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Thursday, May 3, 2012
Rams: One big question

By Mike Sando

What are the St. Louis Rams going to do at outside linebacker?

The team faces other questions coming off a 2-14 season, of course, but that position went largely unaddressed in the draft. St. Louis emerged from the draft with five linebackers on its roster, leaving roughly six or seven spots to fill for training camp.

The Rams used a seventh-round choice for Aaron Brown, a weakside linebacker from Hawaii, but linebackers selected that late would generally project only as special-teams contributors if they earned roster spots at all.

Veteran Jo-Lonn Dunbar, signed from New Orleans in free agency, projects as one starter. Josh Hull, a seventh-round choice in 2010, projects as the other starter until the Rams can further address the position.

James Laurinaitis is a solid starter in the middle. He should fare better in 2012 playing behind recently acquired tackles Kendall Langford (Miami Dolphins) and Michael Brockers (first-round draft choice). He cannot make every play from sideline to sideline, however. He needs help. The Rams desperately need speed on the outside.

After struggling through last season with aging stopgap options ranging from Ben Leber to Brady Poppinga, the Rams have gotten younger at the position. But they have not yet gotten appreciably better. Some of the players they cast aside in previous seasons -- Paris Lenon, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Will Witherspoon come to mind -- would have been better than the players St. Louis wound up relying upon.

At one point in the draft, the Rams traded down from the 45th spot, coming away with running back Isaiah Pead, plus the 150th choice. Philadelphia and Seattle took inside linebackers with the 46th and 47th overall picks. The Rams could have drafted Nebraska's Lavonte David, who went to Tampa Bay at No. 58. But they obviously thought Pead would bring greater value at another position of need.

Teams running 4-3 defenses selected only four projected outside linebackers from the third through fifth rounds, with Jacksonville selecting Nevada's Brandon Marshall at No. 142, eight spots before the Rams chose South Carolina guard Rokevious Watkins.

The bottom line was that St. Louis entered this draft with more needs than the Rams could address with the available picks. Outside linebacker moves nearer the top of their priority list as the roster rebuild enters its next phase.