NFL Nation: Michael Sam

Inside Slant: Michael Sam's week

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2

Everyone has an opinion on why Michael Sam was not among the 2,016 players initially signed to NFL rosters or practice squads this week. Here's the boring truth: Everyone is right.

I can make a fact-based, football-only argument for why Sam didn't make the St. Louis Rams, and for why no other team has signed him to its 53-man roster. It's more difficult to explain the tepid interest he received on the practice squad market.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Dallas Cowboys plan to add him to their practice squad Wednesday, but there is no concrete football answer for why it took so long -- or why 16 other defensive ends signed practice squad contracts before the Cowboys expressed interest in Sam. In this case, it seems na´ve not to consider the impact of his status as the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL.

Let's first tackle the 53-man roster issue before addressing some theories about his initial exclusion from practice squads.

I spoke with a veteran scout Tuesday morning who said the consensus pre-draft evaluation of Sam largely held up during the preseason. Despite the decision to drop 13 pounds before training camp to maximize his speed, Sam didn't prove fast enough to be an NFL-level edge rusher in a 4-3 scheme. And at 257 pounds, he's at least 20-25 pounds too light to fit into other roles: Either as a 3-4 defensive end or as a "swing" backup who can play both inside and outside. (It's worth noting that the defensive lineman who beat out Sam for the Rams' final roster spot, Ethan Westbrooks, can play all four line spots in the 4-3.)

Speed also proved a determining factor on special teams. Those who watched the Rams' preseason games mostly saw Sam used as a blocker for kickoff returns -- a position usually manned by backup defensive tackles and offensive linemen. It's one special-teams position where speed doesn't matter. Practice repetitions apparently made clear that he wasn't a candidate to cover kickoffs or punts, which require sustained speed and lateral movement over 50-plus yards.

So when the Rams waived Sam over the weekend, the rest of the NFL was left to judge whether it could find use for a player who isn't an ideal fit for either of its two dominant defensive schemes and also isn't likely to be much of special-teams contributor. In those terms, it's easy to understand how he passed through waivers.

Nothing about what you just read is unusual for a seventh-round draft pick in the NFL, a natural place to select marginal prospects. Over the past 20 drafts, 46.8 percent of seventh-rounders made a Week 1 roster, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Between 2010 and 2013, that figure was slightly higher at 52.8 percent. In essence, it's a 50-50 proposition.

Some might suggest that Sam's pre-combine announcement sunk his draft status, meaning his chances to make a team based purely on skill should have been higher. That sentiment would require a considerable expansion of conspiracy theory now that all 32 teams have passed on signing him. What's more likely: That 32 teams are knowingly ignoring a player who can help them win this week? Or that there is a football consensus that he cannot?

The answer seems clear to me. On the other hand, the wait for a practice squad spot proved a more difficult space to navigate.

The first thing to know is that most teams use their practice squad as a weekly revolving door of players brought in for many different reasons. There are hundreds of practice squad transactions in the NFL every season.

Some arrive to be evaluated as prospects. Others can provide practice depth at a position where a veteran is taking reps off. A few are signed because they look like or play similarly to an upcoming opponent. In other words: If you're healthy, if you're willing to be treated (and paid) like a scrub and you have even modest skills, you're a candidate to be an NFL practice squad player.

So why wasn't Sam among them prior to Tuesday's news? He is by all reports healthy. The Rams praised his effort through his tenure in St. Louis, and as a "tweener," he could actually provide a reasonable facsimile of upcoming opponents at multiple positions on the scout team. Why were the Cowboys reported to have spent much of Tuesday on "due diligence" on Sam, an unusual time investment when it comes to practice squad players?

We are left, then, to examine the impact of Sam's historic announcement here. As we learned in the divorce between the Minnesota Vikings and punter Chris Kluwe, the NFL's team concept -- fairly or unfairly, right or wrong -- frowns upon any attention a player receives other than for his performance on the field. None of us can get into the heads of general managers to gauge bigotry levels, but we can state with some confidence that, when given the option between relative equals, they are much more likely to make the decision that draws the least amount of public attention.

Fortunately, this story has concluded fairly. Sam received a genuine opportunity to make the Rams' 53-man roster. By consensus, he wasn't good enough. He'll now get a second chance to impress another organization, albeit after a longer-than-usual wait and with a franchise whose owner craves attention like no other. But all's well that ends well, I suppose.

Fisher plans to meet with Sam

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams released 21 players in the past two days and coach Jeff Fisher met with every one of them except the most prominent: defensive end Michael Sam.

Through no fault of either party, Fisher and Sam could not meet Friday or Saturday. Sam spent Friday evening and Saturday in Columbia, Missouri, watching his alma mater Missouri open the season against South Dakota State. So Fisher had to relay the news of Sam's release to him via phone Saturday afternoon.

But Fisher has a longstanding tradition of meeting with each player to break the news of their release in person. That means he'll make it a point to meet with Sam on Sunday.

"Mike mentioned to you guys and to us that he wanted to go to Mizzou and we were fine with that," Fisher said. "I had a conversation with Mike about an hour ago and our intention is to get together tomorrow so I can tell him the same thing I told everybody else that got let go, the reasons for that and then what their worlds look like moving forward. Mike and I will get together tomorrow and talk about those things."

Among the topics for discussion will be Sam's future in St. Louis and in the league. Sam will be on the waiver wire until noon ET Sunday, leaving teams the chance to claim him before he'd be eligible to sign to a practice squad.

Fisher made no guarantees of Sam securing a spot on the 10-man practice squad because of the team's needs for more bodies at other positions.

"The practice squad is heavily dependent on what you do in other positions," Fisher said. "We've got, for example, it's well noted that [CB] Trumaine [Johnson] is going to be down for a few weeks, [C/G] Barrett [Jones] is going to be down for a few weeks. We may have to go heavy in the other positions. If you're familiar with our roster right now, we've got five linebackers, for example; we need linebackers on the practice squad. I'm not going to go into what his odds are or what those opportunities are until we sift through things tomorrow.”

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- From the moment the St. Louis Rams used the 249th pick in May's NFL draft on defensive end Michael Sam, there was never any doubt that he'd have an uphill climb to win a roster spot on the team's deepest unit.

In so many ways, St. Louis was the perfect place for Sam. It's two hours from the University of Missouri, where he played his college football. There's a built-in fan base of the many Missouri alums in the St. Louis area. Owner Stan Kroenke is also an alum and maintains a home in Columbia. Former teammates such as center Tim Barnes and cornerback E.J. Gaines are already on the roster.

But in the way that mattered most -- the football way -- it was always going to be hard for Sam to make the roster. He found out just how difficult that was Saturday afternoon when the Rams announced Sam was one of the 21 players the team released.

[+] EnlargeSam
Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images"I was pulling for Mike, I really was. ... Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Michael Sam.
Before Sam even arrived in St. Louis, the Rams had eight defensive linemen essentially locked into roster spots. They've kept nine in each of the past two seasons, but Sam faced tough competition from undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks for that ninth spot.

"When we drafted Michael, we mentioned that it was going to be a tough road," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Those four defensive ends we have on the roster are good. And they’re very productive. As well as the tackles. That’s the strength of our football team. But again, it was a football decision."

It was a football decision that ultimately boiled down to two things: whether Sam could beat out Westbrooks and, barring that, impressing the coaches enough to persuade them to go even heavier on the line by keeping 10.

The competition between Westbrooks and Sam started out relatively even. Sam was a seventh-round pick, but Westbrooks was the team's prized find in rookie free agency as he received the largest signing bonus among the team's undrafted rookies.

Sam and Westbrooks dueled in the preseason, posting similar stats in the four games and playing more snaps than the other defensive linemen. But as the preseason wore on, it was clear Westbrooks offered every bit as much talent in a more versatile package.

"He was very, very productive in the preseason for us and played all four spots," Fisher said. "He’s a very, very talented young player that I think has a really good future."

With Westbrooks stating a case too good for the Rams to ignore, Sam's best shot to make the roster came down to whether the team wanted to keep 10 defensive linemen, a number well above the usual standard.

Although Sam played well enough to prove he belongs in the NFL, he wasn't so overwhelming that the Rams couldn't keep him. He played almost exclusively as a left defensive end, and any hopes that he could gain an edge by working on special teams never materialized.

Given the injuries to cornerback Trumaine Johnson and offensive lineman Barrett Jones and the need to keep an extra body at those spots, keeping 10 was just not palatable.

"Nine defensive linemen on a roster is a significant number, especially when you are a four-down lineman team," Fisher said. "Nine is a number that you look at to start the season. If you go with 10, then you are going to be short someplace else, and we are just not there."

The Rams could be is in a position to put Sam on the practice squad if he clears waivers. We'll find out Sunday at noon ET whether he will. Fisher declined to comment on the practice squad, but a league source said the team would like to keep Sam there if possible. Either way, that's no sure thing.

"I was pulling for Mike, I really was," Fisher said. "I don’t say that very often, but I was. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do."

Indeed, Fisher isn't exaggerating when he says Sam was not a distraction and his time in St. Louis was all about football. And football was the reason that his time on the roster came to an end Saturday afternoon.

St. Louis Rams cut-down analysis

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
Most significant move: From the moment the St. Louis Rams drafted him, it was no secret it would be difficult for defensive end Michael Sam to make the 53-man roster. Despite a strong preseason, Sam was released. This was simply a matter of the numbers working against him. The Rams kept nine defensive linemen on the depth chart, including the eight we already knew were well-positioned. The ninth spot was up for grabs but ultimately went to Ethan Westbrooks. His versatility and strong daily effort was simply too much for Sam to overcome. Now the Rams will wait and see if Sam clears waivers so they can bring him back to the practice squad.

Light at linebacker: It's no surprise the Rams cut four linebackers, leaving only five on the current roster. Though they are likely to continue searching for a sixth linebacker to add some depth, none of the rookies vying for a spot did enough to earn a spot. The Rams gave Phillip Steward plenty of chances to make a case to be on the roster, but he couldn't take advantage. Don't be surprised if the Rams add to the position before the opener against Minnesota.

Quarterback quandary: Again, nobody will be taken aback by the team's decision to cut sixth-round quarterback Garrett Gilbert. He wasn't able to provide the consistency needed to win a spot, though the team could bring him back to the practice squad. But since starter Sam Bradford was lost for the season, the plan has been to add another quarterback with some experience. Even if the Rams had kept Gilbert on the roster, it was almost certainly as a place-holder until they can find a veteran capable of backing up starter Shaun Hill.

What's next: The Rams will spend Saturday evening and Sunday morning piecing together their 10-man practice squad. Many of the practice squad players will be those released by the team in the past week. Some candidates include tackle Sean Hooey, defensive tackle Deantre Harlan, linebacker Lawrence Wilson, cornerback Greg Reid, guard Travis Bond and receiver Austin Franklin.

Rams moves: Released WR Emory Blake, G Bond, DE Kourtnei Brown, S Christian Bryant, DT Matt Conrath, S Avery Cunningham, WR Franklin, QB Gilbert, DT Harlan, LB Aaron Hill, T Hooey, DB Reid, LB Etienne Sabino, DE Sam, TE Brad Smelley, LB Steward, T Mitchell Van Dyk, WR Justin Veltung, OL Brandon Washington, LB Wilson and CB Darren Woodard.

WR Stedman Bailey will be placed on the reserve/suspended list for first four games.

Where things stand with Michael Sam

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams made 17 cuts on Friday, leaving them five roster moves short of having their initial 53-man roster pieced together.

There were no surprises in the first group of cuts, but there are some things worth noting that could play in favor of defensive end Michael Sam.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesWill defensive end Michael Sam make the St. Louis Ram's 53-man roster?
Here's a quick look at where things stand as the Rams work toward finalizing a decision on whether to keep or cut Sam. They'll have to do that by 4 p.m. ET today with coach Jeff Fisher scheduled to address the media at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Things working in Sam's favor:

-- Amongst the Rams' first 17 cuts were one quarterback and four linebackers. That's significant in the sense the Rams now have just two quarterbacks and five linebackers on the roster. Theoretically, they could move forward with those numbers at those spots. If they do, going lighter on numbers at those positions could leave an opening for the Rams to go heavy on the defensive line and retain both Ethan Westbrooks and Sam.

-- Ten is a big number on the defensive line, but it could be a necessity given the team's injuries at end. William Hayes is still working his way back from offseason surgeries. He's practiced but did not appear in any preseason games. Hayes looks like he could be ready for the opener but the Rams could take the precaution of having more insurance in the meantime. Eugene Sims is also battling an injury. He didn't practice last week and sat out the preseason finale against Miami with a brace on his leg. The status of both players remains to be seen, but if the Rams do have concerns that either or both could be ready, it could work in Sam's favor.

-- Sam's performance in preseason games showed he can play in this league. He had 11 tackles and three sacks in those four contests and even offered some production against the run in the finale against Miami. He's one of the 53 best players on this team and teams often try to keep the 53 best guys if they can find a way to make the numbers work.

Things working against Sam:

-- While injuries to Sims and Hayes could work in Sam's favor, there are other injuries that could work against him. Namely, the Rams are banged up at cornerback and will miss starter Trumaine Johnson for four-to-six weeks. Brandon McGee is also dealing with an ankle injury. The Rams cut some corners Friday but they're almost certainly going to have to carry six going into the season. The offensive line offers similar concerns with Barrett Jones working his way back from back surgery. The Rams could do some other things with Jones besides carrying him on the 53-man roster but if they don't, his inability to play right away will require the Rams to carry another body at the spot.

-- When this all started, special teams looked like a way for Sam to add to his value in his efforts to make the roster. Now, it might work against him. If the Rams are light on linebackers, they might have to go heavier somewhere like safety or receiver so they can have additional bodies to run down kicks and punts. Sam simply doesn't fit that type of role.

-- It's important to remember that these are not final rosters. These are initial rosters. Things can change as the days go by. The Rams have openly acknowledged they'll be looking for a veteran quarterback and will do the same at linebacker. So while the Rams are light in those spots now, that isn't necessarily a permanent condition.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Only time and, eventually, the St. Louis Rams will tell how many defensive linemen they keep on their initial 53-man roster.

Those answers probably won't come in any sort of official capacity until Saturday, when the league mandates every team trim their roster from 75 to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET. In the meantime, the Rams are facing a difficult decision on what to do at the most-watched battle among fifth defensive ends in league history.

On one hand there's Ethan Westbrooks, the versatile, undrafted rookie out of West Texas A&M who has done nothing but make plays since the preseason began. On the other there's Michael Sam, the seventh-round draft choice out of Missouri who has done nothing but make plays since the preseason began. Both have done enough to show that they belong on an NFL roster.

If the Rams were hoping Thursday night would offer some final clarity, they didn't get their wish. Per usual, both players were up to the task of providing further food for thought. Westbrooks had four tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits. Sam showed he can do more than just rush the passer by offering production against the run with a team-high six tackles.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesMichael Sam had a solid training camp, but there are many factors at play that will determine whether or not he makes the St. Louis Rams roster.
It has long been expected that the Rams would keep nine defensive linemen, and eight spots essentially were locked up before camp even began. If that's the case, then the Rams must now finally choose between Westbrooks and Sam.

"This is the hard part about the National Football League in the next couple of days, reducing the roster to 53," coach Jeff Fisher said. "We’ll have some discussions tomorrow and we’ll go from there."

Those discussions will bring into play many factors beyond what can be seen in a stat book. If there's an advantage to be found in this conversation, it's easily seen in Westbrooks' versatility.

Westbrooks has impressed the Rams' coaches and personnel department with his ability to play multiple positions, and his pass-rushing ability from the interior of the line has been even better than they thought.

"If you are versatile, I feel like some teams can look at you like an end, some can look at you like a tackle and if you can do both equally well and teams like that, I feel like that’s a good value to have," Westbrooks said.

At this point, it would be a surprise if Westbrooks isn't on the roster, at least in this corner of cyberspace. But because both players have made strong cases to stick, there still remains the possibility the Rams could keep both players.

Earlier this week, Fisher said he could keep as many as 12 defensive linemen. He was joking (I think), but the possibility of keeping 10 can't be discounted. The question then becomes how they get to that number.

As with any roster decisions, the numbers game always comes into play. And there are factors that could be working against Sam, including injuries to players such as cornerback Trumaine Johnson and Barrett Jones that aren't serious enough to land them on injured reserve, but might effectively double their roster spots as the Rams carry them and an additional player at the position.

"Those are things that all fall into play with these decisions," Fisher said.

Conversely, the Rams also might have something of a need for bodies at defensive end. They played with just three down linemen against Miami because of injuries to backups William Hayes and Eugene Sims. Hayes did not play in a preseason game as he recovers from a trio of offseason surgeries and Sims watched practice this week with his leg in a brace.

The status of that duo moving forward could also be an X factor in the discussion.

Regardless of the Rams' decision, Sam has no plans to sit around and nervously wait, as he did during the draft. He'll head to his alma mater on Saturday to watch Missouri open the season against South Dakota State secure in the belief he did all he could to win a job somewhere in the NFL.

"I’m very confident I will be playing on an NFL roster this fall," Sam said. "I made some big plays in games and in practice I improved every week and I know I can play in this league."

Now we wait to find out where he'll do it.

W2W4: St. Louis Rams

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins meet in Week 4 of the preseason Thursday night at Sun Life Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET. Here are three things to watch for from the Rams' end:

1. Replacing Johnson: Projected starting cornerback Trumaine Johnson was among the five Rams starters suffering injuries in the first half last week against Cleveland, and though it looked brutal when it happened, it wasn't as bad as feared. Johnson has a sprained MCL in his knee and is expected to miss four to six weeks. That's not good news for a young and thin cornerback group but it's better than what was expected when he left on a cart. But now the Rams must not only figure out the remaining depth at the position, a battle that should include Marcus Roberson, Greg Reid and Darren Woodard, but also who will start opposite Johnson. They'd prefer to keep rookie Lamarcus Joyner as the primary nickelback, leaving rookie E.J. Gaines and Brandon McGee to battle for the spot. McGee has been dealing with an ankle injury and didn't practice Tuesday, which could mean Gaines gets the first shot to step in for Johnson. Either way, it's a good opportunity for all of the young corners to make a statement on where they belong in the pecking order.

2. Time for starters: In each of the other three preseason games, coach Jeff Fisher has been pretty open about how much playing time his starters will get in the week leading up to the game. Not this week. Fisher was noncommittal about how much work his starters will get against the Dolphins other than to say some will play more than others. With some players working back into shape off injury or battling injuries of their own, there's a line between those that need the work and those that don't. Expect linebacker James Laurinaitis to get some work after sitting the first three games with an ankle injury. As for quarterback Shaun Hill, Fisher wouldn't tip his hand. But it wouldn't surprise to see the Rams play it safe with him. Hill took plenty of reps with the first offense in the first week of preseason against New Orleans and it's probably not worth the risk to give him more than some token snaps.

3. Sam vs. Westbrooks: It's been one of the best battle of training camp and though there are others (potential fourth tight end, fourth running back, sixth linebacker, etc.), this is the one that has seen both players rise to the occasion again and again in the preseason. Ethan Westbrooks probably has the edge going into the game, impressing with his work in practice and games and his ability to play all over the line. But Michael Sam has been productive in games, even if practice hasn't been as good. There's still the outside chance the Rams could keep both but this is the last chance for both to make a strong closing statement.
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for ESPN's NFL Nation TV's Spreecast episode No. 20.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guests Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter), Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) and Scott Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers reporter) will discuss a range of topics from Johnny Manziel getting sacked and mocked by Michael Sam, the Oakland Raiders being named the least desirable team to play for in the NFL in an poll and the 49ers' offense continuing to struggle in the preseason, among other timely issues.

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

CLEVELAND -- As the preseason wears on and St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher's gradual-build approach to it takes hold, snaps are increasingly difficult to come by for defensive end Michael Sam and other rookies hoping to crack the initial 53-man roster.

That means fewer chances for Sam to impress Fisher and his staff. It also means Sam has no choice but to make the most of the chances he's afforded.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam, Johnny Manziel
AP Photo/Tony DejakRams rookie defensive end Michael Sam was able to sack Johnny Manziel twice Saturday.
To Sam's credit, he seems to be doing that quite well as pursues a potential ninth -- or even 10th -- roster spot carved out for defensive linemen. On Saturday night at FirstEnergy Stadium, Sam drew plenty of attention by twice sacking Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel in the Rams' 33-14 win.

Defensive end Chris Long even joked about the internet breaking because of it. While the jokes were funny, Sam's recent work in games is no laughing matter.

"With the plays you have, you’ve got to make sure you perform," Sam said. "I thought I came up big in the fourth quarter."

Under Fisher's guidance, starters generally get more reps as the preseason wears on, leaving less work for the backups. It also means facing lesser players later in the game. Sam offers a prime example, entering the first preseason game against New Orleans in the first quarter but having to wait until the fourth to play against the Browns.

Sam wasted little time making his presence felt when he entered. Playing his most comfortable left end spot, Sam beat second-string tackle Martin Wallace around the edge, using both arms to knock away Wallace's feeble attempt to block him.

Often labeled purely a run-and-chase player who gets most of his sacks on effort, Sam has made strides when it comes to hand usage and fundamentals according to Long.

"He’s gotten a lot better with that," Long said. "When he came in he was very raw; he’s still raw but he continues to work at it. He’s like the rest of these rookies out there competing every day and he was able to make a play tonight and that was great for him."

Sam drew a strong reaction from his teammates on the sideline when he followed the sack by doing his normal celebration capped off by an imitation of Manziel's money sign.

"If you sack Johnny, you’ve got to do it," Sam said. "At least once."

Sam actually had a second opportunity to do it, though it faded quickly because his second sack came on the game's final play. Sam appeared to wrangle Manziel down with about three other Rams, but the unofficial press-box statistics credited him for the takedown. So long as someone is willing to give it to him, Sam is happy to take it.

"That last sack belongs to me as well," Sam said. "So that’s good. Because I need ‘em. I need ‘em."

Indeed, regardless of the competition or the snap count, Sam can use every big play possible as he continues fighting for a roster spot. The Rams appear to have eight defensive line spots pretty well locked in, and though they've carried nine in their two years under coach Jeff Fisher, undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks has performed every bit as good or better than Sam throughout the preseason.

There's a chance the Rams could go even heavier on the defensive line considering some injuries and versatility at other positions, but that's no guarantee. The only way for Sam to make it is to earn it.

"I can only control what I can control," Sam said. "I thought I got better today. I’m not only interviewing for the Rams but also interviewing for the other 31 teams. As long as I keep getting better, I have got one more week to get better and we’ll go from that."
Halfway through the preseason schedule, the Green Bay Packers' roster and depth chart is starting to take shape.

Here's a look at who hurt their chances during Saturday’s 21-7 victory at the St. Louis Rams:

1. Derek Sherrod: A week ago, the Packers were raving about the return of the former first-round draft pick, who saw his first extensive playing time since he broke his leg late in his rookie season of 2011. A week later, they have reason to be concerned about whether he can be the backup swing tackle they need without Don Barclay (who was lost for the season to knee injury early in camp). Sherrod had all kinds of trouble with a pair of Rams backups. On his very first snap at left tackle, Sherrod got smoked by defensive end Eugene Sims, who drilled quarterback Scott Tolzien just as he released the ball. Later on the same drive, Sims beat Sherrod again to pressure Tolzien into an incompletion. "I thought Scott had some tough situations," coach Mike McCarthy said, referring to the protection problems. Sherrod also got some time at right tackle late in the game, but he did not fare much better. He got beat by rookie Michael Sam, who then sacked Matt Flynn. Although Flynn held the ball for 3.5 seconds (one full second longer than McCarthy wants), the responsibility for the sack should sit with Sherrod.

2. Aaron Adams: See above. Sherrod's running mate at tackle with the No. 2 offensive line had troubles of his own. Playing right tackle on the first series with Tolzien, Adams allowed rookie defensive end Ethan Westbrooks to beat him and then hit Tolzien as he threw. On the next series, Adams gave up a sack to Westbrooks on third down. Adams spent all of last season on the practice squad and had impressed the coaches during the early part of the training camp.

3. Corey Linsley: If the Packers were to lose center JC Tretter during a game, they might be more likely to move one of their starting guards rather than go with rookie Corey Linsley in the middle. Although the fifth-round pick has worked as the No. 2 center throughout camp, his performance against the Rams likely gave the Packers reason to believe he's not ready for regular-season game action. Linsley committed a pair of penalties, including one that wiped out a Tolzien touchdown pass to Myles White. Perhaps it was just a bad day in his first NFL game in a dome because Linsley has been solid in practice.

4. DuJuan Harris: Last season, running back Eddie Lacy fumbled only once – it came in his regular-season debut – in 15 games. If Harris is going to take some of Lacy's snaps this season, he can't cough up the ball like he did in the third quarter. The Packers like Harris as a change-of-pace back but if ball security is an issue, they have other options. Undrafted rookie Rajion Neal was impressive in Week 1 before he sustained a knee injury. He could return this week. Michael Hill averaged 4.3 yards on four carries and had a 27-yard reception against the Rams.

5. Brandon Bostick: The tight end literally hurt himself in the first quarter, when he left the game because of a lower leg injury and did not return. Although Bostick did not start (rookie Richard Rodgers did), he has been making a push for the job and at the very least would be in line for significant playing time. Injuries have slowed Bostick in the past. He finished last season on injured reserve because of a broken foot.

Observation Deck: St. Louis Rams

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16

ST. LOUIS -- The fast-break offense of the Green Bay Packers put the St. Louis Rams on their heels from the opening kickoff, and the Packers never looked back in Saturday's second preseason contest.

Green Bay went on to a 21-7 victory at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams dropped to 0-2 in the preseason.

Some more thoughts and observations from Saturday's game:
  • Aside from a poorly timed and thrown misfire on a deep ball intended for receiver Kenny Britt, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford's first game action in 300 days was a success. Bradford started and led two drives before calling it a day. I had him down for 22 snaps with 12 pass attempts, six run plays and four plays nullified by penalty. He finished 9-of-12 for 101 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for a rating of 127.4. On those snaps, Bradford only took one real hit but it was a big one from Green Bay's Julius Peppers. Bradford bounced back up with no issues, though. Bradford's second drive was his best work of the day, including a nice throw over the middle to receiver Brian Quick for a 41-yard gain and a perfectly threaded throw to tight end Lance Kendricks for an 11-yard touchdown.
  • If anyone had flashbacks to the way the Rams closed the season in Seattle last year when watching the first-team offense attempt to run the ball, you're forgiven. The run blocking was nowhere to be found as Zac Stacy finished with 6 yards on six carries. The Rams definitely miss left tackle Jake Long and right guard Rodger Saffold in that area and, of course, they aren't game planning. Still, if you're going to be a run-first offense, you'd like to at least gain some traction there in preseason.
  • The Packers' first-team offense made it look easy against the Rams' top defense on its two drives to start the game. The Rams are playing vanilla schematically, sure, but the Packers aren't exactly showing all they have, either. The Rams generated little pass rush until the second defense entered and the corners and safeties sat back in soft coverage consistently. At one point, the Rams had both safeties lining up 20 yards off the line of scrimmage and dropping back further at the snap. Completions came easy for Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers from there.
  • Undrafted rookie defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks continues to impress. He entered before Michael Sam at left defensive end with the second defense and made the most of the opportunity. He had a sack and a couple of pressures before moving around in the second half. Sam was mostly nondescript before reaching Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn for a sack with about seven minutes and 25 seconds to play. Sam isn't standing out as much as Westbrooks but he's doing enough to stay in the picture. That battle will continue over the next couple of weeks.
  • No surprises on the list of Rams not playing Saturday, though it was a bit smaller than last week's. Cornerbacks, E.J. Gaines, Janoris Jenkins and Darren Woodard, safety Matt Daniels, fullback Kadeem Jones, linebacker James Laurinaitis, end Sammy Brown, center Demetrius Rhaney, offensive linemen Rodger Saffold, Barrett Jones and Brandon Washington, tackle Jake Long, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and end William Hayes were not in uniform. Jenkins, Laurinaitis, Saffold, Brockers and Long are the only starters in that group. The Rams were without 18 players and nine starters against New Orleans last week.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wanted to stay healthy, and he wanted to lead a touchdown drive.

He did both in his preseason debut Saturday afternoon in St. Louis.

In fact, Rodgers nearly had two touchdown drives, but his second was wiped out by a penalty.

After sitting out the preseason opener at the Tennessee Titans a week earlier, Rodgers completed 11 of 13 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown (a 3-yarder to Randall Cobb on a classic Rodgers play in which he moved out of the pocket to buy more time). On Rodgers' second -- and final -- series, he thought he had a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson on a comeback route, but it was called back because of a penalty on left tackle David Bakhtiari, forcing the Packers to settle for a field goal.

Rodgers led a pair of 12-play drives and when he came out, the Packers had a 10-0 lead and went on to a 21-7 victory over the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. The Packers evened their preseason record at 1-1 heading into Friday's game against the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field.

Here are some other thoughts on the Packers' second preseason game of the season:
  • The game's opening drive was the perfect example of how coach Mike McCarthy wants to play. In the no-huddle offense, McCarthy did not make any substitutions and kept things moving quickly. That meant plenty of touches for running back Eddie Lacy, who had five carries for 25 yards and two catches for 22 yards. He stayed on the field for the only third down on the drive.
  • Outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who admitted he did not get much done in his 10-snap Packers debut against the Titans, had a tackle for loss on Rams running back Zac Stacy for a 2-yard loss and also had a hit on quarterback Sam Bradford in which Peppers beat rookie tackle Greg Robinson, the second overall pick in the draft.
  • After a slow start in large part because of shoddy pass protection by backup tackles Derek Sherrod and Aaron Adams plus a lost fumble by running back DuJuan Harris, backup quarterback Scott Tolzien got into a rhythm and put together a good drive in the third quarter. He hit rookie Davante Adams for a pair of 14-yard completions on a drive that ended after a failed fourth-and-goal play from the 5-yard line. However, Tolzien had a 4-yard touchdown pass to Myles White taken away because of an illegal hands to the face penalty on backup center Corey Linsley. Tolzien, who replaced Rodgers, finished 10-of-15 for 107 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions before giving way to Matt Flynn midway through the third quarter.
  • Sherrod struggled after a solid showing against the Titans. He allowed at least two quarterback hits in the first half and then gave up a sack to Rams rookie Michael Sam in the fourth quarter.
  • In his preseason debut, rookie seventh-round receiver Jeff Janis showed off his 4.42-second 40-yard dash speed. He caught a short crossing route and turned it up the field for a 34-yard touchdown from Flynn in the third quarter.
  • Undrafted rookie defensive tackle Mike Pennel helped his bid for a roster spot. He spun away from a double team in the second quarter and sacked Rams backup quarterback Shaun Hill in the second quarter. Mike Neal slowed down Hill to allow Pennel to make the play.
  • Another undrafted rookie, outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, made quite the impression with three sacks in a four-play stretch in the fourth quarter. The last one was a strip-sack of quarterback Austin Davis.
  • The only injury announced during the game was to tight end Brandon Bostick (lower leg), who did not return. Bostick finished last season on injured reserve after he broke his foot.

Camp Confidential: St. Louis Rams

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As one of the few training camps in the league at which music doesn't regularly blare through temporary speaker setups, the soundtrack to the St. Louis Rams 2014 camp is limited to the sounds of pads cracking and the ensuing trash talk.

It's a drastic departure from last year's camp, when the Rams attempted to turn their offense into a spread-based passing attack flinging the ball all over the field.

That experiment failed miserably but also cleared the path for the Rams to forge their current identity, which is regularly on display on the Rams Park practice fields.

At an early August practice, the sight of running back Zac Stacy and tight end Cory Harkey consistently dropping their pads and creating collisions with defenders set a physical tone that manifested into a fight between cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and receiver Austin Pettis.

As residents of the NFL's toughest and most physical division, the NFC West, the Rams permanently adopted the approach they used in the season's final 12 games. Which is to say, they want an offense based on a power-rushing attack and an aggressive defense.

If that plan sounds similar to what Seattle and San Francisco do, it's because it is. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

"Obviously, that's the way we're built," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "We've always been built that way. That's what we're going to be based on -- play great defense, run the football. Our play-action game comes off of that."


1. Defensively, the Rams have the pieces in place to be one of the league's elite groups in 2014. Coordinator Gregg Williams gives Fisher's Rams the chance to move from a middling group to a top-10 or even top-five unit in the NFL. Even without Williams' aggressive guidance, the Rams have combined for more sacks than any team in the league over the past two seasons. With the additions of defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Alex Carrington, the defensive line is the deepest and best in the league. Defensive end Robert Quinn is already one of the best pass-rushers in the league and should get better. That group should be good enough to wreck game plans on a weekly basis.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoSam Bradford is on track to be fully recovered from injury when the regular season begins, and he has an offensive line with the potential to be among the league's best.
2. The aforementioned shift to a run-centric offense should be buoyed by the offseason addition of No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason, as well as the retention of guard Rodger Saffold. With a line built to run the ball and an offense that now knows what it should be, the run game should be better and more consistent.

3. The advancements in modern medicine should benefit the Rams, as quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Jake Long are on track to be ready when the season begins. Both are coming off major knee surgery, but you'd hardly know it from watching them move around on the practice field. Bradford is facing a huge season and knows this is the time to finally prove he's the long-term answer at quarterback. Long played at a Pro Bowl level for most of the past season, especially in the run game, and is critical to ensuring that Bradford stays healthy. Having both back this early would have been a big surprise in the past but is a welcome sight in St. Louis.


1. For the second straight season, the Rams' offensive line has the potential to be among the best in the league. But the dark injury cloud hovering over that projection remains. Long, center Scott Wells and Saffold are each either coming off an injury, have a lengthy injury history or both. Although line coach Paul Boudreau has a gift for making it work with whoever is playing, he has a group of question marks behind the starters. Guard Davin Joseph is the only backup on the line with substantial experience.

2. Among the many positions in which the Rams are young, perhaps none are of greater concern than the secondary. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins is headed into his third season and third as a starter, which makes him the elder statesmen of the group. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson and safeties Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald have experience, but they've also been spotty in terms of performance. The Rams are banking on the pass rush to help the secondary, but it's unrealistic to think the defensive backs won't have to stand on their own in key moments.

3. Attempting to project what any team will do in a season based on the previous year's result is a fool's errand, but it's hard to ignore the on-paper strength of the Rams' schedule, particularly in the NFC West. Like last year, it's possible the Rams will be better than the past season but left with nothing to show for it in terms of record or postseason appearances.

    [+] EnlargeSam
    Michael B. Thomas/Getty ImagesThe media circus expected to engulf Rams rookie Michael Sam at training camp has not materialized.

  • All that talk about defensive end Michael Sam being a distraction for this team has been just that: talk. Sam has earned nothing but positive reviews from his teammates and coaches for his work ethic and desire to improve. He still faces a battle to make the roster, but aside from a couple days of increased media attention, the circus many expected has never materialized.
  • Once again, the Rams are almost wholly unproven at wide receiver, but they believe they are ready to change that this year. Kenny Britt has been a pleasant surprise, both in performance and leadership, and has had a particularly positive effect on Brian Quick. Breakout is a relative term with this group, given that the Rams won't be airing it out like other teams, but big plays will be needed to complement the run game.
  • The Rams will miss young receiver Stedman Bailey as he serves a four-game suspension to start the season. He's been the most consistent wideout in camp and looks poised for a much bigger role upon his return.
  • Donald might not start, but he is going to play a lot. He has wowed coaches and teammates with his advanced technical skills and maturity. Some in the organization believe he could become Defensive Rookie of the Year.
  • Looking for an undrafted rookie or two who could win roster spots? Look no further than tight end Alex Bayer and defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks. Both flashed potential in the spring, and it has carried over into training camp and the preseason.
  • Although Stacy and Mason garner most of the attention at running back, Benny Cunningham should not be overlooked. The Rams like him a lot, and he returned to St. Louis bigger, stronger and faster. He's another year removed from a serious knee injury and could play a more integral role in his second season.

Rams Camp Report: Day 13

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams followed a sluggish Monday practice with a physical Tuesday workout with plenty of work on the run game, some big collisions, and even a small skirmish. For the second time in this camp, defensive end Michael Sam found himself exchanging shoves with a teammate, this time offensive tackle Joe Barksdale. During a run blocking drill late in practice, Barksdale blocked Sam to the ground after the whistle. Sam took exception and went after Barksdale. The two were separated quickly.
  • Perhaps more entertaining than that is watching rookie Greg Robinson take part in the run blocking drills. You can tell the big man just feels at home when he gets to move downhill and wipe out a defender. One of the unfortunate souls in his way Tuesday was linebacker Johnny Millard. Robinson buried Millard after a short head start with the sound of impressed teammates serving as the sound track. We haven't really seen Robinson cut it loose yet in part because he's still learning but drills like that should certainly help open things up a bit.
  • Tight end Justice Cunningham is another one who drew some oohs and aahs from his teammates for his blocking in the run drills. Cunningham, working out of a fullback spot, came down hill and dropped the hammer a couple of times. He's battling Alex Bayer for a potential fourth tight end spot. Bayer has the leg up on the receiving side but Cunningham is ahead as a blocker. Should be an interesting battle.
  • Receivers Austin Franklin and Stedman Bailey had strong outings in the one-on-one passing drills. Franklin caught back-to-back touchdowns against Rodney McLeod with some sharp route running. Bailey continues to consistently get open and make plays when the opportunity arises.
  • On the flip side, cornerbacks Brandon McGee and Greg Reid had some impressive pass breakups in seven-on-seven. McGee climbed the ladder on a deep ball to receiver Brian Quick and though it appeared Quick had him beat, McGee stuck with it and jarred the ball loose for an incompletion. He's battled an ankle injury in camp but seems to be rounding back to form.
  • The funniest moment of the day came after the veterans departed practice, leaving only the rookies on the field. Running back Tre Mason ran into the flat where a pass was thrown to him but apparently the sun got in his eyes and it hit Mason in the chest. Problem was, Mason never saw it, so it hit him in the chest and fell to the ground. The miscue brought chuckles from coaches and teammates.
  • CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Darren Woodard, S Matt Daniels, FB Kadeem Jones, LB James Laurinaitis, OL Barrett Jones, OL Brandon Washington, OL Rodger Saffold, DT Michael Brockers and DL William Hayes did not participate in Tuesday's practice.
  • The Rams have an afternoon special teams practice scheduled for Wednesday at 3 p.m. local time. That workout is closed to the public.

W2W4: St. Louis Rams

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints open the preseason Friday night at the Edward Jones Dome. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. Here are three things to watch for from the Rams' end:

1. An aggressive defensive approach? The preseason opener doubles as the first opportunity to see the highly-anticipated Rams' defense under the guidance of coordinator Gregg Williams. To add to the intrigue, Williams is facing his former team, the Saints. Reunions happen all the time in the NFL but rarely do they come with the hard feelings that apparently still exist between Williams and the Saints. Williams, of course, was part of the Saints' staff and the supposed ringleader of the bounty scandal which resulted in his yearlong suspension and similar punishments for Saints coach Sean Payton and assistant Joe Vitt. Williams is known for his aggressive, exotic blitzes and while it normally is common procedure to hold back on those things in the preseason, Williams is anything but conventional. He undoubtedly has plenty of schemes he'd like his charges to work on in the preseason, but it'll be worth keeping an eye on the defensive approach to see if Williams goes a little above and beyond the usual vanilla preseason tactics.

2. Sorting out the running backs: It doesn't look like there's much competition for the Rams' starting running back job as Zac Stacy has been largely handling those duties in camp. But the Rams have some things to figure out behind Stacy and coach Jeff Fisher said earlier this week he'd like to get each back about a half-dozen carries in this game. Benny Cunningham is the leader in the clubhouse to be Stacy's primary backup, but preseason games present prime opportunities for players to make moves up the depth chart, especially at this position. Cunningham has been sharp in practice, but rookie Tre Mason has also had some good work, especially this week. Isaiah Pead and Chase Reynolds also remain in the mix. Each back will get his chance to make an early statement as the Rams work through building their depth chart at the position.

3. First glance at Sam: Rookie defensive end Michael Sam has had his share of ups and downs in training camp, starting off strong and leveling off of late. But Sam figures to get an extended opportunity to make a good impression Friday night. The Rams, under Fisher, have rarely played their starters much in the first preseason game and with valuable backup end William Hayes still working back from offseason surgeries, Sam should get a lot of snaps. It's expected Sam will work at left end on defense but also keep an eye out for him on special teams, particularly on the return units where coach John Fassel believes Sam has major potential. Of course, Sam is going to get plenty of competition for a roster spot so the other backup ends are also worth watching, especially undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks.