St. Louis Rams: 2014 NFL Training Camp

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the third consecutive year, the St. Louis Rams look like they will be the youngest team in the NFL.

Fisher
According to a yearly study from Philly.com after team's trim their rosters to their initial 53 players, the Rams once again have the youngest team in the league with an average age of 25.09.

In the past three years, the Rams have clearly been the league's youngest team, but what's interesting is they haven't exactly been older in consecutive years despite sticking to their youth movement.

When Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead took over in 2012, they cleaned house and made it clear they aren't afraid to roll with young players in prominent positions. That first year, they went from one of the league's oldest team to the youngest at an average age of 25.32 years.

They stuck to the plan last year and were actually younger with an average age of 24.96 years. They are a little older this year, but not as old as they were in 2012.

Regardless, there is something to be said for the Rams having a plan and sticking to it. There are no awards for being the youngest team in the league, but a lot of franchises pay lip service to the idea of building through the draft then panic and change the plan when things don't go well.

It's a bit easier for the Rams to stick to the plan with an experienced coach like Fisher in charge, but it should also be clear that youth is no longer an excuse for this team.

The Rams are young by design, but they also have a lot of players with plenty of playing experience. In fact, the Rams might only have one rookie -- cornerback E.J. Gaines -- in the starting lineup on opening day, and if they do, it's because of an injury to certain starter Trumaine Johnson.

Snead likes to refer to the mistakes of his young team as "spilling milk" and has said he hopes that two years of spilling milk leads to much less in 2014.

It will have to if the Rams' plan to break through this season is to come to fruition.

St. Louis Rams cut-down analysis

August, 30, 2014
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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.

St. Louis Rams' projected roster

August, 29, 2014
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Examining the St. Louis Rams' roster:

(Note: WR Stedman Bailey is expected to make the team but is suspended for the first four games of the season and will not count on the initial 53-man roster.)

QUARTERBACKS (3)
The devastating loss of quarterback Sam Bradford leaves the Rams with just the three players mentioned above on the roster. Davis is the No. 2 for now but the Rams will keep their eyes open for a veteran to add experience. These three could make the initial cut but the most likely scenario is they keep Hill and Davis and Gilbert goes to the practice squad after they locate a veteran.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
Chase Reynolds is difficult to leave off because of his value on special teams, but Watts has just offered too much upside for the offense and willingness on special teams to be left off. It wouldn't surprise if the Rams kept both but it's hard to do this without at least including Watts.

RECEIVERS (5)

With Bailey suspended the first four weeks, the Rams could take a longer look at another wideout for the first quarter of the season but there isn't one who has really emerged as worthy. Givens reminded many why he deserves to stick against the Browns but Pettis has been nearly invisible. Without Bailey, it stands to reason Pettis would stay but upon Bailey's return, that could change.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

The first three are probably pretty safe, but the Rams could have an intriguing competition for a potential fourth tight end if they opt to keep four. Cunningham versus Alex Bayer continues to be one of the more interesting battles on the roster. Cunningham is the better blocker, while Bayer has shown more as a pass-catcher. It's really difficult to determine which flavor the Rams prefer but I'm going back to Cunningham because of his value as a blocker on special teams.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

The Rams have serious questions about their depth on the offensive line. Barrett Jones' situation remains in flux and few of the backups have stood out. It's hard to project the depth beyond Joseph and Barnes but the guess here is the Rams do something to stash Jones and save the roster spot then opt for Person and Bond in a tight race over Brandon Washington and Sean Hooey.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

This is the toughest decision on the roster right now. Westbrooks and Michael Sam have both done enough in camp and the preseason to stake a claim to a spot. At this point, it would be a surprise if Westbrooks didn't make it. Jeff Fisher has hinted at a different look in terms of roster composition this year and it's not out of the realm of possibility they could keep both. It's hard to project where they could chop elsewhere to create space, though. The other X factor here is the health of Hayes and Sims. Neither played against Miami and Hayes has yet to appear in a preseason game. Perhaps that could open the door for both Sam and Westbrooks to stay.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Barring injury, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the first five don't make it. But the sixth spot is more of a question mark. That spot is anybody's guess. Steward stays there for now but Lawrence Wilson and Aaron Hill could surprise. And the Rams will definitely scour the waiver wire for others.

CORNERBACKS (6)

With Johnson out four to six weeks, this looks like the spot that could keep Sam from making the roster. The Rams will have to carry Johnson on the roster but will probably need to keep another body for depth in the meantime. It's not easy to choose one from the group of Roberson, Greg Reid and Darren Woodard. Roberson has flashed the most in coverage, Reid is the best tackler and Woodard is sort of the happy medium between the two. We'll go with Roberson because he's gotten the most opportunities, an indication the coaching staff likes his potential.

SAFETIES (4)

Put simply, the Rams don't have anyone else who has showed enough to earn a spot and Joyner could play safety in a pinch. Alexander and Davis are core special-teams players.

SPECIALISTS (3)

These three are set in stone.

St. Louis Rams cut-down analysis

August, 26, 2014
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Most significant move: None of the Rams' moves really registered much of a blip on the radar, though parting with defensive end Sammy Brown and safety Matt Daniels in this round might qualify as something of a surprise. Brown and Daniels have spent time on the active roster over the past two years, but both have had similar problems staying healthy. Daniels was once a core special-teams player, but he suffered season-ending injuries in each of his two seasons. Brown has shuttled between the practice squad and active roster but spent most of this camp watching from the sideline. It was seemingly inevitable that both would be released but maybe a mild surprise for it to happen during the first round of cuts.

Sam still here: It's no surprise that defensive end Michael Sam made it past the first round of cuts given his draft status and production in the team's first three preseason games. Sam and undrafted rookie lineman Ethan Westbrooks continue to wage one of the more intriguing battles for a roster spot. Both have made strong cases that they belong in the NFL. The question becomes whether the Rams have room to keep both or if they will have to make a difficult decision. At this point, it wouldn't surprise to see another team claim either of them should they be exposed to the waiver wire. The Rams could theoretically keep 10 defensive linemen but would have to sacrifice at other spots. Injuries at cornerback and quarterback could also keep the Rams from going heavy elsewhere. Certainly, Sam and Westbrooks should get plenty of opportunities to make closing arguments Thursday night in Miami.

Rams' cuts: CB Jarrid Bryant, P Bobby Cowan, OT R.J. Dill, WR Jordan Harris, LS Jorgen Hus, FB Kadeem Jones, LB Johnny Millard, WR T.J. Moe; OT D.J. Morrell, LB Pat Schiller (waived injured), S Matt Daniels, DE Sammy Brown

Quarterback Sam Bradford (knee) and center Demetrius Rhaney (knee) were placed on injured reserve. Last week, the Rams placed running back Isaiah Pead on injured reserve and did not replace him on the roster. That brings the total to 75.

St. Louis Rams' projected roster

August, 25, 2014
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Examining the St. Louis Rams' roster:

(Note: WR Stedman Bailey is expected to make the team but is suspended for the first four games of the season and will not count on the initial 53-man roster.)

QUARTERBACKS (3)
The devastating loss of quarterback Sam Bradford leaves the Rams with just the three players mentioned above on the roster. But let's be real, the Rams aren't likely to keep Davis and Gilbert on the roster and having Davis as the No. 2 is a questionable proposition in itself. It's probably safe to expect the Rams to pursue a veteran backup for Hill meaning Gilbert is listed here more as a placeholder than a projection.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
Isaiah Pead is officially on injured reserve, leaving these four in good shape but the intriguing name here is Trey Watts. He performed well against Cleveland and will get another chance against Miami. The Rams carried five last year and if Watts has another strong outing and proves capable on special teams, he might elbow his way into the mix.

RECEIVERS (5)

With Bailey suspended the first four weeks, the Rams could take a longer look at another wideout for the first quarter of the season but there isn't one who has really emerged as worthy. Givens reminded many why he deserves to stick against the Browns but Pettis has been nearly invisible. Without Bailey, it stands to reason Pettis would stay but upon Bailey's return, that could change.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

The first three are probably pretty safe, but the Rams could have an intriguing competition for a potential fourth tight end if they opt to keep four. Cunningham vs. Alex Bayer continues to be one of the more interesting battles on the roster. Cunningham is the better blocker, while Bayer has shown more as a pass-catcher. It's really difficult to determine which flavor the Rams prefer but I'm going back to Cunningham because of his value as a blocker on special teams.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

The Rams have serious questions about their depth on the offensive line. Barrett Jones' situation remains in flux and few of the backups have stood out. Washington finally got back to work against the Browns and played pretty well at left tackle. He can play inside and out so he pushes Travis Bond out for now. Some with the Rams like Bond, though, and he could still factor.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

This is the toughest decision on the roster right now. Westbrooks and Michael Sam have both done enough in camp and the preseason to stake a claim to a spot. Jeff Fisher has hinted at a different look in terms of roster composition this year and it's not out of the realm of possibility they could keep both. It's hard to project where they could chop elsewhere to create space right now. Carrington hasn't done much in the preseason and I wonder how safe he is but with Brockers and Langford battling ankle issues, it seems the Rams need him right now. The other X factor here is Hayes' health. He has practiced but still not appeared in a preseason game as he returns from offseason surgeries.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Barring injury, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the first five don't make it. But the sixth spot is more of a question mark. That spot is anybody's guess. Steward stays there for now but one would think it comes down entirely to special teams.

CORNERBACKS (6)

OK, so we are taking the plunge and adding a sixth corner here which seems even more likely with Johnson battling a knee injury. But it's not easy to choose one from the group of Roberson, Greg Reid and Darren Woodard. Roberson has flashed the most in coverage, Reid is the best tackler and Woodard is sort of the happy medium between the two. We'll go with Roberson because he's gotten the most opportunities, an indication the coaching staff likes his potential.

SAFETIES (4)

I've teased a possible change here for a couple of weeks but hesitated because it's been hard to figure out where the other roster spot will be allocated. But it's time to make the move because none of the other safeties have really done much of anything to stand out. It's possible that a player like Matt Daniels could get another shot because of special teams but the Rams would do so at the expense of a more talented player at another position. Plus, Lamarcus Joyner can play safety in a pinch.

SPECIALISTS (3)

It would take a serious injury to disturb this strong trio.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Most likely, injured St. Louis Rams running back Isaiah Pead will land on the team's injured reserve list as he rehabilitates from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Pead
But the move the Rams made Wednesday afternoon at least leaves the door open for the long shot chance he could land elsewhere. The Rams waived Pead with the injury designation on the league's official transaction list.

By placing Pead on waivers, the other 31 teams in the league have 24 hours to claim him. But it would come as a surprise if another team opted to pick up Pead given his $757,100 price tag and injury status. Assuming Pead clears waivers Thursday, he then reverts to the Rams' injured reserve list unless the sides come to an injury settlement.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher's comments in announcing Pead was lost for the season would indicate the plan is for Pead to land on injured reserve and do his rehab in St. Louis before coming back in 2015.

"He worked very very hard to get in the position to where he was a very productive special teamer for us," Fisher said. "And we had high hopes for him doing some things out of the backfield for us as well. So he’ll be undergoing surgery in the next 10 days to two weeks, which is typical with these injuries. So he’s got a long road ahead of him, but I’m confident that as he’s matured over the last couple years that he’ll get back in good shape next year."

The Rams originally drafted Pead with a second-round pick in 2012, but he's had little impact in his two seasons in St. Louis. In 25 games, he has 75 rushing yards and 94 receiving yards. He settled in to a special teams role last season and earned high marks from the coaching staff for his work there. Fisher said the Rams had plans to use Pead in a similar role this season with the occasional contribution to the offense.

Rams Camp Report: Day 17

August, 20, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams wrapped up the training camp portion of their preseason with a spirited practice in front of some special guests Wednesday afternoon. The football teams from Ferguson, Missouri-area high schools McCluer and McCluer North attended the practice before and after having their own practices in the indoor Rams Park facility. What they saw was a long, hot workout, but they also provided a little jolt of energy that certainly helped the Rams through the workout.
  • On the field, the Rams continue to make strides toward getting four key starters back on the field. Left tackle Jake Long continues on his trajectory to play against the Browns on Saturday as he took the bulk of the reps at his usual spot. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers again took most of the reps with the first-team defense at his spot and said he's expecting to play against Cleveland. Guard Rodger Saffold went beyond the individual work he did Tuesday and participated in some team drills by taking snaps at both guard spots. And linebacker James Laurinaitis, who has been out with an ankle injury, even got back in some seven-on-seven drills, though he has yet to play in 11-on-11. Laurinaitis spoke after practice and confirmed that the injury is to the same ankle he had offseason surgery on, but that the issues are unrelated. He says he's feeling good and if there had been a regular-season game anytime recently, he'd have played. The Rams have taken a cautious approach with all four players.
  • The Rams receivers had a bit of a rough go during one-on-one drills as wideouts Kenny Britt and Austin Pettis dropped what should have been easy completions. Tight end Jared Cook had no such issues and came up with a nice grab on a deep, back-shoulder throw from quarterback Sam Bradford in team drills. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson made a nice play on a deep pass on the next snap but was not pleased with himself when he didn't come up with the interception. Otherwise, the day was pretty nondescript as the Rams slogged through another long, hot practice.
  • As is custom, the Rams closed training camp with their usual "dizzy bat" races for all of the rookies and team interns. All participants pick up a ball and run 10 yards, drop it off, run another 10 yards and then do 10 spins with a wiffle ball bat. The catch is that the veterans can distract all participants by any means necessary, including dumping water and Gatorade on those spinning. It's a lighthearted and fun way to call it a camp.
  • Aside from the high school teams taking in practice, the Rams had another special guest Wednesday: newly minted Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams.
  • Wednesday's practice was the final day of training camp open to the fans, but the Rams will be back at it Thursday afternoon for their final practice before traveling to Cleveland on Friday.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold played a preseason game in his hometown of Cleveland last season, he suffered a shoulder injury.

As Saffold and the Rams head back to Saffold's old stomping grounds for their third preseason game this year, Saffold looks poised to return from another shoulder injury.

"Of course I plan on playing," Saffold said. "I’ve felt good for awhile. I know they want to be super cautious and that’s fine but I’ve been working since I got hurt, so really I just hope this transition back onto the field won’t be that big of a transition. I feel in shape, I feel rested. I’m good all the way around."

[+] EnlargeRodger Saffold
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceRodger Saffold is expected to start at right guard for the Rams.
Saffold suffered what he and the Rams call a "stinger" in his left shoulder in a training camp practice on Aug. 1. The stinger has been enough to keep Saffold on the sidelines since, and kept him out of the team's first two preseason games against Green Bay and New Orleans. He did return to practice on a limited basis Tuesday, taking part in individual drills but sitting out the 11-on-11 portion of the workout.

Although Saffold and the team have insisted it's a minor injury, all parties have opted for a cautious approach. Rightfully so, given Saffold's extensive injury history. And his shoulder was such a point of contention in the offseason that the Oakland Raiders backed out of a lucrative multi-year contract with Saffold when their doctors failed him on a physical because of it.

In no small part because of that history, the Rams made it clear to Saffold soon after the injury that they were in no hurry to get him back in the preseason. Saffold is entering his fifth season in the league and his third in Brian Schottenheimer's offense, so keeping up with the mental part of his job should be little problem.

"It was nowhere near as bad as last time, but as a coach you want to make sure you take care of your players," Saffold said. "They’ve seen me play so they know what I can do, so they say 'Why don’t you just sit this one out? Let’s just make sure you’re good so we don’t have any future problems that could really be a problem.' I just said OK."

It remains unclear whether Saffold will get to play against the Browns as the Rams continue to monitor him day to day. Saffold joked Tuesday that he's the only Ram who has yet to hit somebody in a different uniform and that he intends to test the willpower of head athletic trainer Reggie Scott this week in an effort to get back on the field.

Getting Saffold back would give the Rams a chance to have their projected starting offensive line together for the first time in a game. It would also give Saffold some needed reps at right guard.

Although Saffold showed well at his new position for the last part of the 2013 season, the sample size remains small. He is comfortable at the position. but spent the early parts of camp playing left tackle and both guard spots, rather than settling at his projected position.

The chance to get some work in preseason games should allow things to slow down for Saffold inside.

"You want to be able to be under control but still be able to play fast and physical," Saffold said. "Sometimes you can get too excited or overly excited and you move too fast and get yourself in bad positions. I’m able to recover some of those things, but I want to get my technique down pat to the point where it’s kind of easy when it comes to the game."

Rams Camp Report: Day 16

August, 19, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • We can get to some of the happenings on the field in Tuesday's practice in a moment but the most important thing to take away from this workout wasn't so much what happened as who was participating. Coach Jeff Fisher alluded to the possibility of key starters Jake Long, Michael Brockers, James Laurinaitis and Rodger Saffold returning this week and all four took a step in that direction to varying degrees. As has been the case recently, Long was the most active of the group as he went through a full practice. All signs point to him playing against the Browns. Brockers was next in line, participating in his share of team drills as he comes off an ankle injury. He took most of the reps in his usual spot with the first team. Saffold did individual work but no team as the Rams bring him along slowly. But he said after practice that he's doing well and the team is simply being cautious. Laurinaitis did some running on the side and Fisher said he hasn't been ruled out for this weekend yet. We'll see where Brockers, Saffold and Laurinaitis are later in the week but there's at least a chance that all four could return. Also, cornerback Janoris Jenkins was back at full speed. He actually returned in practice last week but the Rams didn't want to have him play a game just a couple days after coming back to practice.
  • Amongst those sitting out Tuesday: linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, cornerbacks Brandon McGee, E.J. Gaines and Darren Woodard (who did some side work), end Sammy Brown, defensive tackle Matt Conrath, offensive lineman Mike Person, center Demetrius Rhaney and offensive lineman Barrett Jones.
  • On the field, it was one of the hottest days of camp, perhaps the hottest and the workout was a bit sluggish. The offensive line, in particular, had its share of struggles. If you're looking for an individual standout, here's one from off the radar: cornerback Jarrid Bryant. With a trio of corners on the sideline during practice, Bryant took advantage of his opportunities. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Bryant had one sequence in which he came up with two interceptions and a pass breakup in a span of about six or seven plays.
  • Isiah Robertson, one of the Rams' greatest linebackers and a six time Pro Bowler, took in Tuesday's practice.
  • The Rams have their final open practice of the preseason Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. ET. That coincides with the official end of the training camp portion of the preseason.

St. Louis Rams' projected roster

August, 18, 2014
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Examining the St. Louis Rams' roster:

(Note: WR Stedman Bailey is expected to make the team but is suspended for the first four games of the season and will not count on the initial 53-man roster.)

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Bradford and Hill are locks. Gilbert is still in the lead for the third spot, though he hasn't done much in either preseason game. The bigger question is whether the Rams keep three.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

We elevated Reynolds last week when he played against New Orleans and Isaiah Pead sat with a finger injury. This week, Pead suffered a torn ACL and will miss the season, taking most of the guesswork out of this projection.

RECEIVERS (5)

With Bailey suspended the first four weeks, the Rams could take a longer look at another wideout for the first quarter of the season, but Bailey plus the five listed here seem to be in pretty good shape. Of the wideouts who could theoretically serve as placeholders until Bailey's return, Emory Blake has been the most consistent and Austin Franklin has displayed the most potential.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

The first three are probably pretty safe, but the Rams could have an intriguing competition for a potential fourth tight end if they opt to keep four. Bayer vs. Justice Cunningham continues to be one of the more interesting battles on the roster. Cunningham is the better blocker, while Bayer has shown more as a pass catcher. We'll stick with Bayer for now, but that is subject to change.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

The Rams have serious questions about their depth on the offensive line. As reported last Thursday, Barrett Jones is battling a back injury and there's no timetable for his return. He could end up on injured reserve or possibly with the designation to return. Brandon Washington would seem to be a candidate, but he also has been out with an injury. Don't be surprised if the Rams closely monitor the waiver wire when cuts are made.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

The first eight are likely solid in their spots. But after some back and forth, I decided this was the week to elevate Westbrooks after another solid performance against Green Bay. Michael Sam also played well against the Packers, but Westbrooks has been more consistent in practice and offers more positional versatility. Sam remains in the race, but to my eye it looks like Westbrooks has moved ahead for now.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Don't be surprised if the final tally here looks different than the above. Beyond the first four listed, there could be plenty of room for change, including the potential for a veteran to provide depth. Bates is a strong special-teams player and should stick, but Steward will face plenty of competition from an eager group of undrafted rookies.

CORNERBACKS (5)

With plenty of preseason to go, there's a lot that can change, but this group seems to be getting some clarity. The first four here appear to be in good shape, and Gaines' strong preseason debut complements what has been a good camp for him. He seems to be in the driver's seat for the next spot. With each passing week, I believe the Rams might keep six corners and four safeties, but this projection doesn't reflect that because I'm not yet sure who that sixth corner would be. Marcus Roberson, Darren Woodard and Greg Reid all figure in that competition.

SAFETIES (5)

The Rams have kept five safeties under Fisher, in no small part because of special-teams duties. But I'm beginning to wonder if that could change in favor of a sixth cornerback. It's looked in camp like the Rams have more talent at corner than safety, which could cause them to alter the balance at the two positions in terms of numbers. The first three here should be safe and Davis bounced back well against Green Bay, which should help his cause. Daniels needs to get it going to get another shot. Christian Bryant is finally practicing but has been nondescript on the field.

SPECIALISTS (3)

It would take a serious injury to disturb this strong trio.

Rams Camp Report: Day 15

August, 14, 2014
8/14/14
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams continued to turn up the dial on the physical approach to practice Thursday as coach Jeff Fisher indicated they would earlier this week. Fisher said his team needs work on the run game and they certainly got that work in this practice. That's been a familiar sight in the past two weeks as the Rams try to turn it up before the regular season arrives.
  • Some quick injury news. ... Fisher said left tackle Jake Long will not play this week against Green Bay but they are targeting next week against Cleveland to get him some game action. That falls in line with the plan for him from the beginning. ... Cornerback Janoris Jenkins got back to work Thursday and though he might not play this week, he went through team drills and is close to ready. ... Rookie center Demetrius Rhaney had the scariest moment of the day when he stayed down after his knee buckled on a field goal drill. Rhaney had to be taken off on a golf cart. Fisher said the initial indication was that Rhaney's injury wasn't as serious as first feared but he would still need an MRI. ... Fisher also said right guard Rodger Saffold is "close" to returning from a stinger injury.
  • On the field, there were some big plays and plenty of heavy collisions. Tight end Justice Cunningham continues to find himself in some of the bigger collisions in running drills. Lining up at fullback, Cunningham and end Eugene Sims had a train wreck during one drill in which the pads could be heard from about 100 yards away. Cunningham is certainly making his presence felt as a blocker. Quarterback Sam Bradford had a couple of nice hookups on deep balls, one down the sideline to receiver Brian Quick and another, better throw to tight end Lance Kendricks down the seam. Tight end Brad Smelley, who just joined the team earlier this week went up for a tough over the shoulder catch for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
  • Former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake, father of Rams receiver Emory Blake, attended Thursday's practice. He had to be a proud papa when he saw the younger Blake rise up for the catch of the day, snatching a touchdown out of a Cody Davis and Marcus Roberson double team. Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong was quick to voice his displeasure with the defense's inability to stop Blake.
  • Funny moment of the day: Quick tipped a ball to himself on a pass to the corner but came down out of bounds as the defense closed in around him. Tight end Jared Cook was nearby and quickly chastised Quick for not tipping the ball back to him. He was joking, of course but the delivery was perfect deadpan. Maybe you had to be there.
  • The Rams have no practice Friday as they finished preparations for Saturday's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.

Camp Confidential: St. Louis Rams

August, 14, 2014
8/14/14
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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."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

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.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

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.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] 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 14

August, 13, 2014
8/13/14
7:00
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams went through a quick, special-teams only workout Wednesday afternoon that lasted all of about an hour. The players participating started out in pads before shedding them in the middle of the practice. Special-teams coach John Fassel put his team through the usual paces with lots of work for his coverage units. Alas, the fun of the initial special-teams practice with the physical, one-on-one drills, seems to be gone.
  • Perhaps the most noteworthy thing from Wednesday's practice came not from a player participating but what was happening on the side. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who is working his way back from an ankle injury, did some running on the side under the supervision of head athletic trainer Reggie Scott. Brockers has been out for nearly two weeks with the ankle sprain but appears to be moving well. He did some light jogging earlier this week and looks like he could be headed toward a return sooner than later.
  • For what it's worth, fullback Kadeem Jones, who has missed most of camp with an injury, was in pads Wednesday but didn't do much of anything. A target for his return remains unknown.
  • One player worth watching over the next few weeks is receiver T.J. Moe. Moe is still getting used to playing on special teams, something he hasn't done much of in his career to this point. But he's well aware that if he wants a shot at the roster, that could help his cause. I asked Moe if he had to adjust his mindset at all to play special teams since most special-teams players are a little bit crazy and he said that slot receivers have to have a similar mentality. Moe isn't getting a ton of reps in this camp so any work he can get, he's going to have to make the most of. I'll have more on Moe and pursuit of a roster spot later this week.
  • After practice was over, Rams coach Jeff Fisher joined the efforts of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in which he had a bucket of cold water and ice dumped on his head to help raise awareness and money for ALS. Seattle coach Pete Carroll took the challenge Tuesday and promptly challenged Fisher when it was done. Fisher answered the challenge Wednesday. In turn, Fisher issued the challenge to St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and country music group Rascal Flatts. Defensive end Chris Long, punter Johnny Hekker and linebackers Jo-Lonn Dunbar and James Laurinaitis have also participated so far.
  • The Rams are back on the practice field Thursday afternoon for a 3:30 p.m. CT workout. It's open to the public.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- By the time the St. Louis Rams and Green Bay Packers kick off Saturday afternoon's preseason contest, it will have been an even 300 days since quarterback Sam Bradford last played an organized football game.

Granted, it won't be the real deal but as preseason contests go, this is about as excited as you'll see Bradford get.

"(I'm) really excited," Bradford said. "It’s been a long time since I’ve been out there for real and I can’t wait to get back out there. Going through [organized team activities] and going through training camp, I mean, that’s great and all but we’re here to play the game. So to get out there on Saturday and take live snaps, I think I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully the guys are looking forward to having me back out there, too."

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Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoRams QB Sam Bradford on playing Saturday against Green Bay: "I can't wait to get back out there."
Getting Bradford back for the preseason should be no surprise after a rehabilitation which seemingly offered little in the way of setbacks. After Bradford had the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee surgically repaired in late November, he and the Rams set about an aggressive and meticulous plan for his recovery.

Right on schedule, Bradford returned for about half of the Rams' OTAs in the spring and was ready to go full speed when the team opened camp last month.

In the time since, Bradford has taken every repetition with the first-team offense and rarely showed any ill-effects aside from initial rust in the early days of camp. He has had some soreness after practice, but says that is to be expected of any player going through the grind of camp.

"I’ve taken every rep, haven’t had to sit out, haven’t had to miss anything," Bradford said. "My knee feels great, it’s responded really well. I think we’ve been very fortunate Coach (Jeff) Fisher does a great job with our schedule, between the special teams practices and the days off, we’ve had some time to rest and recover. My knee feels really good right now. I’m really happy to see that I haven’t had to miss any time in camp.”

It's unclear how much Bradford will play against the Packers, but consistent with Fisher's gradual build philosophy, it's probably safe to expect he will get more work in the final two preseason contests than against Green Bay.

Before any of that, though, the next step will be taking his first hit. Bradford has dealt with no shortage of pressure during camp and has even had a couple of close calls with players running into him and rolling near his knee. But he has yet to be taken to the ground by someone wearing a different helmet.

"I think it’s important just to be out there knowing that I can get hit, knowing that I’m probably going to take a few hits in the preseason," Bradford said. "I think it’s probably bigger for everyone else to see that it’s going to be OK. I’m going to get hit, its part of the game, it’s no big deal. I’ve come back from an injury before, but it will be nice to take that first hit and get up knowing that everything’s fine."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Attempting to figure out what St. Louis Rams punter Johnny Hekker can do for an encore a season after setting an NFL record for net punting isn't difficult.

Even with the bar now set to a higher standard, the goal is simple.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Hekker
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiSt. Louis Rams punter Johnny Hekker set an NFL record last season, averaging 44.23 net punting yards on 78 attempts.
"Do it again," Hekker said. "Last season at the beginning of the season Coach (John) Fassel sat us down and had some goals written down on a piece of paper. Mine was the Rams’ all-time net record. I didn’t even know what the mark was. And we went out and messed around and broke the NFL record, so it’s just a great feeling when you can set a goal, visualize it and then go out and achieve it. I think that’s something I’m going to try to do again this season. I’ve got a number in my head I’d like to attain, but that’s going to stay in my head for a while."

Considering Hekker exceeded even the goals set forth by demanding special-teams coach Fassel, it's hard to cast doubt that he and his coverage unit won't go out and reset the bar once again. It won't be easy after Hekker averaged 44.23 net punting yards on 78 attempts.

Entering his third season in the league, Hekker made great strides in 2013. As a rookie, he struggled with consistency and learning the ins and outs of directional punting, something Fassel demands from the position. The idea being that a well-angled punt with the proper hang time leaves little opportunity for return.

During his rookie season, Hekker hit his spot about half the time. Last year, Fassel and assistant special-teams coach Paul Boudreau Jr. were more surprised when he didn't hit the intended landmark.

"He was really good, and obviously the goal is to be better," Fassel said. "When you look at the all-time net punt record ... you don’t want to be worse than that, so I mean that’s a high standard. Johnny even knows, there’s some things that I’m not going to tell you that we talked about where he can improve and he knows he can improve.

"If we can make improvements in a couple of those things that we’ve talked about, then I don’t want to say it because it may give away some different things, but there’s room for improvement.”

Hekker also doesn't want to tip his hand on what some of his other goals are for the season. And considering his eccentric personality, it might be best not to try to dive too far into his mind. Hekker does openly acknowledge a few aspects of his game he'd like to improve.

Among the items on his must-improve list are adding hang time to force more fair catches, generally adding consistency and building a repetitive warmup routine.

Beyond that, Hekker is also looking to take a page out of the book of "Zoolander." Although his directional punting improved in 2013, Hekker says there's a noticeable difference between when he aims right and when he goes left.

"This offseason I put a lot of emphasis on working on left directional," Hekker said. "Last year I was pretty effective at putting the ball out of bounds and down the field going right, but going left is a little more difficult for a righty punter. But this season I want to be more effective at that."

Adding to Hekker's cause is the return of a young and talented coverage unit. Special-teams units are perpetually in a state of flux because those rosters spots are always up for grabs. But Hekker can rest easy knowing that at least core guys such as snapper Jake McQuaide, linebackers Ray-Ray Armstrong and Daren Bates, safety Rodney McLeod and receiver Stedman Bailey (after a four-game suspension) will be back in the mix.

That group struggled with silly penalties early last season, and though only a handful came on the punt team, there's reason to believe the coverage will improve with another year of experience and the addition of feisty defensive back Lamarcus Joyner.

Should Hekker and his teammates again find a way to break the net punting record, it will likely go with little fanfare as it did last season. That doesn't seem to be of much concern to Hekker. After all, he earned first-team All-Pro honors and his first trip to the Pro Bowl last season.

And Hekker can point to the Hall of Fame induction of Ray Guy as proof that even punters can earn a place among the game's greats. He even has an addendum for NFL Network's Rich Eisen and his "punters are people, too" campaign.

"Punters are Hall of Famers, too," Hekker said, laughing. "Take that Rich Eisen."

It's way too early to put Hekker in that kind of company, but if he meets his goal of setting an NFL record for net punting every season, he'll have an argument to make.

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