, however, it doesn't look like there are that many worthy this year. The Rams have more positional versatility with guys who will make the team, which might mean they only keep eight or nine. There are probably seven spots accounted for at this point. The battle for the final spots will likely come down to picking one or two from a group that includes Brandon Washington, Travis Bond, Mike Person and Sean Hooey. They also must figure out what to do with Barrett Jones, who is out with a back injury and doesn't have a timetable for return.

Defensive end: This one is well documented. The Rams will keep nine, perhaps even 10 though nine seems more likely. It's Michael Sam vs. Ethan Westbrooks. It's hard to envision a scenario in which Westbrooks doesn't make the team, especially given his versatility. Sam has been more productive as a pass-rusher in preseason games but doesn't have the ability to move along the line. One thing to keep an eye on in Miami is whether current backups Eugene Sims and William Hayes play. Sims hasn't practiced this week and Hayes still hasn't played in a preseason game. If those injuries are a little more extensive, maybe it opens the door for both Sam and Westbrooks.

Linebacker: There are five in solid shape here but the Rams don't really have a sixth who has stood out. Phillip Steward has played a lot on special teams and that could be a sign he's well positioned, but don't be surprised if the Rams go searching for a sixth linebacker on the waiver wire. Aaron Hill, Lawrence Wilson and Etienne Sabino will get one more shot to prove they're worthy.

Cornerback: With starter Trumaine Johnson expected to miss four-to-six weeks with a sprained MCL, the Rams will likely have to keep an extra body here behind Janoris Jenkins, Lamarcus Joyner, Brandon McGee and E.J. Gaines. That leaves a fight amongst Marcus Roberson, Greg Reid and Darren Woodard for a potential sixth spot. Roberson is the best in coverage, Reid the best tackler and Woodard something of a happy medium. Keep an eye outside the hashes in the second half Thursday night.

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