EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When asked about the St. Louis Rams' collection of running backs Tuesday, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer offered an interesting response.
As part of an effort to promote competition at all positions, Schottenheimer identified the running back spot as one to watch. While stopping short of declaring it wide open, Schottenheimer intimated the plan is for Benny Cunningham, Tre Mason, Isaiah Pead and others to push incumbent Zac Stacy.
“Well right now, competition is for who’s the starter," Schottenheimer said. "We’re just going to let them all roll and see what happens. You saw some guys that worked with the young guys today. Zac’s obviously a really, really good player, but we’re going to create competition for all the guys. That’s a long way off, but we know we have a good stable group of backs and they all have different skill sets, which we’ll try to use throughout the course of the year."
Before you go crossing Stacy's name off your list of potential fantasy football picks, though, it should be noted pushing the competition angle is a common refrain, especially at this time of the year. In theory, every job is up for grabs. In execution, it's a solid ploy to ensure everybody brings their best to the practice field on a daily basis.
“We’re just trying to create competition," Schottenheimer said. "(Quarterback) Sam Bradford is going to compete. That’s what we’re trying to do and whoever wins the job, wins the job. But I expect to see multiple guys carry the football.”
It's in that final statement where Schottenheimer cuts to the most likely outcome for whatever competition the Rams have at running back. Stacy's name might not be etched in stone as the starter heading into the season but he remains as the front-runner because he's simply the most proven back on the roster.
Stacy finished last season with 973 rushing yards, 141 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns. That production came in 12 games as the starter, and Stacy's emergence in the final three quarters of the season helped rectify a failed attempt to become a more wide open passing attack.
Cunningham flashed potential as the backup to Stacy, especially in games where Stacy missed time with nagging injuries. Pead has never earned the opportunity to get consistent work with the offense but also remains on the roster. And Mason is the newest addition, coming to the Rams in the third round of this year's draft and generally considered the player most likely to make a push for more time.
But, as Schottenheimer points out, the Rams will seek ways to get multiple backs involved and not rely on just one player to handle an overwhelming bulk of the work.
During these organized team activities, Pead has even earned reps with the first team, especially in third down and passing situations. In Tuesday's practice, Pead beat linebacker James Laurinaitis on a wheel route which would have gone for a long touchdown in a real game.
“He’s doing good," Schottenheimer said. "Obviously again, took a big step up for (special teams coordinator) coach (John) Fassel on special teams. When a guy does that he’s obviously going to be dressed every day on game day, which is big thing for us because you don’t get everybody dressed for game day. He’s really getting better. I think getting comfort in the system helps. Terrific matchup problem for the defense coming out of the backfield and he’s made some big plays for us."
There's more to holding down the running back job than making big plays, things like picking up the blitz, for example. But in promoting the idea of competition, Schottenheimer and the Rams can take their time in determining who fits where in an offense that will ask much of its running backs.