St. Louis Rams: Aaron Donald

Exploring Rams' odds for 2014

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- This week, the folks at Bovada released a variety of odds on the NFL.

Among the bets available are offensive and defensive rookie of the year, which team will finish with the worst record in the league and which division will provide the Super Bowl winner.

Those props provided plenty of interesting bets related to the St. Louis Rams. Here is a quick look at some of the options:

2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year -- Defensive tackle Aaron Donald -- 15/1

Kampman
Donald
Only four other rookies have better odds than Donald in the preseason prognostications: Houston's Jadeveon Clowney, Oakland's Khalil Mack, Baltimore's C.J. Mosley and Pittsburgh's Ryan Shazier. Minnesota's Anthony Barr has the same odds as Donald. It's not easy to win this award from the defensive tackle position because it is harder to accumulate stats from the interior of the defensive line. But Donald has the ability to load up on the sexiest of defensive stats: sacks. He won't play as much as others listed here, but Aldon Smith of the 49ers won this award while averaging about 30 snaps a game in 2011. Donald could have a similar impact.

Who will finish the regular season with the worst record? -- Rams -- 40/1

There are 16 teams believed to have a better chance of finishing with the worst record in the league than the Rams. That is probably about right considering the Rams' penchant for finding mediocrity in the first two years under coach Jeff Fisher. Even if they are hit by a rash of injuries, Fisher's teams generally find a way to avoid finishing in the cellar of the entire league.

Which division will the Super Bowl winner come from? -- NFC West -- 11/4

It's no surprise the division is the favorite to provide the Super Bowl champion considering it is home to the two NFC championship game combatants and the Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Arizona and St. Louis are also dangerous. Until someone can dethrone the division, this should be expected.

Will the Rams make the playoffs? -- Yes - 3/1 or No - 1/4

Partially because of the strength of that division, Bovada doesn't view the Rams' chances of making the postseason in much of a favorable light. The 3/1 odds are better than just seven teams in the league. The Rams are going to have an uphill climb to get into the playoffs, but they have the talent in place to do it if they can get a bounce or two to go their way and have some luck with injuries. That actually makes them something of a good value considering the odds.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look at playing time and production of each of the St. Louis Rams' drafted rookies and a quick glimpse at the undrafted rookie class in Saturday's 21-7 preseason loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Robinson
OL Greg Robinson, first round, No. 2 overall: Robinson again split time between left guard and left tackle, but started at tackle this time. He played 32 snaps, one less than last week and appeared to do OK though he had a couple of pass protection hiccups against Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers (who hasn't?). The plan is to continue working him at both spots, but he should be able to settle in more at guard with the impending return of tackle Jake Long.

DT Aaron Donald, first round, No. 13 overall: Donald played well into this one, clocking 38 snaps before all was said and done. Starting alongside Kendall Langford, Donald didn't do much damage in his time on the field. He didn't show up on the stat sheet but did get in the backfield a couple of times. He'll be better off when he can line up next to Michael Brockers or someone like William Hayes, inside but despite how impressive Donald has been in camp, it's important to remember he's still learning.

DB Lamarcus Joyner, second round, No. 41 overall: Joyner continues to be perhaps the team's most consistent tackler, leading the team with six stops, a pass defended and a forced fumble on his defense-high 51 snaps. Joyner had some rough moments in coverage, though, including one play in which he lost his man as Aaron Rodgers scrambled, resulting in a big completion.

Mason
RB Tre Mason, third round, No. 75 overall: The Rams still aren't shy about getting Mason plenty of work as he led the team in carries for a second straight week with 12. But he finished with just 30 yards and had some major struggles in pass protection during his 22 snaps. Mason is going to need some time to get squared away in that regard but there's no cause for alarm here yet. Just don't expect to see him taking work from Zac Stacy or Benny Cunningham just yet.

S Maurice Alexander, fourth round, No. 110 overall: Alexander clearly gets more comfortable each week and had a solid performance against the Packers while playing 40 snaps on defense and 14 more on special teams. It's obvious he's going to be a key contributor on special teams right away but he also looks like he's making progress on defense. He finished with five tackles against Green Bay, second most on the team.

CB E.J. Gaines, sixth round, No. 188 overall: Gaines didn't play against the Packers after a strong outing in the first preseason game. Although his injury is unclear, he suffered it in practice earlier in the week, returned to practice and then apparently tested it in warmups before deciding not to go.

QB Garrett Gilbert, sixth round, No. 214 overall: Gilbert was the third quarterback in the game, playing 19 snaps before his day was finished. For the second time in as many weeks, his performance was mostly nondescript. He went three-of-six for 32 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions though it's hard to judge much of his performance considering the shaky protection.

OT Mitchell Van Dyk, seventh round, No. 226 overall: Van Dyk played 39 snaps, including a lot of work at guard. Fellow young lineman Sean Hooey struggled more but Van Dyk wasn't far behind. He's a developmental project who is probably going to have to go the practice squad route to stick around.

S Christian Bryant, seventh round, No. 241 overall: After sitting last week, Bryant made his first preseason appearance, playing 17 defensive snaps and two on special teams. He didn't offer anything in the way of statistical output but the act of being back on the field at least gives him a chance to compete over the next couple of weeks.

DE Michael Sam, seventh round, No. 249 overall: Sam came in later than he did in the first preseason game, waiting until the third defense entered before getting a chance. When all was said and done, though, Sam played 27 defensive snaps with three more on special teams and was effective for most of them. He posted his first sack to go with two tackles and a pair of quarterback hits. He remains in the hunt for a roster spot.

C Demetrius Rhaney, seventh round, No. 250 overall: Rhaney suffered an injury in practice earlier in the week and did not play.

Undrafted rookie roundup: Defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks was one of the team's standouts against the Packers, racking up four tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits on 39 snaps. As expected, his stock is rising. ... Cornerback Marcus Roberson was a surprise starter in place of Janoris Jenkins but played 34 defensive snaps and six more on special teams. He had just one tackle but showed good instincts in coverage and has at least nudged his way into the conversation for a roster spot. ... Tight end Alex Bayer followed his big first outing with a much quieter second effort. On 37 offensive snaps and 11 on special teams, Bayer caught the lone pass thrown his way for 11 yards but struggled as a blocker.

Rams rookie review: Plenty of work

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look at playing time and production of each of the St. Louis Rams’ drafted rookies and a quick glimpse at the undrafted rookie class in Friday's 26-24 preseason loss to the New Orleans Saints.

OL Greg Robinson, first round, No. 2 overall: Robinson split time between left guard and left tackle, playing 33 snaps offensively and a pair of special teams snaps in a blocking role. All in all, it was a solid first showing for Robinson though he had a communication mistake which led to a sack early in the game when he blocked outside rather than coming down to help on the defensive tackle. He held the edge well in pass protection albeit against third string pass-rushers.

DT Aaron Donald, first round, No. 13 overall: Donald started at defensive tackle and was in for 37 plays on defense and two more on special teams. Coach Jeff Fisher indicated that Donald got a little tired as the game went on since he couldn't rotate in and out. He had no tackles but was disruptive and spent plenty of time in the backfield. That workload could end up being similar to what he gets in the regular season, though the reps will be spaced out better when the Rams have their full complement of interior players.

DB Lamarcus Joyner, second round, No. 41 overall: Joyner also got plenty of work, mostly as the nickel corner in playing 33 snaps on defense and seven more on special teams. He had a pair of tackles and was effective as a gunner.

RB Tre Mason, third round, No. 75 overall: Mason got a bigger workload than the Rams would have liked as he was on the field for 34 plays on offense and four on special teams. He carried 15 times for 51 yards and had another long run called back because of a holding penalty.

S Maurice Alexander, fourth round, No. 110 overall: Back working at the Edward Jones Dome, Alexander was tied for the second most defensive reps with 42 and a whopping 12 on special teams. He finished with just one tackle but had a crushing block on special teams and looks like he's going to factor heavily into a role there right away.

CB E.J. Gaines, sixth round, No. 188 overall: The busiest of all Rams on defense, Gaines played 51 defensive snaps and six on special teams. He led the Rams with six tackles and was solid in coverage as he begins building a case to make the roster.

QB Garrett Gilbert, sixth round, No. 214 overall: The second quarterback in the mix, Gilbert took 29 reps as the backup to Shaun Hill. Gilbert was up and down in his first NFL action as he finished 6-of-11 for 53 yards. He still remains the favorite to land a possible third quarterback job.

OT Mitchell Van Dyk, seventh round, No. 226 overall: Van Dyk also got plenty of work, with 42 snaps on offense and four on special teams. The Rams have a lot to sort through in terms of backup linemen. Van Dyk was mostly nondescript but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

S Christian Bryant, seventh round, No. 241 overall: Bryant is still working his way back from injury and though he is practicing again, he did not play.

DE Michael Sam, seventh round, No. 249 overall: Sam entered the game early, working with the second team defense and played into the third quarter for a total of 32 defensive snaps and five more on special teams. He had a quarterback hurry and a tackle for no gain in that time.

C Demetrius Rhaney, seventh round, No. 250 overall: Rhaney was even busier than Van Dyk, playing 43 offensive snaps and six on special teams. Like Van Dyk, Rhaney didn't necessarily stand out one way or the other but he has showed some toughness to this point.

Undrafted rookie roundup: Tight end Alex Bayer was a busy man, playing 44 snaps on offense and nine on special teams. He made the most of that time with five catches for 71 yards. ... Defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks also showed well with three tackles and some pressure on the quarterback in his 33 snaps. ... Receiver Austin Franklin hauled in a 15-yard touchdown on his 21 plays and had a 27-yard kick return.

Rams rewind: Preseason opener

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams' preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints on Friday night offered plenty of bizarre moments, including a wild finish that yielded a 26-24 Saints victory.

Some leftover thoughts on the game after watching it again (unfortunately on the TV broadcast since the All-22 is not yet available):
  • Defensive end Robert Quinn only played a handful of snaps, with the Rams using him exclusively on obvious third-down passing situations and on one fourth down when New Orleans went for it. He was his usual, disruptive self but was unable to get home as the Saints clearly made it a point of getting the ball out quick.
  • Rookie offensive lineman Greg Robinson split his time between left guard and left tackle, starting the game on the inside. It appeared Robinson was responsible for allowing a sack early in the game when he kicked out on a block when he was supposed to block down to the inside. Coach Jeff Fisher confirmed as much Saturday. Fisher called it a communication issue, something that Robinson probably won't struggle with as much when veterans Jake Long and Scott Wells return to his flanks. But aside from that, Robinson seemed to handle himself just fine. Even kicking outside to tackle, Robinson looked comfortable protecting the edge. Granted, it came against the third team defense but it was still a positive step for the young lineman.
  • Fellow first-round pick Aaron Donald also continued to show why he's earned rave reviews in camp. He was his usual quick self off the snap and spent plenty of time in the Saints' backfield. The Rams want to be an aggressive, up the field unit but one thing worth watching is whether the Rams will have to get him to dial back his push a little in some running situations. It's strange to say because Donald is at his best pushing up the field but there were a couple of times where he seemed to take himself out of the play because he was in the backfield so quickly and the Saints sent an extra blocker over to keep him from blowing up the play. It may not matter in the real games, though, because the Rams have the benefit of picking and choosing their spots with Donald behind Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers.
  • As suspected at first blush, cornerback E.J. Gaines did have a strong performance. He started and played a lot and spent most of the evening around the ball. His instincts to read the play and react allow him to get to the ball fast. He's putting himself in a good position to win a roster spot.
  • Two of the team's prized undrafted rookies are also beginning to make their cases. Tight end Alex Bayer has been making plays since the spring but looked faster and more athletic when he was able to cut it loose in a game. He was solid as a blocker, too. Ethan Westbrooks, who could push for a ninth defensive line roster spot, also was active. He chased ball carriers down the field and made three tackles but also flashed his pass-rushing potential. Westbrooks doesn't play special teams like Michael Sam does but he has the versatility to play inside and out, which could help his cause.
  • Rookie running back Tre Mason got 15 carries -- more than the Rams would have liked -- and he had some good moments. There were a couple of runs where Mason looked like he made the wrong read and bounced it outside costing himself yards, but he seemed to settle in as the game wore on. Perhaps the most impressive play of his night was a blitz pickup in the second half when he stood up a pass-rusher as if he'd been doing it for years. That's one way to fast track himself onto the field more as a rookie.
  • It was clear the Rams had issues with tackling. So did the Saints. We've covered that ground already. But it was particularly noticeable with linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong. Each time the Rams missed a tackle it led to a big gain. They can scheme ways to better defend the run, and they will when the season starts, but Armstrong doesn't look ready to be a full-time linebacker just yet. Some are wondering about an expanded role for him in the defense, and that could still happen, but don't expect it to be a starting down-to-down scenario. The Rams defense, in general, was missing many key components, but middle linebacker James Laurinaitis' absence was the most glaring.
  • It should be no surprise that defensive back Lamarcus Joyner made a positive, physical first impression. He proved a solid open-field tackler and looks to have the makings of an outstanding gunner on punt teams. On the first punt of the night, Joyner worked past two blockers and pinned the returner to the other side of the field where he was promptly forced out of bounds.
  • There's still plenty to sort out among the backups on the offensive line. Mike Person, Davin Joseph and Tim Barnes look poised to be the top backups beyond the starting five after getting the first opportunity against the Saints.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- It's no secret that St. Louis Rams rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald has impressed in his first NFL training camp.

Whether you've watched him every day or come in for a day, you've likely left with Donald as one of the players on the team from whom big things are expected in 2014.

SI.com's Joan Niesen was one of those who didn't need long to take notice of Donald on her stop in St. Louis. She added a little context to how and why Donald became a Ram in this piece.

The Rams clearly believe Donald's inside pass-rushing skills make him the missing piece to take their defensive line to another level. If Donald can transition his practice-field dominance to games, there's little doubt those beliefs will come to fruition.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Sunday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we began the day with an ode to new Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams. ... Next, we gave the rundown on how quarterback Sam Bradford is progressing toward the first preseason game. ... Finally, we examined the training camp work of receiver Stedman Bailey and his workload in the face of a suspension.

Elsewhere:

Here's the recap of Williams' stirring speech from Saturday night courtesy of Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss.

Rams running back Zac Stacy ranks among KC Joyner's most overvalued fantasy Insider running backs.

The Associated Press explores the sensitivity training planned for a number of NFL teams during this preseason.

At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas recaps Saturday's scrimmage.

Joe Lyons covers a couple of rookies with local ties and their first chance to play at the Edward Jones Dome.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have made it through the collectively bargained opening days of training camp. Now the real football can begin.

With a practice scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, the Rams are set to put on the pads for the first time in this camp. Here's a look at some things I'll be watching as the physical contact and, presumably, the intensity takes a step up.

Catching up

It's pretty normal for the defense to be well ahead of the offense in the opening days of camp, but it's fair to say that if you play offense, especially on the line, in St. Louis, the pads aren't coming on a moment too soon. The hope is that adding pads will help neutralize things a bit and the offensive line will be able to go toe to toe with the dominant defensive line on a more consistent basis. So far, the defense has been so aggressive that it's been difficult for quarterback Sam Bradford and the top offense to get much of anything going. In most of the team drills, Bradford hasn't even had time to throw, and when he has, he's often done it in the face of a defender or two. Rams coach Jeff Fisher intimated that the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense won't square off as much as they did during the opening days of camp, either. That could be a positive development for the top offense, which needs to get into a rhythm and gain some confidence as preseason games draw closer. If the starters begin seeing more backups opposite them, the real loser is the poor second-string offensive line charged with stopping the first-team defensive line.

One-on-one

My personal favorite drill to watch in training camp is the one-on-one pass-rushing drills. I pay attention to the lines before the pads come on, but you can't really get a feel for them until the pads are on. So even though the pass-rush drills take place during seven-on-seven passing drills, I often find myself gravitating toward the big men on the other end of the field. That won't change this year. I'm most interested to see how the two first-round picks fare in these drills -- offensive lineman Greg Robinson and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Robinson had the unfortunate task of getting tossed in against Robert Quinn in the opening days, and he's expected to take reps at tackle and guard in these drills so we should get to see him try his hand against Quinn again and against Donald as well. As for Donald, I'm curious to see if the addition of pads will slow him down any (my guess: a resounding no), and I want to see him against Rodger Saffold on the inside. A good look at new defensive tackle Alex Carrington and some of the young linemen jockeying for position will also be worth watching.

Getting physical

There's been plenty of hype surrounding receiver Kenny Britt since his arrival and his performance in organized team activities and even in the early days of camp. Some of that has trickled down to other wideouts such as Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. But it's been difficult to evaluate how they're really faring since the cornerbacks have been unable to do what many expect them to under the guidance of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Which is to say, they haven't really been able to be as physical in press coverage as perhaps Williams wants them to be. One-on-one, seven-on-seven and team drills should give us a better glimpse at not only what Williams wants to do coverage-wise, but also a better gauge of what's real and what's not when it comes to receiver potential for the season.

Rams Camp Report: Day 1

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the highlights from St. Louis Rams training camp:


  • Quarterback Sam Bradford has been cleared to be a full participant in this camp and took the repetitions with the first-team offense Friday afternoon. Coach Jeff Fisher indicated that Bradford can do everything and actually embarrassed a few players he didn't want to name in the team's conditioning test. According to Fisher, Bradford might not do everything in camp and the preseason, but they aren't going to have any hesitation to use him, and if they back him off, it will be a decision made at the time because of soreness rather than a set schedule.
  • Fisher said the Rams still expect left tackle Jake Long to be ready to go for the season opener. What's interesting is the plan in the meantime. Fisher said the offensive line will rotate the linemen to different positions throughout camp to give everybody a look at a different spot. Rodger Saffold told me the Rams gave him a schedule that actually has what position he'll be playing and when at various times during different practices. On Friday, it was a little bit of a surprise to see rookie Greg Robinson at left tackle rather than left guard. Robinson played some left tackle in the rookies-only portion of practice earlier this week, but he's going to get a lot of opportunities to do both during this camp. For what it's worth, Saffold lined up at left guard with Robinson at left tackle and Davin Joseph at right guard. Tim Barnes took the reps with the first team at center, and Joe Barksdale handled his usual spot at right tackle.
  • Speaking of center, Scott Wells did not participate in practice, though he did light running on the side in the warm-ups and other parts of practice. With Wells not participating, Barnes handled the bulk of the reps in the middle with the first-team offense.Joining Wells on the did-not-participate list: Long, defensive end William Hayes, safety Christian Bryant, fullback Kadeem Jones, linebacker Johnny Millard, defensive end Sammy Brown and defensive tackle Ethan Westbrooks.
  • As for the happenings on the practice field, it's more than fair to say the defense is ahead of the offense at this early stage. That should be no surprise, as that's often the case, but it was tough sledding for most of the day with a few early exceptions in seven-on-seven when Bradford connected with tight end Lance Kendricks a couple of times. Once team drills began, though, life became even more difficult with the defensive line consistently wreaking havoc on Bradford. When Bradford did get a pass off, it usually came a beat or two after he would have been sacked in normal game speed. Bradford and receiver Stedman Bailey had a clear miscommunication on one deep ball early in practice that fell easily into the waiting hands of cornerback Brandon McGee for an interception. Bradford looked a bit rusty overall and lacked zip on some of his throws (perhaps because of the pressure), but he did move well. He said after practice he believes the added challenge from the top defense should only serve to make the offense better.
  • Working mostly with the second-team defense, rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald continues to be a terror. He made life miserable for the second-team offensive line and quarterback Shaun Hill. Hard to tell what's going to be more difficult: keeping Donald off the field or trying to block him.
  • Quick roster note: The Rams signed defensive end Kourtnei Brown and released wide receiver Austin Franklin. Brown is wearing No. 93.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams 2014 training camp hasn't even officially begun, but rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald already is drawing rave reviews.

Taking part in two practices with his rookie teammates earlier this week, Donald was an instant scene-stealer, especially when taking part in some one-on-one pass rush drills.

During a handful of snaps in Wednesday's workout, Donald was so quick off the ball that there were moments it looked like some of the rookie linemen were going at walk-through speed while he was going at full speed. Only No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson seemed to have any success consistently getting his hands on Donald, though even that didn't slow him down much.

"We are definitely learning a lot," Donald said. "When they say everybody in the NFL is good, so far I have been seeing that. Guys can move a lot better and once they get their hands on you, they’ve got you, so I’m just making sure I work on my technique so they can’t grab me and get their hands on me."

[+] EnlargeJeff Fisher, Aaron Donald, Les Snead
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsAaron Donald has impressed the Rams coaching staff since he was drafted in the first round in May.
It's probably safe to assume that when the veterans report for the actual first day of training camp on Friday, Donald will see more linemen who do get their hands on him and more consistently serve as more than a glorified speed bump on his way to the quarterback. The true test will come not only against the veteran linemen such as Rodger Saffold and Davin Joseph, but also when the pads come on next week.

Donald played so well during organized team activities that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer named him one of the most impressive players on the field without solicitation. In the time since Donald departed from the offseason program, he doesn't appear to have lost many steps.

Donald took three days off to go jet skiing at his brother Archie's house in Toledo, Ohio. After that, he returned to Pittsburgh for what he calls "barbaric" workouts with a personal trainer. Those workouts included daily sessions consisting of everything from working with bands tied around his ankles, knees, feet and waist, to distance running for endurance, to working with a parachute for resistance training.

All of it was done with the intent to make Donald even quicker.

"(It was) a lot of different things, but helps me being more explosive," Donald said. "We do a lot of stuff, a lot of crazy stuff."

Beyond the conditioning and physical work, Donald also paid his usual precise detail to working with his hands. It's been a borderline obsession for Donald since his time at Penn Hills High, just outside of Pittsburgh. There, Penn Hills defensive line coach Demond Gibson offered regular reminders of the importance of hand technique for defensive linemen.

Gibson knew the value of hand usage as well as anyone after a career in which he played college ball at Pittsburgh and spent some time with the New Orleans Saints in the NFL as well as stints in the CFL and AFL.

With Gibson helping him hone his technique even after going on to college, Donald has always been advanced in his ability to use his hands to gain an advantage. Although Donald is small compared to other defensive tackles at 6-feet and 285 pounds, his heavy hands combine with the aforementioned quickness and leverage to make him a tough block.

"It’s great (to have) hand speed, but at the same time I’ve got the jitters to juke, do a little move and use your hands, it always is going to get those big guys off you," Donald said.

For a player who thoroughly dominated at the college level, Donald now faces his greatest challenge. The Rams are hopeful that the No. 13 overall pick in May's draft can contribute right away, even if he's not technically listed as a starter. In need of pass-rush help from interior of the line, Donald should get plenty of opportunities to get after quarterbacks right away, and he might even be able to avoid the constant double-teams teams threw at him at Pitt.

While Donald's offseason performance has been enough to draw the attention of coaches and teammates, the soft-spoken Donald has remained focused on the task at hand.

"It’s a good thing just to know the coaches are starting to see me on the field," Donald said.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- If you're not already reading ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton's weekly mailbag, that's probably something that needs to be remedied in the near future. Like, right now.

Clayton covers a variety of topics all over the league and this week offered an interesting nugget concerning the St. Louis Rams. The lead of the mailbag discusses the importance of having the right pieces in place on defensive subpackages such as the nickel and dime. In other words, when a team abandons its base defense and brings extra defensive backs on the field (usually to replace linebackers).

Given the proliferation of offenses using three, four and even five receiver sets, the emphasis on getting better in subpackages has only increased. In fact, many 4-3 teams use a fifth defensive back more than or as much as a third linebacker. If nothing else, defenses often spend their time in those looks on third down which also ratchets up the need for better pass-rushing options.

Which brings us back to Clayton's mailbag where he names the Rams as one of five teams he projects to improve in subpackages in 2014.

From Clayton's piece:
"The Rams already were loaded with talent in their subpackage with Robert Quinn, Chris Long,Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford. Now they can put first-round choice Aaron Donald in for Langford. Donald has the look of a 3-technique tackle who can get six to nine sacks as a rookie."

In addition to Donald, who should ramp up the pass rush, the Rams also brought in defensive tackle Alex Carrington and drafted likely slot corner Lamarcus Joyner in the second round. The Rams had trouble getting timely stops in 2013 but clearly made rectifying that problem a priority this offseason.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Monday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we began the day with a discussion of the possibility for St. Louis to host the NFL draft. ... Next, we examined the addition of defensive tackle Alex Carrington to a crowded position group. ... From there, we offered the Rams' training camp schedule. ... We closed the day with a look at center Scott Wells' reworked contract.

Elsewhere:

To complement Clayton's mailbag, here's his "Inside the Huddle" podcast with the likes of Richard Sherman joining him as guests.

On ESPN Insider, Bill Polian looks at the likelihood of success Insider for rookie offensive linemen, noting that those starting out at tackle could struggle.

Steelers reporter Scott Brown offers some great remembrances of coach Chuck Noll.

At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas explores the journey for cornerback Greg Reid to the NFL.

101sports.com provides four observations from the Rams' organized team activities.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Perhaps no team in the NFL has invested more in its defensive front seven than the St. Louis Rams.

Even after seemingly solidifying that group by using a first-round pick on linebacker Alec Ogletree in 2013, the Rams couldn't resist the temptation of defensive tackle Aaron Donald with their second first-round choice this year.

In the rough and tumble NFC West division, if you can't win up front then you have little chance of doing much damage. Fortunately for the Rams, they now have the pieces in place to be not only the best front seven in the NFC West but the NFL as a whole, at least according to Mike Tanier, of Sports on Earth.

It's no secret that the Rams employ one of the best defensive lines in the league led by ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long. That group isn't only talented but deep and Donald's addition adds a pass rushing element the interior previously lacked.

Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and Ogletree were extremely productive in 2013 and though they have their limitations, should only be better as the defensive line continues to improve. The final piece of the front seven is linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who looks to return to his 2012 form after a down year in 2013.

In looking around the league, there are other teams better at linebacker and perhaps some with starting lines close to what the Rams are providing but in looking at the entire picture, including the depth on the defensive line, it's hard to argue with Tanier's ranking.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Monday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we began the week with a look at how defensive coordinater Gregg Williams will impact the team in 2014. ... From there, we examined how far along left tackle Jake Long is in his rehab and how the Rams are dealing with his absence in the meantime. ... Finally, we examined coach Jeff Fisher's comments on the idea of an NFL developmental league.

Elsewhere:

Field Yates provided the news that center Scott Wells reworked his contract and will be playing on a more cap-friendly deal in 2014.

Columnist Jeffri Chadiha writes that if the NFL wants to send a message to Colts owner Jim Irsay, it'll take away draft picks.

Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. takes an early look at next year's quarterback class.

At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas examines the early work of receiver Kenny Britt.

The Associated Press discusses Fisher's history of unconventional decisions.

 

 
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With the NFL draft and free agency complete, the St. Louis Rams' 53-man roster will probably come mostly from the players already on the team.

With organized team activities less than a week away, we take a look at where each position stands heading into next week. The next in the series continues today by examining the defensive tackles.

Who returns: Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Matt Conrath

Who is new: Aaron Donald, Alex Carrington, Deantre Harlan, Ethan Westbrooks

Who is gone: Jermelle Cudjo

Projected starters: Brockers, Langford

Pending competition: Much like defensive end, it looks like four spots here are already accounted for with the quartet of Brockers, Langford, Donald and Carrington in firm control. Within that group, there could be competition between Donald and Langford for the starting job alongside Brockers but coach Jeff Fisher has already indicated that Donald will get a lot of his work in sub-packages and passing downs. Really, it doesn't matter who starts the game because both Donald and Langford will play a lot. Carrington is something of the forgotten man but also could play a pass-rushing role on third down and will be in the mix as part of the rotation. Also like defensive end, any additional bodies here will likely be a fifth player who is a developmental prospect. Conrath is an incumbent but might have a bit of an uphill climb to land a roster spot for a third straight season after watching the team add Donald and Carrington and part with Cudjo. Westbrooks is an intriguing prospect, too, and one the Rams think highly of after handing him the largest ($20,000) signing bonus among the undrafted rookies.

Outlook: The Rams have to feel comfortable with the long-term stability and upside they have with Brockers and Donald likely to be around for a long time. Langford is still under contract for two more years and has only improved as he's gotten more comfortable playing inside in a 4-3 defense. Carrington's contract is only for a year but if he plays his role well, he could be brought back. The Rams have made major commitments to the defensive line and those commitments have paid off handsomely the past two years. Led by Brockers and the expected production of Donald, there's no reason to think this position, like end, is in anything but good hands for the foreseeable future.

Rams rookies by the numbers

May, 19, 2014
May 19
11:30
AM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have received rave reviews for their 2014 NFL draft class, especially the first four players they selected. The reasons for that positive outlook range from strong workouts and athleticism to leadership and intangibles.

But perhaps nothing stands out above the production of the players the Rams brought in. Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner and Auburn running back Tre Mason were among the most dominant players in college football last year.

With that in mind, here's a look at some numbers from the wonderful people at ESPN Stats & Information and how they could translate to the Rams.

OT Greg Robinson

The stat: On designed runs outside of the left tackle, Auburn averaged an AQ-high 9 yards per rush, including 6.8 yards before first contact.
What it means for the Rams: The Rams had success running the ball behind left tackle Jake Long (and the left side in general) in 2013. Departed starting guard Chris Williams was up and down in the run game, though, and Robinson figures to start out in that left guard spot alongside Long (assuming he's healthy). Robinson is expected to bring his dominant run blocking skills to the lineup right away, but having him next to Long could make a strength even stronger.

DT Aaron Donald

The stat: Led FBS with 28.5 tackles for loss last year and posted an AQ-high 45 total pressures (hurries/knockdowns) on opposing quarterbacks in 2013.
What it means for the Rams: Donald's ability to rush the passer is no secret and should add to an already potent pass rush in St. Louis. Donald probably won't have to do much outside of passing downs early on, but that doesn't mean the Rams won't be able to deploy him in other situations. His ability to get off the ball and penetrate the backfield should allow him to play any down even though he'll have tougher offensive linemen playing across from him.

DB Lamarcus Joyner

The stat: Led Florida State with 5.5 sacks and was second on the team with 69 tackles. His 5.5 sacks ranked second among FBS defensive backs.
What it means for the Rams: The Rams got a grand total of two sacks from defensive backs in 2013, one each from cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety T.J. McDonald. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to bring the heat from the slot and his defensive backs in general. Joyner is expected to play a lot of nickel corner and provides an intriguing option as a blitzer with a knack for getting to the quarterback.

RB Tre Mason

The stat: In short yardage situations (0 to 2 yards to go), Mason converted a first down on 76.5 percent of his carries, which is the highest percentage among running backs with at least 25 such carries.
What it means for the Rams: Although they were better with Zac Stacy as the primary back, the Rams struggled mightily in short yardage situations last year. They were 31st in the league in 2013, converting third-and-2 or less 47.1 percent of their attempts. Mason could find himself on the field in those key situations if his propensity for gaining those tough yards carries over.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Before last Thursday night, if you wanted to come to the conclusion that the St. Louis Rams had a "type" when it comes to their defensive tackles, it would have been easy to see what it was.

The tackles brought in since the arrival of coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead in 2012 all cut an imposing shadow. Michael Brockers is 6-foot-5, 326 pounds, Kendall Langford checks in at 6-6, 313 pounds, Matt Conrath is 6-7, 284 pounds and newly-signed Alex Carrington is 6-5, 301 pounds.

If those measurements were your sole way of viewing what the Rams value at the position, you probably were a bit surprised when they used the 13th overall pick in the NFL draft on defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Donald is listed at just under 6-1, 285 pounds. In a land of giants, Donald doesn't seem to fit.

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRams rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald makes up for a lack of size with agility and athleticism.
And that's precisely the point.

"His game is not size," Snead said. "I think his game is speed, quickness. So I think getting bigger really doesn’t help him, and one of the reasons we were fine with the pick is he’s short so he always has leverage and he’s just a strong kid. He had very high, I forget his bench reps, but it translates to the field. He knows how to use his hands, get low and take on a double team. ... His game is to penetrate.”

In adding Donald, the Rams are getting the exact genre of defensive tackle that they've lacked. On a defensive line flush with talent, Donald provides a pass-rushing, penetrating style that has drawn comparisons to the likes of Cincinnati's Geno Atkins and former Vikings defensive tackle John Randle.

Tired of having to bump ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims inside all the time to collapse the pocket on passing downs, the Rams clearly made adding more push up the middle an offseason priority.

They signed Carrington after having discussions with other possible free-agent fits such as Antonio Smith and Henry Melton. In the pre-draft process, they hosted seven possible fits for the interior, Donald included.

But none of those players come with the resume of Donald. He won every major award for which he was eligible in 2013, including the Nagurski (nation's top defensive player), the Bednarik (defensive player of the year), the Outland (nation's best interior lineman) and the Lombardi (nation's top lineman or linebacker).

Those awards came after a season in which Donald posted 28.5 tackles for loss, the most in college football's Bowl Subdivision, and 11 sacks.

All of that was enough to land Donald in the top eight of the Rams' draft board, according to Fisher. Most teams say they were "surprised" when a player they draft falls to them but in this case, the Rams really meant it.

“We were," Fisher said. "Les’ guys did a great job with the research and we felt like there was a pretty good chance that he would disappear, and then a couple things happened. We were rubbing our lucky coin and he was there.”

Donald will join a line where he won't be asked to carry such a heavy load right away. The Rams' defensive linemen accounted for 47 sacks in 2013, the most by any group in the NFL. Flanked by ends like Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Hayes and Sims, Donald should see fewer double-teams on passing downs, where his immediate contributions will likely reside.

“I’m real excited just to have those veteran guys like that around me," Donald said. "I can learn from them and if I need something, anything answered that I feel like I’m struggling with, I can ask those guys and they can push me and help me to take my game to another level, so I’m real excited about it.”

Donald's production despite a lack of size compared to others at his position can be directly attributed to his athleticism. Donald ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds and bench pressed 225 pounds 35 times at the scouting combine. On Tuesday, he told ESPN.com that he can dunk a basketball on a regulation 10-foot rim and has been able to do so since about his sophomore year of high school.

Adding to that athleticism is the type of technique that had Fisher gushing soon after drafting Donald.

"[He] is very, very productive; he’s an outstanding young man," Fisher said. "He’s way ahead in hand use on the line of scrimmage. He does an outstanding job with his hands.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Reports over the weekend indicated that St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam's jersey was the second-best seller on NFLShop.com.

On Tuesday morning, the Rams revealed what number will be on that jersey, along with the rest of their 11-man rookie class.

Sam will wear No. 96, a departure from his college number, 52. That number is taken by linebacker Alec Ogletree, a first-round pick in 2013.

Here is the complete rundown of numbers for the Rams' latest additions:

OT Greg Robinson -- 79

DT Aaron Donald -- 99

DB Lamarcus Joyner -- 20

RB Tre Mason -- 27

S Maurice Alexander -- 31

CB E.J. Gaines -- 33

QB Garrett Gilbert -- 5

OT Mitchell Van Dyk -- 66

S Christian Bryant -- 42

DE Michael Sam -- 96

C Demetrius Rhaney -- 65

From the group, only Joyner and Rhaney were able to retain their college numbers. Most of the other preferred numbers were already taken. For example, Robinson wore 73 at Auburn, but that number is taken by current Rams offensive lineman Mike Person.

Of course, some of these numbers could be subject to change as players are released in the preseason and before.

St. Louis Rams draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
6:35
PM ET
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A wrap-up of the St. Louis Rams' draft.

Best move: Putting football aside, the Rams made a historic move in using the 249th overall pick on Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Sam became the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL. There will be plenty of time to discuss how he fits the defense, his chances of making the roster and everything else a draft pick entails. But for now, the Rams should be applauded for taking an important step that will have a lasting impact well beyond the confines of a football field.

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Rams strengthened both lines with their two first-round picks, starting with offensive tackle Greg Robinson at No. 2 overall.
Best move, II: Using their two first-round picks to bulk up on the lines. The Rams could have gone many ways with the Nos. 2 and 13 picks in the first round, and there were other avenues that would have been fine, but they showed a lot of self-awareness by staying at those spots and grabbing Auburn offensive lineman Greg Robinson and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The NFC West is the toughest, most physical division in football. Most games in this league are won up front, but all games in the NFC West are. It's not going to be easy to outmuscle the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, but the Rams proved capable of it two seasons ago before taking a step back last season. The first two picks are a sign they don't intend to have their lunch money stolen as often in 2014.

Riskiest move: Waiting until the sixth round to take a quarterback. There, the Rams selected Southern Methodist's Garrett Gilbert. In the run up to the draft, the Rams insisted that not only did they want to get a quarterback, they wanted to land someone capable of pushing starter Sam Bradford. Apparently, they didn't feel too strongly about that. The Rams should be set at the backup spot with free-agent addition Shaun Hill on the roster, but the future of the position remains up in the air. Bradford has two years remaining on his contract but needs to prove his durability and produce at a higher level for a full season before the team commits to him for the long haul. It's not impossible for Gilbert to develop into a solid backup, but counting on him to provide a possible long-term solution or push Bradford for the job is folly.

Most surprising move: Spending a third-round pick on running back Tre Mason. This isn't to say the Rams didn't need help at the position. Starter Zac Stacy has had issues with minor injuries costing him a series here or a quarter there. Benny Cunningham has flashed potential, but the sample size is small. This isn't anything against Mason, who is a good back with outstanding college production. It's just more of a surprise that the team went with a back with more pressing needs to be filled. The Rams insist Mason was too much value to resist, but it's fair to wonder whether they could have waited to get a back capable of contributing. After all, they landed Stacy in the fifth round a year ago.

File it away: Keep an eye on Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines, the team's first sixth-round pick, taken at No. 188 overall. The Rams drafted Lamarcus Joyner to handle the nickel duties, and he'll step in right away at that spot, but Gaines played outside on both sides and showed the flexibility to play inside for the Tigers. That versatility should give Gaines a chance to contribute right away and potentially become the primary backup at all three spots. Gaines started 37 games in his career, including a strong performance against Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans in a 2013 matchup. Evans had just four catches for 8 yards in that game. Although A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel wasn't at full strength, Gaines earned rave reviews for that performance from scouts in the pre-draft process. Gaines was a sixth-round pick, so expectations won't be too high, but that also puts him in position to exceed the ones that exist.

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