NFC West: Wayne Hunter
Wide receiver, running back and safety are three frequently discussed areas where the St. Louis Rams will have a decidedly fresh look in 2013.
The offensive line is one position where the team could find needed stability through a mixture of new players and incumbents returning from injuries.
As the chart below indicates, the Rams' roster currently features offensive linemen responsible for an NFC West-low 48 percent of 2012 snaps. Robert Turner, Barry Richardson, Wayne Hunter and Quinn Ojinnaka are gone from the roster after making 41 of 80 starts on the line.
Jake Long takes over at left tackle, allowing incumbent Rodger Saffold to play on the right side. That pairing could project as starters for the long term, health permitting. Both players have had injury issues in recent seasons. Saffold is unsigned beyond 2013, making this an important season for him.
Scott Wells is back at center and should be healthy enough to practice during the season, a change from 2012. Chris Williams, Shelley Smith and Rokevious Watkins are among the players competing to start at left guard opposite veteran Harvey Dahl.
Note: The first chart shows players who have left the Rams' roster after logging snaps on offense or defense last season.
As a result, the current projected starters average about one year younger overall even though 14 of them are eight months older than they were entering last season.
Some of the positions remain open for competition, but the trend is unmistakeable. One of the NFL's youngest teams has gotten younger in lots of places. Seven of the 10 oldest players entering last season are no longer with the team (Mario Haggan, Quintin Mikell, Wayne Hunter, Rocky McIntosh, Steven Jackson, Robert Turner and Matthew Mulligan).
We can easily see the Rams' leadership putting its stamp on the organization in ways that make sense for the long term. It's tough to know in some cases whether the benefits will be immediate. There figure to be growing pains and a few disappointments along with the excitement that comes with developing dynamic young talent.
D'Marco Farr, Randy Karraker and I discussed expectations surrounding the Rams in relation to their NFC West rivals during our conversation Tuesday on 101ESPN St. Louis. We'll be talking Rams and the NFC West on Tuesday afternoons from this point forward. This will replace my Tuesday conversations with Bernie Miklasz on the same station. Bernie recently vacated his show. I'm looking forward to the new arrangement and to reconnecting with Bernie as he takes on an expanded role at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and its website.
The Seattle Seahawks have acquired 13 of them, including current contributors Percy Harvin, Marshawn Lynch, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald.
Palmer, acquired by the Arizona Cardinals from the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday, joins Vonnie Holliday, Kevin Kolb and Kerry Rhodes as veteran acquisitions for the Arizona Cardinals over the past three seasons.
The chart lists all 27 for NFC West teams. Shading identifies players still on the acquiring teams' rosters.
I'll take that as a sign negotiations are heading toward a resolution.
The Rams have long sought resolution at left tackle. That remains the case even though Rodger Saffold has shown promise at the position when healthy.
Saffold, Alex Barron, Orlando Pace, Adam Goldberg, Wayne Hunter, Mark LeVoir and Joe Barksdale have started for the team at the position over the past five seasons. Pace was winding down when he gave the team 14 starts in 2008, his final year with the team. Saffold has been the best option since then, but injuries have limited him.
Long has been hurt, too, but with four Pro Bowls in five NFL seasons, he's got a left tackle pedigree unseen on the Rams since Pace locked down the position during the Greatest Show on Turf years.
Note: Thanks to Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information for digging up the numbers for the chart. The Rams occasionally opened games with tight ends at left tackle in unbalanced lines. In those cases, we credited the player manning the left tackle position for the rest of the game as the starter.
Cap Status: The Cardinals emerged from the weekend with moderate flexibility under the cap and a chance to gain additional room. Kevin Kolb's contract is counting $13.5 million against the cap, but Arizona could reduce that number significantly by releasing the quarterback or reworking his contract. Releasing Kolb would reduce his cap charge to $6 million. The team could lower the 2013 hit to $2 million after June 1 under NFL rules, but the remaining $4 million would hit the 2014 cap.
Strategy: Teams with first-year head coaches are sometimes more aggressive when taking over teams deficient in talent. That was the case for St. Louis in free agency last offseason. That was the case for Seattle in the trade market back in 2010, when new leadership took over the Seahawks. Arians and Keim seem to feel better about their talent than the leadership of those other teams felt about theirs initially. The Cardinals figure to make a few targeted strikes, but the list of available veterans isn't an impressive one. Keim and Arians have talked about relying more heavily on younger players, but Arizona needs upgrades, too.
Cap Status: The Rams have more than $15 million in salary-cap space after Steven Jackson, Wayne Hunter and Quintin Mikell left the roster. They also have a league-low 44 players, so there's work to be done. But if St. Louis needed additional room, the team has other options. For example, James Laurinaitis and Cortland Finnegan are scheduled to earn $16 million in roster bonuses this offseason. Converting those into signing bonuses pushes most of the cap charges into the future.
Strategy: The Rams added 11 unrestricted free agents from other teams last offseason, tied with New England for most in the NFL. They signed Finnegan and Scott Wells to lucrative contracts. I would expect a slightly less aggressive approach to the market this offseason in part because the Rams' roster is in better shape. However, the freshly created cap room sets up St. Louis to go after a front-line player. The team could use another weapon on offense, for sure. And Kevin Demoff, the Rams' chief operating officer, has suggested teams are more interested in using their free-agent budgets for a smaller number of high-impact players, leading to fewer players signed for what passes as middle-class contracts worth $3 million to $4 million per year.
Cap Status: The 49ers have been tight against the cap recently, but they'll gain breathing room when the Alex Smith trade becomes official. Smith had been scheduled to earn a $1 million bonus and $7.5 million in salary. The team has found creative ways to comply with the cap, including when it packed into its 2013 budget more than $17 million in charges for Patrick Willis, lessening the hits in other years. Willis' contract is scheduled to count only slightly more than that $17.7 million over the next three seasons combined. The 49ers took a similar tack in 2009, when contracts for Justin Smith and Joe Staley combined to use more than $30 million in cap space.
Strategy: The 49ers haven't been big spenders in free agency over the past several seasons. That trend should continue. San Francisco will have a league-high 12 draft choices once the Alex Smith trade is processed. The team's conservative approach to the market last offseason should net additional choices when the NFL hands out compensatory selections for teams suffering net losses in free agency a year ago. The 49ers have already identified and paid most of their core players. Now is the time for them to restock with cheaper labor through the draft, right?
Cap Status: It was fair to wonder whether the team would carry $20.7 million in combined cap charges for tight end Zach Miller ($11 million) and receiver Sidney Rice ($9.7 million). There are no indications Seattle plans to re-work those deals for cap purposes, however. The team had enough flexibility to acquire and pay Percy Harvin on a long-term contract. The number for Miller drops next season, putting the Seahawks in position to ride out the contract if he remains productive. The numbers aren't yet in on Harvin, but Seattle presumably still has cap flexibility this year.
Strategy: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Barrett Ruud and Deuce Lutui were the only unrestricted free agents Seattle signed last offseason. The team appears likely to add a veteran or two for a few million per season, perhaps on one-year deals similar to the one Jones signed a year ago. That seems to be the team's strategy in free agency recently. Young stars such as Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor continue to play under their rookie deals. Paying top dollar for a free agent from another team could throw off the natural order of things for Seattle on defense. The 49ers have gone through a similar phase, rewarding their own players and staying away from big-ticket free agents. However, the Harvin deal shows Seattle will make an aggressive move for a young, dynamic player.
The Cardinals appear set at wide receiver with Larry Fitzgerald, 2012 first-round pick Michael Floyd and 2010 third-rounder Andre Roberts.
Arizona is installing a vertical passing game resembling the one coach Bruce Arians ran with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. The Vikings have used Harvin as more of a horizontal threat, relying on him to gain yards after the catch.
Harvin caught the ball 4.1 yards past the line of scrimmage on average last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was the lowest figure in the NFL among 76 qualifying wide receivers and well below the 11.6-yard average for those players.
Harvin would help Arizona, of course, but the fit appears better elsewhere.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams have quickly gained significant cap room by subtracting from the books Steven Jackson, Wayne Hunter and Quintin Mikell. Those players were scheduled to earn $17 million in salary for the 2013 season alone. The Rams could lose receiver Danny Amendola in free agency. Another starting wideout, Brandon Gibson, is expected to sign elsewhere. Receiver looks like a position of need.
The Rams have a promising mix of young receivers featuring Chris Givens, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis. Harvin would not give the Rams a prototypical No. 1 receiver, but he would give them something they haven't had on offense recently: a player opponents had to develop their defensive plans around. The Rams' return game badly needs a boost as well.
St. Louis has two first-round picks, giving the team flexibility.
San Francisco 49ers
The fit from a scheme standpoint is captivating. Imagine the fun Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman could have in the ground game with Harvin available to them. The possibilities are nearly endless. The 49ers have plenty of draft capital, including an additional second-round choice among their league-high 12 selections.
San Francisco hasn't shown much interest in acquiring high-priced players from other teams, however. The 49ers have instead focused on paying their own players.
Paying big money to Harvin would complicate looming talks with Michael Crabtree, who already gives San Francisco one of the best yards-after-catch receivers. Seattle wouldn't have to worry about that dynamic as much because the team already paid Sidney Rice. Still, imagine defending a 49ers offense featuring Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis, Crabtree, Frank Gore, LaMichael James, Harvin and whatever players the 49ers add through the draft.
Seattle has salary-cap flexibility and ample trade ammunition via 10 draft choices, second-most in the NFL. In a perfect world, adding more of a downfield perimeter threat might make more sense than adding Harvin.
Still, the Seahawks have demonstrated a willingness to pay for young free agents on offense (Sidney Rice, Zach Miller). The team could use another weapon for quarterback Russell Wilson.
Coach Pete Carroll frequently says he values players with unique skill sets. His defense is filled with players unusually proportioned or otherwise equipped for their positions. His quarterback is unconventional. Harvin is truly a unique player in the NFL. He has scored touchdowns rushing, receiving and in the return game. He can line up just about anywhere in the formation, from the slot to running back.
Seattle has a connection to Harvin. The team's offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, held the same job with Minnesota when the Vikings drafted Harvin in 2009. Imagine the options for an offense featuring Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Harvin, Rice, Golden Tate and Miller.
Alas, a weekend designed to help NFL teams add players will instead be remembered for notable roster subtractions. While teams were allowed to speak with representatives for projected free agents, the NFL warned teams against reaching contract agreements even in principle. It's not yet clear to what degree the three-day window will help teams get a feel for what players might command in free agency.
In the meantime, teams reduced salary-cap obligations.
The Arizona Cardinals, having already cut safety Adrian Wilson, released receiver Early Doucet, leaving NFC West teams with five of the 28 players they drafted in 2008.
The St. Louis Rams, having already cut Wayne Hunter and watched Steven Jackson void his contract, planned to release safety Quintin Mikell. Those moves gave the Rams enough salary-cap room to strike for a marquee free agent if the team wants to go that route for a second consecutive offseason.
Kevin Kolb's contract situation stands as perhaps the biggest unresolved issue in the NFC West heading into free agency. Arizona recently placed a second-round tender on restricted free-agent quarterback Brian Hoyer, an indication he figures into their plans for now, at least. Will Kolb take a reduction from his $9 million salary, or might he reach the market for the first time in his career?
The Rams weren't going to pay that much for a backup tackle. They made it official Wednesday by releasing Hunter, according to Jim Thomas. The Rams and the New York Jets have now released the two offensive tackles they swapped last season. The Jets had sent Hunter to St. Louis for Jason Smith.
Hunter was one of 10 players scheduled to count at least $4 million against the Rams' salary cap in 2013. Another, running back Steven Jackson, will reportedly void his contract when free agency begins Monday. That will remove a $7 million charge from the books for 2013.
Of the other players listed, safety Quintin Mikell jumps out the most. His $9 million cap charge is more than double what it was in each of the previous two seasons. The team must account for $6 million in prorated bonus charges over the next two seasons whether or not Mikell is on the roster.
Teams must comply with the $123.9 million salary cap by March 12. Releasing Hunter and having Jackson hit the market will allow the Rams to comply with millions to spare.
Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: Who will be each team’s biggest salary-cap casualty this offseason?
Arizona Cardinals: Quarterback Kevin Kolb is scheduled to earn $9 million in salary from the Cardinals in 2013. Barring a trade, which appears unlikely, Kolb will accept a reduction in salary or receive his release. The Cardinals might be best off keeping Kolb at a reduced rate. But the fact Kolb finished last season with an 8-3 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions doesn't mean he was playing at a high level for Arizona. Kolb has posted a Total QBR score of 30.6 or lower in nine of his 14 starts with the Cardinals (50 is considered average). Kolb was significantly above average in two of his 14 starts -- victories over Philadelphia and Carolina. Arizona has paid $20.5 million to Kolb over the past two years. The team isn't going to give him another $9 million in salary this year.
St. Louis Rams: Running back Steven Jackson is scheduled to earn $7 million in salary for the 2013 season. I would expect the Rams to release Jackson if Jackson declined to accept less money. It might not come to that, however. Jackson has the ability to void his contract, and that seems like the most plausible scenario. Jackson found out last season the Rams weren't interested in extending his contract. If and when he realizes the team isn't interested in paying $7 million to him for 2013, Jackson would have clear incentive to opt out. That would not make him a cap casualty in a direct sense, but the effect would be the same. Safety Quintin Mikell's $6 million salary and $9 million cap figure make him a candidate for renegotiation. Also, journeyman tackle Wayne Hunter is scheduled to earn nearly $4 million.
San Francisco 49ers: Kicker David Akers is scheduled to earn $3 million in salary for the 2013 season. It's hard to envision the 49ers paying that amount to Akers given the kicker's struggles last season. They would have to consider their options at the position even if Akers were earning less money. The relatively high salary for Akers makes this one easy to foresee. Quarterback Alex Smith also has a relatively high salary for a backup ($7.5 million), but the 49ers are looking to trade him. They do not want to release him. Jonathan Goodwin, Carlos Rogers and Parys Haralson also have high enough cap figures to invite questions of value.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have more cap room than any team in the NFC West. They have a dozen players with 2013 cap figures projected at $2.9 million or higher, but none of the 12 appears to be a candidate for release even though Zach Miller ($11 million cap figure) and Sidney Rice ($9.7 million) are eating up $20 million together. Looking further down the salary scale, it's safe to assume the team won't pay $2.3 million in salary to backup receiver Ben Obomanu.
We're running through the projected picks for NFC West teams in reverse order. St. Louis is next up. The Rams have two picks in the first round: their own (16th overall) and one acquired from Washington (22nd).
16. St. Louis Rams: Lane Johnson, T, Oklahoma
Kiper's give: The Rams can afford to go a few different ways here because they have that other first-round pick. I think the offensive line has to be a priority at one of these spots. Johnson is a steady tackle who upgrades the team on the right side immediately and has the ceiling of a very good NFL left tackle. I've included snippets from Kiper's analysis before offering my own thoughts.
Sando's take: The pick makes sense from a need standpoint even though Jeff Fisher's teams have never used a first-round pick for an offensive lineman with Fisher as head coach. Rodger Saffold is the only long-term starting tackle on the roster. He's had a hard time staying healthy recently and could have the flexibility to play another position on the line. Barry Richardson, Wayne Hunter, Joe Barksdale and Ty Nsekhe are the other tackles on the roster. The Rams did a good job functioning in the absence of better offensive linemen. They need better players at the position, however.
22. St. Louis Rams: Keenan Allen, WR, California
Kiper's give: The Rams lock down some blocking help, then get a wide receiver who can help them immediately. That would be a productive first round. It's possible I've worried too much about how well Allen will run, because aside from what should just be a pedestrian 40 time, he can do everything else well.
Sando's take: The Rams will know by the draft whether potential free agent Danny Amendola figures into their future and at what price. They have an emerging big-play threat in Chris Givens. They figure to get more from Brian Quick this season. The Rams’ perceived need for help at wide receiver could be larger than their actual need. Still, the team could use additional offensive playmakers. Allen stands 6-foot-3, which could help him in a division featuring physical cornerbacks such as Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Allen grades out well as a competitive player with no fear making tough catches over the middle. The Rams could use those traits.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:
Teams facing the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers tend to focus on containing those teams' strong running games. This could be opening up first-down opportunities for quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Alex Smith. Seattle's Wilson is completing 69.9 percent of his passes on first down. Smith is completing a league-high 76.1 percent. Each quarterback has five first-down scoring passes. Only Peyton Manning (94.6) ranks higher than Wilson (84.92) and Smith (84.86) in Total QBR on first down this season. Wilson faces a Jets defense ranked 11th in first-down QBR allowed (56.2). Smith faces a Rams defense that ranks sixth in that category (50.5 allowed).
This is a big week for St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long. He's coming off subpar games against Green Bay and New England. The Rams will need him at his best against emerging 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis. Two years ago, when Davis was a rookie, Long schooled him memorably. Davis is the one getting acclaim lately, showing up on various midseason all-star lists. Long had 13 sacks last season. He has four through eight games in 2012. The Rams are counting on him to show up Sunday. They gave him a contract extension worth more than $12 million per season because they thought he could win matchups like the one he faces against Davis.
The Rams could welcome back left tackle Rodger Saffold and receiver Danny Amendola from injuries. Both players could start, but will they finish? Two years ago, the Rams lost an overtime game at Candlestick Park when Saffold couldn't finish the game, leaving backup Renardo Foster to deal with all-world 49ers defensive end Justin Smith. Smith beat Foster for a key third-down sack in OT. Foster is long gone. A healthy Saffold still represents an upgrade from backups Wayne Hunter and Joe Barksdale. Amendola, meanwhile, must watch out for hard-hitting defenders such as Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. He's coming off a shoulder injury.
The Rams-49ers game is one of two this week featuring quarterbacks drafted first overall. Peyton Manning and Cam Newton square off in the other. Manning has a 27-9 starting record against teams featuring No. 1 overall picks in the lineup, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Only Terry Bradshaw has a better record in such matchups among No. 1 overall quarterbacks with at least five matchups. The 49ers' Smith is 5-3 in these games, fourth-best behind Bradshaw, Manning and John Elway among qualifying top picks. The Rams' Sam Bradford hasn't faced the 49ers since 2010, when he went 1-1 against them. Troy Smith, not Alex Smith, started those 2010 games for the 49ers.
St. Louis Rams: Left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) and receiver Danny Amendola (shoulder) remain on course to return against San Francisco in Week 10. Both were limited in practice, as were backup left tackle Wayne Hunter (back) and linebacker Mario Haggan (thigh). Center Scott Wells (foot) is practicing on a limited basis, opening a three-week window for activation. The Rams signed Wells to a lucrative contract in free agency with the expectation Wells would take pressure off quarterback Sam Bradford by handling more of the protection calls. The center-quarterback relationship was supposed to help Bradford. Instead, the Rams head to San Francisco with backups at center and left guard. Saffold figures to be rusty if he plays. The 49ers' Aldon Smith and Justin Smith won't let him ease back into things. Safety Darian Stewart (knee), defensive end Eugene Sims (knee) and linebacker Justin Cole (illness) did not practice.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers were healthy going into the bye. They are healthier coming out of it. The team had not yet released injury-related information following practice Wednesday as this item posted. Quarterback Alex Smith's finger was obviously healed going into the bye. He completed 18 of 19 passes against Arizona after struggling some over the previous two games. The week off had to help running back Frank Gore as well. He suffered a rib injury against Seattle in Week 7. Update: The 49ers listed linebacker Tavares Gooden (elbow), Gore (hand), guard Daniel Kilgore (concussion), punter Andy Lee (hand), receiver Mario Manningham (shoulder), Smith (finger) and defensive lineman Will Tukuafu (wrist) as participating fully in practice.
Seattle Seahawks: Guard James Carpenter (concussion), receiver Braylon Edwards (knee), running back Marshawn Lynch (back/wrist), defensive end Red Bryant (foot), linebacker K.J. Wright (concussion), defensive lineman Clinton McDonald (groin) and safety Kam Chancellor (quadriceps) did not practice Wednesday. Defensive tackle Jason Jones (ankle) was limited. Receiver Doug Baldwin (ankle), guard John Moffitt (knee) and center Max Unger (finger) were full participants. Seattle is a little more beat-up than it has been to this point in the season. Having a bye in Week 11 should help the team recharge for a stretch run. Jones hasn't played since Week 7. Seattle's nickel pass rush has missed him. The fact that he is practicing, even on a limited basis, should be encouraging for the Seahawks. Having Baldwin back allowed Seattle to release receiver Charly Martin and re-sign him to its practice squad. The Seahawks have activated cornerback Walter Thurmond from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He helps with depth and gives the team another option in the nickel role, possibly affecting Marcus Trufant.
The manner in which Amendola was injured -- laying out for a football -- was also telling.
And so when the Rams surprisingly gave Amendola a 50-50 chance of returning weeks ahead of schedule Sunday, I wondered whether that seemingly optimistic designation might have reflected, at least in part, Amendola's determination to come back.
They weren't really going to let him play, were they? No, they were not.
Amendola will not play against the New England Patriots in London on Sunday. The team has named him inactive. The team has a bye in Week 10 before visiting the San Francisco 49ers. We can expect Amendola to play in that game, based on his participation in practice over the past week and his questionable status on the injury report this week.
Also for the Rams, Joe Barksdale will remain the starting left tackle. Rodger Saffold and Wayne Hunter are inactive. Saffold will presumably be a candidate to return from his knee injury following the bye, although the team has not given a specific timetable.
Newly added offensive lineman Chris Williams is active Sunday. He and Tim Barnes are the backups.
St. Louis Rams: Receiver Danny Amendola returned to practice on a limited basis, but he's not expected back from his chest injury for a few weeks. Left tackles Wayne Hunter (back) and Rodger Saffold (knee) did not practice. Receiver Chris Givens (illness), linebacker Mario Haggan (thigh) and defensive end Eugene Sims (knee) also sat out Wednesday. Backup defensive tackle Matt Conrath (knee) was limited. The Rams have done a very good job getting backup offensive linemen ready to play. They've also been aggressive in trying out out new personnel up front when it gives them a chance -- not a guarantee, but a chance -- to upgrade. Update: The Rams announced Friday that Brandon Gibson, not Givens, was the player missing practice due to illness.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers emerged from their Thursday night victory over Seattle knowing Joe Staley's concussion wasn't a factor, after all. Staley and the offensive line played very well. Having additional days off between games should help San Francisco emerge healthier against Arizona. If quarterback Alex Smith's injured factor was to blame for the quarterback's less consistent deep throwing, perhaps the recovery time will help him on that front. Frank Gore is expected to play despite injured ribs. One question, however, is whether his reps will suffer any as a result. The team has yet to play Brandon Jacobs in a game. The depth behind Gore appears strong. Receiver Mario Manningham (shoulder) missed the Seattle game.
Seattle Seahawks: Receiver Doug Baldwin (ankle) has a high sprain suffered Thursday night. He'll probably miss multiple games. That means Charly Martin will reemerge in the offense. Braylon Edwards could get additional snaps as well, particularly if Golden Tate's consistency does not improve. Tate and Martin could get more work from the slot with Baldwin out. That would also open up reps for Edwards on the outside. Cornerback Walter Thurmond is practicing following a lengthy rehab from a broken fibula. The team has through next week to activate Thurmond from the physically unable to perform list. Guard John Moffitt (knee) is also back at practice this week, but it's not clear when he'll return to the rotation on game days. Defensive tackle Jason Jones (ankle) and special-teams linebacker Malcolm Smith (concussion) are expected to play.
Joe Barksdale makes his first NFL start. The Rams claimed him off waivers from Oakland on Sept. 27. Projected starter Rodger Saffold is expected back from a knee injury in the next couple weeks. Backup Wayne Hunter missed practice Friday with a back injury and was named inactive Sunday. The team used a 2009 first-round draft choice for Jason Smith with the expectation Smith would be the long-term starter at left tackle. Smith struggled in the role, moved to right tackle and was traded before this season. Barksdale will presumably have help matching up against the Packers' Clay Matthews, who has eight sacks.
Shelley Smith makes his first NFL start. The Rams claimed him off waivers from Houston on Sept. 2. Smith has shown the potential to become a powerful run-blocker. It's less clear whether he's ready for pass-blocking responsibilities. Jacob Bell was the starter last season. The Rams cut him. Bell then retired. Fifth-round pick Rokevious Watkins was a potential starter, but he's on injured reserve. Robert Turner could have started, but the Rams need him at center.
Turner makes his seventh consecutive start and the ninth of his career. The Rams made veteran Scott Wells one of their high-profile signings of the offseason. They expected him to man the position and help quarterback Sam Bradford with the line calls. Wells underwent knee surgery during the offseason. He later suffered a foot injury. Wells is on injured reserve with a designation for return. He could be back in Week 10. Jason Brown, the starter last season, was released. He's out of the league at present.
Harvey Dahl makes his seventh start of the season and 23rd consecutive start since the Rams signed him in free agency from Atlanta. This position has worked out as planned.
Barry Richardson makes his seventh start of the season. He started 16 games for Kansas City in each of the previous two seasons. Smith was the projected starter heading into the season. Coaches wanted him to become more patient in his pass blocking. They didn't wait long before turning to Richardson. Once they did, Smith became expendable. They traded him to the New York Jets for Hunter.