NFL Nation: Kendall Langford

Rams searching for depth at DT

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
1:15
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Despite showing interest in a handful of free agents, the St. Louis Rams have yet to make any moves on the open market aside from re-signing two of their own.

Eventually, the team will likely add at least one outside free agent, but it's interesting to note the players the Rams have showed interest in during the first eight days of free agency. There's been a veteran quarterback (Shaun Hill), a pair of offensive linemen (Davin Joseph and Daryl Colledge) and a wide receiver (Kenny Britt).

But there's one position where the Rams seem most intent on adding depth and it's not one that ranked high on most outside pre-free agency lists: defensive tackle.

The Rams have expressed interest in, hosted visits for or both for potential defensive tackle options Henry Melton, Antonio Smith and Alex Carrington. Melton completed his free-agent tour Tuesday in St. Louis before deciding to sign with the Dallas Cowboys. Smith was supposed to visit St. Louis but the Oakland Raiders didn't let him leave without signing a deal.

Carrington remains on the market though it's still unclear if he'll visit the Rams. He's had interest from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Oakland and though there have been reports that he would visit St. Louis, it has yet to happen.

Regardless of how things play out with Carrington, it's obvious from some of the players the Rams are vetting that they are looking to upgrade their depth on the interior of the defensive line and they believe they can find a veteran bargain to provide it.

The interest in interior help on the defensive line might have some wondering what it means for the future of starter Kendall Langford, but all indications from the team are that any additional help coming in would be as part of the rotation behind Langford and fellow starter Michael Brockers. Langford has been better than given credit for since arriving in St. Louis and really seemed to settle into his new spot -- he played end in a 3-4 for Miami before signing with the Rams -- the second half of the 2013 season.

Langford
Although Langford carries a $6 million cap number into the 2014 season, the Rams have showed no signs of wanting to part ways with him. And they shouldn't, given Langford's performance. He posted 49 tackles and five sacks last year and was a key in the team's improved efforts against the run in the final eight games.

Instead, added help on the interior would serve as a chance to improve over current backup defensive tackles Jermelle Cudjo and Matt Conrath. Cudjo had a strong enough 2012 to earn a contract extension last offseason but followed with 11 tackles and not much else in his 209 snaps in 13 games in 2013. Conrath got opportunities to contribute last year as well, playing eight games and 129 snaps with seven tackles and a sack.

Defensive ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims actually proved better as options inside behind Brockers and Langford. And though the Rams had plenty of success with the four defensive ends look on third down, the belief here is that they'd like to find ways to lessen the need for Hayes and/or Sims to spend so much time inside and allow them to provide more breathers for Chris Long and Robert Quinn on the edge.

The NFL draft will provide plenty of chances for the Rams to fill some but not all needs. From the looks of things, defensive tackle is one the Rams would prefer not to wait on.

Rams-Colts: Matchup breakdown

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
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ST. LOUIS -- Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts has plenty of intriguing matchups. Here are three to keep an eye on.

Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins vs. Indianapolis receiver T.Y. Hilton

Jenkins
With star receiver Reggie Wayne lost for the season to a knee injury, the Colts have been forced to look elsewhere for a top receiving target. Quarterback Andrew Luck won’t hesitate to spread the ball around, but it’s Hilton who has clearly emerged as his primary target.

Hilton had three touchdown catches in a win against Houston last week, and he leads the Colts with 533 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

“You’ve got to make sure you’re aware of him and what’s going on with him at all times, because he’s the go-to guy,” Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. “He’s the guy that, he was making catches even when Reggie was there, but now he’s really been the go-to guy. They’re moving him around, putting him in different spots on the field so you can’t just zero in on him and know exactly where he’s going to be in line. And like I said, the guy’s crafty, so he’s definitely a threat.”

The Rams haven’t had much success slowing down receivers who are clearly their team’s top threat this season. Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Jacksonville’s Justin Blackmon are among those who have had big days against the Rams' secondary.

Likewise, the Rams haven’t opted to shadow any receivers this season, so the onus of slowing Hilton figures to fall on more than just Jenkins. Whether it’s Jenkins, Cortland Finnegan, Trumaine Johnson or someone else, the Rams must find a way to make someone other than Hilton beat them.

Rams tight ends and tackles vs. Indianapolis pass-rusher Robert Mathis

Dwight Freeney is gone, but the Colts’ pass rush remains strong behind the yeoman’s work of Mathis.

Mathis
Long overshadowed by his pass-rushing partner in crime, Mathis has stepped to the forefront as the engine driving the Indianapolis defense. His 11.5 sacks lead the league and are the most by a Colt through the first eight games of a season, two better than Freeney’s previous record set in 2009.

Playing a position the Colts refer to simply as “Rush” linebacker, Mathis moves around and finds the spots where he can do the most damage. That means the job of protecting quarterback Kellen Clemens from Mathis falls on everyone, not just tackles Jake Long and Joe Barksdale.

That includes tight ends such as Mike McNeill, who is likely to be pressed into duty with Lance Kendricks recovering from a fractured finger.

“Certainly, Indianapolis has some good pass-rushers,” Clemens said. “Obviously, Mathis leads the way. But, I’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys, and we’ll do some things to probably help out a little bit.”

Look for the Rams to help out a lot bit when it comes to Mathis.

Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford vs. Indianapolis left guard Hugh Thornton

Clayborn
Langford
A rookie out of Illinois, Thornton has struggled with consistency, particularly as a pass-protector.

The Colts have been solid in protecting Luck on the edge, which should be a tough task to continue against Rams ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, but Langford is coming off one of his best games and should have a favorable matchup against Thornton.

Langford had a pair of sacks last week, and though some of that damage is the result of strong edge rushing and his cleaning up after, he still showed a knack for being disruptive in the middle.

Luck’s ability to run and escape pressure often comes up the middle, so the chance for Langford and fellow tackle Michael Brockers to slow that train also exists.

“When he’s coming head-on up the middle, he’s a big body coming at you, so sometimes he’ll catch DBs and most of the time, when he’s getting tackled you can see he’s falling forward,” Walton said of Luck. “There are not a lot of times that he’s actually carrying the football as he’s getting knocked back.”

Run defense fails Rams ... again

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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ST. LOUIS -- After shutting down Seattle’s vaunted rushing attack so thoroughly last week that Marshawn Lynch got fewer carries than the Seahawks had punts, the St. Louis Rams' defense truly believed it had found the formula to being the group many believed it could be at the beginning of the season.

“If you don’t stop the run, you’ll never be able to rush the passer, you’ll never have the opportunity,” Rams defensive end Chris Long said. “That’s the No. 1 thing.”

This is the part where we get to what took place Sunday in a 28-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans. It was a movie anyone who has watched the Rams for the better part of the past decade has already seen. Repeatedly.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson and Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsThe Rams had done well to stop the run the past two games, but they allowed Chris Johnson to rush for 150 yards and two scores on Sunday.
It’s a horror film, one in which defenders are regularly out of position, missing tackles or otherwise making mistakes that lead to an opposing running back ripping through the Rams' defense like Jason Voorhees’ machete.

First Dallas did it in Week 3. San Francisco followed suit in Week 4. Even Jacksonville had a fair amount of success in Week 5, and Houston certainly did in Week 6. Each of those weeks, the discussions about run defense kept coming back to fundamentals, things as simple as lining up correctly and knowing your assignment.

Then, the past two weeks, the Rams seemed to figure out something of a solution. They limited Carolina to a 2.7-yard average on 38 carries and Seattle mustered just a 2.9-yard average on 15 tries. Suddenly, the Rams were moving in a positive direction in terms of run defense, climbing nearly 10 spots to No. 23 in the league.

But a ship that hadn’t fully been righted took on too much water Sunday as the Titans ran for 198 yards on 35 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per attempt. All four of their touchdowns came via the ground.

“Very frustrating, very frustrating,” Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford said. “Our defense, we know we’re capable of matching up with the best backs in the league and the best O-lines and getting the job done. It’s disheartening, very frustrating.”

Frustration was clearly the order of the day as Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, a player fantasy owners have been waiting to cast off for most of the season, found by far his greatest success of the year. Johnson rushed for 150 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns.

Much of Johnson’s damage came off tackle, where the Rams regularly failed to set the edge and the back seven failed to get off blockers or fill the right holes to stop the run. This after a week in which coach Jeff Fisher and the Rams' defensive coaching staff preached the importance of maintaining gap integrity and taking the proper angles lest Johnson’s outside speed allow him to break big runs.

“We lost the edges,” Fisher said. “CJ, obviously, when he gets on the edge, he goes. We edged it up all week and we emphasized it and so I haven’t looked at it, but I’m sure we had a number of guys who made mistakes.”

As Long alluded to, a Rams defense predicated on a dominant pass rush is kept off balance when it doesn’t stop the run first. The Rams had four sacks in the first half, with three of those coming right after runs of 1 yard and minus-2 yards and a quarterback scramble for 6 yards.

It’s no coincidence the Rams had no sacks in the second half when Tennessee really turned up the heat in the run game with 23 carries for 131 yards, including Johnson’s 19-yard dagger for a touchdown one play after a fumble by Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens.

With a margin for error that much smaller without the services of Sam Bradford at quarterback, the onus is on the defense to find ways to consistently put up a strong performance. They did it against Seattle, and nearly surprised a national television audience. But they regressed against Tennessee to a performance that simply wasn’t good enough.

“We can’t be one team one week and another team another week,” Long said. “It’s very, very disappointing. The most disappointing thing though is that we showed we can play really good defense, and then we come out here with this B.S. performance. I mean, that’s what it was.”

No disagreement here.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams' offense has had its share of ups and downs in 2013, but that should be no surprise given the extreme youth at the skill positions and the many moving parts still needing to coalesce.

While waiting for that unit to become more consistent -- a wait that will probably take a bit longer with quarterback Sam Bradford out for the season -- the onus was supposed to fall on an improving defensive unit to keep the team in games and allow them to steal some wins.

Instead, the Rams' defense has undeniably regressed from its 2012 performance despite the addition of a first-round pick at linebacker and another year in the scheme for all parties.

[+] EnlargeTim Walton
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceThe Rams' defense has struggled in the first season under defensive coordinator Tim Walton.
Considering the loss of Bradford, there’s plenty of worry about whether Kellen Clemens can get the job done at quarterback or whether the young receivers and running backs can step up to fill the void.

On Monday, Rams coach Jeff Fisher let his team know that without Bradford, everyone must find a way to do a little bit more to cover for his absence.

“The challenge is obvious in this world where you have an impact player go down with a season-ending injury, everybody else just has to step up -- coaches included,” Fisher said. “Everybody in the building has to pick it up and we’ll move forward.”

What the Rams really need most is for the defense to start reaching its potential on a consistent basis.

“We knew going into this year we had a strong defense,” defensive tackle Kendall Langford said. “We haven’t been playing to that potential all year but we know the potential we have in this locker room. Guys just have to step up, me included. Everybody has to step up their game.”

Through seven weeks, the Rams are 22nd in the league in total yards allowed at 373.4 per game. The numbers getting worse in the run game where they’ve allowed 126.43 yards per game, which ranks 30th in the NFL. In the most important category of all, the Rams sit 24th in the league in points allowed, giving up 26.3 per game.

In fairness, the points allowed by the team don’t all fall on the defense. Opponents have scored three touchdowns on interception returns.

Compared to last season, each of those numbers represents a substantial downgrade from where the Rams were last year at this time.

After seven weeks of the 2012 season, the Rams' defense was 10th in total yards allowed (324.4), tied for 10th in run defense (98.86 yards per game) and 10th in scoring defense (20.1 points per game).

In the offseason, many believed the Rams had done nothing but improve with the addition of rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald stepping in for Craig Dahl. The loss of safety Quintin Mikell was a blow, certainly, but the belief was the Rams had done enough to fill that void by upgrading at other spots.

Instead, the Rams have struggled under new coordinator Tim Walton. Many of those issues are self-inflicted wounds such as lining up wrong or missing an assignment. Some of it stems from at times head-scratching defensive schemes and calls, particularly in coverage.

Whatever the case, it’s a problem the Rams needed to fix before Bradford’s injury and becomes even more urgent without him.

“Defensively we feel like we just need to play better in certain areas,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “It’s too many simple mistakes. At this point in the season, this point of certain people’s careers, it’s little things that just needed to be cleaned up weeks ago. There are certain things that just keep reoccurring, we have got to just fix it.”

Saying you’re going to fix it is one thing, actually doing it is another. Making those repairs more difficult is the fact that there’s not any one person or problem that needs to be solved.

Laurinaitis said when he watches the tape, it seems that on the big plays the Rams allow it’s never any one culprit responsible.

“There’s certain plays where we are dang good and then there’s certain plays where you are just scratching your head,” Laurinaitis said. “The frustrating thing is it’s not just one position group or one guy. It kind of just hops around. You can’t be a good team defense if you have plays where people are taking turns being the guy to make the mistake.”

According to Laurinaitis, the youth excuse is not served in this discussion, either. That’s as evident in the early-season coverage struggles of veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan as it is in the rookie mistakes of Ogletree and it goes beyond them as well.

“It’s not just young guys making the mistakes here, it’s all across the board no matter what your experience is,” Laurinaitis said.

The defense has had its flashes, including a bend-but-don’t-break, big-play showing in Houston a couple of weeks ago and the week-to-week excellence of emerging star end Robert Quinn.

But for the Rams to find any level of success in the life after Bradford, the defense is going to have to become the group everyone thought it could be.
Even before his defensive line became the focal point of a defense that tied for the league lead in sacks in 2012, Rams general manager Les Snead pinpointed that unit as the strength of his team.

At the time, it was obvious why: the starting quartet had three first-round picks (Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers) and a high-priced free agent (Kendall Langford) leading the charge. But Snead knew something that nobody else really did; the Rams were flush with more depth at the position than they'd had in a long time.

[+] EnlargeEugene Sims
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiEugene Sims played 411 snaps in 2012, highest among the Rams' backup defensive linemen.
On Monday afternoon, the Rams re-inforced those beliefs by doing a little work on Labor Day, signing backup lineman Eugene Sims on a two-year contract extension. Sims' contract will carry him through the 2015 season, and allows the Rams to keep their collection of young defensive linemen together for at least that period of time.

Sims is the first pending free agent in next year's potential class to get an extension this summer. That's not a coincidence given the value the Rams clearly put on having a strong defensive line.

Only defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo, who signed a two-year extension of his own in the offseason, is not under contract beyond 2014. The Rams also signed end William Hayes to a three-year contract in the offseason.

Since the arrival of coach Jeff Fisher and defensive line coach Mike Waufle, the Rams have built a defense that is largely predicated on getting pressure from the front four. While Long and Quinn are the primary ends, Sims and Hayes get plenty of work.

Sims played 411 snaps in 2012, which was highest among the team's backup linemen and 12th on the defense as a whole. Along the way, he posted 20 tackles, the first three sacks of his career and an interception. He also provides the line with a good bit of versatility. Known primarily for his run-stopping ability, Sims has been a developmental pass-rusher since he entered the league as a sixth-round pick out of tiny West Texas A&M in 2010.

Considering that, Sims spends a lot of his time at end on running downs, but kicks inside when the Rams want to ratchet up the pass rush. At times last season, Sims and Hayes would play inside on obvious passing downs with Long and Quinn as the bookends.

Those looks are nothing new around the league, but only teams with ends they believe in can change so easily on the fly. Judging by Monday's extension, the Rams clearly believe in Sims.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- While he hasn’t been able to eliminate the memories entirely, Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford is doing his best to keep the first part of his first season in St. Louis as far from the front of his mind as possible.

Asked to transition from a 3-4 defensive end to a 4-3 defensive tackle in signing a four-year, $24 million deal with the Rams on March 17, 2012, Langford didn’t exactly transition as quickly as he’d hoped.

[+] EnlargeKendall Langford
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonKendall Langford, who had two sacks last season, says he'll be more productive this season.
The change in position and adjustment to a new scheme weren’t the only reasons for Langford’s early struggles.

“I hate watching probably the first half of the season,” Langford said. “It’s not an excuse, but I was dealing with coming off the high ankle (injury) and new position, new scheme. I had a lot going on but as we got deeper into the year, I started feeling more comfortable.”

After playing the five-technique position for Miami for most of his first four seasons in the NFL, Langford’s focus was usually centered on reading and reacting. The main responsibilities for his position included handling two gaps, taking on multiple blockers and allowing for linebackers to come up and make the plays.

The Rams had something else in mind when he signed to help a defense that had finished 31st in the league in run defense and mustered just four sacks, three quarterback pressures and seven quarterback hits from the defensive tackle position in 2011.

Moving into the 4-3 defensive scheme brought to St. Louis by coach Jeff Fisher, Langford found himself in a position to be more aggressive and make some impact plays.

The only problem was that he first had to unlearn the basic tenets of his old position before he could fully embrace his new job.

“This 4-3 is more getting upfield, getting across the line of scrimmage instead of two-gapping,” Langford said. “In a 3-4, you are holding guys up and letting the linebackers get the tackles. It takes a grown man to play there in a 3-4.”

The early returns last season didn’t bring much of an upgrade over the subpar group of defensive tackles the Rams employed in 2011. Langford had just three solo tackles in the first five games of the season and did not post a sack.

Much like rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers, Langford took awhile to get fully comfortable and adjusted to the middle of the defensive line. It wasn’t until the Dec. 9 game at Buffalo that Langford registered his first sack.

By the end of the season, things seemed to settle down a bit and Langford was more productive. He finished with 57 tackles and two sacks while playing 69 percent of the defensive snaps (third most among defensive linemen on the Rams) and starting all 16 games.

Despite playing a vital role for a defensive line that was the strength of the Rams' in 2012, there was some clamoring amongst fans for an upgrade in the offseason. Langford didn’t buy into any of the criticism.

“I try not to read the news clippings and blogs and things like that,” Langford said. “I can guarantee one thing, I am going to be better this year than I was last year.”

Realistically, a second year in the scheme should allow Langford to build on his finish to the 2012 season. Surrounded by ends such as Chris Long, Robert Quinn and William Hayes as well as Brockers, Langford should get plenty of one on one opportunities.

In this camp so far, Langford has had a couple of minor injury issues that have limited him in a couple of practices, but he says his limited days have been “precautionary.”

If Langford can stay healthy and take a step forward in his second year in the defense, the Rams’ defensive line could be even better than it was a year ago when it set the tone for a defense that tied for the league lead in sacks with Denver at 52.

“I’m more comfortable in the scheme,” Langford said. “I still have some work to do as far as footwork issues and things like that, but I get the 4-3 scheme now. The 3-4 is kind of out of my head. I might get caught reading every now and again, but I have got it down now.”
PHOENIX -- The Seattle Seahawks and especially the San Francisco 49ers added to their 2013 NFL draft hauls Monday when the NFL awarded compensatory selections to offset net losses in free agency last year.

The 49ers received the 131st overall pick, a fourth-rounder, plus the 246th and 252nd choices, both in the seventh round. The Seahawks received the 241st and 242nd overall choices, also in the seventh round.

Teams cannot trade compensatory picks.

"Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks," the NFL announced. "Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula."

The 49ers received compensatory choices because free-agent losses Blake Costanzo, Josh Morgan and Madieu Williams outweighed free-agent addition Mario Manningham according to the formula. The Seahawks received picks because free-agent losses Atari Bigby, John Carlson, David Hawthorne and Charlie Whitehurst outweighed free-agent additions Matt Flynn and Jason Jones.

I've put together lists below showing all unrestricted free agents added, lost and re-signed by NFC West teams last offseason.

Update: I've also made available for download an Excel file with tentative 2013 draft order, reflecting comp picks and known trades. This is unofficial. The league has not yet released the official order; additional trades could affect it.

The 49ers have a league-high 14 picks, including two picks in each of the second through fifth rounds. They're in prime position to stock their roster for the future.

By my accounting, the Cardinals hold the 7th, 38th, 69th, 103rd, 140th, 174th and 176th picks. The 49ers hold the 31st, 34th, 61st, 74th, 93rd, 128th, 131st, 157th, 164th, 180th, 227th, 237th, 246th and 252nd choices. The Seahawks hold the 56th, 87th, 123rd, 138th, 158th, 194th, 214th, 220th, 241st, and 242nd choices. The Rams hold the 16th, 22nd, 46th, 78th, 113th, 149th, 184th and 222nd picks.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed: D'Anthony Batiste, Mike Leach, Early Doucet, Jay Feely, Dave Zastudil
Added: Adam Snyder, William Gay, James Sanders, Quentin Groves
Lost: Richard Marshall, Sean Considine, Deuce Lutui

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed: Tavares Gooden, Carlos Rogers, Alex Smith, Ted Ginn Jr.
Added: Mario Manningham, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson
Lost: Josh Morgan, Adam Snyder, Blake Costanzo, Reggie Smith, Madieu Williams, Chilo Rachal

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed: Heath Farwell, Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy
Added: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Deuce Lutui, Barrett Ruud
Lost: John Carlson, Atari Bigby, Charlie Whitehurst, Tony Hargrove, David Hawthorne

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed: Kellen Clemens
Added: Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells, Quinn Ojinnaka, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Mario Haggan, Barry Richardson
Lost: Brandon Lloyd, Chris Chamberlain, Donnie Jones, Jacob Bell, Bryan Kehl, Gary Gibson

The St. Louis Rams finished tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 52 last season.

William Hayes collected seven of them while playing on a one-year deal worth $900,000. That was a bargain by NFL standards.

The Rams rewarded Hayes on Tuesday with a three-year contract worth $10.5 million, ESPN.com's John Clayton reported. So, while other NFC West teams seek pass-rush help, the Rams can generally feel good about their abilities in that critical area.

Hayes, who played 34 percent of the defensive snaps last season, returns to a group already featuring 2008 first-round draft choice Chris Long and 2011 first-rounder Robert Quinn.

Long has 42 career sacks, more than any player from the 2008 draft class. Cliff Avril (39.5), Calais Campbell (27.5), Lawrence Jackson (19.5) and Jason Jones (18.5) are next on that list. Hayes, a fourth-round choice in Tennessee that year, ranks eighth on the list with 15 sacks. Rams teammate Kendall Langford is 10th with 9.5 sacks since 2008.

Quinn's 15.5 sacks in two seasons rank fifth on the list of 2011 draft choices. San Francisco's Aldon Smith tops that list with 33.5 sacks. Von Miller (30), J.J. Watt (26) and Ryan Kerrigan (16) also outrank Quinn.

Quinn's 10.5 sacks last season ranked fourth among 2011 draft choices.
Wayne Hunter, one of 16 players to start on the St. Louis Rams' offensive line over the past two seasons, was scheduled to earn $4 million in 2013.



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.

UFA market revisited: How NFC West fared

February, 28, 2013
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Those eagerly awaiting the start of NFL free agency March 12 with visions of your favorite team loading up on accomplished veterans should revisit the list of unrestricted free agents NFC West teams signed last season.

St. Louis, badly in need of a talent infusion following the worst five-year run in NFL history, opened its checkbook to sign a long list of veteran players, some of them at high cost.

That was the exception in the NFC West and I'd be surprised if St. Louis took a similarly aggressive approach this offseason. The Rams have stabilized their roster and positioned themselves to build around young talent.

With that in mind, I'll take a team-by-team look at the unrestricted free agents each NFC West team signed last offseason. UFAs are defined as veterans who reached the market when their contracts expired. Teams also acquired players by other means.

Arizona Cardinals

2012 UFA signings from other teams: cornerback William Gay, linebacker Quentin Groves, safety James Sanders and guard Adam Snyder

Comment: Gay started and played 93 percent of the defensive snaps as a replacement for Richard Marshall, who left in free agency. He wasn't a star, but the defense was solid. Gay gave Arizona the snaps it sought. Groves played 43 percent of snaps as a situational pass-rusher. The Cardinals needed him when an injury sidelined O'Brien Schofield. Sanders played 11 percent. Snyder started 14 games and played much of the season with an injury for a line that was among the NFL's least effective for much of the season. Arizona's young tackles made progress. I thought the team overspent for Snyder, a player San Francisco eagerly replaced with the undrafted Alex Boone, who provided a clear upgrade. Note that three of the four UFA additions last offseason played defense. Arizona needs to target offense this offseason. New coach Bruce Arians and new general manager Steve Keim have praised the existing talent. Arizona might not load up on free agents the way some teams do when new leadership takes over.

St. Louis Rams

2012 UFA signings from other teams: linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, linebacker Mario Haggan, defensive end William Hayes, defensive tackle Kendall Langford, defensive lineman Trevor Laws, guard Quinn Ojinnaka, tackle Barry Richardson, receiver Steve Smith, center Robert Turner and center Scott Wells

Comment: The Rams were major players in the UFA market. Results were mostly positive. Finnegan gave the Rams the production and veteran presence they sought. He was instantly a playmaker for St. Louis. Dunbar was much better than I had anticipated and well worth his contract, which included a $1 million signing bonus and $1.5 million annual average. Hayes provided good depth on the defensive line, and at a reasonable cost ($900,000 for one year). Langford needed time to transition from the 3-4 scheme he ran previously in Miami. The Rams signed him after Jason Jones signed with Seattle instead. Injuries prevented Wells from stabilizing the offensive line, a major disappointment and a reminder of the risks associated with signing older players from other teams.

San Francisco 49ers

2012 UFA signings from other teams: fullback Rock Cartwright, quarterback Josh Johnson, receiver Mario Manningham

Comment: Does this look like a team poised to strike for Darrelle Revis in the trade market? Does this look like a team ready to throw around cash in free agency? Not based on the list of signings last offseason. The interest San Francisco showed in Peyton Manning doesn't apply here. Indianapolis released Manning. Manning was not a UFA. I'd put him in a separate category, anyway. Teams make exceptions for Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Back to the 2012 UFA list. Cartwright and Johnson never played for the team. Neither earned a spot on the 53-man roster. Both served a purpose by initially increasing competition at their positions. For example, Anthony Dixon moved fro halfback to fullback and became a more valuable player, including on special teams. Johnson provided early insurance, but in retrospect, Colin Kaepernick was obviously ready to serve in the No. 2 role before becoming the starter. Manningham provided sufficient value before a knee injury ended his season. The 49ers missed him late in the season, including during the Super Bowl.

Seattle Seahawks

2012 UFA signings from other teams: quarterback Matt Flynn, defensive lineman Jason Jones, guard Deuce Lutui and linebacker Barrett Ruud

Comment: Flynn would have started if Russell Wilson hadn't emerged unexpectedly as the clear choice. Seattle invested $6.5 million per year in Flynn, a sum the team could live with even if Flynn became the backup. It's tough to fault the Seahawks for signing Flynn. They had no idea Wilson would be available in the draft, or that Wilson would perform at such a high level so early in his career. Jones finished the season on injured reserve. That made it impossible for him to provide the interior pass-rushing push Seattle sought when signing him to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. Lutui and Ruud never earned roster spots. Neither was a liability financially. Both were low-cost insurance policies. Seattle parlayed Ruud into a 2013 draft choice by trading him to New Orleans after the Saints lost Jonathan Vilma.

Wrap-up: Rams 28, Buccaneers 13

December, 23, 2012
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Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 28-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road in Week 16:

What it means: The Rams improved to 7-7-1 but were eliminated from playoff contention when Minnesota upset Houston. The Rams can still finish with a winning record in Jeff Fisher's first season as head coach. Just being in that position marks substantial progress for the Rams. Their future appears brighter thanks to strong play from quite a few rookies. Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson were among the 2012 draft choices standing out during this game. The Rams could still use more consistent play from quarterback Sam Bradford, however.

What I liked: Rookie cornerbacks Jenkins and Johnson made game-changing plays. Jenkins provided his third pick-six of the season, a big reason St. Louis held a 14-6 halftime lead despite few positive contributions from the offense. Safety Quintin Mikell was also a force for the Rams as he continues his effective play on blitzes. Mikell, Chris Long and Kendall Langford had first-half sacks.

The Rams' defense generally contained Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. Their defense also might have saved the game by stopping Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman on a fourth-and-1 sneak attempt from the St. Louis 5-yard line while the Rams were protecting a 28-13 lead in the third quarter. The Buccaneers hurried to the line in an attempt to catch the Rams' off-guard, but Brockers and the rest of the defensive interior stopped Freeman with yardage to spare. The Rams made another fourth-down stop inside the St. Louis 10 later in the game. Those stops were critical.

Bradford and the offense bounced back from a slow first half by opening the third quarter with an 80-yard touchdown. Bradford found tight end Lance Kendricks wide open for the quarterback's longest touchdown pass as a pro. Bradford also found Austin Pettis for a touchdown against Tampa Bay.

What I didn't like: The Rams again lost the time-of-possession battle early. They failed to score in a first quarter for the fifth consecutive game. Early offside penalties against Long and Robert Quinn hurt, as did a 15-yard penalty for a face mask.

First-half turnovers set back the Rams. Bradford threw an interception in the end zone. Danny Amendola lost a fumble deep in Rams territory. The Rams finished with 285 yards while allowing 429. They lost the time-of-possession battle by about 12 minutes. Mike Williams (61-yard touchdown and 132 yards overall) joined Vincent Jackson (108 yards) as 100-yard receivers for Tampa Bay.

Jenkins' status: Jenkins, a second-round choice, is playing his way into the conversation for defensive rookie of the year. He might not be the favorite, but at the very least, his four touchdowns will make it tough to ignore him without some explanation.

Jackson nearing 1,000: Steven Jackson had 81 yards rushing and a touchdown. He needs 10 yards in Week 17 for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season.

What's next: The Rams close out the regular season with a game at Seattle.
This is the new NFC West: bloody, low-scoring, dangerous to the health.

The St. Louis Rams hold a 10-3 halftime lead over the Arizona Cardinals in the Edward Jones Dome.

Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb has a bloody mouth after taking a helmet to the head from the Rams' Kendall Langford. The hit did not appear dirty. It did appear to hurt. Medical personnel checked out Kolb's jaw on the sideline following the drive.

The Rams have lost receiver Danny Amendola to a shoulder injury. Amendola landed hard on his shoulder while attempting to make a diving grab.

Losing Amendola severely weakens the Rams' offense. Amendola's one-handed grab of a deep ball against Patrick Peterson sent an early message the Rams were going to play aggressively -- not just on defense, but on offense, too.

Kolb rallied Arizona from a 13-0 halftime deficit a week ago after taking eight sacks. He's taken four so far.

The Cardinals beat the Rams by scores of 19-13 and 23-20 last season. This one appears likely to be close as well.
Steven Jackson had an appropriate response to Robert Griffin III's accusations of dirty play from Jackson's St. Louis Rams: "It's not the Big 12."

Griffin
Griffin, the Washington Redskins' rookie sensation, isn't the first quarterback to challenge defenses with his running while seeking the protections afforded pocket passers. Michael Vick lodged complaints last season.

Griffin went further, specifically accusing the Rams of taking cheap shots at him during St. Louis' 31-28 victory Sunday. I've gone through the all-22 video with a careful eye. The Rams did take a couple unnecessary hits, but I wouldn't call their tactics egregious by NFL standards -- or even Big 12 standards.

We'll hopefully find out what the NFL thinks when the league levies fines later in the week.

Among the things I noticed in relation to Griffin:
  • First quarter, 3:03 mark: Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar takes down Griffin and jabs him around the shoulder area with an elbow. The blow didn't appear to do any damage.
  • First quarter, 2:00: Griffin runs a bootleg toward the left sideline. Safety Quintin Mikell tries to deliver a hard hit while Griffin is leaving the field. Griffin was a runner on this play. Mikell didn't seem out of line.
  • Third quarter, 9:00: Griffin pitches the ball on an option play. Defensive end Robert Quinn shoves Griffin unnecessarily, but no harm is done.
  • Fourth quarter, 8:29: Griffin throws to the right, then takes a hit from defensive end William Hayes. There was nothing vicious about this hit. Hayes did not appear to have bad intentions. He did run over Griffin after the ball was gone.
  • Fourth quarter, 8:00: Griffin scrambles and slides. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan throws himself into Griffin, striking the quarterback in the helmet with his hip.
  • Fourth quarter, 4:40: Griffin gets rid of the ball while defensive tackle Kendall Langford rushes him. Griffin appears to be falling when Langford shoves him down. Necessary? No. Dirty? Don't think so.
  • Fourth quarter, 2:00: Griffin rolls right and scrambles, taking a hit from Craig Dahl just just before running out of bounds. Legal play.

Fine information usually becomes available on Fridays.

By the way, the Rams and Redskins each have four penalties for unnecessary roughness, roughing the passer, unsportsmanlike conduct and those labeled more broadly as personal fouls. Only Baltimore (six) and Philadelphia (five) have more through two games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis likes what he sees standing directly in front of him on the St. Louis Rams' practice field.

New defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford are big, tall men. The team lists Brockers at 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds, which seems about right. The 6-6 Langford is listed at 295 pounds, but he looks every bit as large as Brockers.

Both are taller and considerably younger than the men they're replacing, Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan.

The Rams need them to help improve a run defense that buckled repeatedly last season. The team added Brockers in the first round of the draft. Langford signed from the Miami Dolphins in free agency.

If all goes to plan, the Rams' interior defensive linemen will attract enough attention to free Laurinaitis and the other linebackers to do their jobs without as much interference from opposing offensive linemen.

"When teams have to worry and say, 'Hey, we can't block these guys one-on-one, that’s a big deal," Laurinaitis said. "There are only so many guys who can block. Whether it’s me free or the Will or the Sam or whoever, whenever there is unblocked players in the box, that’s better for our defense."

Additional notes from practice Monday, witnessed by 593 fans on a relatively cool day with some sprinkles from above at team headquarters:
  • QB watch: Quarterback Sam Bradford is off to a promising start in this camp. I came to St. Louis wondering whether he'd need time to recover mentally and physically from the punishment he took last season. Those questions dissipated quickly. Bradford appears to be moving without limitation. He said his arm feels stronger than it's felt in a long time, and his passing provides supporting evidence. Bradford rocketed one so hard to Danny Amendola that the usually sure-handed receiver couldn't hold onto it. But there were other times when Bradford showed zip, touch and accuracy, including when he connected with rookie Chris Givens in stride for a touchdown.
  • Ones-on-ones: The Rams seemed to practice quite a bit with their first-team offense against their first-team defense. Defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn are putting pressure on tackles Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold. False starts have been an occasional problem. Saffold had a false-start Sunday. Smith had one Monday. Coach Jeff Fisher yanks linemen off the field when they commit false-start or offside penalties. Barry Richardson replaced Smith following Smith's penalty. Smith replaced Richardson under similar circumstances later in practice. Saffold did buckle Quinn and overpower him on one play, but overall, the defensive ends' quickness has been problematic.
  • Learning curve: Rookie receiver Brian Quick did a better job securing the football following a reception against tight coverage. A day earlier, cornerback Josh Gordy stripped the ball from Quick after the receiver got a little too casual in his technique. Quick made a couple good catches, as did backup tight end Mike McNeill.
  • Coaches see all: The Rams were about to run a play when Fisher suddenly spotted a helmet on the ground behind the end zone about 35 yards away. Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar had set it there briefly. Fisher noticed, stopped the offense and called out for Dunbar to pick it up.
  • Rookie against rookie: Speed receiver Givens made an impressive initial play on the ball for what was nearly a touchdown, but cornerback Trumaine Johnson, also a rookie, knocked the ball away at the last moment.
  • Rookie kicker watch: The Rams released veteran kicker Josh Brown after using a sixth-round draft choice for Greg Zuerlein. I haven't been charting field-goal percentages, in part because the goalposts are short and sometimes it's tough to tell from the sidelines which ones would have succeeded. Zuerlein does seem to have a powerful leg. Quite a few of his attempts have smacked hard off the tower from which the team's video department records practices.

On a side note, it was good getting together with @lannyosu, @SGmosportsmag, @STLphenom @ljramsfan at practice. If you'll be out there in the next couple days, let me know at @espn_nfcwest.

Rams: One big question

May, 3, 2012
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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.

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