NFL Nation: Michael Brockers

Observation Deck: St. Louis Rams

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
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CLEVELAND -- If possible, the score of the St. Louis Rams' preseason meeting with the Cleveland Browns has even less meaning than an average exhibition contest.

The Rams (1-2 in preseason) dominated in a 33-14 win, but the victory is about as hollow as possible considering what occurred in the first half. The first 30 minutes turned the team's starters into something resembling a MASH unit.

Quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a left knee injury with a little more than eight minutes to go in the first quarter and did not return. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that initial tests did not reveal any further damage to Bradford's surgically repaired ACL, but Bradford will have more tests in the next 24 hours. Rams coach Jeff Fisher indicated after the game that it could be a hyperextended knee.

Had it stopped there, it would have been bad enough, but four other starters left the game with injuries and did not return. Defensive tackle Kendall Langford (ankle), cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee), defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (ankle) also departed early. Early indications on those injuries are that Saffold and Langford were taken out more as a precaution. Johnson's looked to be the worst after he took a helmet to the left knee and a cart took him to the locker room.

Some more thoughts and observations from Saturday's game:
  • It was a rough go for left tackle Jake Long in his first game back. He picked up a penalty for hands to the face and struggled on two plays that led to Bradford getting hit. Obviously, he's got some rust to knock off but it was a potentially damaging sequence.
  • Wideout Brian Quick has put together the best training camp of his young career and has now carried that momentum into two consecutive preseason games. He finished with four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown and was clearly Bradford's favorite target. Time will tell if he can do it when the games count, but the Rams have to be encouraged by his consistency in camp and preseason.
  • Hard to fathom why, after the injuries to Bradford, Saffold and Langford, the Rams still had the starting defense on the field when Johnson and Brockers were hurt.
  • Receiver Chris Givens has been awfully quiet in this preseason to the point that he's not playing at all with the starters. But Givens offered a reminder of why he's a piece worth keeping around with an impressive 75-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He added a nice catch on a crossing route for a gain of 19 earlier on the drive.
  • Defensive end Michael Sam came up with his second sack in as many games, dropping Johnny Manziel with a little more than 10 minutes to go. Best I can tell, Twitter is still functional. Barely.
  • Rookie offensive lineman Greg Robinson did not start against the Browns after doing so in each of the first two games. Moving back and forth between left guard and left tackle has left him struggling to settle in. Rodger Saffold started at left guard with Davin Joseph at right guard, but that doesn't mean that's how it will be when the season starts. With the rest of the line healthy and in place, expect the Rams to try to get Robinson settled in at left guard moving forward.
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) did some work in practice this week but the Rams clearly didn't want to push him and he sat this one out. Fellow linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar also didn't play.

St. Louis Rams practice report

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With the "official" end of training camp coming and going Wednesday, the Rams practiced without any eyes other than media watching Thursday afternoon. Along with that, the rules change a bit in terms of what can and can't be discussed. But Rams coach Jeff Fisher did offer some updates on some things that were noticeable on the field.
  • First, Fisher said Thursday's practice was used largely to get his team familiar with Cleveland. It's the first time in the preseason the Rams have done anything resembling some game planning. Some of that even included having a couple of players put on the red jersey to emulate different Browns players.
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) did a little more than on Wednesday, including a bit of work in team drills. Fisher said the decision on whether Laurinaitis will play against the Browns has not yet been made but it's clear Laurinaitis could probably play if he had to. Clearly, he doesn't have to but the option is realistic.
  • Fisher did indicate that left tackle Jake Long (knee), defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) would all be available and are expected to play. That would allow the Rams to have their projected offensive and defensive lines together for the first time in the preseason.
  • Speaking of groups working together in a game for the first time this preseason, Fisher said he's looking forward to seeing the secondary get some work together. That means Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson at cornerback and Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald at safety. Fisher even went so far as to acknowledge that rookie Lamarcus Joyner would work with the top offense as the nickelback.
  • As for playing time for the starters, Fisher indicated that group will play the bulk of the first half. He also again mentioned the gradual build he prefers means that group could play even more in Miami in the preseason finale. That's how they've done it in his first two seasons in St. Louis and it doesn't sound like it's going to change.
  • Amongst projected starters, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar is the only one not to practice at all this week. So even if the Rams get Laurinaitis back, they likely won't be at full strength defensively.
  • The Rams again hosted the Ferguson-area high school teams at their facility Thursday as McCluer, McCluer North and McCluer South-Berkeley held practice on the team's indoor field.
  • Running back Isaiah Pead officially cleared waivers and now reverts to the team's injured reserve list. Pead does not count against the team's 90-man roster.
  • The Rams will wrap up their preparation week with a walk-through Friday before traveling to Cleveland for Saturday night's game against the Browns.

Rams Camp Report: Day 17

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams wrapped up the training camp portion of their preseason with a spirited practice in front of some special guests Wednesday afternoon. The football teams from Ferguson, Missouri-area high schools McCluer and McCluer North attended the practice before and after having their own practices in the indoor Rams Park facility. What they saw was a long, hot workout, but they also provided a little jolt of energy that certainly helped the Rams through the workout.
  • On the field, the Rams continue to make strides toward getting four key starters back on the field. Left tackle Jake Long continues on his trajectory to play against the Browns on Saturday as he took the bulk of the reps at his usual spot. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers again took most of the reps with the first-team defense at his spot and said he's expecting to play against Cleveland. Guard Rodger Saffold went beyond the individual work he did Tuesday and participated in some team drills by taking snaps at both guard spots. And linebacker James Laurinaitis, who has been out with an ankle injury, even got back in some seven-on-seven drills, though he has yet to play in 11-on-11. Laurinaitis spoke after practice and confirmed that the injury is to the same ankle he had offseason surgery on, but that the issues are unrelated. He says he's feeling good and if there had been a regular-season game anytime recently, he'd have played. The Rams have taken a cautious approach with all four players.
  • The Rams receivers had a bit of a rough go during one-on-one drills as wideouts Kenny Britt and Austin Pettis dropped what should have been easy completions. Tight end Jared Cook had no such issues and came up with a nice grab on a deep, back-shoulder throw from quarterback Sam Bradford in team drills. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson made a nice play on a deep pass on the next snap but was not pleased with himself when he didn't come up with the interception. Otherwise, the day was pretty nondescript as the Rams slogged through another long, hot practice.
  • As is custom, the Rams closed training camp with their usual "dizzy bat" races for all of the rookies and team interns. All participants pick up a ball and run 10 yards, drop it off, run another 10 yards and then do 10 spins with a wiffle ball bat. The catch is that the veterans can distract all participants by any means necessary, including dumping water and Gatorade on those spinning. It's a lighthearted and fun way to call it a camp.
  • Aside from the high school teams taking in practice, the Rams had another special guest Wednesday: newly minted Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams.
  • Wednesday's practice was the final day of training camp open to the fans, but the Rams will be back at it Thursday afternoon for their final practice before traveling to Cleveland on Friday.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers appear ready to go forward with JC Tretter as their starting center even if coach Mike McCarthy won't put that in stone just yet.

Tretter has passed every test McCarthy and his coaching staff has put in front of the second-year pro. From the offseason work to the full-pads practices of training camp and through the first preseason game, there has been nothing to suggest that Tretter won't line up in front of quarterback Aaron Rodgers when the regular season opens on Sept. 4 at the Seattle Seahawks.

[+] EnlargeJC Tretter
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsJC Tretter battled through harsh playing conditions in his first game at center last Saturday at Tennessee.
"Every day he's gotten better at something and he continues to grow that way," Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. "And a lot of that is because he knows what to do. He doesn't have to sit there and think and have that hold him back. He knows his assignments so well and knows what everyone else is doing, so that just accelerates his growth."

The Packers could not have asked for a tougher assignment for Tretter's first start last Saturday at Tennessee. The monsoon-like conditions made the ball tough to handle, but Tretter and quarterback Matt Flynn did not have a single problem with an exchange in their 16 snaps together.

It won't get any easier on Saturday at St. Louis -- although the weather won't be a factor in the Edward Jones Dome -- where Tretter will have to deal with the defensive tackle combination of Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald, a pair of first-round picks.

"I think JC's off to a great start," McCarthy said. "I think the Tennessee game was definitely impressive. I want to see him stack success anytime you play well. We're getting ready to play against an extremely talented, very good defensive front, so this will be great work for us."

Against the Titans, Tretter handled both his pass-protection and run-blocking duties with only one correction -- a technique mistake -- needed in the postgame film review.

"Talking with the other offensive linemen, they feel comfortable with him," said Flynn, who started in place of Rodgers. "It was nice that he played really well this past weekend. That was a good sign, and I think he's going to grow more and more and faster because of the two guards [T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton] around him."

But one game does not make an NFL center. Before last Saturday, Tretter had never played in an NFL game and had never snapped a ball at any level. He spent his entire college career as a tackle at Cornell and then did not play at all last season as a rookie after breaking his ankle in his first OTA practice.

"I still think I haven’t made the transition fully yet," Tretter said. "It's still a work in progress. It's kind of a mentality, it's kind of a mindset that we came into it understanding that there was going to be bumps. There are going to be days where it didn't look good but as long as we continued to correct our mistakes and build off our successes, I'd continue to become a better player and that's kind of how we went into it and that's how we kind of stayed throughout."

Rams Camp Report: Day 14

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
7:00
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams went through a quick, special-teams only workout Wednesday afternoon that lasted all of about an hour. The players participating started out in pads before shedding them in the middle of the practice. Special-teams coach John Fassel put his team through the usual paces with lots of work for his coverage units. Alas, the fun of the initial special-teams practice with the physical, one-on-one drills, seems to be gone.
  • Perhaps the most noteworthy thing from Wednesday's practice came not from a player participating but what was happening on the side. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who is working his way back from an ankle injury, did some running on the side under the supervision of head athletic trainer Reggie Scott. Brockers has been out for nearly two weeks with the ankle sprain but appears to be moving well. He did some light jogging earlier this week and looks like he could be headed toward a return sooner than later.
  • For what it's worth, fullback Kadeem Jones, who has missed most of camp with an injury, was in pads Wednesday but didn't do much of anything. A target for his return remains unknown.
  • One player worth watching over the next few weeks is receiver T.J. Moe. Moe is still getting used to playing on special teams, something he hasn't done much of in his career to this point. But he's well aware that if he wants a shot at the roster, that could help his cause. I asked Moe if he had to adjust his mindset at all to play special teams since most special-teams players are a little bit crazy and he said that slot receivers have to have a similar mentality. Moe isn't getting a ton of reps in this camp so any work he can get, he's going to have to make the most of. I'll have more on Moe and pursuit of a roster spot later this week.
  • After practice was over, Rams coach Jeff Fisher joined the efforts of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in which he had a bucket of cold water and ice dumped on his head to help raise awareness and money for ALS. Seattle coach Pete Carroll took the challenge Tuesday and promptly challenged Fisher when it was done. Fisher answered the challenge Wednesday. In turn, Fisher issued the challenge to St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and country music group Rascal Flatts. Defensive end Chris Long, punter Johnny Hekker and linebackers Jo-Lonn Dunbar and James Laurinaitis have also participated so far.
  • The Rams are back on the practice field Thursday afternoon for a 3:30 p.m. CT workout. It's open to the public.

Rams Camp Report: Day 8

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
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ST. LOUIS -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams held their annual scrimmage Saturday, coming out in full pads for the first time. While none of the principals competed in any live drills, the first-team offense and defense did match up for some extended team drills. They spent those drills working at "thud" tempo with the defense making contact with the shoulder pads but with no live tackling. The first-team offense continued to show signs of life in the early live drills, with quarterback Sam Bradford and receiver Stedman Bailey hooking up for big gains twice in as many snaps. Bailey had a big day in general, catching about 10 passes during live drills and seven on seven. Bradford later connected with Kenny Britt for a long touchdown on a perfectly thrown deep ball. But when the drill moved closer to the goal line, the defense stood tall and kept the offense out of the end zone on consecutive handoffs from the 2.
  • At the end of the practice, the Rams did some live scrimmaging using primarily backups and rookies vying for roster spots. There were a few notable exceptions, though. Greg Robinson (left tackle), Aaron Donald (defensive tackle) and running back Tre Mason took some reps during the live portion.
  • One area worth watching in this camp is the development of the tight ends and running backs in blitz pickup. The running backs, in particular, don't have much experience in blitz pickup. When those groups took on the linebackers in the one-on-one drills, the decided advantage went to the linebackers again. Presumptive starter Zac Stacy is coming along in that regard, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The tight ends had a little more success, with Cook actually getting a couple of good reps in. And another player to keep an eye on is undrafted free agent Alex Bayer. Bayer seems to be technically sound as a blocker and could emerge as a strong candidate to win a potential fourth tight end spot on the roster. The flip side, of course, is the linebackers' success. Alec Ogletree was especially impressive in those drills. Gregg Williams should be able to have some fun with Ogletree behind this defensive line.
  • We haven't had any full-blown fights in this camp, but a mini-scuffle broke out during the aforementioned linebacker-running back drills. Running back Benny Cunningham and linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong exchanged shoves and words before being separated.
  • The Rams took some precautions with their many banged-up players but at least so far it doesn't seem they have any serious issues. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers left practice a bit early Friday after tweaking an ankle and returned Saturday only to depart when shaken up again. The Rams might just have to be cautious with him moving forward to ensure he doesn't make it worse, but it doesn't sound serious. Linebacker James Laurinaitis came out with a walking boot on his left foot after getting stepped on earlier in the week. The injury isn't believed to be more than a mild ankle sprain, though. Offensive lineman Rodger Saffold also left Friday's practice with an apparent hand/wrist injury. He did not practice Saturday and watched from the sidelines with no cast or wrap on his hand. Like Brockers, Saffold's injury isn't believed serious. Other notables not practicing: Cornerbacks Lamarcus Joyner and Janoris Jenkins, offensive lineman Barrett Jones, defensive lineman William Hayes and receiver Brian Quick.
  • Funniest moment of the day: Backup quarterback Shaun Hill took a snap and as he dropped to hand it off, tripped over his own foot into a head first somersault, with jeers and laughs from his teammates.
  • The Rams are off Sunday and will return to practice Monday at 4:30 p.m. ET at Rams Park.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams got back to work Thursday with their fourth organized team activity open to the media.

As always, it should be noted that much of what happens in these organized team activities should be taken with a grain of salt (especially for the linemen). The players are not in pads and contact must be extremely limited. It's best not to get too excited or too down on anything that happens.

Williams fired up: New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams isn't hard to find on the practice field. If you can't see him, take a moment and listen and you'll be able to spot him soon after. Williams regularly yells "Come onnnnnn" at the snap to get his defenders going and then offers an array of "encouragement" throughout the practice.

At one point during Thursday's practice after the offense hit a nice completion, Williams yelled "If you're afraid to compete, go home." That's one of the more print-friendly comments he offered but you get the idea.

[+] EnlargeLamarcus Joyner
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonLamarcus Joyner has been taking reps at slot corner and safety during OTAs.
So far, it seems the players are embracing Williams, too. Rookie defensive back Lamarcus Joyner offered praise for his new coordinator after the workout and he's not alone in that praise, either.

Speaking of Joyner: Rams coach Jeff Fisher has repeatedly indicated that Joyner's primary function would be as a slot corner this year. While Joyner is getting plenty of work there, he's also taking reps at safety. Of course, the Rams are a little thin on numbers at safety for the time being so it's possible those reps will evaporate when some of the walking wounded return.

Receiver tally: There were some highlight-reel moments for the receivers during Thursday's practice. During a 7-on-7 period, Tavon Austin ran a seam route from the slot that turned the corner outside and then came in front of safety Cody Davis for a leaping 17-yard touchdown catch. Later on, Emory Blake made a diving catch on a slant route that drew some loud cheers from his fellow wideouts. Brian Quick had a drop early in practice during 1-on-1s but bounced back with a couple of contested catches after. Consistency is still the word of the day for him.

He's not a receiver but undrafted rookie tight end Alex Bayer had a good day catching the ball. And Kenny Britt continues to make plays, even getting it done after getting his left leg wrapped during practice.

Sitting it out: Tight end Jared Cook returned to practice Thursday but the rest of the names not practicing matched up with Tuesday's group. WR Jamaine Sherman, S Christian Bryant, S Maurice Alexander, RB Chase Reynolds, S Matt Daniels, DE Sammy Brown, LT Jake Long, DT Michael Brockers and DE William Hayes did not practice.

Brockers was also missing Tuesday and he watched Thursday's practice with his right ankle wrapped.

Bradford's day: Thursday was one of quarterback Sam Bradford's designated practice days and he did a similar amount of work to what he did in front of the media last week. Bradford participated in a pair of 7-on-7 sessions and again did work in the hurry-up team drills. He had some good moments, including the aforementioned touchdown to Austin and another scoring pass to wideout Austin Pettis. He also threw an interception to cornerback Janoris Jenkins during the 11-on-11 drills as pressure surrounded him.

Sam makes a play: As practice came to a close, defensive end Michael Sam made a nice play for the second-team defense. He read a pass, jumped to the outside and knocked it down, narrowly missing an interception. He continues to get reps with the second-team defense as Hayes sits out.

Up next: The Rams have now completed six OTAs with four remaining. All four of those will come next week with two more sessions open to the media on Tuesday and Thursday. There is no mandatory minicamp to complete the offseason.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have made a habit the past two years of continuing to perpetuate the blockbuster trade they made with the Washington Redskins by making additional deals.

In fact, in the first two years with Les Snead as general manager and Jeff Fisher as coach, the Rams had made at least one trade with each of their three first-round picks, not to mention other deals made in later rounds.

But the Rams managed to sit still, not fidget and make some picks in Thursday night's first round. In selecting Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson with the second overall pick, the Rams added the final piece of the puzzle from the trade with the Redskins.

While we won't be able to fully assess the deal for some time, the Rams certainly came away with quite a haul when you factor in all the pieces they have added. Of course, if quarterback Robert Griffin III goes on to a big career, the Redskins won't mind the cost. All of that is to be determined.

In the meantime, here's a breakdown of what the two sides received in the trade:

Washington received: QB Robert Griffin III

St. Louis received: DT Michael Brockers, CB Janoris Jenkins, RB Isaiah Pead, G Rokevious Watkins, LB Alec Ogletree, WR Stedman Bailey, RB Zac Stacy, OT Greg Robinson

As we sit here today, that means the Redskins got a starting quarterback. The Rams, meanwhile, got starters at defensive tackle, cornerback, linebacker, running back and offensive line with a receiver who could likely grab that role this year.

Rams draft rewind: 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What could have been: Many will point to the Rams passing on Alshon Jeffery in favor of Quick and based on results so far, that's a fair argument. But Jeffery was never really under consideration by the Rams so let's go to a scenario that was in play. Before the draft, the Rams showed interest in linebackers Bobby Wagner and Mychal Kendricks. Both were on the board for the Rams at No. 45 overall. But St. Louis wanted to recoup the fifth-round pick it traded for receiver Brandon Lloyd during the 2011 season. So the Rams made a deal with the Bears, moving down to No. 50 and getting their fifth-round choice in the process. Chicago took Jeffery with that No. 45 pick, Philadelphia selected Kendricks at No. 46 and Wagner went No. 47 to Seattle. Three picks later, the Rams took Pead and used the fifth-round choice on Watkins. Making matters worse, Tampa Bay's star linebacker LaVonte David was still on the board when the Rams picked Pead.

Looking back at the Rams and Blackmon

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Sometimes the best draft pick a team can make are the ones it doesn't. Friday's news that Jacksonville receiver Justin Blackmon has been suspended indefinitely for violation of the league's substance abuse policy would serve as a prime example of that old adage.

In the lead up to the 2012 NFL draft, it was no secret the Rams were searching for play makers, particularly a wide receiver who could give Sam Bradford the type of No. 1 target he hadn't had since he was drafted in 2010.

The Rams had already moved down in the draft from No. 2 to No. 6 after the big trade with the Washington Redskins, but still appeared poised to land a playmaker with that sixth pick. One way or another, the Rams were going to come out of the early rounds of the draft with a top receiver.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesBeing unable to select troubled WR Justin Blackmon in the 2012 NFL draft is now looking like a blessing for the Rams.
In the week leading up to the draft, the Rams even went so far as to go on a sort of wide receiver barnstorming tour, taking backup quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and Tom Brandstater to visit top prospects such as Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Baylor's Kendall Wright, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, Appalachian State's Brian Quick and, of course, Blackmon.

Blackmon had held steady as the top receiver prospect in the months leading up to the draft with the only real red flags stemming from off the field issues. But Blackmon had done enough in pre-draft workouts and interviews to solidify his spot as the top receiver and, really, the only one worth taking with the sixth pick in the draft.

When the draft finally began, the Rams sat calmly as Indianapolis plucked quarterback Andrew Luck, Washington grabbed quarterback Robert Griffin III, Cleveland snatched running back Trent Richardson and Minnesota grabbed offensive tackle Matt Kalil.

With Tampa Bay on the clock, it seemed almost certain that the Rams would have their pick from the receiver group, Blackmon included. Then, the news flashed that Jacksonville and Tampa Bay had struck a deal. Operating with the knowledge that the Rams would likely have strong interest in Blackmon, the Jaguars moved up to secure his services, surrendering a fourth-round pick to do so.

Then Yahoo! NFL reporter Mike Silver was in the Rams' draft room and reported that Rams coach Jeff Fisher "slammed his eyeglasses onto the table and uttered a one-syllable expletive."

With Blackmon and Richardson, the other player the Rams coveted in the top six, off the board, the Rams moved out of the draft slot, cutting a deal with Dallas to move down to No. 14 and pick up an extra second-round pick. The Rams turned that deal into LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, running back Isaiah Pead and offensive lineman Rokevious Watkins (acquired in another trade down with Dallas' second rounder).

There's no definitive proof that the Rams would have selected Blackmon had he fallen to them. They did covet Brockers but there is no doubt that if they were going to take a receiver at six, he was the only one they deemed worthy of that spot.

A season and a half later, there's ample evidence that Jacksonville leap frogging the Rams and taking away the option was a huge break for St. Louis. Brockers is an emerging force in the middle of the defensive line and considered one of the foundations of the team's defense. At receiver, the Rams ended up taking Quick with the first pick of the second round and Chris Givens in the fourth. Givens has been a solid contributor and though Quick is still developing, he's flashed potential to be a solid NFL receiver.

Pead and Watkins haven't worked out nearly as well but just having Brockers is clearly preferable to having a player who is suspended and dealing with issues beyond the football field.

Blackmon's suspension comes on the heels of a four-game suspension he served at the beginning of the season for a similar violation. He actually returned to face the Rams and posted five catches for 136 yards on Oct. 6.

On that day, it would have been understandable for the Rams and their fans to dream about what could have been had Blackmon dropped to them in the 2012 draft. On Friday, those dreams would have become a nightmare.

Rams-49ers: Matchup Breakdown

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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EARTH CITY, Mo. – Thursday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers has plenty of intriguing matchups. Here are three to keep an eye on when the teams kick it off at 8:25 p.m. ET at the Edward Jones Dome.

Rams front seven vs. 49ers running back Frank Gore

Gore was none too pleased at getting just 11 carries last week against Indianapolis despite his 7.5-yards-per-attempt average. He let San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh know about it, too.

[+] EnlargeFrank Gore
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezFrank Gore is sure to be focused against a Rams defense that was soft against the run in Week 3.
The fact the 49ers lost and didn’t use Gore as much as normal would likely be enough to get him heavily involved this week, but if San Francisco needed any more motivation to go to Gore, the Rams provided it last week.

Dallas running back DeMarco Murray gashed St. Louis for 175 yards on 26 carries in the Cowboys’ 31-7 victory.

Add all of those factors up, and the Rams expect to see Gore early and often.

“After the show we put on Sunday, I’d run the ball too,” Rams end Chris Long said. “We have to fix those things. If you have a subpar performance, there’s nothing you can ask more than to have a great running team like San Francisco to see where we’re at. They’re going to come in and try to run the football, they always do, that’s how they’re built and it’s up to us to be up to the task.”

Gore had long been a thorn in the Rams' side, but they have slowed him down over the teams’ four meetings the past two seasons. Last year, the Rams limited Gore to 3.5 yards per carry on his 44 attempts.

Those struggles have been applicable to the 49ers as a whole this season as their usual potent running game has dipped from 5.1 yards per rush last year to 4.0 in the first three games of 2013.

Rams left tackle Jake Long vs. 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith

It was tough sledding last week for Long against Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware, and it won’t get any easier this week against Smith.

In one sense, Long and the Rams offensive line catch a break by missing out on Aldon Smith, but Justin Smith (no relation) is the guy who has made a habit of wrecking defensive game plans.

“He’s definitely the one that runs that defense, especially up front,” Long said. “He’s a guy that never stops until the whistle has blown. He’s running guys down, he’s pushing guys back, he’s making all the tackles and really is the heart and soul of that defensive line. We’ve got to slow him down.”

Justin Smith won’t be the exclusive responsibility of Long, who will also have to deal with the players replacing Aldon Smith, such as rookie Corey Lemonier. Still, Long will have to do his part along with left guard Chris Williams to keep Justin Smith from blowing things up, especially if the Rams are to get their running game up to speed.

Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers vs. 49ers guard Mike Iupati

It wasn’t until the first meeting between the teams last season that then-rookie Brockers felt like he was at full strength coming off a high-ankle sprain. He made up for lost time with eight tackles in two meetings against San Francisco and was instrumental in helping slow Gore and the 49ers run game.

Iupati is considered on the toughest guards in the league, and in a game full of physical matchups, this one might be the most brutal. Iupati has been battling a shoulder injury and has struggled in the first three games of the season.

Brockers played well in the opener against Arizona and was mostly fine against Atlanta before a rough Week 3 outing in Dallas. If indeed San Francisco looks to get back to the ground game with Gore, this matchup will go a long way in determining its success.
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.
A look at the current incarnation of the St. Louis Rams defense and specialists, where reinforcements may be needed and how the depth chart could look when the season begins.

Defensive ends (5): Chris Long, Robert Quinn, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Gerald Rivers

Long and Quinn are the starters and the pass-rushers around whom the entire defense revolves. Hayes and Sims are valuable backups with the versatility to play inside and come in on running downs. All four will get plenty of playing time, and possibly even be on the field together at times. Rivers is a promising youngster who earned a spot with a strong camp, though he seems the most likely candidate to be inactive on game days, at least initially. The Rams are all set here as this is probably the strongest position on the team.

Defensive tackles (4): Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Jermelle Cudjo, Matt Conrath

Brockers and Langford handle starting duties and will get the bulk of the work, though the Rams do like to use a rotation along the defensive line. Cudjo is still coming back from a foot injury, but he played in the preseason finale and would be first off the bench on the inside. Conrath is healthy and added bulk in the offseason. His size and strength makes him a promising player for the future, but it remains to be seen where he'll contribute aside from special teams this season. Again, the Rams seem pleased with what they have at this position.

[+] EnlargeJames Laurinaitis
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesMiddle linebacker James Laurinaitis will again run the Rams defense, and now will have help from rookie Alec Ogletree.
Linebackers (6): James Laurinaitis, Will Witherspoon, Alec Ogletree, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Daren Bates, Jonathan Stewart

Laurinaitis runs the defense from his middle linebacker spot, and he's got a running mate now in the rookie Ogletree. Those two will start and figure to stay on the field for all three downs. Witherspoon steps in for the suspended Jo-Lonn Dunbar and offers the Rams a sound, veteran presence on a unit that doesn't have much. Behind the starters, the Rams have three, count 'em three, undrafted rookies providing the depth. Armstrong has shown particular promise on the outside, while Stewart provides some backing for Laurinaitis. Bates projects as a core special-teams player, an area Armstrong also will contribute. The lack of experienced depth until Dunbar gets back won't be an issue so long as the Rams have good health the first quarter of the season. It still wouldn't be a shock if they made a tweak or two to this position before opening day.

Cornerbacks (5): Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Brandon McGee, Quinton Pointer

Finnegan and Jenkins return for a second run in the starting roles and Johnson again figures as the third corner in nickel situations on the outside, with Finnegan moving into the slot. McGee played well in camp before getting banged up late, slowing his progress a bit. He's the fourth corner. Pointer brings some versatility in that he can play safety in a pinch and contribute on special teams. Unless an obvious upgrade appears on the waiver wire, this is another spot that seems pretty secure.

Safeties (5): T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod, Darian Stewart, Matt Giordano, Matt Daniels

McDonald has one starting spot secured. The other one looks like it will be McLeod, at least for the time being as Stewart nurses a hamstring injury. McLeod has probably done enough to earn the job on a full-time basis, though. Stewart and Giordano give the Rams some much-needed experience for a young group, but both have had injury issues throughout camp and it's uncertain when they'll be available. Daniels closed the preseason with a flourish, helps on special teams and figures to contribute in a variety of ways. The uncertainty surrounding the health of Stewart and Giordano, combined with the inexperience of McDonald, McLeod and Daniels, could have the Rams looking for upgrades here as well.

Specialists (3): LS Jake McQuaide, P Johnny Hekker, K Greg Zuerlein

This young trio has been locked into its spots since the start of camp. The Rams hope this group performs well enough to hold the jobs down not only for this season but many in the future.

Final Rams roster prediction

August, 30, 2013
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In many ways, trying to make predictions for a 53-man roster is similar to trying to predict all of the games in the NCAA basketball tournament correctly. Make one mistake and the whole thing can be flushed away.

After a full offseason of organized team activities, minicamps, training camp practices and four preseason games, it’s usually pretty easy to identify the players that have earned roster spots or at least should make the initial cut to 53.

What’s harder is trying to determine the composition of the roster. For the Rams, complicating matters further are suspensions to linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar and running back Isaiah Pead.

The Rams will have roster exemptions for Pead (one week) and Dunbar (four weeks), so they can keep both players around but fill their spots on the roster in the meantime. Injuries at tight end and a new-look offense also make things a bit more difficult to figure.

After Thursday night’s preseason finale, Rams coach Jeff Fisher made it clear the roster could take on a different look than it normally might given all the moving parts.

“We have some tough choices, yeah, that we have to sort out, with depth at different positions,” Fisher said. “The roster may look, initially, a little different than it has in the past. We may carry more at one position and fewer at the others and look for outside help.”

Looking for outside help could be the key phrase there. Fisher and general manager Les Snead did not hesitate to make waiver claims and moves after the final cuts in 2012. By the time the weekend was over, they had already switched out four players who made it through the cuts.

With that in mind, here’s a final, best guess at how the Rams’ initial 53-man roster will look by the deadline at 6 p.m. ET Saturday.

(Note: the list does not include Dunbar and Pead, who will both be kept).

Quarterback (2): Sam Bradford, Austin Davis -- The Rams released Kellen Clemens and brought him back on a non-guaranteed deal after week one last year. Don’t see what has changed this year, so I expect them to do it again.

Running back (4): Daryl Richardson, Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, Chase Reynolds -- Reynolds might be a bit of a surprise, and his stay might only last a week, but he’s been a core special teams player throughout preseason.

Wide receiver (5): Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, Tavon Austin, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey -- The Rams could keep a sixth, and if they do, it will likely be Justin Veltung, but it seems they’re more likely to keep two on the practice squad.

Tight end (5): Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks, Cory Harkey, Mike McNeill, Zach Potter -- They might keep just four, but with Harkey missing some time and Kendricks returning from injury, it stands to reason they’ll keep five for the time being, especially considering the amount of multiple tight end sets they want to employ.

Offensive line (9): Jake Long, Rodger Saffold, Scott Wells, Harvey Dahl, Chris Williams, Shelley Smith, Joe Barksdale, Barrett Jones, Tim Barnes -- Fisher has hinted that the Rams will keep an extra lineman or two, or maybe even three, but it’s hard to see on the current roster where those might come from. Jones and Barnes are a bit redundant, but the Rams have always liked Barnes and might not be comfortable with Jones yet as he works back from a Lisfranc injury.

Defensive line (9): Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Matt Conrath, Jermelle Cudjo, Gerald Rivers -- Standing by the idea that Rivers might not make it through waivers to the practice squad, the Rams keep him instead of the more versatile Mason Brodine in a tough call.

Linebacker (6): James Laurinaitis, Will Witherspoon, Alec Ogletree, Josh Hull, Ray Ray Armstrong, Daren Bates -- Armstrong was one of the stars of the preseason, and is a no-brainer at this point. Bates wins a spot as a potential core special teams player.

Cornerback (5): Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Brandon McGee, Quinton Pointer -- The Rams kept five last year and look poised to do so again. The first four are clear-cut, but Darren Woodard made a late push for a potential fifth spot, especially with Pointer battling injury. Pointer wins out because of versatility and special teams value.

Safety (5): T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod, Darian Stewart, Matt Daniels, Cody Davis -- All signs point to McLeod winning the starting job opposite McDonald, and Stewart’s continued injury issues would normally put his roster spot in danger altogether. But if the Rams parted ways with Stewart, the backups would have no experience to speak of. Davis edges Rashard Hall for the final spot.

Specialists (3): Jake McQuaide, Johnny Hekker, Greg Zuerlein -- Signed, sealed, delivered.

Final 2013 preseason QB snap counts

August, 30, 2013
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Six projected starting quarterbacks played in their teams' final exhibition games of the 2013 preseason. The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick were two of them, and both led touchdown drives before exiting after one series. None of the NFL's projected starters got hurt Thursday night.

The chart shows week-by-week snap counts for quarterbacks I singled out as projected starters heading into preseason. NFC West alums Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn might not start after all, but I've left them in the chart for context.

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has generally played starters in the final preseason game. He did not this time.

"Typically I have, but I guess in the new world that we’re in, it’s hard to," Fisher told reporters after the Rams' game against Baltimore. "What that implies is that I'm pleased with where they are right now, those guys that sat. They worked hard. We got a great workout and it allowed them to fast-forward their minds to Arizona."

Fisher could have been alluding to the run of higher-profile injuries around the league this summer. Last year, the Rams lost rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers to a high-ankle sprain in the final preseason game.

The Rams emerged from this preseason healthier than their division rivals. That did not stop the 49ers from playing their offensive starters or the Seahawks from playing starters on both sides of the ball Thursday night. The Arizona Cardinals rested most of their starters, though Michael Floyd was one notable exception.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh offered no explanation for playing his starting offense one series. Kaepernick hadn't gotten many snaps through the first three games, however. Getting additional reps for Kaepernick and the team's group of emerging receivers made some sense on the surface.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll went into the final preseason game saying he wanted starters to play because the team values this games as competitive opportunities.

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