NFC West: Quinton Culberson

Thoughts on Rams' move to cut Draft

September, 10, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Rams' decision to release linebacker Chris Draft three days before the regular-season opener surprised me. What were the Rams thinking? Coach Steve Spagnuolo may or may not answer that question when he meets with reporters later Thursday. My own thoughts:
  • Was this move money-related? Yes and no. The Rams asked Draft to reduce his salary from $1.225 million to $900,000. The difference would be insignificant from a cash standpoint, even for a team trying to trim expenses. If saving cash were the sole motivation, the Rams could have found more inviting targets. But if the team viewed Draft as a marginal starter with little more value than, say, newly re-signed linebacker Quinton Culberson, the difference could mean more from a salary-cap standpoint. The team has been tight against the cap all offseason. This is the type of move a rebuilding team makes with an eye toward the long term, not just Week 1.
  • Was Draft going to start Sunday? I thought so. But if the Rams were willing to cut Draft, they clearly did not value him as a starter. Draft has played significantly fewer than half the Rams' defensive snaps over the last two seasons. The Rams wanted Culberson to start heading into last season.
  • Why cut Draft now? As a veteran, Draft would have been eligible for termination pay -- up to his full 2009 salary -- if he had spent Week 1 on the 53-man roster. The Rams weren't willing to carry a $1.225 million salary for a 33-year-old linebacker who didn't factor into their long-term plans or help on special teams. They could have saved more than $700,000 against the cap by reducing his salary to the veteran's minimum.
  • What's the scouting report on Draft? Scouts Inc. calls him "a descending athlete who should only be in backup role at this point. His ability to read and react is above average. He has the intelligence to learn all three LB assignments where he can provide good depth across the board from a game planning perspective should a starter go down due to injury. Draft shows little hesitation reading his keys. He just lacks the speed and burst needed to make plays consistently in space. He has a solid grasp of zone concepts and defensive coverage assignments. He shows good zone spacing and the ability to anticipate after reading the QB. Overall, a descending backup whose instincts are sharp but age is a concern with him at this point."
  • What about Culberson? Scouts Inc. says he has "good size with below-average speed. He is a backup who has good strength and hand use playing the run. He has good reactions with the ability to play off contact. He is missing top burst and speed in the open. He can deliver a physical hit in tight quarters and does a good job of wrapping up in traffic. He has adequate movement in his pass drops. Culberson is more of a short-area athlete in coverage than a rangy type LB that can cover lots of ground. Overall, he is an adequate backup and part-time starter if needed."
  • Was cutting Draft a good move? It's probably an inconsequential one for the long term. In the short term, the Rams appear worse at linebacker. I think Draft and the previously released Pisa Tinoisamoa would have been among the five best linebackers on the team. They are both gone. Depth suffers as a result.

In the end, this move affirms the long-term approach St. Louis is taking. The organization made a bottom-line value judgment on an older player.

Rams low on receivers after roster tweak

September, 6, 2009
Roster counts by position for NFC West
QB 3 3 3 3 3.0
RB 5 4 4 5 4.5
WR 7 6 4 5 5.5
TE 3 2 3 3 2.8
OL 9 8 10 9 9.0
DL 6 7 10 11 8.5
LB 8 9 6 6 7.3
DB 9 11 10 8 9.5
ST 3 3 3 3 3.0
Totals 53 53 53 53 53.0

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Rams continued tweaking their roster Sunday by claiming defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey from the Titans and free safety Anthony Smith from the Packers.

This was probably just the beginning.

The Rams cleared room on their roster by releasing linebacker Quinton Culberson and receiver Nate Jones. That left the Rams with only four wide receivers on the 53-man roster. That number will certainly grow.

The team also signed six of the players it released Saturday to its practice squad, leaving two spots open. The six: linebacker K.C. Asiodu, tight end Eric Butler, defensive end Ian Campbell, linebacker Dominic Douglas, cornerback Cord Parks and receiver Sean Walker.

I'll pass along Scouts Inc.'s take on Ramsey. Scouts Inc. does not have analysis for Smith.

Scouts Inc. on Ramsey: Ramsey has some burst and initial quickness with above-average athletic skills. He has good functional play strength and flashes the ability to shed blocks quickly. He has good lower-body strength when he maintains his pad level at the point of attack. As a pass-rusher, he has adequate closing speed and flashes a variety of pass-rush moves.

'Could Rams fans get a little love?'

August, 31, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

Tyler from Chicago writes: Mike, why was there no coverage of the Rams' last preseason game? I have read your thoughts about the other NFC West teams in their last exhibitions. I understand the Rams are often an afterthought in the NFL, but could Rams fans get a little love from a decent outing last Thursday? I can't remember the last time the starters scored a touchdown in the preseason, and that is not an exaggeration. Thanks.

Mike Sando: There's relief in sight, Tyler. Some technical issues late last week temporarily removed from view some of our recent coverage. My Rams-related observations are back on the site and available here. Overall, the Rams' offense and defense were certainly better against the Bengals. The special teams were horrible, but that might have been an aberration.

I spoke with Rams kicker Josh Brown during a visit to training camp earlier this month. I'll provide a transcript of our conversation here to help feed your Rams fix, indented to help differentiate from my initial answer to you.

Mike Sando: How good will you be on special teams this season?

Josh Brown: We're going to be really good. Really good. We've got Donnie (Jones) returning, Chris (Massey) is returning, so we're stable in our punting and snapping. And I think our field goals are OK, doing a pretty consistent job right now. Our coverage is only going to get better and we got up to No. 2 in the league last year. I mean, we were really good. We're fast. We've got some young, new coaches, which I think is going to carry us because they are going to be able to sustain a lot of energy whenever we get tired. But we've got a lot of pluses here. We're still looking for that breakout return guy, but we've got Derek Stanley, who is a solid returner. I mean, we don't have a Devin Hester. We don't have a Leon Washington yet, and hopefully he'll break out this year.

Mike Sando: The roster has changed quite a bit from last season. How much will that affect the core on special teams?

Josh Brown: I think it will be very similar. You've still got David Vobora and Chris Chamberlain, Todd Johnson and Quinton Culberson. There are a few guys that are going to be gone that were really good last year. Gary Stills was like a moving wall. I mean, he is literally probably the best special-teams player I have ever seen, especially at 35 years old. He is the strongest person I have ever seen. He's unbelievable. He was amazing. If he wasn't so dinged up for being so rough for so many years, he would be a Pro Bowler. When you average 30 special-teams tackles a year -- average -- that is unheard of. If guys have 15, they think they are going to the Pro Bowl, you know what I mean? And this guy averaged 30. He's special. But sometimes your age is your enemy.

Mike Sando: Who on special teams could break out this season?

Josh Brown: I think you're still going to see a lot of the guys that were with us last year that were making a big impact. I still think Quinton Culberson is a great R5/L5. I think you are going to see David Vobora and Chris Chamberlain, guys that are strong special-teams players that are always in the mix. Todd Johnson led the team in special-teams tackles for the last couple years and is a big leader on our special teams.

Mike Sando: What makes a good R5/L5 player?

Josh Brown: It depends on what they are returning, but R5/L5s, you are looking at guys who are either splitting that wedge or coming right off the side of it, and guys that demand a lot of attention.

Mike Sando: The league outlawed the three-man wedge on returns. What affect will that have on the Rams?

Josh Brown: I don't think it's necessarily going to change as far as coverage goes. They are going to have to make some adjustments on their returns and who they are blocking and when, how deep they are setting things. There will be some timing changes, I think.

Brown's family was at training camp on the day we spoke. They were waiting for him while we spoke. Once I realized it, I suggested he might find more value in visiting with them than discussing three-man wedge rules with me. I'm sure it was a tough call for him, but hopefully the Brown family enjoyed their time together.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says veteran nose tackle Bryan Robinson is making it tough for Gabe Watson and Alan Branch to take his job. Somers: "A year ago, no one envisioned Robinson starting at nose tackle. The Cardinals signed him to a two-year contract in spring 2008, thinking he would be a rotation player at end or tackle, a veteran who would be willing to mentor the younger players."

Also from Somers: Ken Whisenhunt canceled practice and took his team to the movies, an annual custom this far into training camp.

Darren Urban of checks in with Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams, who is trying to earn a roster spot despite concerns about his height.

Taylor Price of says the team liked practicing with the Raiders as a change of pace. Price: "On the very first play of 11-on-11 work, center Eric Heitmann leveled Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly at the line, allowing Frank Gore to burst for a nice gain down the right side of the line."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers running back Frank Gore is learning from running backs coach Tom Rathman. Maiocco: "Gore said he takes great pride in his ability to block. He said Rathman has helped him tremendously in that area, showing him how easy it can be as long as he takes proper angles."

Also from Maiocco: "Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky singled out safety Reggie Smith and defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois for their play in Friday's exhibition opener. Smith, of course, had an interception and also picked off a two-point conversion attempt. Jean-Francois held up well at the point of attack on run plays, Manusky said."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers safety Michael Lewis suffered a concussion in the morning session Tuesday, possibly jeopardizing his status for the second exhibition game.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Mike Singletary's emphasis on avoiding fights paid off while the 49ers practiced with the Raiders. Also: "Shaun Hill was the sharpest 49ers quarterback on Tuesday, especially during the morning practice. During 11-on-11 drills, Hill completed 12 of 14 passes -- and one of those incompletions was a spike to stop the clock. Alex Smith was 7 of 13. It would have looked better had Arnaz Battle hauled in a downfield pass over the middle during the two-minute drill."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times had this to say, among other things, during his most recent chat: "People might disagree, but I thought Julius Jones looked good in Saturday's game. I think he's got a shot to be a very productive starter. I think [Justin] Forsett is promising and ahead of where the team had hoped, but I don't think he's ready to displace Julius Jones."

Also from O'Neil: Seahawks tight end John Carlson appears on the verge of a tremendous season. Carlson has improved his lower-body strength to become a better blocker, and it showed early in the Seahawks' exhibition opener, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said.

Clare Farnsworth of also sees very good things from Carlson. Also, Steve Mariucci showed up at practice and went after Matt Hasselbeck.

John Morgan of Field Gulls saw good things from Seahawks linebacker Will Herring in the exhibition opener.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks Craig Dahl will be the fourth safety for the Rams. He thinks Alex Barron appears more comfortable at left tackle. He thinks Joe Klopfenstein, Adam Carriker and Quinton Culberson have been disappointments so far. All part of Thomas' weekly Rams chat.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Barron's knee checked out OK. Also, Mark Setterstrom and John Greco took first-team snaps at left guard while Jacob Bell recovered from a concussion.

Turf Show Times' VanRam raises concerns about Marc Bulger's injury while wondering whether Chris Long will step up as a pass-rusher.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams engaged in full-contact tackling at practice for the first time in years. Running back Steven Jackson, off-limits to significant contact in practice most of his career, was fair game. Cornerback Ron Bartell: "It's a new feel around here. I don't know if you [media] guys can tell. But for us as players, we definitely feel it. And like I said, I think guys are welcoming the challenge. [Steve Spagnuolo] said camp is going to be tough, and we're ready." 

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' new artificial outdoor surface helped them practice despite rain. Also, linebacker Quinton Culberson hasn't taken a turn with the starters to this point. He entered last season as a starter, but it didn't last long.

More from Coats: Rams linebacker Larry Grant would love to start alongside former Ohio State teammate James Laurinaitis. But once Laurinaitis becomes the starting middle linebacker, Chris Draft could be the leading candidate on the strong side.

Nick Wagoner of says the Rams set a physical tone in practice.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says receiver Jason Hill has returned to practice after injuries sidelined him earlier this offseason.

Also from Maiocco: New starting free safety Dashon Goldson is showing why the team moved him into the lineup. That's good news for the 49ers. They need Goldson's speed and athletic ability at the position.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers fans didn't give Alex Smith much slack early in practice Saturday. Seems like Smith should be a sympathetic figure at this point.

Also from Barrows: He saw positive signs for tight end Vernon Davis, who caught quite a few short and intermediate passes.

More from Barrows: an extended piece on Smith's experiences on the first day.

Taylor Price of explains Mike Singletary's thinking behind a physical camp. Linebacker Patrick Willis: "There is just a mindset coach wanted us to get out of that [drill]. Not only is it about being tough, it's about the mindset he wants our team to have -- and that is, we are going to go through people. No matter who stands in our way, we are going to go through them."

Also from a transcript from Singletary's media session.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes 49ers tackle Marvel Smith as comparing Camp Singletary to training camp under Steelers coach Bill Cowher. Smith: "That intensity is definitely the same. It's like every single play he demanded 100 percent. There's no letdown from beginning to end."

Also from Brown: Singletary says he isn't thinking about Crabtree.

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle says Singletary has no trouble with fans booing Smith or anyone else. Ratto: "Most of all, understand that Singletary wants all the abuse you can muster to be directed at his team. He likes his players on edge, which must be why he wastes so few compliments on them, why he is so quick to quantify the amount of suckage he sees in any given practice, and why he spent almost 20 minutes of the team's 2-hour, 12-minute morning workout talking to them as a group about this shortcoming and that."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider thinks Michael Crabtree could be the last first-round choice to sign a contract.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic provides an overview from Beanie Wells' first day of training camp. No word yet on the severity of that ankle injury.

Also from Somers: Running back Tim Hightower slimmed down in an effort to break longer runs.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt deserves a pay raise with three years remaining on his contract. Team president Michael Bidwill: "As an organization, you want to be fair and consistent. And we want to be mindful of what we've said to the players. We've told them that we'll address contract extensions at the proper time, and we've suggested that two or three years [out] may be too early. Look, there's a downside to doing it too early, and a downside to waiting too long. But in Ken's contract, we anticipated success. I believed from the very beginning that he'd be a good coach, and in many ways, we've addressed that on the front end of his contract with escalators and bonuses."

Darren Urban of leads his Cardinals notebook by suggesting Wells can't afford to miss time with an injury.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times explains the Seahawks' thinking in moving Cory Redding into the lineup at left end. He also says receiver Courtney Taylor has looked good so far. I've seen lots of receivers start quickly in camp, only to fade away. Can Taylor sustain it?

Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks' new blocking scheme favors interchangeable linemen.

More from O'Neil: A collision be
tween Justin Forsett and David Hawthorne provided a highlight from the Seahawks' late session. Video at

Clare Farnsworth of provides notes from Saturday practices. The team used at least seven combinations on its offensive line.

Also from Farnsworth: catching up with Walter Jones.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says Julius Jones likes the team's one-cut-and-go running style. Jones said he didn't get a chance to show his true abilities last season. He voiced similar complaints upon leaving the Cowboys. If Jones can't become the main man on a team featuring T.J. Duckett and Justin Forsett as alternatives, that one is on him.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune describes the luxurious setting for Seahawks training camp at team headquarters on Lake Washington. 

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune spoke with Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter about the NFC West. Trotter is picking the Seahawks to win the division. He thinks the Cardinals could struggle in part because "a lot of times what happens to teams, particularly ones with young players, is when they [have] sudden success, the next year they'll struggle some, because they're used to being the hunted instead of the hunter. So it's not the players are any worse, it's just a different mindset." That could be. On the other hand, the Cardinals have the fourth-oldest roster in the league. Most of their top players are veterans.

Also from Williams: The Seahawks think left guard is Rob Sims' natural position. Early reports suggest Sims appears ready to rejoin the upward trajectory his career enjoyed during the final weeks of his rookie season (2006).

More from Williams: T.J. Houshmandzadeh continues to excel in red zone drills.

Still more from Williams: Nate Burleson is having a good camp for Seattle following knee surgery.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Kristof from Jacksonville writes: Mike, after reading some articles about the Rams, a consensus weak spot are the linebackers, both the quality and the depth. Most of the talk has been about the new staff and the receivers, but how do the Rams' linebackers compare to the rest of the division? And what are the other weak spots in the West?

Mike Sando: The Rams' linebackers have much to prove. Will Witherspoon, Chris Draft, Quinton Culberson and rookie James Laurinaitis are the only ones I would consider as potential starters. Draft is 33 years old and nearing the end. Culberson didn't last long as a starter when the Rams played him in that role last season. That leaves Witherspoon and Laurinaitis as arguably the only Rams linebackers a team would want in its lineup for a full season. The players could prove otherwise, but I think the evidence is there.

The other linebackers on the team -- Dominic Douglas, K.C. Asiodu, Chris Chamberlain, David Vobora and Larry Grant -- own a combined one NFL start.

The Rams need Laurinaitis to emerge as an immediate impact player at the position.

Kenny from Las Vegas writes: If a player -- Michael Crabtree -- were to hold out the entire year, could they re-enter the draft the next year? Could you please explain how this would work? Thanks.

Mike Sando: Yes, a player would become eligible for the draft once again. I cannot recall the last time it happened. A player could go that route to rehab from an injury, thereby improving his stock, or to avoid signing with a particular team. Crabtree won't go that route.

Hayden from San Francisco writes: Sando great work everyday. You make the offseason almost bareable. My question is, what is the deal with Crabtree? Is he getting any closer to signing? Rookies report [Tuesday], don't they? Rookie holdouts by far are the worst thing about football (along with unproven players making top salaries in the league, but that's another email). I know you'll keep us updated when you hear anything. Thanks. GO NINERS!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Hayden. Of all the NFC West choices, Crabtree had the best chance of an impasse, in my view, because Crabtree was perceived as a top-five talent and the best receiver in the draft, only to slip to No. 10 -- after the Raiders made Darrius Heyward-Bey the first receiver drafted.

I don't think Crabtree's potential absence is a huge deal. Crabtree was already going to be behind this season. It was doubtful to me how much he would contribute as a rookie after missing so much time rehabbing the foot injury. If he misses two weeks of camp, yes, that would be significant. If he misses the first weekend, no big deal.

Let's wait to see how much camp Crabtree misses -- if he misses any camp -- before trying to figure out the impact.

Craig from Tennessee writes: What are the odds the Cardinals will try and sign Michael Vick? I mean, on Twitter, Darnell Dockett and Larry Fitzgerald went out of there way to say he has paid his debt. The Cards sure could use a fast RB and maybe even use him as a returner. Ken Whisenhunt had [Antwaan] Randle El in Pittsburgh and loved him. Vick is 10 times better then him. I'm saying it: The Cards will sign Vick for two years at $1 million a year ... and give him a chance!

Mike Sando: Don't see it happening, Craig. One, the Cardinals probably aren't following their players' Twitter accounts for guidance on personnel matters. Two, general manager Rod Graves has already said the team will not sign Vick.

I do think extreme circumstances can change a team's priorities, but unless the Cardinals lose Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart and possibly even Brian St. Pierre to injury, I have a hard time thinking they would sign him. I also don't necessarily see Vick trying to return as a specialist. His value was as a quarterback.

Antonio from Oakland writes: What's the situation with Jordan Kent on the Seahawksawks? Does he have any potential?

Mike Sando: Kent has potential and he has worked hard to maximize it, but I haven't seen evidence he'll be more than the fifth guy on a roster. The Seahawks found out last season what it means to rely upon players of that caliber. It's one thing to keep a player around as the fifth or sixth guy and say you like his potential. It's another thing to play him extensively.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with Brian St. Pierre, who hopes to unseat Matt Leinart as the Cardinals' No. 2 quarterback. Arizona signed St. Pierre to a one-year deal worth $1 million, including $200,000 in bonuses. Somers: "St. Pierre assumes he's been running with the third team in voluntary practices because a bad back forced him to miss minicamp earlier this month. St. Pierre has never risen above third on the depth chart in his NFL career, which has included stints in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. He turns 30 in November and has played in only one game, throwing one pass [incomplete]. He's eager for a chance to prove himself."

Also from Somers: Gabe Watson underwent another knee surgery after playing and practicing through pain last season.

More from Somers: Thoughts on Anquan Boldin's situation and observations from organized team activities. Lance Long keeps making impressive catches.

Darren Urban of says Watson feels "100 times better" than he did last season, according to Watson.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation examines the 49ers' situation at quarterback in terms of which players will earn roster spots. He wonders if he is overvaluing Davis by assuming the fifth-round rookie will earn a spot on the 53-man roster. History says: "The assumption that fifth-round quarterback Nate Davis will earn a spot on the 53-man roster appears sound. NFL teams drafted 19 quarterbacks in the fifth round from the 2000 through 2008 drafts. Eighteen earned opening-day spots on 53-man rosters as rookies. The Steelers' Omar Jacobs was an exception in 2006, the year Ben Roethlisberger opened on the bench following a motorcycle accident."

John Morgan of Field Gulls revisits John Carlson's rookie season with the Seahawks, declaring Carlson one of the 10 best tight ends in the NFL. Carlson's potential was obvious as early as this time last offseason. Mike Holmgren couldn't wait to get him on the field. Carlson might get fewer opportunities as a receiver this season given that Seattle should have better options at wide receiver. That's why we shouldn't measure Carlson strictly by the numbers.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says linebackers David Vobora and Chris Chamberlain split first-team reps in practice this week. Larry Grant and Quinton Culberson are also candidates. Coats: "Chamberlain, 23, has been working with the second unit on the weak side. His value mainly is on special teams, where he led the team with 19 tackles last year. He saw action on defense in eight games, adding two tackles."

Tim Klutsarits of cites a radio interview in which former Saints running back Deuce McAllister expressed interest in signing with the Rams as a backup. McAllister wants to serve as a backup behind a workhorse back. He played with new Rams fullback Mike Karney in New Orleans. His agent even lives in St. Louis. "It definitely sounds like a pretty good fit," McAllister said. The Rams have been going with younger players in most cases. Klutsarits touches on pros and cons associated with McAllister, who continues to recover from his latest knee injury.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Len Pasquarelli's piece about undrafted free agents sent me diving into my league-wide roster database to see how many such players achieve Pro Bowl status.

I found 38 such players: 14 specialists, seven offensive linemen, four quarterbacks, four linebackers, four running backs, two receivers, two defensive linemen and one tight end.

Three of the 38 play in the NFC West: Quarterback Kurt Warner (Arizona), offensive lineman Mike Wahle (Seattle) and kicker Olindo Mare (Seattle).

Potential undrafted 2009 starters for NFC West teams:

Arizona: Warner, center Lyle Sendlein, tight end Stephen Spach

San Francisco: quarterback Shaun Hill, defensive end Demetric Evans

St. Louis: safety James Butler

Seattle: Wahle, safety Brian Russell, defensive tackle Colin Cole

I did not list 49ers tackle Barry Sims, Rams linebacker Quinton Culberson, Rams tackle Adam Goldberg or Rams defensive end James Hall as potential starters. It's conceivable but unlikely that they would earn starting jobs this season.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Rams' decision to release linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa reduces his 2009 salary-cap charge from $4.257 million to $2 million. The move also reflects a continuing roster overhaul under general manager Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

The team announced the move Friday.

Rams linebackers now include: James Laurinaitis, Will Witherspoon, Chris Draft, Quinton Culberson, K.C. Asiodu, Chris Chamberlain, David Vobora, Larry Grant and Dominic Douglas.

The move pretty much affirms Laurinaitis, the team's second-round choice, as a likely starter in 2009. Laurinaitis ran with the third team during the post-draft camp, but the Rams took a similarly conservative approach with first-rounder Jason Smith as well. I wouldn't read much into how they lined up in that camp. Looking at the roster, it's tough to find anyone likely to beat out Laurinaitis based on what we know so far.

Witherspoon and Draft will presumably be the other starters. Draft has played the middle this offseason, but it's unclear how each position will shake out in the short term. We can expect additional roster moves as the Rams determine which players best fit into the new systems on both sides of the ball.

Performance pay: Ryan leads Rams

March, 26, 2009
Rank Rams Player Pos. Performance Bonus
Clifton Ryan
DT $185,462
Quinton Culberson
LB $180,621
Jason Craft
Richie Incognito
RG $163,540
Ron Bartell
CB $145,046
Posted by's Mike Sando

Defensive tackle Clifton Ryan led the Rams with $185,462 in additional pay for his efforts during the 2008 season.

The payout was part of the NFL's performance-based pay system. Under the program, those who play extensively while earning smaller salaries receive higher percentages of the more than $3.2 million set aside for each team for last season.

The chart shows the Rams' five highest earners in performance-based pay for 2008. Receiver Drew Bennett, subsequently released, earned $63 in performance pay, the smallest payout in the league.

Every player in the league who played at least one snap qualifies for the program. For example, the Patriots' Tom Brady, injured in the season opener, padded his $8 million in regular compensation with an additional $121 in performance-based pay. If you're Brady and a check for $121 arrives, do you turn to your supermodel wife and say, "Hey, let's go out for dinner tonight." Just wondering.

Posted by's Mike Sando

The premise: 'Tis the season when disappointed NFL fans call for their teams to take a longer look at young talent on the roster.

The reality: Teams generally do not have a long list of promising players sitting on their benches.

The Rams: We take a quick look at the 20 youngest players on the Rams' roster. Nine started in Week 13.

  1. David Vobora, LB, 22: Made his first NFL start in Week 13 and fared better than expected.
  2. Antonio Pittman, RB, 22: Injuries forced him into the lineup, but Pittman was effective only sporadically.
  3. Quinton Culberson, LB, 23: Opened the season as the starter, lost his job and then got it back through injury.
  4. Chris Chamberlain, LB, 23: Contributing on special teams.
  5. Derek Stanley, WR, 23: The Rams are playing him in the return game. Stanley had an 80-yard touchdown grab against the Cardinals, one of five receptions this season.
  6. Chris Long, DE, 23: Starting and making strides as the season progresses. Already a quality player.
  7. John Greco, OL, 23: Played extensively at right guard in Week 13 and held up better in pass protection than run blocking.
  8. Larry Grant, LB, 23: Signed from the 49ers' practice squad as insurance.
  9. Keenan Burton, WR, 24: Has nine receptions for 124 yards and projects as a potential starter in 2009.
  10. Donnie Avery, WR, 24: Has 35 catches for 499 yards and projects as a likely starter for 2009 and beyond.
  11. Adam Carriker, DT, 24: Starting and could use another big body next to him on the interior defensive line.
  12. Jonathan Wade, CB, 24: The Rams are still waiting for him to develop.
  13. Roy Schuening, G, 24: The rookie is strictly a backup at this point.
  14. Clifton Ryan, DT, 24: High-effort tackle has started nine games but might be better as part of a rotation.
  15. Joe Klopfenstein, TE, 25: Underachieving tight end hasn't justified draft status.
  16. Daniel Fells, TE, 25: Signed on an emergency basis after the Rams lost Randy McMichael to a season-ending injury.
  17. Steven Jackson, RB, 25: Productive when he plays, the franchise running back has had trouble staying healthy.
  18. Richie Incognito, OL, 25: Hot-headed starter has incurred the wrath of referees and fans, but Incognito remains a starter.
  19. Eric Bassey, DB, 25: Projects as a special-teams player.
  20. Victor Adeyanju, DL, 25: The Rams like what he brings to the defense, particularly against the run.
Fourteen of the Rams' youngest 28 players are starting. If you're looking for the Rams to play more of the young guys, you're essentially talking about Greco, Bassey, Grant, Chamberlain and Schuening from the above list. The others are playing, for better or worse.

Previously: 49ers, Seahawks.

Rams will have a hard time rebounding

November, 3, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Rams' revival under Jim Haslett is taking a detour thanks largely to the thigh injury Steven Jackson suffered against the Cowboys in Week 7.

Jackson played at a diminished capacity Sunday. "Day-to-day" is his status for Week 10, Haslett told reporters Monday. A hamstring injury will prevent backup Antonio Pittman from playing against the Jets in Week 10. Linebacker Chris Draft has a broken foot and could miss three to six weeks, according to Haslett. That means Quinton Culberson gets back into the lineup, severely diminishing depth at the position. Receivers Dante Hall (ankle) and Drew Bennett (foot) are headed for injured reserve this week, ending their seasons.

Defensive end Leonard Little should be available despite his hamstring injury, but defensive lineman Eric Moore is having a MRI for his neck and spine.

The Rams want Jackson to practice all week before clearing him to play. They think that will make life easier from a game-planning standpoint. Having Jackson miss practice, then play only briefly puts the team in a difficult position that way.

Kenneth Darby becomes the starting running back if Jackson cannot play in Week 10. That would put more pressure on quarterback Marc Bulger, making it difficult for the Rams to function offensively and remain competitive.

Panic Button: Rams shuffle defense

September, 24, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

After benching Marc Bulger and releasing Fakhir Brown, the Rams charged ahead with more potential changes in practice Wednesday. As Bill Coats of Around the Horns noted:

Adeyanju is the Rams' best defensive lineman against the run. The Rams just allowed 245 yards rushing to Seattle in Week 3. Adeyanju's starting status in practice (at left end) might mean nothing if Leonard Little returns from a hamstring injury.

Culberson had started one NFL game before this season. Draft is a highly experienced veteran. He should also be relatively fresh.

Glover seemed perplexed by the Rams' use of a three-man line at times against Seattle. He has been a very good player for a very long time, but sometimes veterans have a hard time following along blindly when things aren't working. Glover has long been known for his relentless, all-out style. Ryan is also known as a high-effort player.

These moves, justified or not, definitely qualify as hitting the panic button. That's what teams do when they allow 763 more yards than they gain through three weeks.

Silver linings: Rams at Eagles

September, 8, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

The facts: The Rams were horrible in their 38-3 loss at Philadelphia to open the season.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two. We had to look hard to find them for the Rams, but they were there:

  • Rookie defensive end Chris Long came close to pressuring Donovan McNabb on a few plays. That is progress for Long, who hadn't done much during the preseason. Long also made a strong stop on Eagles running back Brian Westbrook.
  • Tight end Randy McMichael enjoyed his most productive game since signing with the Rams. He caught five passes for 77 yards. This included an impressive grab for a 15-yard gain on second-and-14 early in the second quarter. McMichael ran past Eagles safety Quintin Mikell on the play.

That was about it for the Rams. I saw a couple of other strong individual plays -- Quinton Culberson's early stop on Westbrook was one of them -- but not much else.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Nancy Gay of the San Francisco Chronicle explores Ashley Lelie's move from the 49ers to the Raiders. Barry Sims and Kwame Harris have also played for both franchises. "In the right situation and with the right coaching, Lelie could be a decent vertical option for a team," she writes. Lelie has speed, which can't be coached. The Raiders have long coveted speed at the position. Drew Carter's injury left them depleted at receiver.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Quinton Culberson is beating the odds once again. Culberson surprised when he earned a roster spot as an undrafted free agent in 2007. He finished last season strong and won a starting job this summer when injuries limited veteran Chris Draft. The Rams need Culberson to produce after Brandon Chillar left in free agency.

Darren Urban of perked up when former Cardinals linebacker Calvin Pace, now with the Jets, ragged on the talent in Arizona. Pace: "This is a far better situation than Arizona because we have talent here. I'm not saying they don't have talent there, but when I first got out there it was ridiculous. Here you got guys that are Pro Bowlers, guys that have played in the Super Bowl, guys that have been in the league nine, 10 years. You've got some good rookies. It's a good mix of people."

Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' unknown receivers relish being unknown receivers. Courtney Taylor, Jordan Kent and Logan Payne call themselves "The Mystery Group" -- not the most creative nickname, but an accurate one. Romero: "Kent led the team in receptions in exhibition play with 11. Payne overcame a rib injury from the public scrimmage a month ago and made eight catches while showing his worth on special teams. Taylor had just four catches in exhibition play, but has regular-season game experience and will likely start with veteran Nate Burleson."

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks running back Julius Jones, who has found a laid-back atmosphere in Seattle after stints at Dallas and Notre Dame.

Also from Hughes: Olindo Mare's strategy for winning the kicking job in Seattle.