NFC West: St. Louis Rams

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For most NFL teams, the third preseason game is the closest thing the exhibition season offers to a dress rehearsal.

For the St. Louis Rams, that isn't necessarily the case. But they do have bigger plans for Saturday night's game against the Cleveland Browns than in either of their first two preseason games.

Those plans include the team's starters playing the bulk of the first half, including a handful of players who are returning this week from injury.

"Really, our hope is to play the first half," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Some guys may come out just a little sooner, but that’ll be our guidelines, to try and get the starters to play at least a half.”

Jenkins
Saffold
Long
Brockers
Among the starters expected to return for their first preseason game action are defensive tackle Michael Brockers, left tackle Jake Long, guard Rodger Saffold and cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

Long is scheduled to play in a game for the first time since suffering a torn ACL and MCL at the end of the 2013 season. He's been practicing for most of the past couple of weeks and is right on the schedule the Rams initially set for his return.

Saffold has been working his way back from a stinger injury suffered in early August. He has been getting full reps in team drills this week and is also expected to return.

Assuming Long and Saffold come back, the Rams will have their first-team offensive line together for the first time in this preseason.

The same can be said of the secondary, where Jenkins is returning from a hamstring injury.

"I’m kind of excited about getting the secondary together for the first time this year," Fisher said. "That’s going to be a good thing. [Cornerback] Lamarcus [Joyner] will line up and play in the slot for us, then of course it’s good to get Jake and Rodger back for the first time.”

That leaves linebacker James Laurinaitis as the only projected starter with an uncertain status as the team heads to Cleveland. Laurinaitis is bouncing back from an ankle injury, but has been getting more work in practice each day this week. His status is likely to be a game-time decision, but if he doesn't play against the Browns, he almost certainly will play against Miami in the preseason finale.

Beyond the work of the starters, Fisher and his staff have plenty to evaluate with the backups as they begin to make roster decisions. Rosters must be trimmed from 90 to 75 by Tuesday.

After that, don't be surprised if the Rams starters get even more work against the Dolphins as part of Fisher's preferred method of gradually building snaps throughout the preseason.

"We probably will play more in the fourth game because we like to build reps," Fisher said. "But again, if you go to the back end of the roster, we’re looking for guys that are competing for spots. We’re looking for improvement out of the younger group of players on special teams. We've got to minimalize our special-teams penalties."

St. Louis Rams practice report

August, 21, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With the "official" end of training camp coming and going Wednesday, the Rams practiced without any eyes other than media watching Thursday afternoon. Along with that, the rules change a bit in terms of what can and can't be discussed. But Rams coach Jeff Fisher did offer some updates on some things that were noticeable on the field.
  • First, Fisher said Thursday's practice was used largely to get his team familiar with Cleveland. It's the first time in the preseason the Rams have done anything resembling some game planning. Some of that even included having a couple of players put on the red jersey to emulate different Browns players.
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) did a little more than on Wednesday, including a bit of work in team drills. Fisher said the decision on whether Laurinaitis will play against the Browns has not yet been made but it's clear Laurinaitis could probably play if he had to. Clearly, he doesn't have to but the option is realistic.
  • Fisher did indicate that left tackle Jake Long (knee), defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) would all be available and are expected to play. That would allow the Rams to have their projected offensive and defensive lines together for the first time in the preseason.
  • Speaking of groups working together in a game for the first time this preseason, Fisher said he's looking forward to seeing the secondary get some work together. That means Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson at cornerback and Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald at safety. Fisher even went so far as to acknowledge that rookie Lamarcus Joyner would work with the top offense as the nickelback.
  • As for playing time for the starters, Fisher indicated that group will play the bulk of the first half. He also again mentioned the gradual build he prefers means that group could play even more in Miami in the preseason finale. That's how they've done it in his first two seasons in St. Louis and it doesn't sound like it's going to change.
  • Amongst projected starters, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar is the only one not to practice at all this week. So even if the Rams get Laurinaitis back, they likely won't be at full strength defensively.
  • The Rams again hosted the Ferguson-area high school teams at their facility Thursday as McCluer, McCluer North and McCluer South-Berkeley held practice on the team's indoor field.
  • Running back Isaiah Pead officially cleared waivers and now reverts to the team's injured reserve list. Pead does not count against the team's 90-man roster.
  • The Rams will wrap up their preparation week with a walk-through Friday before traveling to Cleveland for Saturday night's game against the Browns.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Watching a St. Louis Rams game, preseason or otherwise, without the presence of linebacker James Laurinaitis is a little bit strange.

Since the Rams drafted Laurinaitis in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft, he has been one of the few stalwarts in the lineup at his usual position every day of every week for five years. Before missing the first two preseason games against Green Bay and New Orleans with a left ankle injury, Laurinaitis had only missed a single preseason game early in his career.

[+] EnlargeJames Laurinaitis
Michael Thomas/Getty ImagesJames Laurinaitis (ankle) has been sidelined in the preseason but has not missed a regular season game in his career.
Aside from that minor blip, Laurinaitis has played all 80 regular-season games and rarely even missed practice. A self-described football junkie, Laurinaitis hasn't taken well to sitting out the past couple of weeks. So it was with great pleasure that he returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.

"I don’t rest very well," Laurinaitis said. "It’s not one of my attributes. I don’t like it. It felt good to be out there. I would assume that we do a little more tomorrow and just keep phasing back in."

Laurinaitis suffered the ankle injury early in training camp when he says he tripped over defensive tackle Kendall Langford and awkwardly twisted the ankle. The ankle is the same one Laurinaitis had bone spurs in and was cleaned out in minor surgery in the offseason. According to Laurinaitis, the injury actually deals with the same ligament though it's a different injury.

More than two weeks removed, Laurinaitis said he's feeling much better.

"It just happened to be that exact ligament, got stressed a little bit," Laurinaitis said. "It really felt great today."

Whether Laurinaitis plays against the Cleveland Browns on Saturday remains to be seen, but he has made it clear that he'd like to get some work in the preseason one way or another.

"I want to get out there just to be able to, if I don’t play Saturday I’ll definitely play against Miami because I need to get out there and hit blocks and throw and tackle and all those things," Laurinaitis said. "That’s why I don’t like just kind of standing around."

Of course, if this weekend was the start of the regular season, there's little doubt in Laurinaitis' mind that he'd be playing. The Rams have taken a cautious approach with all of their key injured players, bringing them along slowly to ensure there are no setbacks.

Despite Laurinaitis' desire to get back on the field sooner than later, he has come to grips with that approach knowing that it's a means to an end.

"I pride myself always on being available," Laurinaitis said. "We always talk about ability and availability. Two big things that Coach [Gregg] Williams is big on and I’ve always been big on. I pride myself on the fact that I haven’t missed a regular season game. You’ve got to be smart. Because if you go out there like, ‘Hey, let’s test it’ and you do all these things then you have a setback and you’re out another four weeks or three weeks, that would be a terrible deal."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Most likely, injured St. Louis Rams running back Isaiah Pead will land on the team's injured reserve list as he rehabilitates from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Pead
But the move the Rams made Wednesday afternoon at least leaves the door open for the long shot chance he could land elsewhere. The Rams waived Pead with the injury designation on the league's official transaction list.

By placing Pead on waivers, the other 31 teams in the league have 24 hours to claim him. But it would come as a surprise if another team opted to pick up Pead given his $757,100 price tag and injury status. Assuming Pead clears waivers Thursday, he then reverts to the Rams' injured reserve list unless the sides come to an injury settlement.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher's comments in announcing Pead was lost for the season would indicate the plan is for Pead to land on injured reserve and do his rehab in St. Louis before coming back in 2015.

"He worked very very hard to get in the position to where he was a very productive special teamer for us," Fisher said. "And we had high hopes for him doing some things out of the backfield for us as well. So he’ll be undergoing surgery in the next 10 days to two weeks, which is typical with these injuries. So he’s got a long road ahead of him, but I’m confident that as he’s matured over the last couple years that he’ll get back in good shape next year."

The Rams originally drafted Pead with a second-round pick in 2012, but he's had little impact in his two seasons in St. Louis. In 25 games, he has 75 rushing yards and 94 receiving yards. He settled in to a special teams role last season and earned high marks from the coaching staff for his work there. Fisher said the Rams had plans to use Pead in a similar role this season with the occasional contribution to the offense.

Rams Camp Report: Day 17

August, 20, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams wrapped up the training camp portion of their preseason with a spirited practice in front of some special guests Wednesday afternoon. The football teams from Ferguson, Missouri-area high schools McCluer and McCluer North attended the practice before and after having their own practices in the indoor Rams Park facility. What they saw was a long, hot workout, but they also provided a little jolt of energy that certainly helped the Rams through the workout.
  • On the field, the Rams continue to make strides toward getting four key starters back on the field. Left tackle Jake Long continues on his trajectory to play against the Browns on Saturday as he took the bulk of the reps at his usual spot. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers again took most of the reps with the first-team defense at his spot and said he's expecting to play against Cleveland. Guard Rodger Saffold went beyond the individual work he did Tuesday and participated in some team drills by taking snaps at both guard spots. And linebacker James Laurinaitis, who has been out with an ankle injury, even got back in some seven-on-seven drills, though he has yet to play in 11-on-11. Laurinaitis spoke after practice and confirmed that the injury is to the same ankle he had offseason surgery on, but that the issues are unrelated. He says he's feeling good and if there had been a regular-season game anytime recently, he'd have played. The Rams have taken a cautious approach with all four players.
  • The Rams receivers had a bit of a rough go during one-on-one drills as wideouts Kenny Britt and Austin Pettis dropped what should have been easy completions. Tight end Jared Cook had no such issues and came up with a nice grab on a deep, back-shoulder throw from quarterback Sam Bradford in team drills. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson made a nice play on a deep pass on the next snap but was not pleased with himself when he didn't come up with the interception. Otherwise, the day was pretty nondescript as the Rams slogged through another long, hot practice.
  • As is custom, the Rams closed training camp with their usual "dizzy bat" races for all of the rookies and team interns. All participants pick up a ball and run 10 yards, drop it off, run another 10 yards and then do 10 spins with a wiffle ball bat. The catch is that the veterans can distract all participants by any means necessary, including dumping water and Gatorade on those spinning. It's a lighthearted and fun way to call it a camp.
  • Aside from the high school teams taking in practice, the Rams had another special guest Wednesday: newly minted Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams.
  • Wednesday's practice was the final day of training camp open to the fans, but the Rams will be back at it Thursday afternoon for their final practice before traveling to Cleveland on Friday.

Rams come in last on Forbes' list

August, 20, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A year ago, the St. Louis Rams made the largest gains in Forbes' annual rankings of the NFL's most valuable franchises. In the newest version of those rankings, the Rams are worth more than they were a year ago but were surpassed by the rest of the league in total value.

With an uncertain stadium situation and a team that hasn't had a winning season in a decade, the Rams checked in at No. 32 in the latest valuations from Forbes.

In this year's valuations, the Rams' estimated value comes in at $930 million. Earlier this year, that was enough to make the Rams the 45th most valuable franchise in all of sports according to Forbes. Of course, that simply speaks to the overall value of every NFL team.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesThe Rams trail the Titans and every other NFL team in value, thanks in no small part to their antiquated stadium.
But the Rams aren't faring too well when it comes to keeping up with the Joneses. The Dallas Cowboys, whom Forbes ranks as the second-most valuable franchise in all of sports, top the NFL list by coming in at $3.2 billion -- or more than three times what the Rams are worth.

Per Forbes, the Rams' 2013 revenue was $250 million with an operating income of $16 million.

In assessing why the Rams came in at the bottom of the list, here's what Forbes had to say:

The Rams play in the antiquated Edward Jones Dome, but can move in March 2015 and are considered a likely candidate to be one of two NFL teams headed to Los Angeles.

Of course, whether the Rams eventually return to Los Angeles is a consistent topic amongst fans in St. Louis and southern California. Although the Rams' lease at the Edward Jones Dome expires after this season, that situation likely won't gain much clarity anytime soon. It's also worth noting where the Rams came in on the rankings last year when they made the biggest gains in terms of percentage value of any team in the league.

In 2013, the Rams were No. 29 on the list, ahead of Buffalo, Jacksonville and Oakland. They were valued at $875 million, up 12 percent from the $780 million value of 2012.

But that push last year came on the heels of the Rams’ victory in their arbitration case with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. Forbes viewed that victory as a positive in their valuation and the uptick accounted for the upward mobility that a new stadium would generate in terms of revenue along with expected league-wide revenue increases.

Cleary, the Rams' win in that arbitration case has done nothing to nudge forward a stadium solution or a major renovation of the Edward Jones Dome.

While the Rams' value is up $55 million from last year, the uncertainty surrounding the stadium and the fact the Edward Jones Dome is among the worst venues in the league leaves the Rams now trailing even the likes of the Bills, Jaguars and Raiders.

A move back to Los Angeles, as suggested by Forbes, would clearly elevate the Rams in these rankings considering all that would come with it, including a new stadium and an increase in market size. Here in St. Louis, a new stadium would also go a long way toward increasing the team's value.

But until there's at least some sort of tangible movement on a solution, it's a safe bet the Rams will remain at the bottom of lists such as these.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold played a preseason game in his hometown of Cleveland last season, he suffered a shoulder injury.

As Saffold and the Rams head back to Saffold's old stomping grounds for their third preseason game this year, Saffold looks poised to return from another shoulder injury.

"Of course I plan on playing," Saffold said. "I’ve felt good for awhile. I know they want to be super cautious and that’s fine but I’ve been working since I got hurt, so really I just hope this transition back onto the field won’t be that big of a transition. I feel in shape, I feel rested. I’m good all the way around."

[+] EnlargeRodger Saffold
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceRodger Saffold is expected to start at right guard for the Rams.
Saffold suffered what he and the Rams call a "stinger" in his left shoulder in a training camp practice on Aug. 1. The stinger has been enough to keep Saffold on the sidelines since, and kept him out of the team's first two preseason games against Green Bay and New Orleans. He did return to practice on a limited basis Tuesday, taking part in individual drills but sitting out the 11-on-11 portion of the workout.

Although Saffold and the team have insisted it's a minor injury, all parties have opted for a cautious approach. Rightfully so, given Saffold's extensive injury history. And his shoulder was such a point of contention in the offseason that the Oakland Raiders backed out of a lucrative multi-year contract with Saffold when their doctors failed him on a physical because of it.

In no small part because of that history, the Rams made it clear to Saffold soon after the injury that they were in no hurry to get him back in the preseason. Saffold is entering his fifth season in the league and his third in Brian Schottenheimer's offense, so keeping up with the mental part of his job should be little problem.

"It was nowhere near as bad as last time, but as a coach you want to make sure you take care of your players," Saffold said. "They’ve seen me play so they know what I can do, so they say 'Why don’t you just sit this one out? Let’s just make sure you’re good so we don’t have any future problems that could really be a problem.' I just said OK."

It remains unclear whether Saffold will get to play against the Browns as the Rams continue to monitor him day to day. Saffold joked Tuesday that he's the only Ram who has yet to hit somebody in a different uniform and that he intends to test the willpower of head athletic trainer Reggie Scott this week in an effort to get back on the field.

Getting Saffold back would give the Rams a chance to have their projected starting offensive line together for the first time in a game. It would also give Saffold some needed reps at right guard.

Although Saffold showed well at his new position for the last part of the 2013 season, the sample size remains small. He is comfortable at the position. but spent the early parts of camp playing left tackle and both guard spots, rather than settling at his projected position.

The chance to get some work in preseason games should allow things to slow down for Saffold inside.

"You want to be able to be under control but still be able to play fast and physical," Saffold said. "Sometimes you can get too excited or overly excited and you move too fast and get yourself in bad positions. I’m able to recover some of those things, but I want to get my technique down pat to the point where it’s kind of easy when it comes to the game."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Little more than a year after the Oakland Raiders used a third-round draft pick on offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, they released him.

It was Sept. 26, 2012, just one of a handful of days over the past couple of years now permanently etched in Barksdale's mind. The next was Sept. 27, 2012, a day later when the St. Louis Rams claimed him off waivers.

[+] EnlargeJoe Barksdale
Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoTackle Joe Barksdale, drafted by Oakland in 2011, has found a home with the Rams and in St. Louis.
Barksdale arrived in St. Louis with enough raw talent to develop into the bedrock of an often in flux offensive line that he is today but without any of the self-belief necessary to get there.

"When I got here, I was a recently cut former draft pick with no confidence, not many technical skills," Barksdale said. "But I believe I'm here for a reason and I'm so happy to be here. I do believe that everything did happen for a reason, when it was supposed to and how it was supposed to."

What's happened in the nearly two years since Barksdale arrived in St. Louis is more than anyone knows. It's easy to look at the resume he's compiled and see a young player simply emerging as a solid right tackle providing durability to a line in desperate need of it.

But the road from there to here hasn't been as easy as it might seem.

When the Rams claimed Barksdale in 2012, they were simply searching for help on the offensive line after some injuries had struck. That's been a familiar refrain in recent seasons.

Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau saw the 6-foot-5, 326-pound Barksdale as his next great reclamation project, if only he could get Barksdale to have the same belief.

For as much work as Barksdale needed on footwork, hand placement and understanding of angles, he needed regular reminders he could get there.

"His thing is more confidence in everything," Boudreau said. "Joe is his own worst critic. He's his own worst enemy. I tell him I will do all the worrying for you and you get out there and you play."

That confidence came quickly for Barksdale, who said he genuinely started buying into Boudreau's belief when he started at left tackle against Green Bay on Oct. 21, 2012. He started again the following week in London against New England and graded out well in both games.

After starting those two games and appearing in four more, Barksdale returned in 2013 primed to be the primary swing tackle behind Rodger Saffold and Jake Long. He spent part of his offseason working with Hall of Fame Rams offensive tackle Jackie Slater; something he repeated this summer, and came back ready for whatever role was needed.

As it turned out, projected right tackle Saffold suffered an injury early in the preseason and again in Week 2 of the regular season. Before Barksdale was to start the next week against Dallas, tragedy struck.

Charles Fobbs, who Barksdale calls a mentor, second father, brother and coach since he was 13 years old, died in a car accident before the Rams played the Cowboys.

Barksdale was devastated by the loss and attended the funeral back home in Michigan in search of some peace of mind. When he returned to St. Louis, he found solace on the football field, in his teammates and from his coaches.

Boudreau, in particular, knew what Barksdale was going through. His father had passed away not long before Fobbs, and Boudreau was still reeling from his own loss. Boudreau offered daily encouragement and reminded Barksdale that the best way to get through a tough time is simply to do it.

"I said you have a job to do and when you're at work, it might be the best thing for you, it might be the best therapy for you," Boudreau said. "He kind of knew it was somebody walking his shoes. It's going to always hurt and I said the anniversary of that will be the same thing for you and when you go back to Michigan you'll see his family and it will be a tough time for you, but I think in his case, he's grown up more than anything since he's been a Ram."

With each practice and game, Barksdale grew as a player as he dedicated himself to improving. By the time the season was through, Barksdale had started 13 games and played in all 16. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus graded him as the team's second most productive lineman.

Amidst the revolving doors at other positions on the line, Barksdale remains steadfast on the right side. Boudreau points out Barksdale is no longer dwelling on mistakes. Barksdale has even set big goals for himself, starting with winning a Super Bowl, making the Pro Bowl and eventually the Hall of Fame.

In this training camp, Barksdale has been the one constant on the offensive line, playing with the starters at the same position every day.

"Joe's done a great job," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Joe's stepped in and played. He's played both sides for us, settled in on the right side. He's reliable, dependable, everything you want at right tackle. It was great timing for us, great timing for Joe, when he was let go and we had an opportunity to bring him in and he's done a great job."

After the season, Barksdale is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. More important, he's also in the midst of planning a wedding. He says he spends much more time thinking of the latter than the former when he's not practicing his newest hobby, the electric guitar.

Given his druthers, Barksdale would like to stay in St. Louis.

"Definitely," Barksdale said. "They gave me a second chance."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The annual #NFLRank project got underway Monday morning as a panel of 85 NFL analysts across our many platforms here went through the process of ranking the top 100 players in the league on each side of the ball.

One member of the St. Louis Rams appears in today's initial reveal of Nos. 91-100. Linebacker James Laurinaitis checks in at No. 93 on the list as he appears for the second year in a row on the defensive side. Laurinaitis was No. 57 on the list in 2013.

Defense, No. 93, James Laurinaitis

Stats & Info: Laurinaitis has recorded 100 tackles in all five seasons of his NFL career. Only four other defenders have recorded 100 tackles in each of the last five seasons.

My take: Laurinaitis is never going to be the type of player to wow anyone with bone-rattling hits or uber-athletic splash plays. But he's about as solid as it gets in the middle. The tackle stats speak for themselves and also represent a nod to his durability as he has never missed a game in five NFL seasons. In some sense, Laurinaitis is taken for granted a bit by those who forget how poor the Rams were at his position in the years after London Fletcher's departure. Beyond the production, Laurinaitis is also the team's defensive leader and the guy other players turn to for help understanding the system. He's only 27 and though he counts a hefty $10.4 million against the cap this year, that number drops to a much more cap-friendly $4.025 million in 2015 and $6.175 million in 2016.

St. Louis Rams' projected roster

August, 18, 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)
Bradford and Hill are locks. Gilbert is still in the lead for the third spot, though he hasn't done much in either preseason game. The bigger question is whether the Rams keep three.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

We elevated Reynolds last week when he played against New Orleans and Isaiah Pead sat with a finger injury. This week, Pead suffered a torn ACL and will miss the season, taking most of the guesswork out of this projection.

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 Bailey plus the five listed here seem to be in pretty good shape. Of the wideouts who could theoretically serve as placeholders until Bailey's return, Emory Blake has been the most consistent and Austin Franklin has displayed the most potential.

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. Bayer vs. Justice Cunningham 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. We'll stick with Bayer for now, but that is subject to change.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

The Rams have serious questions about their depth on the offensive line. As reported last Thursday, Barrett Jones is battling a back injury and there's no timetable for his return. He could end up on injured reserve or possibly with the designation to return. Brandon Washington would seem to be a candidate, but he also has been out with an injury. Don't be surprised if the Rams closely monitor the waiver wire when cuts are made.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

The first eight are likely solid in their spots. But after some back and forth, I decided this was the week to elevate Westbrooks after another solid performance against Green Bay. Michael Sam also played well against the Packers, but Westbrooks has been more consistent in practice and offers more positional versatility. Sam remains in the race, but to my eye it looks like Westbrooks has moved ahead for now.

LINEBACKERS (6)

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.

CORNERBACKS (5)

With plenty of preseason to go, there's a lot that can change, but this group seems to be getting some clarity. The first four here appear to be in good shape, and Gaines' strong preseason debut complements what has been a good camp for him. He seems to be in the driver's seat for the next spot. With each passing week, I believe the Rams might keep six corners and four safeties, but this projection doesn't reflect that because I'm not yet sure who that sixth corner would be. Marcus Roberson, Darren Woodard and Greg Reid all figure in that competition.

SAFETIES (5)

The Rams have kept five safeties under Fisher, in no small part because of special-teams duties. But I'm beginning to wonder if that could change in favor of a sixth cornerback. It's looked in camp like the Rams have more talent at corner than safety, which could cause them to alter the balance at the two positions in terms of numbers. The first three here should be safe and Davis bounced back well against Green Bay, which should help his cause. Daniels needs to get it going to get another shot. Christian Bryant is finally practicing but has been nondescript on the field.

SPECIALISTS (3)

It would take a serious injury to disturb this strong trio.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Barrett Jones is out for the rest of the preseason and likely beyond because of back surgery, coach Jeff Fisher confirmed Sunday afternoon.

"Barrett is going to be weeks away," Fisher said. "Barrett has had some minor surgery on his back so he will not participate in the preseason. Beyond that, I don't know."

Jones
Late last week, we covered the Rams' lack of experienced depth behind the starting offensive line with mention of Jones' back injury. At the time, I was told that Jones would be out for "awhile." Anytime a back surgery is involved, it's probably best not to take a guess at a possible return. In fact, it's probably best not to count on Jones returning at all at this season.

Jones' injury, combined with rookie Demetrius Rhaney's knee injury suffered in practice last week leaves the Rams thin at center moving forward. Fisher said Rhaney had an MRI on the knee and the results were better than expected, though Rhaney is also going to miss a chunk of time.

"We got good news," Fisher said. "We suspected the worst but got good news. He has no ligament damage whatsoever. The cartilage looks good, solid, no cartilage damage. He's got a severe bone bruise I guess I would classify it and he's going to be out for some time. These things typically take time.

"I can't tell you whether it's going to be four weeks or six weeks but I would not expect him back within the four week time period."

Without Jones and Rhaney, the Rams have turned to versatile lineman Mike Person to provide center insurance. Scott Wells is working as the starter and Tim Barnes remains solid as the top backup but Person worked with the third team offense in the middle against Green Bay on Saturday. Person also played left tackle and left guard in the game, playing all 71 offensive snaps in the game.

While the Rams don't have to make any snap decisions on Rhaney or Jones, they did lose running back Isaiah Pead to a torn ACL and will likely have a roster spot open to replace him. That spot could theoretically go to an offensive lineman.

"I think we are good right now," Fisher said. "We've got depth, we've got flexibility. We're going to look. This is a time you typically continue to evaluate the bottom half of your roster and watch the waiver wire and we'll make room with Isaiah's spot. If somebody is out there we'll consider it but we're not looking to replace position for a position."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers marched the Packers offense up and down the field seemingly at will on Saturday afternoon, it opened the door for questions about the St. Louis Rams defense.

By the times Rodgers' two series were through, he'd completed 11-of-13 passes for 128 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Starting running back Eddie Lacy had five carries for 25 yards, and the Packers had 10 points that weren't 14 only because a penalty nullified another Rodgers' touchdown pass.

The Packers' no huddle, uptempo approach clearly had the Rams on their heels.

But coach Jeff Fisher said after the game that his defense was playing about as vanilla as possible, hence the easy drives.

"We anticipated the no huddle out of Aaron, so we kept things basic," Fisher said. "We actually practiced it yesterday, but we kept things very, very basic on defense, and I thought it was a really good exercise for our defense in both those drives. Then obviously, we started subbing, I think we had two drives for 20 plays, and that was enough for our starters."

The claims of a vanilla approach are common in the preseason, not only for the Rams, but for all the teams around the league. In looking at the Rams' defense, it was clear that they indeed weren't doing much of anything other than simply lining up and playing. The cornerbacks spent most of the day lining up 7 or 8 yards off the line of scrimmage and the safeties were so far from the line that they weren't even visible at times.

On at least a couple of plays, safety Rodney McLeod was 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage and moving backwards at the snap. The Rams didn't blitz and the defensive line offered little in the way of stunts.

All of those things are far different than what the Rams do on the practice field everyday. It also yielded almost nothing in the way of pass rush and provided big holes in the run game along with easy completions.

"We had a couple pressures," Fisher said. "We had a couple of single pressures with Aaron. Our philosophy was to just line up and play and not rely on the pressure. We pressured a little bit last week and not allowing the pressure, of course. We’re holding a lot of stuff for our regular season as well."

As the regular season approaches, perhaps the Rams will show a little more defensively in the final two preseason games though they obviously won't give away much. Getting key starters like linebacker James Laurinaitis, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive tackle Michael Brockers back should also provide some help.

Asked about the early defensive struggles, defensive end Chris Long offered an important reminder about what can and cannot be gleaned from the preseason.

"The guys in those locker rooms and in the film room and on the team learn a lot, but often times the people outside the building don’t learn as much because it’s hard to decipher what’s real and what’s not," Long said. "That’s the way preseason is, it’s not always indicative of how things are going to go on the field. For us it’s just about continuing to work on the little things and the result will become more important in a couple of weeks.”

Given the amount of talent on the defense and the presence of coordinator Gregg Williams, there's little reason not to give this group the benefit of the doubt. The real verdict can't be rendered until September.

Three Rams who helped themselves

August, 17, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams dropped their second preseason game to the Green Bay Packers by a count of 21-7 Saturday afternoon. Along the way, some players helped themselves, while others did not.

We'll take a look at those who didn't later, but for now, here's three players who either helped themselves prepare for the regular season, bolstered their case for a roster spot or both with strong performances against the Packers.

1. Sam Bradford

We've covered Bradford's return performance at length, but it's worth noting again in this space because he's the most important player in the Rams offense. Bradford not only made it through the game healthy but was mostly sharp in delivering accurate, on-time throws save for a miss to open receiver Kenny Britt down the sideline.

Bradford finished 9-of-12 for 101 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 127.4. His touchdown pass to tight end Lance Kendricks was a particularly welcome sight as he put a fastball into a tight window while standing tall in the pocket.

2. Ethan Westbrooks and Michael Sam

These two have been battling for a potential ninth roster spot on the defensive line all through camp, but both continued building a case for that spot on Saturday. Westbrooks was a bit more active than Sam against the Packers and actually played with the second-team defense, while Sam waited until the third group entered in the second half.

Westbrooks played both end spots and lined up inside on occasion in his 39 snaps and was effective no matter where he played. He finished with four tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits and pushed the pocket a handful of times beyond that. Sam played 27 snaps and posted two tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits while also generating enough pressure to set up linebacker Phillip Steward's sack.

This competition looks like it's really just heating up.

3. Cody Davis

Davis had a really rough first outing against New Orleans in the preseason opener, missing multiple tackles despite being in position to make the play. But Davis rebounded well against the Packers with four tackles and a fumble recovery on 28 snaps. Davis looked more comfortable against Green Bay and looks to have the inside track on a fourth roster spot at safety. He already factored into the 53-man discussion because of his value on special teams, but if he can continue to perform on defense more like he did against the Packers than he did against the Saints, he should be able to solidify his spot.

W2W4 Revisited: St. Louis Rams

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
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ST. LOUIS -- Looking back at three things to watch from the St. Louis Rams' 21-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Saturday afternoon.

1. Bradford's return

Quarterback Sam Bradford's return to the field for the first time in 300 days was mostly a success. Yes, he missed a throw to an open Kenny Britt down the right sideline, but he mostly stood tall in the pocket and delivered accurate throws for most of the day.

Bradford took only one big hit courtesy of Green Bay linebacker Julius Peppers but got up quickly and went back to work. In fact, the play Peppers hit him was Bradford's only incompletion on the team's lone scoring drive.

For the day, Bradford went 0 of 12 for 101 yards with a touchdown for a rating of 127.4 His touchdown pass to tight end Lance Kendricks was particularly impressive as Bradford threaded the needle into tight coverage.

2. Sorting the secondary

Starting cornerback Trumaine Johnson returned after sitting out the preseason opener, but the Rams were still thin at corner again without the services of starter Janoris Jenkins and key backups Brandon McGee and Darren Woodard. More surprising was the absence of rookie E.J. Gaines after a strong performance in the opener. Gaines left a practice earlier in the week with an apparent injury but returned to that workout and didn't seem to have any problems. He ended up sitting out Saturday apparently as a precaution.

For the second consecutive week, that left plenty of opportunities for young corners such as Marcus Roberson, who actually started opposite Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner and Greg Reid.

Joyner led the team with six tackles and added a pass defended and a forced fumble though he had some rough moments in coverage against Green Bay's top offense. Reid had some good moments with three tackles and a pair of passes defended. Roberson was harder to find, making just a single tackle but had some good moments in coverage.

3. Cleaning up mistakes

At first blush, the Rams appeared to have a better tackling performance this week than last week, though the defense struggled in that regard early on and there really wasn't anywhere to go but up after last week. Safety Cody Davis, in particular, was much better than he was against the Saints.

But coach Jeff Fisher was more concerned with the continued penalty issues. The Rams shaved two off their total of 12 from last week, which still left them at a whopping 10 for 76 yards. That's actually right in line with the league average in this preseason but still an area Fisher would like to see improve.

Rams preseason television broadcaster Andrew Siciliano even mentioned that Fisher dangled an early end to training camp as a reward should his team be penalized seven times or less against the Packers. Alas, the Rams will have another week of camp before breaking.
ST. LOUIS -- After St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford stood in the pocket and fired a picture-perfect 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lance Kendricks early in the second quarter, it looked on television like he turned to his sideline and yelled, "I'm back!"

After Saturday's 21-7 preseason loss to the Green Bay Packers, Bradford said those weren't his words; instead, he was shouting a popular meeting room catchphrase to fellow quarterbacks and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. But even if Bradford didn't say it, he might as well have.

For someone who hasn't played in a live football game in 300 days after suffering a torn ACL in October 2013, Bradford's return against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday afternoon was mostly a success. If Bradford didn't want to boldly announce his return, his head coach had no problems doing so on his behalf.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Scott KaneSam Bradford completed 9 of 12 passes in his first game action since October 2013.
"Anybody that had questions about Sam’s condition, his physical condition, I think they were answered," coach Jeff Fisher said. "I was very pleased with his performance in the brief amount of time that he played. You see he had the fastball and the great throw to Brian [Quick] and also to Lance. I’m happy with his game. I know he’s excited that thing is clearly behind him now and we’ll move forward. That was encouraging."

Bradford didn't move the Rams up and down the field on his two series with the ease of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, but that wasn't necessarily the goal considering Bradford hadn't played in a game since Oct. 20, 2013. No, the main objective for Bradford on Saturday afternoon had nothing to do with statistics and everything to do with getting him used to being back in the mix.

Fisher called Bradford off after two series and 18 snaps -- 12 pass plays and six run plays. Four more plays were wiped away by penalties.

Along the way, Bradford didn't come under too much pressure as the Rams clearly made a point of protecting him with quick, short throws, though some would argue that's just business as usual. Either way, Bradford held up just fine physically, taking only one hard hit courtesy of Green Bay linebacker Julius Peppers.

"I knew I was going to take a hit or two today, that's just part of the game," Bradford said. "But it's always nice to get that first one under your belt knowing that everything is going to be OK."

That Bradford's final stat line looked the way it did was really just a bonus. He finished 9-of-12 for 101 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for a rating of 127.4.

The first Bradford-led drive came with some ups and downs as he knocked off a little bit of rust. He hung in the pocket in the face of pressure to convert a fourth-down pass to tight end Jared Cook for 5 yards.

Two penalties and a short incompletion later, Bradford took his first deep shot when receiver Kenny Britt was open down the right sideline. The throw was a beat late and too wide, falling incomplete, which led to a punt two snaps later.

"I just missed it outside a little bit," Bradford said. "It was an opportunity for a big play, just got to beep it inbounds. I like the decision, just have to give him a better ball."

Whatever rust might have lingered on that misfire disappeared on Bradford's second series. On the team's lone scoring drive, Bradford went 4-of-5 for 63 yards and a touchdown. His two most impressive completions came within those four connections, including a 41-yarder to Quick on a ball that was a little high but still on target, and the touchdown to Kendricks.

On the touchdown pass, Bradford fired over the middle of the field to a seemingly covered Kendricks, but the ball had enough velocity on it that it cut through Green Bay's defense and led Kendricks to an open spot.

Bradford chose not to share what he actually shouted to the sideline in celebration, but he definitely sent a message.

"In the quarterback room we've kind of got something we say and I looked over at Schotty and gave him one of those," Bradford said. "So, it was just kind of a signal to him."

For Bradford, it's a long road between the second preseason game and a successful regular season, but Saturday's performance was clearly a step in the right direction.

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