Decisions at center could help shape Rams' roster


EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams had no moves on the NFL's official transaction wire Friday afternoon, but they'll have to trim the roster to 53 by Saturday's 4 p.m. ET deadline like everyone else. When they do, their decisions at the center position and, by extension, the offensive line, will go a long way in determining how that initial 53 looks.

All through the offseason and training camp, the Rams have rotated the trio of Tim Barnes, Demetrius Rhaney and Barrett Jones at center in the starting unit. The Rams had hoped one of those players would step up and claim the job. But all indications point to Rams coach Jeff Fisher & Co. still not settling on a starter.

"We'll make the decision," Fisher said after Thursday night's preseason finale. "As soon as we start to practice we can start preparation, which should be Tuesday.”

But before Tuesday and before they name a starter, the Rams must first make difficult roster decisions. Fisher said Thursday it's a sign of how far the team has come that so many difficult decisions remain. In years past, getting to 53 has been easier in the sense the Rams barely had 53 players worth keeping on the active roster.

With so much uncertainty remaining at center, I asked Fisher if he could see a scenario in which the team keeps Barnes, Rhaney and Jones.

"There's a possibility because of the position flexibility," Fisher said. "Yeah, there's a chance we keep all three."

Fisher is known for keeping his cards close to his chest, but he's also been known to offer a clue or two along the way for those paying attention. Earlier in the week, Fisher was asked about the center competition and mentioned that positional versatility.

"We're getting production out of not only Barrett and Tim, but also out of Demetrius," Fisher said. "Demetrius and Tim have the flex at guard and Barrett could potentially play guard if need be, so it's a good race right now.”

It's worth noting Rhaney and Barnes were mentioned first when it comes to that positional versatility. That's instructive in determining how roster decisions could play out, and might not be a good sign for Jones to be mentioned as someone who could "potentially" play elsewhere, considering he was known for versatility coming out of Alabama.

For his part, Rhaney has not only played guard but flashed potential to contribute there in the past two weeks. Barnes has remained a solid, if unspectacular, option at center and started two of the four preseason games. Jones fared OK -- at least in pass protection -- in his only start in Week 3 against Indianapolis, but his struggles as a run-blocker have limited his production.

"I just think the competition has been good," Barnes said. "I'm excited to see what the end result is, obviously. I know everyone is ready to see it."

The Rams seemed to give the impression they'd have liked Jones to be the one to step up and claim the job. They even went so far as to list him as the starter on the "unofficial" depth chart. Of the three, he was also the one the Rams had invested in the most, using a fourth-round pick on him in 2013. But it never really seemed to click for Jones after two injury-plagued seasons and a so-so preseason.

Theoretically, the Rams could keep all three, and if they did they'd probably go with 10 offensive linemen on the initial 53-man roster. Either way, to make the numbers work across the board, they might have to say goodbye to one of the centers. Granted, the Rams could still go light at other positions by keeping just three tight ends and/or four cornerbacks. But they also have special teams to consider, where a sleeper like linebacker Cameron Lynch could find his way onto the roster.

As it stands right now, Barnes and Rhaney can probably rest easy, but if the Rams choose not to keep all three, Jones looks like the one most likely to find himself on the chopping block.