NFL Nation: Mike Sims-Walker

List the NFL teams who lack weapons in the passing game and the Jacksonville Jaguars rank high. So do the Cleveland Browns.

So while it’s good that Jacksonville made a move Wedneday to try to get better, by getting Brian Robiskie off waivers from Cleveland, it’s not dissimilar to their grabbing Mike Sims-Walker after he was cut loose by the St. Louis Rams.

Guys who are not good enough to help Cleveland or St. Louis are unlikely to be of much help to Jacksonville, unless they are transformed by a change of scenery and coaching.

The Jaguars put Sims-Walker, who recently rejoined them, on injured reserve with a knee problem to make room for Robiskie.

Robiskie now has time to immerse himself in the Jaguars’ system since they are in a bye week, and perhaps he can have a role in their next game, Nov. 13 against the Colts in Indianapolis.

What does he offer? I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

"He has better size than some of their smaller receivers, but he's not nearly as shifty or explosive as those guys," Williamson said. "Robiskie is a pure possession guy that struggles to separate and doesn’t have outstanding physicality. In essence, he is a jack of all trades and a master of none.""

If he can be an effective possession guy, it can't hurt the Jaguars to have him. But the sort of receiver they need comes early in the April draft, where there is some great talent at the position.
Brandon Lloyd's arrival in St. Louis has coincided with Steven Jackson's fuller return to health over the past two weeks.

The offense has gone through quite a transition.

With an assist from Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, I've put together a chart showing how playing time has changed for the Rams' skill players over the last two games.

Some of the changes are injury related (Jackson is healthy, Danny Amendola is on injured reserve). Some are roster related (Lloyd added, Mike Sims-Walker subtracted). Some are a little more complicated (Lance Kendricks seeing the field less frequently).

Of course, A.J. Feeley has taken over for the injured Sam Bradford at quarterback. The offensive line has changed since Adam Goldberg replaced an injured Jason Smith at right tackle.

A few quick thoughts:
  • Rookie Greg Salas is getting significantly more playing time. The team successfully targeted him on a fourth-and-2 play against New Orleans on Sunday. He appears to be gaining momentum. Fellow rookie wideout Austin Pettis has seen his playing time fall.
  • Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui has gained snaps at Kendricks' expense. Kendricks has sometimes struggled with dropped passes, but I haven't figured out for sure why his playing time has diminished. A healthier Hoomanwanui would account for some of the change. The team has run 10 snaps of a grouping with Lloyd, Jackson and all three tight ends.
  • Receiver Danario Alexander was inactive with a hamstring injury against New Orleans. Against Dallas, he played 13 snaps with a group featuring Lloyd, Jackson, Billy Bajema and Hoomanawanui. That five-man combination has played more snaps than any other featuring Lloyd. The runnerup, with 11 snaps, features Brandon Gibson, Kendricks and Salas instead of Bajema, Hoomanawanui and Alexander.
  • Again, this offense remains in transition. We can safely say Lloyd is the focal point at receiver. Salas and Hoomanawanui have been gaining, while Pettis and Kendricks have fallen back some. But the combinations will continue to evolve, particularly once Bradford returns from his high-ankle sprain. Bradford and Kendricks developed a quick connection at training camp.

The chart shows percentages of all offensive plays, whether or not a player was active, sorted by change from the first six weeks.

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Final Word: NFC West

October, 21, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

[+] EnlargeCedric Griffin and Beanie Wells
AP Photo/Genevieve RossCardinals RB Beanie Wells is poised to have a breakout game this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Setting the tone with Beanie Wells: The violent stiff-arm Arizona's running back delivered against Minnesota demonstrated, again, what kind of runner Wells can be. The Cardinals should expect a strong effort from Wells against a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that has softened against the run. Arian Foster (155 yards), Ray Rice (107), Maurice Jones-Drew (96) and Joseph Addai (86) combined for 444 yards against the Steelers this season. Pittsburgh has allowed more yards rushing through six games this season (677) than it allowed through 10 games (630) last season. Wells is averaging 95.2 yards per game, fourth-most in the NFL. He ranks tied for second in rushing touchdowns with six despite missing one game to injury and having a bye week.

Solving Ben Roethlisberger: The Cardinals' pass defense has been a weakness. Conventional wisdom says defenses are best off keeping the Steelers' quarterback from setting up on the perimeter. So far this season, however, Roethlisberger has completed only five of 14 attempts for 57 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions from outside the pocket. His Total QBR (7.0) and NFL passer rating (48.8) both rank 28th in the NFL from outside the pocket. Roethlisberger ranks among the top 10 in both categories from inside the pocket. He has been particularly effective on play-action passes (five touchdowns, one interception, 87.9 QBR, 117.7 NFL rating).

The Brandon Lloyd effect: Lloyd comes to the St. Louis Rams having suffering only one dropped pass this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Rams "lead" the NFL with 15 drops. They are one of three teams -- Chicago and Week 7 opponent Dallas are the others -- to have more than seven players drop a pass this season (all three have eight). Lance Kendricks (four), Greg Salas (three), Danario Alexander (two) and the recently cut Mike Sims-Walker (two) have more than one drop for St. Louis. Whether or not quarterback Sam Bradford plays on a bum ankle, the Rams have to do a better job executing the basics, starting with holding onto the ball.

Seahawks' QB decisions in focus: Seattle faces Colt McCoy and Andy Dalton over the next two weeks after bypassing both young quarterbacks in recent drafts. McCoy went to Cleveland as a third-round pick in 2010; the Seahawks had no choice in the round that year after trading up to select receiver Deon Butler in 2009. Dalton went to Cincinnati with the 35th pick this year after Seattle used the 25th choice for tackle James Carpenter.

No time for Seahawks to relaxL: Seattle's road victory over the previously 3-1 New York Giants gave the team a 2-1 record over its last three games, casting the Seahawks as a young team on the rise. The Browns, meanwhile, have beaten only an 0-6 Indianapolis team and an 0-5 Miami team. Winning on the road was once a bonus for Seattle, but with San Francisco running out to a 5-1 start, including 3-0 away from home, the Seahawks need to beat bad teams on the road just to stay within striking distance. They are seeking victories in back-to-back road games for the first time since 2007.

NFC West Stock Watch

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Mike Sims-Walker, ex-Rams WR: That did not take long. Sims-Walker went from key free-agent addition to dropping three passes against Washington to being named inactive to being released in a short period of time. Perhaps now we know why the Jacksonville Jaguars decided against bringing back Sims-Walker even though they lacked proven players at the position. Sims-Walker was the logical Rams receiver to go once the team acquired Brandon Lloyd from Denver. The team expects to welcome back veteran Mark Clayton from the physically unable to perform list at some point, too.

2. Lockout grace periods: It's tough for the San Francisco 49ers' division rivals -- and other teams -- to complain too loudly about the lockout setting them back. The 49ers have gotten to 5-1 despite changing over just about all of their coaching staff and installing new schemes. As Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said following his team's 1-4 start, "A lot of guys are making mistakes. Can you say, 'Well, gee, that is lack of offseason?' We're now into October. We now should be able to clean up those things. These are professional athletes and they have to rise to the occasion. And none of the other 31 teams had an offseason, either. We shouldn't be at that much of a disadvantage where we've only won one game."

3. Shawntae Spencer, 49ers CB: Spencer was a starter last season and arguably the best cornerback on the team. He's not getting on the field at this point because Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and rookie Chris Culliver are ahead of him on the depth chart. The 49ers did a good job addressing the position in the offseason. Had they stood pat, Spencer would probably be starting. Injuries have also set back Spencer this season.

RISING

[+] EnlargeAldon Smith
AP Photo/Rick Osentoski49ers linebacker Aldon Smith is making a case to become defensive rookie of the year.
1. Aldon Smith, 49ers OLB: The player San Francisco drafted in the first round is quickly becoming a candidate for defensive rookie of the year, along with Ryan Kerrigan of the Washington Redskins. Smith has 5.5 sacks over the 49ers' last three games. He is playing well and benefiting from the talent around him. Opposing offenses must funnel additional resources toward defensive end Justin Smith in particular.

2. Vic Fangio, 49ers defensive coordinator. The 49ers' defensive performance on the road against the Detroit Lions was mostly dominant. The defense provided a safety and held the Lions to two third-down conversions in 15 opportunities. Fangio and the personnel department deserve much credit for putting together the right mix of players on defense. Drafting Smith seventh overall and Culliver in the third round helped the defense right away. Other moves that have worked out well: adding Rogers to replace Nate Clements, moving NaVorro Bowman into the lineup at the expense of Takeo Spikes, signing and moving into the lineup Ray McDonald and remaking the safety position without losing Dashon Goldson. The 49ers took some heat for not signing Nnamdi Asomugha, but no one is complaining now.

3. Delanie Walker, 49ers TE: Walker now has touchdown receptions in consecutive games. He has three for the season after catching none since 2008. Years ago, when Trent Dilfer was still playing for the 49ers, I remember him saying Walker was one of the most talented players on the team. Year after year, Walker seemed on the verge of becoming a bigger factor, but it would never happen to the extent anticipated. It's looking like the new coaching staff is finding ways to get more key plays from Walker. His game-winning touchdown reception in the final minutes Sunday stands as a career highlight, but perhaps not for long.

Rams bench Sims-Walker, Leber vs. Pack

October, 16, 2011
10/16/11
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Mike Sims-Walker never appeared on the St. Louis Rams' injury report this week.

The team named him inactive Sunday purely on the merits after the veteran receiver dropped three passes, including one for a potential touchdown, during a 17-10 defeat to the Washington Redskins' in the Rams' most recent game.

Rookie receivers Austin Pettis and Greg Salas are both active for the Rams. Danario Alexander is starting in Sims-Walker's place opposite Brandon Gibson.

The Rams' inactive list against Green Bay was also significant as it applied to the team's situation at linebacker and in the secondary. Starting linebacker Ben Leber is inactive, meaning Chris Chamberlain will start. Veteran cornerback Rod Hood, signed during the bye week after the team lost Bradley Fletcher to a knee injury, is not active for this game. Justin King, Al Harris, Josh Gordy and Brian Jackson are the active corners.

Leber, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, would presumably have a good feel for the Packers.

Three things revisited: Rams-Jaguars

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
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Looking back on three things discussed here before the St. Louis Rams' preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night:

1. Sims-Walker homecoming: There was one point in the first half when receiver Mike Sims-Walker's maneuvering before the snap suggested quarterback Sam Bradford might be coming his way with the football. It did not happen. Bradford attempted 11 passes, but none for Sims-Walker, who was returning to the stadium he called home for the previous three seasons. It's tough to fault Bradford for ignoring Sims-Walker. He was too busy finding a wide-open Lance Kendricks for 17 yards on third-and-4, 12 yards on first-and-10 and 44-yards on a third-and-1. Who needs wide receivers? Kendricks, the Rams' rookie tight end and second-round draft choice, caught a scoring pass in three of the team's four exhibition games.

2. Robert Quinn's development. George Selvie was the first defensive end off the bench after the Rams' starting right defensive end, James Hall, left the game with a back injury. Hall's injury was not thought to be serious. He was dominating to that point in the game, but he collided awkwardly with fellow defensive end Chris Long when the two met at the quarterback. Quinn, the Rams' first-round pick, entered the game with the other backups a bit later. He got close to the quarterback a couple times, but didn't make an obvious impact.

3. Pass protection. The Jaguars entered this game with no sacks during the exhibition season. The streak ended when they brought down Rams third-stringer Thaddeus Lewis. Bradford took a couple hits, including a late helmet-to-helmet shot that drew a penalty. Bradford held up well and appeared to come out of the preseason healthy. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 133 yards, one score and a 135.8 rating. The pass protection was good overall. The Rams did a good job beating pressure with screens.

Note: I posted this during the fourth quarter of the game, with the Rams leading, 21-10. Games involving the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals were just beginning.

Three things: Rams-Jaguars

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
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Three things to watch for in the St. Louis Rams' preseason road game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at 7:30 p.m. ET:

1. Sims-Walker homecoming: Only preseason, right? Right. But new Rams receiver Mike Sims-Walker has to be looking forward to playing his old team in Jacksonville. The Jaguars made little effort to bring back Sims-Walker, even though their receiving corps lacked front-line talent. Sims-Walker wound up settling for a modest deal in St. Louis. When I visited Rams camp, Sims-Walker said he was walking around with a whole cracker, not just a chip, on his shoulder this season. Rams fans have been anxious to see production from some of their new receivers, including Sims-Walker and two rookie draft choices. Some other receivers are fighting for roster spots.

2. Robert Quinn's development. The Rams' first-round draft choice had three tackles, two quarterback hits, one sack and a blocked field goal against Kansas City in the team's most recent exhibition game. Some of those stats were redundant -- sacks are hits, while both are tackles -- but the overall production was encouraging for the Rams. The Jaguars have allowed 10 sacks through three exhibition games, so Quinn should have an opportunity or two. The Rams aren't banking on him as a starter right away, but getting contributions from him is important as their defense tries to take another step.

3. Pass protection. The Jaguars have not sacked an opposing quarterback to this point in the exhibition schedule. They've gotten good pressure at times, and Aaron Kampman is expected back on the field for them in this game. Keeping Sam Bradford upright is always a top priority for the Rams. But with the Rams feeling good about themselves following a strong showing against the Chiefs last week, now isn't the time to relax, particularly while Bradford is in the game.

Three things revisited: Rams-Chiefs

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
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Looking back upon three things discussed here before the St. Louis Rams' 14-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday night:

1. Run defense. Teams playing with purpose during the exhibition season often look very good. The Rams, unhappy with their performance against Tennessee last week, resembled such a team early in this game. They allowed no rushes longer than four yards in the first half. They sent linebacker Ben Leber, safety Craig Dahl and safety Quintin Mikell on blitzes. Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Ron Bartell were hitting hard, too. This was the sort of defensive performance the Rams were seeking from their starting unit, against the run and everything else. Leber at halftime, courtesy of the Rams: "The defense is looking good right now. We had the one sudden change and we responded great. Overall, we’ve been in some good situations, some tough situations and we’ve responded. I think the defense is playing good right now."


2. Offensive consistency. The Rams opened with 12- and 10-play drives for touchdowns. They established running back Steven Jackson early. Jackson, a non-factor against the Titans last week, carried 15 times for 72 yards in a performance that should serve as a tune-up for the regular season. The Rams were determined to get him going. Though new coordinator Josh McDaniels generally prefers a one-back offense, the Rams used fullback Brit Miller extensively, and with positive results. Quarterback Sam Bradford used the running game to beat the Chiefs with play-action passes, including a 6-yard scoring pass to receiver Mike Sims-Walker. Bradford did throw an interception deep in Rams territory when he didn’t see Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson dropping into coverage. Bradford completed 9 of 16 passes for 95 yards with two touchdowns and one pick. Jackson: "Overall, we look good. I think we’ve been able to execute in the running game and the passing game. Last week, we had some up and down possessions, but this week we wanted to reestablish ourselves."


3. Wide receiver competition: Sims-Walker made an impact with his 6-yard scoring reception. Rookie Greg Salas made a positive impression with a reception across the middle for a first down. We saw, again, just how much Lance Kendricks will figure into the passing game. The rookie tight end caught another touchdown pass, this one an 11-yarder. But the focus remains on the wide receiver race. Donnie Avery, Mardy Gilyard and Danario Alexander are the three receivers I’ve singled out as likely fighting for a spot if the team keeps six at the position. None seemed to get much separation in this game, either from defenders or from one another. Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, providing commentary on the Rams’ broadcast, found fault with Alexander on two incomplete passes late in the first half. The way Faulk saw things, Alexander didn’t anticipate the ball well enough coming out of his break. Faulk thought Alexander rounded off another route, allowing the defensive back to make a play on the ball. Gilyard found little running room on punt returns and fielded one inside the 10, usually a no-no. The Chiefs picked off Rams backup A.J. Feeley on a pass intended for Avery. Faulk suspected Avery tipped off his route.

Thoughts, observations from Rams camp

August, 18, 2011
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Thoughts and observations on the St. Louis Rams following their training camp practice Thursday:

  • Preseason plan: The starters will play until halftime unless the Saturday night game against Tennessee features an unusually high number of snaps. Coach Steve Spagnuolo thinks the team needs extra work given restrictions on practice time and cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game against Chicago.
  • [+] EnlargeDonnie Avery
    AP Photo/Jeff RobersonDonnie Avery is expected to be in action for the Rams Saturday night.
  • Receiver alert: The team expects Donnie Avery (knee) and Mike Sims-Walker (groin) to play against the Titans. Avery in particular has been sharp since returning to practice Wednesday. Quarterback Sam Bradford singled out Avery for making proper route adjustments and operating efficiently within the offense. Avery caught a deep ball down the middle in practice Thursday. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was clearly pleased with Avery's attention to detail on an outside route. Danario Alexander missed a couple chances to make plays on the ball high in the air and well downfield. On one, he fell back and waited for the ball instead of leaping to catch it at a higher point. Something to work on. He's at his best letting his size work to his advantage. Brandon Gibson is enjoying a strong camp and continues to work exclusively with the starters.
  • Legend watch: Former Rams coach Dick Vermeil dropped by practice wearing a golf shirt with a "Vermeil Wines" logo. He mingled with fans watching practice and spoke with the team afterward. Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk is on the guest list for Friday. He's joining the team's television network.
  • Mikell's impact: Recently signed veteran safety Quintin Mikell has caught Bradford's attention with his quickness on blitzes and ability to disguise intentions in the secondary. The Rams expect both of their safeties to support the run near the line of scrimmage at times. Mikell appealed to the Rams for his toughness, particularly against the run.
  • Jackson's return: Running back Steven Jackson was back on the field after resting a hip injury this week. Bradford reiterated his expectation that Jackson will see his total for receptions increase this season given the nature of McDaniels' offense.
  • Afternoon free: Spagnuolo called off afternoon meetings with an eye toward getting players fresh for the game against Minnesota. Players cheered loudly when Spagnuolo announced the news.
  • Weis payoff: Bradford said his two-day meeting with former McDaniels associate Charlie Weis during the lockout gave him a firmer grasp of the basics heading into camp. Bradford: "Talking to Charlie and getting an idea for what Josh was going to be like and what his offense was going to be based around really helped me grasp the very basics of it and what we were going to try to do at the beginning of camp."
  • Striking out: Receiver Mardy Gilyard and offensive line coach Steve Loney strung together six or seven strikes in a row during a recent team bowling event. Spagnuolo lamented his inability to beat Bradford. The coach wasn't particularly forthcoming about his score, either. Bradford: "He never really told me his score. I have a feeling I beat him pretty bad."
  • Stuffing the run: Justin Bannan has blown up a couple running plays in the practices I've watched. The free-agent addition from Baltimore has played the nose in 3-4 defenses, but he's not as massive as prototypical noseguards such as Vince Wilfork or the retired Ted Washington. He can swing between nose tackle and traditional 4-3 defensive tackle.
  • Linebacker shuffle: Bryan Kehl continues to work with the starters at weakside linebacker, but recently signed veteran Ben Leber is getting reps there, too. I would expect Leber to take over starting duties as the season progresses. Na'il Diggs continues to work with the starters on the strong side. Brady Poppinga could be a candidate to start there as well.

The Rams will be back on the field Friday for a walk-through session.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could see the first question coming from the reporters surrounding him following the St. Louis Rams' practice Tuesday.

It had to be about the situation at wide receiver. It was.

Here is what you need to know: The Rams trust McDaniels' system enough to diminish widespread public fears over their injury-riddled, largely unproven group of wideouts. They expect promising rookie tight end Lance Kendricks to play a significant role in the offense. And they're also confident quarterback Sam Bradford can help maximize their receivers' potential.

[+] EnlargeRams receiver Mike Sims-Walker
Scott Rovak/US PRESSWIREThe Rams signed former Jaguars reciever Mike Sims-Walker this offseason and will ask him to play multiple receiver positions.
Still thinking the Rams should have made a play for a dynamic talent such as Sidney Rice? I tend to think so, but the Rams apparently were not interested in paying a premium for a player without a demonstrated record of consistency from year to year. They picked up Mike Sims-Walker at a discount and are asking him to play all three positions, not just the "X" receiver spot he played for Jacksonville in 2010.

"Our philosophy is, we want to do what we should do each week based on the opponent, and that may change," McDaniels said. "We may end up having more guys in the slot from one week and then the next week we don't line up in slot formation at all because that is not really how to beat that team. We have to be flexible so we can attack and put stress on the defense as best we can."

The word "stress" is a McDaniels favorite. He often speaks of stressing defenses, not necessarily stretching them.

Translation: Adding a receiver with track-certified speed isn't a necessity.

Widespread injuries at receiver stressed the Rams last season. The injury report hasn't been very kind to the position during camp, either.

Danny Amendola projects as the Rams' leader in receptions for another season. Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas and Austin Pettis appear likely to earn roster spots.

Alexander would seemingly figure into the mix if his knees hold up well enough. Donnie Avery has starting potential when healthy, but he missed another practice Tuesday. He missed all 16 games last season after suffering a torn ACL during preseason.

Second-year pro Mardy Gilyard is having a strong camp. He carries value on special teams. But can the Rams trust him to produce consistently while providing the versatility they require?

A few observations on receivers from Tuesday:

  • Alexander's left leg sports a brace extending from his sock up past the bottom of his practice shorts. He has the athletic ability to make spectacular, leaping grabs. But the day-to-day rigors of the position will be tough to weather over time. Alexander, who turned 23 this month, has undergone five surgeries on the knee.
  • Dominique Curry made a one-handed catch during drills. Did he have any choice? Curry, a gifted player on special teams before a knee injury ended his 2010 season, is wearing a protective cast/brace on his left hand. He underwent surgery on the hand this month.
  • Pettis, a third-round choice from Boise State, showed good hands in practice. Salas, a fourth-rounder, was back on the field after resting a knee injury. I didn't notice him as much on this initial visit to Rams camp. My oversight.
  • Avery watched practice wearing a gold Rams cap and long pants.
  • Sims-Walker, who caught 14 touchdown passes for Jacksonville over the past two seasons and was the Jaguars' No. 1 wideout in 2010, missed practice with a groin injury. The Rams need him on the field.
  • Greg Mathews, an undrafted free agent in 2010, caught an intermediate pass, then lost the ball while turning to run.
  • Bradford connected on a deep pass to Gibson. Cornerback Ron Bartell broke up another Bradford pass for Gibson.

It's still early. The position has yet to shake out. Players could and likely will emerge. And there's no question Kendricks' addition at tight end has given the Rams a welcome option. He caught a touchdown pass in his preseason debut and has impressed veteran teammates.

"We've got a lot of guys moving in and out of different spots right now," McDaniels said. "We still got a long way to go and a lot of things to do and a lot of things to evaluate."

Checking in from St. Louis Rams camp

August, 16, 2011
8/16/11
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A few thoughts between the morning walk-through and full afternoon practice at St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • This will be a productive week. Coach Steve Spagnuolo, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, defensive coordinator Ken Flajole, quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson are among those scheduled for availability in the coming days. I had a chance to speak with middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and receiver Mike Sims-Walker. Thoughts from them to come.
  • Receivers in focus. The situation at wide receiver stands out as one deserving our attention as camp progresses. Sims-Walker is about as motivated as a player could be after the Jacksonville Jaguars showed no real interest in retaining him. He heads a list featuring Brandon Gibson, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas and Danny Amendola among receivers most likely to stick around on the reduction to 53 players. The team still needs to figure out what it has in Donnie Avery, Mardy Gilyard, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry and the unsigned Mark Clayton -- all players with injury concerns.
  • Changing roster dynamics. The Rams hit free agency hard for role players this offseason. What are the effects, immediate and projected?
  • Uniform code in effect. Walk-through practices don't offer viewers much of substance. The highlight from the Rams' walk-through? It was tough to top Sports Illustrated's Peter King and Rams general manager Billy Devaney showing up wearing the exact -- and I do mean exact -- shade of lavender golf shirts, tucked in and accompanied by matching cargo shorts. It was as though they'd been dressed by the same mother, to the point that players were razzing them. I'll be curious to see if one of them changes before the afternoon session.

The afternoon practice begins at 1:30 p.m. CT (2:30 ET). Please hit the comments section with any ideas or requests you might have. And if you're going to be out at practice, let me know. I'll be the guy not wearing lavender.

Three things: Rams-Colts

August, 13, 2011
8/13/11
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Three things to watch for in the St. Louis Rams' preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET:

1. A Rams victory: The Colts are 4-22 in the preseason since 2005, and now they're playing without Peyton Manning. The Colts have been a star-reliant team without as much depth through their roster. That makes it tougher for them to hold up over four quarters in games featuring backup players so prominently. The Rams' depth has been improving steadily. So, while preseason outcomes generally do not matter much, this game could be an exception. The Rams should control it most of the way. They have gone 6-2 in preseason games under coach Steve Spagnuolo.

2. Signs of separation at receiver. The Rams come into this game with 12 wide receivers on their roster and only a general idea how the top five or six will shake out. Donnie Avery and fourth-round choice Greg Salas aren't expected to play. Both are resting injuries. Mardy Gilyard also could miss the game. We know where Danny Amendola stands as the slot receiver. The Rams will be looking for Brandon Gibson to build upon a promising start to camp. They need free-agent addition Mike Sims-Walker to earn a prominent role in the offense. Sims-Walker had 14 touchdown receptions for Jacksonville over the past two seasons. No wide receiver has more than five scoring receptions for the Rams over the same span. New coordinator Josh McDaniels likes taller receivers. Nine of the 12 receivers on the roster are at least 6-foot-1. Will any come up big before the regular season?

3. New blood at linebacker. Mainstay James Laurinaitis will not play. He's resting a strained pectoral muscle. Free-agent addition Ben Leber will also sit out. He signed with the team late in the week. Zac Diles and Brady Poppinga are two linebackers to watch. Both are veterans and Poppinga is an older one (he turns 32 next month). Another veteran, Na'il Diggs, hung around on the roster even after Leber's addition. He turned 33 last month. While the Rams have new blood at linebacker, it's not young blood. Getting through this game without new injuries at the position will be important. Poppinga and Diggs missed a combined 14 games to injury last season.

Scoring and tracking free agents

July, 26, 2011
7/26/11
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Our free-agent tracker is up and running. Sort through the available talent pool by team or by Scouts Inc. grade. If you’re an Insider, you can also get a scouting report.

I scanned though it for guys in the division who Scouts Inc. believes rate a 75 or better plugging into its rating scale:

90-100: Elite Player

Player demonstrates rare abilities and can create mismatches that have an obvious impact on the game. ... Premier NFL player who has all the skills to consistently play at a championship level. ... Rates as one of the top players at his position in the league.

80-89: Outstanding Player

Player has abilities to create mismatches versus most opponents in the NFL. ... A feature player who has an impact on the outcome of the game. ... Cannot be shut down by a single player and plays on a consistent level week in and week out.

70-79: Good Starter

Solid starter who is close to being an outstanding player. ... Has few weaknesses and usually will win his individual matchup but does not dominate in every game, especially when matched up against the top players in the league.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

A look at the free-agent priorities for each AFC South team:

Houston Texans

1. Finally fix the secondary: Not only was the Texans’ secondary awful in coverage last season, but it also needs some stabilizing veteran leadership on the back end of this revamped defense. A safety like Eric Weddle could help cure both issues. There are quite a few safeties in this crop of free agents who would be clear upgrades for Houston. Of course, we have to discuss Nnamdi Asomugha -- and the Texans should certainly be right in the thick of those negotiations. If they can’t land Asomugha, the Texans could pursue Johnathan Joseph or Ike Taylor, who could help fix some leaks.

2. Work the cap: Houston is pretty tight up against the cap as it stands right now. But the team has serious needs on defense -- particularly in the secondary. In order to get the help they need, the Texans might have to restructure a few contracts or let a current player or two go.

3. Lock up Vonta Leach: This offense pretty much has it all. Wideout Andre Johnson makes everyone around him better in just so many ways. And the running game was exceptional last season. But Leach is a key component in that running game. And no fullback opens holes like this guy. Houston should bring him back and dedicate the rest of its free-agent moves to the defense.

Top five free agents: Leach, WR Jacoby Jones, S Bernard Pollard, DE Mark Anderson and QB Matt Leinart.

Indianapolis Colts

1. Get Peyton Manning’s extension done: Manning has been franchised and had surgery again on his neck recently. But there is little doubt who the face of this franchise is. Getting him locked up long term is something that Indianapolis just needs to get done.

2. Get a starting safety signed: Melvin Bullitt is a free agent. He is a solid player, and bringing him back makes a lot of sense. Outside of Antoine Bethea, who is vastly underrated, Indy has very little at this position. The Colts need to get a starter under contract. Also on defense, bringing back linebacker Clint Session, who is a superb fit in this scheme, and adding defensive tackle help also should be priorities if they can fit it under the cap.

3. Add running back help: This could come in the form of bringing back the reliable Joseph Addai. Well, he is reliable when he is healthy. And Addai has a great grasp of the Colts’ offense. I am very high on 2011 draft pick Delone Carter and maybe the light goes on for Donald Brown. But the Colts do need someone in their backfield who can pass protect and can be trusted. In this capacity, Addai seems to be worth more to the Colts than to any other team.

Top five free agents: Manning (franchised), Session, Addai, Bullitt and OT Charlie Johnson.

Jacksonville Jaguars

1. Address holes at linebacker: Linebackers Justin Durant and Kirk Morrison are up for free agency. I would suggest bringing one of those two back and then finding an upgrade from a coverage standpoint at a starting linebacker position to go along with the steady Daryl Smith. James Anderson would be an excellent target, and if healthy, so would another Panther -- Thomas Davis.

2. Address holes at safety: Jacksonville featured one of the worst secondaries in football last season. The Jags tried many bodies at safety, but it yielded minimal results. This is a very strong free-agent safety class, and the Jaguars need to add a starter or two they can count on week after week.

3. Spend! The Jaguars have quite a bit of money to spend in free agency, and under the new rules, they will have to spend. This free-agency period is like none we have ever seen and the action could be fast and furious. Jacksonville needs to stay the course and make wise financial decisions as it tries to add players who can mostly upgrade a hurting defense.

Top free agents: Marcedes Lewis (franchised), WR Mike Sims-Walker, Durant and Morrison.

Tennessee Titans

1. Revamp the Interior offensive line: Although they didn’t play great in 2010, I have faith in the Titans’ offensive tackles. But the interior of the line is a train wreck. That won’t do with a rookie quarterback behind center and in an offense that will be extremely run-heavy. Chris Johnson had little room to run last season. That needs to change. Marshal Yanda and Harvey Dahl would be great targets here.

2. Add a veteran quarterback: Needless to say, the Titans cannot enter the season with just the quarterbacks they currently have on their roster. They must bring in a veteran with some experience. Donovan McNabb would be high on my list. Matt Hasselbeck might also fit the bill.

3. Fortify every level of the defense: Presently, Tennessee is very young at linebacker, just adequate at safety and could lose three of its defensive ends. Making matters more difficult, the team is also installing a different version of the 4-3 defense. The Titans do have some money to spend in free agency. It would be wise if they used those funds on young free-agent talent, as it appears this team is now rebuilding from the ground up. Every level of the defense could use reinforcement.

Top five free agents: DE Jason Babin, LB Stephen Tulloch, WR Randy Moss, DE Dave Ball and DE Jacob Ford.
If the new CBA takes the shape that’s currently being reported, unrestricted free agency would arrive after four years. That was the standard number for players with expired contracts to hit free agency until 2010 -- the final year of the old CBA -- when players needed to have six years of experience.

So Independence Day could arrive for players who were trapped by the rule change in the final year of the last deal.

Here’s a team-by-team look at notable players who stand to be unrestricted now who didn’t know what their fate would be in a new labor agreement.

Houston Texans

OT Rashad Butler -- Was not great playing filling in for four games for a suspended Duane Brown, but they like him as their third tackle.

WR Jacoby Jones -- Flashes make him appealing, inconsistency makes him dispensable if someone wants to pay him more.

QB Matt Leinart -- Likely to move on to a place where he can rank better than No. 3.

Indianapolis Colts

RB Joseph Addai -- Has more value to the Colts because of system fit, so perhaps he won’t get a more attractive offer elsewhere.

S Melvin Bullitt -- There are a lot of safety-needy teams in the league, including the other three in the AFC South and he’s very steady.

DT Antonio Johnson -- Probably would only rank fourth on the inside. Has not been real effective but team seems to like him.

OL Charlie Johnson-- Versatility makes him valuable, but like Addai he may not fit other teams as well.

DT Daniel Muir -- Could still rank as the second interior lineman depending on development of third-round pick Drake Nevis.

LB Clint Session -- The Colts have a long history of letting young linebackers move on and plugging in the next guy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

LB Justin Durant -- All indications are the team is ready to find a veteran linebacker in free agency to take his place.

QB Trent Edwards -- No hope of a return with David Garrard, Blaine Gabbert and Luke McCown on the roster.

TE Marcedes Lewis -- He’s franchise tagged and that’s expected to hold in the new agreement, so he won’t really become free.

P Adam Podlesh -- They could do better, they could do worse.

WR Mike Sims-Walker -- The team told him before the lockout they’d be going another direction.

Tennessee Titans

DE Jacob Ford -- The Titans know his situational pass rushing value but are also looking to beef up and emphasize stopping the run.

FB Ahmard Hall -- An important guy for Chris Johnson and a rock on a team with little leadership even if he’s not an every-down guy.

G Leroy Harris -- The team’s faith in him as the starter at left guard appears to be unwavering.

LB Stephen Tulloch -- I suspect his view of his value and the league’s view are quite different.

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