- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As the St. Louis Rams prepare to enter their third training camp under coach Jeff Fisher and staff, much will hinge on the ability of the team's many young players to turn potential into production. In this final week before camp officially begins, we take a look at some players who must take the next step either to preserve their jobs, help the team reach its first winning record since 2003 or, to the team's preference, both.
We continue this week-long series with safety Rodney McLeod.
What he's done: McLeod has enjoyed a strong rise from undrafted free agent to special teams stalwart to starting free safety in just two seasons. His production has probably already exceeded the investment the Rams have put in him. But if McLeod is to hold down his spot in the defense into the future, he's going to need to take another step forward in 2014. In fairness to McLeod, he was forced into a starting role last season and played almost every down between safety and working as the team's nickel corner. By the end of the season, McLeod's first year contributing to the defense, he finished with 79 tackles, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. That came in addition to a continued key role on special teams.
Why he must do more: In his two seasons in St. Louis, McLeod has proved he belongs in the league, but it's still unclear how prominent his role should be moving forward. If nothing else, he's probably already done enough to stick around as a special teams ace and provide solid depth on the back end, but he'd obviously prefer to continue to develop as a starting defender. Clearly, the Rams are willing to give him that chance but not without some competition. The Rams drafted safeties Maurice Alexander and Christian Bryant in the spring and return other young players such as Matt Daniels and Cody Davis at the position. The Rams need better coverage from all of their players on the back end, but McLeod's spot is probably the most tenuous, at least in terms of starting.
Where he fits: By all accounts from the spring, it appears McLeod will again get the first crack at starting alongside T.J. McDonald at safety. Alexander didn't do much of anything as he recovered from injury, but the Rams did use a fourth-round pick on him and coach Jeff Fisher has expressed excitement about Alexander's future. While Alexander profiles similar to McDonald, there's a belief that the pair could play together in Gregg Williams' defense. It's unlikely Alexander will be able to surpass McLeod in the short window of training camp, but McLeod will have to produce over the course of the season to continue in that role.
4dEric D. Williams