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Thursday, August 14, 2008
Rams position battles revisited

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The position battles we previewed before training camp bear revisiting. We outlined two for each team. We continue with the Rams:

Center: Brett Romberg vs. Richie Incognito

RombergIncognito

What we said then: Romberg played well enough at center under tough circumstances last season to earn a shot at the job this summer. Incognito provides his primary competition. Their camp battle has ramifications elsewhere on the line.

If Romberg prevails at center, Incognito moves into the lineup at right guard. If Incognito becomes the center, Romberg battles Mark Setterstrom for the starting job at right guard. Incognito will take most of his reps at center, a more demanding position from an assignment standpoint.

The shuffling would be nothing new for a line that used 18 combinations last season. Jacob Bell, signed from Tennessee in free agency, is the starting left guard. Orlando Pace and Alex Barron are the starting tackles. Incognito has proven to be one of the five best offensive linemen on the team, but the Rams aren't yet sure where he'll line up. Romberg will have a say in the matter.

Last season taught the Rams' offensive linemen to be ready for just about anything. A position battle, no matter how hot, cannot compare to what the team went through in 2007.

"Things can happen day to day," Romberg told reporters. "It may not come down to a coaching decision this camp. There could be an injury or something could happen, so you just go in every day and take one day at a time."

What we say now: This battle is playing out as expected. Romberg started the exhibition opener at center. Incognito started at right guard. That's the most likely scenario for the regular season.

Receiver: Reche Caldwell vs. Donnie Avery

What we said then: The Rams opened camp without Avery, whose agent continued working toward a contract agreement. The missed time isn't a significant factor this early, but Avery needs as much work and study time as he can get.

Coach Scott Linehan wasn't shy about pumping up rookie receiver Keenan Burton, who made big plays as camp opened. "It's one of the best motivators in sports, so we will leave it at that," Linehan told reporters.

The Rams are installing a new offense far more sophisticated than anything Avery ran at the University of Houston. Even with a full camp, Avery could have a hard time challenging for this job until later in the season.

Caldwell, now with his fourth team in four seasons, caught the ball consistently during minicamps. He also seemed to absorb the playbook without much trouble.

What we say now: Torry Holt and Drew Bennett are the starters, but this alleged battle never materialized. A hip injury has forced Avery to miss much of camp. Caldwell caught three passes for 30 yards in the exhibition opener, but Dante Hall has been getting work as the third receiver. Dane Looker has also outperformed Caldwell and Avery. Rookie Keenan Burton needs to fight through injuries. As training camp breaks, the Rams still don't have answers at receiver.

Also worth noting

The Rams have relatively few camp battles of note because their depth drops off quickly after the starting units. ... Running back Antonio Pittman and fullback Brian Leonard started the exhibition opener in the backfield while Steven Jackson continued to hold out. Jackson is the only legitimate starting halfback on the roster.