NFC West: Janoris Jenkins

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins' latest coverage miscue resulting in another long touchdown pass hasn't changed how he's viewed by coach Jeff Fisher.

Two days after Jenkins was beat for a pair of touchdowns in the Rams' 31-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Fisher offered a vote of confidence for his third-year cornerback.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Lloyd
AP Photo/Scott KaneBrandon Lloyd was able to beat Janoris Jenkins for a long touchdown on Monday.
Asked whether Jenkins' boom or bust tendency -- the bust showing up most recently on Brandon Lloyd's 80-yard touchdown past Jenkins just before Monday night's halftime -- makes him a high risk/high reward option, Fisher made it clear he doesn't see it that way.

"I disagree," Fisher said. "He's playing corner, it's the hardest position to play in this league. The great part about him is that he's got a short memory. He doesn't let those things bother him. He doesn't make mistakes on purpose, understands our defense. Like I said he will take responsibility for the play. I think it was more of something that we should have kept him out of. I have no concern with his production and his play at this point."

More than a quarter of the way through his third season, Jenkins has been a starter for the Rams since his arrival in St. Louis. In 36 games, he's offered his share of game-changing plays (his five defensive touchdowns are the most in the NFL in that time) while also surrendering plenty of big plays. Lloyd's 80-yard touchdown catch was the second consecutive "Monday Night Football" game where Jenkins has allowed a touchdown covering that distance after then Seattle wideout Golden Tate beat him for one last year.

At other times in his career, Jenkins has been victimized by Atlanta's Julio Jones, San Francisco's Anquan Boldin, Dallas' Dez Bryant and others for big plays. Taking his cues from Fisher, Jenkins points to the ups and downs as part of playing one of the league's most difficult positions.

"They make plays and we make plays," Jenkins said. "You've just got to put it behind you because everybody is going to make a play. It's just when the play is going to be made and how it's going to be made."

The play against the Niners came at the worst possible time. Just before the end of the first half, Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams called for a basic three-deep zone in which it was Jenkins' responsibility to show that he was in a Cover 2 zone before the snap but then back off (known as bail technique) at the snap to stay deep keeping the receiver in front of him.

Instead, Jenkins got caught starting into the backfield and Lloyd beat him with a double move. That's been a common issue for Jenkins since he arrived in the league with that tendency leading to big plays for him but even more against him.

"It was all on me," Jenkins said. "I take full responsibility as a man. I just know on that particular play, I was doing the wrong thing, I was doing my own thing and it won't happen again."

While Jenkins and Fisher are right that the cornerback position is going to come with its ups and downs, it's not the big touchdowns so much as how they're happening that should be concerning. Jenkins' mistakes have come as a result of the same thing happening over and over. That's not a function of simply getting beat so much as a stubborn refusal to make the changes to minimize risk consistently.

With fellow cornerback Trumaine Johnson set to return from a knee injury soon, the Rams will have to do some reshuffling at cornerback. Based on Fisher's comments, it seems unlikely Jenkins' role will be a part of any adjustments.

"It makes me feel like I have always been feeling, normal, comfortable, just eliminate what I can eliminate and just continue to play," Jenkins said.
Brandon LloydMichael Thomas/Getty ImagesBrandon Lloyd burned Janoris Jenkins for an 80-yard touchdown right before the end of the first half, the latest in an alarming trend of big plays given up by the Rams' defense.

ST. LOUIS -- As the clock wound down to end the first half Monday night, the St. Louis Rams had plenty to feel good about. All signs pointed to a 14-3 halftime lead, and they appeared to be just 30 minutes away from an upset of the San Francisco 49ers.

But nothing is ever as it seems when it comes to the Rams, at least nothing that looks like it's going to end in a surprisingly positive result. Moments later, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick hit receiver Brandon Lloyd for an 80-yard touchdown that set the 49ers on a 21-point scoring spree that would lead to a 31-17 San Francisco victory.

It was another backbreaking big play by an opponent in a game in which the Rams started fast and finished painstakingly slow. If it felt like the Week 3 game against Dallas on replay, that's because it pretty much was.

"We have got to play the defenses that are called. I sound like a broken record," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "We have got to play what we call. We've got to execute the defense. It's definitely not scheme. We have just got to execute. That's all I can really say. The guys know it, but for some reason we are not putting together full games. And until we do it, we are going to get these same results."

With the ball at their 20 and 27 seconds to go in the first half, the 49ers seemed content to go into the locker room trailing by 11 points and start fresh in the third quarter. They hadn't called any timeouts and were in no hurry to stop the clock.

On the Rams' sideline, coach Jeff Fisher pondered calling a timeout in hopes his team could get the ball back and squeeze out more points before the half. A stop on third-and-6 might have given the Rams enough time to steal a field goal.

Fisher opted not to call the timeout, though, and the 49ers opted not to run out the clock. Instead, they called for Lloyd to run a double move down the left sideline in hopes the Rams would yield a big play. The Rams called for a basic zone coverage with the simple idea of keeping the ball in front of the defense.

Well, it was simple in theory but not so much in execution.

"We were just in zone coverage," Laurinaitis said. "I'm not going to throw anybody under the bus, but we had this coverage in specifically for this team, and we have just got to execute it. Know the situation, two-minute [offense]. Heck, they are letting the clock run out. That's the thing that kind of gets under me the most is they were letting the clock run out, not even trying to call timeout or anything. We have just got to execute. Know the situation, back up. If they catch it, make them earn it. We have got to stop with the explosive plays."

Laurinaitis doesn't have to throw anyone under the bus, because anyone watching could tell it was Janoris Jenkins who bit on Lloyd's double move.

Jenkins' propensity for giving up big plays is nothing new. It's not even the first one he's allowed on "Monday Night Football." Seattle's Golden Tate beat him for an 80-yard touchdown pass in 2013 that led to a 14-9 Rams loss.

Now in his third season in the league, one would think Jenkins has matured beyond such mistakes, but the evidence on and off the field would suggest otherwise. Jenkins elected not to speak to the media after the game.

Of course, Jenkins wasn't solely to blame for the play. Seeing as how he has given up his share of big plays, the Rams' coaching staff also should know better than to put him in that situation with no safety help on the back end in the first place.

"It was a double move," Fisher said. "He should stay on top. In retrospect, we should probably not put him in that position. We have to be better than that as coaches and as players."

By this point in the Rams' latest rebuilding process, that's a refrain that has grown all too familiar.

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ST. LOUIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams' 31-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:

Jenkins
Jenkins keeps it moving: Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was on the wrong end of an 80-yard touchdown pass to 49ers receiver Brandon Lloyd with 14 seconds left in the first half, a play that changed the outlook of the game. But Jenkins declined to explain what happened on the play, departing the locker room before speaking to the media. A Rams media relations staffer attempted to get Jenkins to speak, but those pleas fell on deaf ears.

Davis blames himself: On the complete opposite side of the accountability spectrum, Rams quarterback Austin Davis spoke to the media at length and pinned the blame on himself for the team's loss. The clearly disappointed Davis finished 21-of-42 for 236 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his toughest test as a starter. He wasn't the only player at fault in a game where there was plenty of blame to cast.

Chatting with Long: Rams coach Jeff Fisher spent a couple of minutes speaking to Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long before entering his news conference. Long, of course, is the father of injured Rams defensive end Chris Long.

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

October, 13, 2014
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ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 31-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at the Edward Jones Dome.

What it means: The broken record that is Rams football over the past decade remains in heavy rotation. Like the Week 3 loss to Dallas, the Rams once again jumped out quickly -- to a 14-0 lead -- only to see the Niners snatch it away with 24 unanswered points. And, once again, the play that changed the game came on a coverage breakdown resulting in an easy touchdown pass. This time it happened to be receiver Brandon Lloyd grabbing an 80-yard touchdown past cornerback Janoris Jenkins just before halftime. It was an inexcusable play both for Jenkins and the coverage scheme. It really sums up the Rams' season to this point. The Rams are who they are, a team that gives up a lot of big plays and doesn't make nearly enough of its own to nullify those mistakes. St. Louis is 1-4 and just getting started on the toughest part of the schedule.

Stock watch: Down -- Cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins is in his third season. He has been a starter in each of those seasons. He has showed signs of growth along the way. But he still continues the awful habit of getting caught staring into the backfield. He has been on the wrong end of plenty of big plays in his three seasons but none worse than Lloyd's touchdown at the end of the first half. Should he have had safety help over the top? Yes. But he should also be far enough along in his career to know that he can do just about anything except let a receiver behind him.

#LackCity: After drafting rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald in May, some overzealous types projected the Rams to have the "new Fearsome Foursome" playing on the defensive line and the Rams' marketing team went to work on a Twitter campaign referring to St. Louis as #SackCity. Well, the Rams are now five games into the season and have a grand total of one sack. That's not a typo. One sack in the first five games is the worst start to a season in NFL history.

Game ball: The many members of the Greatest Show on Turf who were honored at halftime. Let's just operate under the assumption that many of the players who won a championship 15 years ago would still have performed better than what the Rams offered after the first quarter and a half.

What's next: The Rams now have the pleasure of staying home for a short week of preparation before hosting the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon. After Seattle's loss to Dallas on Sunday, that sounds like a barrel of laughs.

Jenkins up and down in Bryant's shadow

September, 23, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- More often than not in the two-plus years Jeff Fisher has been the head coach of the St. Louis Rams, his defense has been pretty straightforward when it comes to coverage.

Matchups have often been passed over in order to allow the cornerbacks to stay on one side of the field for the majority of the game. Every once in a while, Fisher's defense will shadow an opposing receiver but it hasn't happened much.

Against Dallas on Sunday, though, the Rams asked cornerback Janoris Jenkins to match up exclusively with Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.

“We’ve done it before," Fisher said. "We did it last year. We don’t do it every week. Dez was a big part of our defensive game plan and Janoris loves those challenges, so we thought it was our best chance to win this week.”

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Janoris Jenkins
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesJanoris Jenkins returns an interception 25 yards for a touchdown against the Cowboys.
Jenkins played 55 of a possible 56 defensive snaps against the Cowboys and for almost all of them, he followed Bryant all over the field. He lined up on the left, he lined up on the right, he lined up in the slot. Wherever Bryant went, there was Jenkins. It was a move that made plenty of sense given the inexperience of rookie sixth-round pick E.J. Gaines opposite Jenkins and the team's need to focus on stopping the run with the front seven.

For the first half, Jenkins provided solid coverage, limiting Bryant to four catches and 18 yards on five targets. The other target? Jenkins jumped a stop route to Bryant, picked it off and took it 25 yards for a touchdown.

Bryant would only make two more catches in the second half but the final 30 minutes offered a shift in advantage to Bryant. One of those catches only went for 3 yards but the other was the game's biggest play.

On the first series of the third quarter, Bryant turned Jenkins inside out on a deep route down the left sideline. As Jenkins turned toward the quarterback, he let Bryant go in anticipation of help from safety Rodney McLeod while receiver Terrance Williams entered Jenkins' space on a crossing route. But McLeod had already made a move toward Williams and McLeod didn't communicate that he'd be taking Williams, who had already lost Gaines coming across the field.

That left Bryant as open as any receiver you'll ever see for an easy 68-yard touchdown.

“It was supposed to be passed off, but it was not communicated," Fisher said. “He can tell the corner that he’s going to take the crossing route. He didn’t.”

While the touchdown doesn't fall solely on Jenkins, any way you slice it, leaving Bryant alone goes against the idea of having him shadow Bryant in the first place.

Of course, that wasn't the only second half coverage miscue.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Jenkins was left outside against Bryant on a double move that ended with a pass interference penalty that gave Dallas 33 yards and a first down. Fisher said rookie cornerback Lamarcus Joyner was late and took a poor route to quarterback Tony Romo on his blitz. Had Joyner been quicker and more precise, Fisher said he thought Joyner would have had a sack and the penalty never would have occurred.

All things considered, Fisher was happy with Jenkins' performance.

“I thought he played well," Fisher said. "He has the defensive pass interference call and that’s a huge play. In the play, in the blitz we asked him to cover a double move where the quarterback is to reload the ball. I can’t fault him on that because our young nickel back took a real late, poor course to the quarterback -- would have been unblocked probably would have had a sack. He certainly wouldn’t have had a chance to pull the ball down and throw it down the field."

The Rams could get cornerback Trumaine Johnson back from a knee injury after the bye. It will be interesting to see if they continue to shadow other top wideouts when their projected starters are back on the field together.

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

September, 21, 2014
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ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at the Edward Jones Dome:

What it means: It's hard to believe the Rams held a 21-0 lead and looked to be headed toward their second consecutive win. But although the Rams' offense didn't muster many more points, this loss was on the defense. This group was supposed to be capable of taking over games, but through three contests, it's been more liability than bedrock. Dallas put up 20 unanswered points and went on a 34-3 scoring tear after its rough start. At 1-2 with eight tough games coming after the bye, the Rams enter next week in danger of letting this season slip away.

Stock watch: Down -- The Rams' pass rush. Losing Chris Long was a big blow, but the depth of this group was supposed to be enough to help cover for him. End Robert Quinn is getting double- and triple-teamed, and nobody else is taking advantage. Through three games, the Rams have one sack, and they didn't have any against Dallas on Sunday.

Jenkins' day: In the first two years under coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams haven't often shadowed opposing receivers with one cornerback, normally electing to let their corners stay at home on one side of the field. But that philosophy changed Sunday with cornerback Janoris Jenkins following Dallas receiver Dez Bryant everywhere he went. The first-half results of the experiment were mostly positive, as Bryant had four catches for 18 yards and Jenkins came up with an interception return for a touchdown, the fifth of his career (and most in the NFL since 2012). But Bryant got a measure of revenge in the second half with a 68-yard touchdown catch. It appeared Jenkins thought he was supposed to leave Bryant to safety help over the top, but no matter who was at fault, it was a big play that helped turn the game. Later, Bryant drew a 33-yard pass interference flag on Jenkins that set up the touchdown to give Dallas the lead.

Game ball: QB Austin Davis. Fisher can insist the job belongs to Shaun Hill when he returns from a thigh injury, but Davis has done enough in his two starts to give the coach something to think about over the bye. The fourth-quarter pick-six he threw was brutal and his second interception was simply him trying to make a play, but he was excellent otherwise. Davis finished 30-of-42 for 327 yards with three touchdowns for a passer rating of 98.0.

What's next: The Rams head into an early bye week before beginning an eight-game stretch that includes nothing but 2013 playoff opponents and the Arizona Cardinals.

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.

W2W4 Revisited: St. Louis Rams

August, 17, 2014
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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.

Rams Camp Report: Day 15

August, 14, 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 continued to turn up the dial on the physical approach to practice Thursday as coach Jeff Fisher indicated they would earlier this week. Fisher said his team needs work on the run game and they certainly got that work in this practice. That's been a familiar sight in the past two weeks as the Rams try to turn it up before the regular season arrives.
  • Some quick injury news. ... Fisher said left tackle Jake Long will not play this week against Green Bay but they are targeting next week against Cleveland to get him some game action. That falls in line with the plan for him from the beginning. ... Cornerback Janoris Jenkins got back to work Thursday and though he might not play this week, he went through team drills and is close to ready. ... Rookie center Demetrius Rhaney had the scariest moment of the day when he stayed down after his knee buckled on a field goal drill. Rhaney had to be taken off on a golf cart. Fisher said the initial indication was that Rhaney's injury wasn't as serious as first feared but he would still need an MRI. ... Fisher also said right guard Rodger Saffold is "close" to returning from a stinger injury.
  • On the field, there were some big plays and plenty of heavy collisions. Tight end Justice Cunningham continues to find himself in some of the bigger collisions in running drills. Lining up at fullback, Cunningham and end Eugene Sims had a train wreck during one drill in which the pads could be heard from about 100 yards away. Cunningham is certainly making his presence felt as a blocker. Quarterback Sam Bradford had a couple of nice hookups on deep balls, one down the sideline to receiver Brian Quick and another, better throw to tight end Lance Kendricks down the seam. Tight end Brad Smelley, who just joined the team earlier this week went up for a tough over the shoulder catch for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
  • Former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake, father of Rams receiver Emory Blake, attended Thursday's practice. He had to be a proud papa when he saw the younger Blake rise up for the catch of the day, snatching a touchdown out of a Cody Davis and Marcus Roberson double team. Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong was quick to voice his displeasure with the defense's inability to stop Blake.
  • Funny moment of the day: Quick tipped a ball to himself on a pass to the corner but came down out of bounds as the defense closed in around him. Tight end Jared Cook was nearby and quickly chastised Quick for not tipping the ball back to him. He was joking, of course but the delivery was perfect deadpan. Maybe you had to be there.
  • The Rams have no practice Friday as they finished preparations for Saturday's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.

Rams Camp Report: Day 12

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams got back to work Monday afternoon in what was a mostly uneventful practice. As promised by coach Jeff Fisher, the team did get some players back to practice in some capacity. But key veterans such as linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle), defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) did not return to work. Among those getting back in the mix were defensive tackle Kendall Langford and cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Brandon McGee. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins did a little work on the side before practice and individual but not much else. Cornerback Darren Woodard was a new addition to the not practicing list. And tight end Justice Cunningham, who appears to be in a heated contest for a potential fourth tight end spot, limped off and rode to the locker room on the back of a golf cart.
  • Unhappy with his team's 14 penalties against the Saints, Fisher made his team run a sprint for every player who committed a penalty. That essentially meant the whole team had to run, though some more than others.
  • As for the practice, it was one of the team's more sluggish workouts of this camp, which is probably to be expected after a two-day layoff and a preseason game. Backup quarterback Shaun Hill got his share of work and had some good moments, including some nice throws down the seam in early team and 7-on-7s to tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks. The first offense appeared out of sync a bit as it had multiple near misses on deep connections and an occasional drop.
  • Cornerback Marcus Roberson hasn't had many shining moments in camp but showed some deep cover skills against Chris Givens on a deep ball during team. Roberson hasn't distinguished himself like other corners battling for roster spots and needs to pick it up to insert himself into the race. ... Rookie quarterback Garrett Gilbert had some ups and quite a few downs in his preseason debut against the Saints but had some good throws in Monday's practice. On one, he dropped a perfect pass into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown to receiver Jordan Harris.
  • The Rams don't quite have their projected starting offensive line in place yet with Saffold out but they're getting closer. Offensive tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells were back with the first team and in far more than just a cameo Monday. Both appear to be trending toward playing preseason games as they come off knee surgery (Long) and illness (Wells). They took the bulk of the work with the first team and appear to be moving well.
  • Quick roster note: the Rams signed tight end Brad Smelley to take the spot vacated by injured tight end Mason Brodine. Brodine suffered a fractured ankle against New Orleans and is out for the season.
  • The Rams are back at it Tuesday with a 5:30 p.m. CT practice. That workout is free and open to the public at Rams Park.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have made it through the collectively bargained opening days of training camp. Now the real football can begin.

With a practice scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, the Rams are set to put on the pads for the first time in this camp. Here's a look at some things I'll be watching as the physical contact and, presumably, the intensity takes a step up.

Catching up

It's pretty normal for the defense to be well ahead of the offense in the opening days of camp, but it's fair to say that if you play offense, especially on the line, in St. Louis, the pads aren't coming on a moment too soon. The hope is that adding pads will help neutralize things a bit and the offensive line will be able to go toe to toe with the dominant defensive line on a more consistent basis. So far, the defense has been so aggressive that it's been difficult for quarterback Sam Bradford and the top offense to get much of anything going. In most of the team drills, Bradford hasn't even had time to throw, and when he has, he's often done it in the face of a defender or two. Rams coach Jeff Fisher intimated that the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense won't square off as much as they did during the opening days of camp, either. That could be a positive development for the top offense, which needs to get into a rhythm and gain some confidence as preseason games draw closer. If the starters begin seeing more backups opposite them, the real loser is the poor second-string offensive line charged with stopping the first-team defensive line.

One-on-one

My personal favorite drill to watch in training camp is the one-on-one pass-rushing drills. I pay attention to the lines before the pads come on, but you can't really get a feel for them until the pads are on. So even though the pass-rush drills take place during seven-on-seven passing drills, I often find myself gravitating toward the big men on the other end of the field. That won't change this year. I'm most interested to see how the two first-round picks fare in these drills -- offensive lineman Greg Robinson and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Robinson had the unfortunate task of getting tossed in against Robert Quinn in the opening days, and he's expected to take reps at tackle and guard in these drills so we should get to see him try his hand against Quinn again and against Donald as well. As for Donald, I'm curious to see if the addition of pads will slow him down any (my guess: a resounding no), and I want to see him against Rodger Saffold on the inside. A good look at new defensive tackle Alex Carrington and some of the young linemen jockeying for position will also be worth watching.

Getting physical

There's been plenty of hype surrounding receiver Kenny Britt since his arrival and his performance in organized team activities and even in the early days of camp. Some of that has trickled down to other wideouts such as Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. But it's been difficult to evaluate how they're really faring since the cornerbacks have been unable to do what many expect them to under the guidance of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Which is to say, they haven't really been able to be as physical in press coverage as perhaps Williams wants them to be. One-on-one, seven-on-seven and team drills should give us a better glimpse at not only what Williams wants to do coverage-wise, but also a better gauge of what's real and what's not when it comes to receiver potential for the season.
The NFL draft is set to begin May 8 and the St. Louis Rams hold 12 picks. For the next week and a half, we'll take a look at a different position every day with what the Rams have in place, what they need, when they might address it and possible fits.

We continue the countdown with a look at this year's crop of cornerbacks.

In place: Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Brandon McGee, Greg Reid

What's needed: Jenkins and Johnson are entering their third years and are penciled in as the starting duo after some rough spots in 2013. But the Rams are clearly confident in the pair after choosing not to pursue a veteran in free agency and cutting the chord with Cortland Finnegan. McGee becomes the incumbent nickel corner almost by default unless the Rams envision making that role a full-time one for safety Rodney McLeod, who handled those duties after Finnegan suffered a season-ending eye injury. Reid is a complete unknown trying to break into football after injuries and off-field issues.

A veteran presence here would have been a wise move but the Rams opted to wait. They seem relatively content with who they have in place and hope that the addition of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be enough for the light to go on for Jenkins and Johnson. But there's still an obvious need for depth at least and a starting-caliber corner at most. I'd lean toward the latter with the idea cornerback should be a top priority, if not the top defensive priority, for the team entering the draft.

St. Louis allowed opponents an average of 15.1 yards per on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield, the worst rate in the NFL last season.

If nothing else, finding a corner who can handle the nickel role right away would be a good investment.

Possible fits: The Rams appear to be aware of their needs at the position, at least based on reported pre-draft visits to Rams Park. That list includes top corners such as Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, both of whom would require the Rams' No. 13 pick if they don't go off the board sooner. TCU's Jason Verrett would be a great fit for the nickel role but is likely to go in the no-man's land between the Rams' 13th selection and their second-round choice. A trade down from 13 could put him in play, however. The same could probably apply to Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, though some believe he's the best corner in the draft and worthy of the 13th choice.

The type of corner Williams is looking for remains up for debate. It's widely assumed he wants big, physical press corners so the Rams can be more aggressive in coverage schemes. If that's the case, a player like Dennard fits the bill more than Gilbert, for example. But Williams has proved able to get the most out of any "flavor" of corner as he did last year with Alterraun Verner, who had a great year and doesn't fit as a physical, press corner.

Verdict: The Rams are going to take a cornerback, maybe two, and probably grab one within the draft's first two days. It would not be a surprise to see the team use the No. 13 pick on a Dennard or Gilbert and, failing that, perhaps moving back and grabbing Fuller or Verrett. Barring that, it's a good cornerback class with possible starters available through round three. And with a dozen picks in the draft, don't be surprised if the Rams do what they did in 2012 and double down on the position by adding a potential starter early and depth later.

Rams draft rewind: 2012

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
12:00
PM ET
The NFL draft is still about a month away, leaving us with plenty of time to look ahead to what might happen. But it also gives us plenty of time to take a look back.

In the interest of keeping Rams fans from re-living the nightmares of drafts gone by, we'll limit our look back to drafts where at least one player remains on the roster.

With that, we turn our attention to the 2012 class.

Brockers
The picks: DT Michael Brockers (No. 14 overall), WR Brian Quick (No. 33), CB Janoris Jenkins (No. 39), RB Isaiah Pead (No. 50), CB Trumaine Johnson (No. 65), WR Chris Givens (No. 96), OL Rokevious Watkins (No. 150), K Greg Zuerlein (No. 171), LB Aaron Brown (No. 209), RB Daryl Richardson (No. 252).

What's left: The first draft class of the Jeff Fisher/Les Snead era, this is the group that, for better or worse, is the foundation of what this regime is hoping to build. So far, the results have been mixed but the Rams have found some pieces that they believe will be long term starters and contributors. From the original group, only Watkins and Brown are no longer on the roster.

Brockers, Jenkins and Johnson remain as projected starters and the Rams seem to have plenty of confidence in their ability to get the job done. Zuerlein looks poised to hold down kicking duties for the long haul.

After a promising rookie season, Givens took a step back in 2013 but still offers potential as a deep threat. Richardson looked ready to become Steven Jackson's replacement as the starting back but injuries prevented that from happening and he tumbled down the depth chart. The jury remains out on Quick and Pead entering their third year but so far they've been disappointments.

Best pick: The Rams rolled the dice a bit when they traded back twice before taking Brockers at No. 14 but so far the pick looks like a good one. An ankle injury slowed Brockers in his first season but he played all 16 games and was instrumental in the team's improved run defense in the final half of the 2013 season. Although he still has work to do as a pass rusher, he posted five and a half sacks despite regular double teams. When the Rams drafted Brockers, they knew they were getting an unfinished product but he looks headed toward reaching that potential.

Worst pick: While Quick hasn't made the strides many hoped he would in his first two seasons, it was at least clear early on that he would take some time. Which makes Pead the choice here. When the team drafted him in the second round, the expectation was that he would be the change of pace for Jackson and potentially his long-term replacement. He fell behind right away, missing the offseason program because of college rules and hasn't been able to get out of his own way since. Richardson claimed the change of pace role for Jackson and then the starting job when Jackson departed. Pead has meanwhile struggled with fumbling issues when he has played and hasn't earned many opportunities. Now, he's been relegated to a special teams role and will likely find himself battling for a roster spot come training camp.

What could have been: Many will point to the Rams passing on Alshon Jeffery in favor of Quick and based on results so far, that's a fair argument. But Jeffery was never really under consideration by the Rams so let's go to a scenario that was in play. Before the draft, the Rams showed interest in linebackers Bobby Wagner and Mychal Kendricks. Both were on the board for the Rams at No. 45 overall. But St. Louis wanted to recoup the fifth-round pick it traded for receiver Brandon Lloyd during the 2011 season. So the Rams made a deal with the Bears, moving down to No. 50 and getting their fifth-round choice in the process. Chicago took Jeffery with that No. 45 pick, Philadelphia selected Kendricks at No. 46 and Wagner went No. 47 to Seattle. Three picks later, the Rams took Pead and used the fifth-round choice on Watkins. Making matters worse, Tampa Bay's star linebacker LaVonte David was still on the board when the Rams picked Pead.
Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine JohnsonGetty ImagesThe Rams have been pleased with the work of CBs Trumaine Johnson (22) and Janoris Jenkins.
The St. Louis Rams said goodbye to cornerback Cortland Finnegan early in free agency, releasing him in a move that will save them $7 million in salary-cap space. Safety Darian Stewart signed with the Baltimore Ravens. Fellow safety Matt Giordano remains unsigned.

None of those three moves will do much to hurt the fortunes of the Rams' secondary in 2014, but they have left the team short on experience in the defensive backfield. At cornerback, Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins, each entering his third season, are the longest-tenured NFL players. Likewise at safety, where Matt Daniels and Rodney McLeod enter their third years.

Under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, the Rams have not been afraid to roll with young players and, after staying out of the fray for free-agent defensive backs, it appears that's one area they will do so again in 2014.

According to Fisher, the team's lack of veteran help on the back end of the defense wasn't necessarily by choice but also doesn't have him concerned, either.

“It would have been nice [to add a veteran], but honestly that market got priced out of what we were looking for," Fisher said. "And again, we’ve got two young safeties coming into their second year as starters. Not disappointed in the improvement we saw out of Cody [Davis], got Daniels coming back, the potential to draft and there’s still going to be experienced safeties out there. Not disappointed.’’

There may still be some experienced safeties and even corners on the market, though those shelves have mostly been picked over at this point. It's going to be hard to find starting-caliber players anywhere but the draft at this point in the offseason. Which means the Rams' secondary could well bear a striking resemblance to its 2013 receiving corps, relying on players with no more than two years of experience to handle the bulk of the snaps.

The Rams haven't completely ignored the defensive backfield this offseason, rolling the dice on cornerback Greg Reid, an under-the-radar signing they hope can pay off big as a potential solution for the nickel role next to Jenkins and Johnson. Brandon McGee, a fifth-round pick in 2013, also has drawn positive reviews from Fisher and Snead and could be part of the mix.

It's probably safe to assume the Rams will add some help at cornerback at some point in the draft, though it remains to be seen how early. Reports over the weekend indicated Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert is scheduled to arrive in St. Louis this week for a visit. He's considered one of the top corners available in May's draft.

Either way, the Rams do appear quite confident in the ability of Jenkins and Johnson to take another step forward.

“I think the corners can always improve. I’m pleased what we got out of them last year," Fisher said. "Jenks had a couple issues with the ball, he got tangled up in the Seattle game on the Golden Tate touchdown and a couple others, but was productive week in, week out. Tru, on the other hand, didn’t give up a lot of plays, the balls were in front of him, thought he tackled well, it’s been good to see Tru in the building, he’s committed, he’s working hard this offseason. I think he’s really growing up and maturing, think you’re going to see a lot more improvement out of him.’’

Meanwhile, at safety, the Rams believe in T.J. McDonald at one starting spot but his running mate remains a spot up for debate. McLeod started every game last season and proved valuable if for no other reason than his versatility to play in the slot when needed. But the Rams are still in serious need of a ball-hawking, rangy safety to complement McDonald.

That's why one of the most consistently predictable mock draft selections found anywhere is the Rams taking Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and, to a lesser extent, Louisville's Calvin Pryor, with the No. 13 overall pick.

Armed with 12 picks in this year's draft, it's a safe bet the Rams will select at least one corner and one safety somewhere along the way. All that remains to be seen is whether those positions are enough of a priority for those picks to happen sooner than later.
The free-agent market is scheduled to begin March 11 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 8. We'll countdown to that with a position-by-position look at what the Rams have in place, who is set to hit the market, what they might need and who might fit the bill.

In place: The top four cornerbacks on the roster all remain under the Rams' control for 2014, though the possibility for tweaks remains. Starters Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are set to enter their third year and will be back as will Brandon McGee, who is set to enter his second season.

Where the intrigue comes in is with veteran Cortland Finnegan. Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have publicly given Finnegan the vote of confidence in terms of his return, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be back under the same contract with his $10 million salary cap hit. The Rams technically don't have to do anything with Finnegan's contract right away since they have room to sign a player or two without restructuring, but having an agreement in place if they plan to bring him back would seem to be a priority.

Pending free agents: Quinton Pointer (exclusive rights)

What’s needed: Simply put, the Rams need to find another starting-caliber cornerback or at least good enough to be one of the top three options on the team. They've invested picks and time in Jenkins and Johnson, and though signs of progress have been evident for both, inconsistency has been just as prevalent. Many believe defensive coordinator Gregg Williams can get that duo on track, but even if that's true, the Rams need another option ready to go.

Finnegan played hurt before he went on injured reserve last year and didn't look right before the season even started. He's still relatively young at 30 and one would think he has some gas left in the tank, but it's hard to imagine the Rams bringing him back at his projected cost.

Possible fits: The obvious name here is pending Tennessee free agent Alterraun Verner. Verner had his best season last year under the guidance of Titans defensive assistant Williams, who is now running the defense in St. Louis. He would certainly fit the need for a starting-caliber corner. But Verner figures to get a hefty contract, and with what the Rams have invested in Jenkins and Johnson and the lack of return on investment for Finnegan, it might not be the best idea to invest heavily in a corner who doesn't have a long track record of success.

Other top corners who will be available include New England's Aqib Talib, Miami's Brent Grimes and Green Bay's Sam Shields. All figure to get big-money deals. The better bet for the Rams might be to find a mid-level veteran type like Oakland's Tracy Porter or San Francisco's Tarell Brown.

Verdict: I wouldn't be surprised if the Rams kicked the tires on Verner, but I also don't expect them to spend the kind of big money on a free agent that would be required to land him. They could use an early pick on a top corner, but they could use a veteran presence in the secondary. Perhaps Finnegan will be that guy, coming back on a lesser contract.

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