St. Louis Rams: Kenny Britt

Rams depth chart musings

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
12:00
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Now that we are finally into Week 1 of the regular season, the St. Louis Rams released their unofficial depth chart Tuesday evening.

It's always important to note the word unofficial but usually the chart at least provides a solid guidepost for what will come to be Sunday when the Rams open at home against the Minnesota Vikings.

With that in mind, let's take a spin around the depth chart with some random thoughts on things that stick out:
  • As expected, rookie No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson is not listed as a starter on the offensive line. Things have been trending this direction for the past couple of weeks as Robinson didn't get a chance to settle into one spot on the line during the preseason. Davin Joseph is listed as the starter at right guard with Rodger Saffold at left guard. Robinson is listed as the primary backup at left tackle and left guard. Coach Jeff Fisher hasn't expressed any concern with Robinson's development but if indeed he's not a Week 1 starter, that registers as a disappointment.
  • Also as expected, the Rams are listing the quarterback depth as Shaun Hill, Austin Davis and Case Keenum. That's only logical considering Keenum just arrived and Davis has extensive knowledge of the offense. There might come a day when Keenum moves into the No. 2 spot but it won't be for awhile.
  • Zac Stacy is listed as the starting running back, which is to be expected. But Benny Cunningham is No. 2 and outperformed Stacy in the preseason. I still expect Stacy to get the majority of the carries but it's worth watching how those carries are divvied up Sunday.
  • At receiver, the listed starters are Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin. Brian Quick is listed behind Britt but it's safe to expect that duo to be on the field together regularly with Austin in the slot. The Rams also list two starters at tight end with Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks on the top line.
  • On defense, there are no surprises to be found but something we discussed in this week's buzz video is notable. Trumaine Johnson is the listed starter at his usual left cornerback spot but it is indeed E.J. Gaines checking in at No. 2 behind him. That might mean nothing since Brandon McGee is listed as the backup at right cornerback. That will sort itself out throughout the week but it wouldn't be a major surprise if Gaines started in his first NFL game.
  • For what it's worth, Lamarcus Joyner is listed as the third team free safety behind Rodney McLeod and Cody Davis. That really doesn't mean anything, though. Joyner still projects as the team's primary nickel cornerback.
  • On special teams, one job worth watching is kick returner. Chris Givens looked like he was going to claim the job in the preseason but he's actually listed behind Cunningham on the chart. Again, this is unofficial so it's entirely possible Givens will get the first shot against Minnesota. But for now, the list goes Cunningham, Givens, Austin.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Looking for help for your fantasy teams beyond the outstanding work of Matthew Berry and his crew?

Well, NFL Nation offered a little one-stop shopping into deeper skill position battles at each and every training camp Friday afternoon.

Each of our NFL Nation reporters provided a quick take on a battle taking place at one of the skill positions, who is leading said battle and how it could play out over the rest of the preseason and training camp.

Obviously, I handled the St. Louis Rams portion and went with wide receiver. The reality is that the Rams seem pretty well set on starters at most positions, not just the skill spots. But receiver has been in the most flux since the beginning of camp with Kenny Britt and Brian Quick emerging and Chris Givens and Austin Pettis falling.

And, of course, Stedman Bailey figures prominently when he returns from suspension. The Rams continue to say that they'll use all of their wideouts but my expectation for Week 1 at this point is that Britt, Quick and Tavon Austin will get the most opportunities when they kick off against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 7.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Friday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we opened the day with a look at a "what if" scenario from a suggestion by ESPN's Bill Polian. ... Next, we looked at the imminent return of left tackle Jake Long next week against Cleveland. ... From there, we delved into the return to health of some of the Rams' key components at cornerback. ... Finally, we offered a look at the plan for quarterback Sam Bradford against Green Bay.

Elsewhere:

ESPN's Jane McManus reports that the NFL is expected to toughen its standards on domestic violence.

Good read as always from columnist Kevin Seifert, who cautions not to worry too much about increased penalties around the league.

At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas examines the health of a number of Rams working back from injury.

Joe Lyons catches up with rookie linebacker Aaron Hill in his weekly diary.

Fox Sports' Alex Marvez takes his turn at discussing the importance of this season for Bradford.

Camp Confidential: St. Louis Rams

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
11:00
AM ET
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.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Since it's officially a game week -- albeit a preseason game -- the St. Louis Rams released their first unofficial depth chart of the season Monday afternoon.

The operative word here is unofficial, and that must be kept in mind with all parts of what I'm about to write here. Some of the following seem to match up with what the Rams are doing on the practice field and some of it doesn't. Either way, take it with the proper dose of salt knowing that there are a few things that always factor in.

For example, in most cases, veterans or returning players get the benefit of the doubt over rookies. Some rookies may be playing more with the first or second team than they are listed here, but for now, they are still being asked to earn promotions.

With all of that said, here are a few things that stood out on the Rams' first unofficial depth chart of the 2014 season:

 • While the vast majority of the starter spots are accounted for, wide receiver was one place where shuffling seemed possible, if not likely. Sure enough, there's a different look there than what was expected entering camp. Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin are listed as the starters with Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey as the second-teamers. This mostly lines up with how reps are divvied up on the practice field right now, and those four have been the team's best wideouts in this camp. Chris Givens, who was once presumed a starter, is now listed as part of the third team along with Austin Pettis. While this is unofficial, this is one spot where it seems there's truth in advertising.

• The offensive line is as expected with Greg Robinson listed as the starting left guard along with Jake Long at left tackle, Scott Wells at center, Rodger Saffold at right guard and Joe Barksdale at right tackle. No surprises there. The depth behind that group will be a more interesting tale. Mike Person is listed as second team at left guard, a position he's been playing in camp after working mostly at tackle. The Rams have plenty to sort out here, and it's also worth noting that Tim Barnes is the No. 2 center with Barrett Jones at No. 3 right now.

• There doesn't appear to be any real competition to Zac Stacy for the starting running back job. The real battle is how things will shake out behind him. Right now, Benny Cunningham is listed second with Isaiah Pead and Chase Reynolds third and Tre Mason and Trey Watts fourth. Stacy and Cunningham have certainly looked like the top two. Mason behind Pead and Reynolds seems to be one of those veterans over rookie spots mentioned earlier.

• The quarterback group offers another veteran over rookie exception with Austin Davis listed third and rookie Garrett Gilbert fourth. Gilbert has been getting more reps than Davis on a consistent basis and even taken reps with the second team. Barring some major changes, Gilbert is the likely third quarterback, assuming the Rams keep one.

• The defense offers little in the way of surprises. The starting 11 is as expected unless you thought Aaron Donald would be listed as a starter. The rookie is listed as second team behind Michael Brockers but none of that matters much with the defensive line anyway. Their top eight should all play and play quite a bit.

• The battle for backup spots at linebacker and in the secondary has a long way to go to gain clarity. For what it's worth, Brandon McGee and E.J. Gaines are listed as the primary backups at cornerback with Cody Davis and Maurice Alexander in backup roles at safety. Phillip Steward, Daren Bates and Ray-Ray Armstrong are the three backup linebackers. One interesting note is that Lamarcus Joyner is listed as the No. 3 free safety rather than a cornerback. But Joyner is getting most of his work as the nickel corner. Yet another example of why the term unofficial is important when going through exercises such as these.

• The Rams open the preseason Friday night against New Orleans at the Edward Jones Dome, offering all players on the depth chart a prime opportunity to change their standing for next week.

Rams Camp Report: Day 9

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
7:45
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ST. LOUIS -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • Now THAT was a football practice. There's no doubt the Rams want to be an aggressive, physical team unafraid to hit opponents in the mouth. At Monday's workout, they weren't afraid to hit one another in the mouth, either. In what was the most physical practice of this training camp, the Rams got after it all afternoon with shoulder pads on and run game drills aplenty. The defining moment came when receiver Austin Pettis felt like cornerback Lamarcus Joyner was a little too over the top in his pursuit of the ball after a play and threw it at Joyner. Joyner wasn't pleased with that response and went after Pettis. Before they were separated, both players threw punches and most of the team intervened to pull them apart. It wasn't the only moment of the day where the feisty Joyner got under someone's skin. A handful of plays before the skirmish, Joyner got tangled with receiver Kenny Britt and ended up with Britt's helmet in his hands. Britt later repaid the favor with a crushing downfield block. Joyner might be small but it's quite clear he doesn't back down.
  • As for the run-game work, the Rams emphasized that in today's practice. They did a period of run-blocking only drills early in the practice and made it a point to do even more during the team portion. They didn't tackle but there was plenty of "thud" tempo. That might not do it justice but think of these thuds as the kind that used to show up on the old Batman TV show where the word is in all caps with 18 exclamation points behind it. Starting running back Zac Stacy brought the hammer repeatedly, dropping his shoulder into safety Rodney McLeod multiple times and doing the same to linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong. Tight end Cory Harkey did the same after a couple of catches, including one that drew some not-fit-for-print words from Armstrong.
  • A couple of others who showed up when the contact increased: tight end Justice Cunningham and safety Maurice Alexander. After Alexander came up with a run stuff in one period, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams could be heard yelling "Look who finally showed up." Cunningham came with some big blocks during run plays in team as well, drawing praise from his offensive teammates and coaches.
  • The walking wounded list is still extensive but none of the injuries appear serious. Among the key names not practicing were linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford, wide receiver Brian Quick, cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Brandon McGee and offensive lineman Barrett Jones. Laurinaitis, Brockers and McGee are battling ankle issues and Saffold has a stinger. One player who did practice was safety Christian Bryant. He's been stuck on the non-football injury list since his arrival and Monday's workout was his first with the Rams.
  • The Rams return to practice Tuesday with the workout scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET. That practice is the only one left this week open to the public at Rams Park.

Rams Camp Report: Day 5

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
8:15
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams put the shoulder pads on for the first time in this training camp Tuesday afternoon and it resulted in a little bit more of an even playing field. After the top defense dominated the first-team offense for much of the opening days of camp, the addition of pads got the offense some traction. Quarterback Sam Bradford had what looked like his best practice of camp as he frequently connected on passes down the field. The primary recipient? Receiver Brian Quick. Quick is off to a good start in this camp and only built on that start with Tuesday's work. Bradford and Quick hooked up a couple of times on deep balls in early team drills and then Quick brought even more cheers when he caught another deep ball from rookie quarterback Garrett Gilbert later on. Bradford also hit receiver Kenny Britt for about a 40-yard touchdown deep down the right sideline as Britt got behind cornerback Brandon McGee. That play elicited the biggest cheers of the day.
  • One thing that needs to be cleaned up early on is pre-snap penalties. So far, both sides of the ball have been guilty of jumping early. In many places, you'd allow for the benefit of the doubt since it's so early in camp, but the Rams have been persistent penalty magnets in the two years under coach Jeff Fisher and many of the infractions can be attributed to veteran players who should be past such mistakes. There isn't necessarily one player in particular jumping early, which might make it more frustrating for Fisher and his staff since it can be harder to rein in a team-wide issue.
  • Progress is coming for defensive end William Hayes, offensive tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells. All three have been participating in some individual work early in practice and Hayes and Wells, in particular, look to be close to a return. Hayes said after practice he had a couple of offseason procedures, though the nature of his injuries are unknown. Wells' injuries are also unknown at this point but none of that will matter much if they get back on the field soon. For what it's worth, Hayes says this is as good as he's felt since his second year in the league. That was 2009.
  • A few developments of note at running back. Zac Stacy continues to get most of the work with the first team, but Tre Mason got a few reps Tuesday afternoon and Benny Cunningham is finding his way onto the field some as well. Isaiah Pead sat out the practice and was wearing what appeared to be a cast on his right hand.
  • Some special guests were in the house Tuesday, including the bulk of the University of Missouri football coaches. Defensive end Michael Sam, cornerback E.J. Gaines, receiver T.J. Moe and center Tim Barnes spent some time with the staff after practice and Sam said it was good to see the group. Former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage also took in the workout.
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.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams are coming down the home stretch of their offseason program with just a pair of organized team activities after Tuesday's practice.

As always, it should be noted that much of what happens in these organized team activities should be taken with a grain of salt (especially for the linemen). The players are not in pads and contact must be extremely limited. It's best not to get too excited or too down on anything that happens.

Ogletree
Ogletree's day: Linebacker Alec Ogletree is coming off a strong finish to his rookie season in which he unseated James Laurinaitis as the team's leading tackler and showed a knack for making big, splashy plays. Much is expected from Ogletree in Year 2 after he seemed to get his feet under him in the second part of last season.

On Tuesday, Ogletree was all over the place in the practice on his way to a couple of interceptions and some other good work in seven-on-seven and team drills. On one play in seven-on-seven, Ogletree ran down the seam with tight end Lance Kendricks and jumped in front of a throw from quarterback Sam Bradford for an interception. He followed by reading a short pass to the flat correctly and jumping on a route, producing what would have been a short gain.

Quick's progress: Receiver Brian Quick had a good day, jumping out early with a good route down the seam for about a 20-yard touchdown from Bradford. He even got his share of work with the first team offense.

Quick is entering his third season, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer spoke glowingly of the young wideout after practice.

"Probably the most improved player I've seen is Brian Quick," Schottenheimer said. "He's doing a great job. Another guy that we're giving an opportunity to, he's competing for playing time and he's made the most of his opportunities. He started today, again just moving guys around in and out of the lineup trying to create competition, and he's stepped up and made a lot of big plays for us."

Sitting it out: The list of Rams not participating in practice grew larger Tuesday even as the practice rolled on. Receiver Jamaine Sherman, cornerback Trumaine Johnson, safeties Christian Bryant, Maurice Alexander and Matt Daniels, running back Chase Reynolds, linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong, end Sammy Brown, center Scott Wells, left tackle Jake Long, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, end William Hayes and defensive tackle Kendall Langford did not practice.

Armstrong, Wells and Langford are new additions to the list, though their reasons for not practicing are unknown. Armstrong did have a wrap on his right leg and Wells was not present.

Before the practice ended, two more joined the list. Receiver Kenny Britt walked gingerly to a golf cart with an athletic trainer, and cornerback Darren Woodard also walked off before the session was over.

Pead
Pead's place: Running back Isaiah Pead has been lost in the shuffle a bit since the Rams found their top two backs in Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham, and then added Tre Mason in the third round of this year's draft. Midway through last season, Pead took a role on special teams and apparently excelled in the role to the point where the Rams view him as one of their most valuable contributors there.

In looking at his role for this season, special teams again figure to be a big part of the plan. Special teams coach John Fassel raved about Pead's work in that area after Tuesday's practice.

"Last year he really committed to special teams and not only was a contributor, he was a high impact guy for us," Fassel said. "I think a lot of people are going to see a lot of growth out of that guy, not only on [special] teams, and I can't speak for offense but I just imagine with his maturity, his work ethic, his ability, I would imagine he's going to have a fantastic preseason."

Pead did plenty of work on coverage units and proved to be a solid contributor as Fassel alluded to, but it's possible his role could expand. Fassel said the Rams would like to take some of the kick return duties off receiver Tavon Austin's plate and mentioned Pead as a possibility.

As for doing some work on offense, Pead has been getting some snaps there. He made a nice catch on a wheel route from Bradford during team drills in what would have gone for a long gain in a game.

What's next: The final OTA open to the media is set for Thursday afternoon and the Rams will conclude offseason business Friday before returning for training camp in July.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Where names like Jerry Rice, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt once dotted the landscape of the NFC West, the role of the wide receiver in the rough-and-tumble division has changed dramatically.

The smash-mouth offensive approach of the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers has set a physical tone that has left the St. Louis Rams looking to duplicate the recipe.

As other teams around the league go in search of gun-slinging quarterbacks and big-play wide receivers, teams like the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams are loading up on physical offensive linemen and powerful running back committees.

[+] EnlargeJared Cook
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJared Cook led the team with 671 receiving yards last season.
The Rams did their part in May's draft when they used the No. 2 overall pick on massive offensive lineman Greg Robinson and a third-round choice on talented back Tre Mason.

"When you lay your foundation for your skyscraper, it's probably the least exciting thing that you do but that's the thing that holds that skyscraper up for a lot of years," general manager Les Snead said. "It was definitely a strategy that we're going to get our foundation stronger and I think that's going to help us."

It's an approach that's understandable considering the neighborhood the Rams occupy. If you can't win the line of scrimmage or at least manage a stalemate against the likes of Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco, chances are you're going to get left behind.

But just because the days of the Greatest Show on Turf are long gone doesn't mean that a successful passing game isn't part of the blueprint.

On the surface, it's easy to look at a team like Seattle and say it won a Super Bowl by running the ball and playing good defense. In reality, that assertion is too simplistic and a disservice to what the Seahawks' passing game did in 2013.

While receiver production is easily quantified in catches, yards and touchdowns, teams like the Seahawks and Niners aren't as worried about the quantity so much as the quality of those relatively infrequent pass attempts.

For the Rams to keep pace with the NFC West front-runners, that's something they'll have to improve in 2014.

"It's very important," Rams receiver Tavon Austin said. "Like they say, football is a game of inches so when it does come your way, you have definitely got to be ready to make a play to help your team win."

Which brings up the question of what, exactly, the Rams need from their receivers to win in 2014?

Beyond the emphasis the group is putting on run blocking, there must be improvement made when it comes to taking advantage of any chances the passing game yields.

Last year, the Rams finished 29th in dropbacks but 24th in yards per attempt (6.64), yards per completion (10.38) and yards per dropback (5.79). For what it's worth, Sam Bradford ranked 36th in the league in yards per attempt among qualifying quarterbacks with Kellen Clemens checking in at No. 25.

Those numbers are due in large part to an apparent aversion to throwing deep. The Rams were 28th in the league in yards per air attempt -- which measures how far the ball travels on the pass without factoring run after catch -- at 7.56. Adding to that the fact the Rams struggled with hanging on to the ball, finishing second to last in the league with a drop rate of 5.9 percent.

"You have got to be balanced and in order to be balanced, you've got to make big plays in the run and pass game," receiver Chris Givens said. "We have to take advantage of every opportunity. We feel like last year we left too many things on the field."

That's something that didn't happen often in Seattle and San Francisco.

The Seahawks and 49ers ranked second and third, respectively, in rushing attempts in 2013. The commitment to the ground game was evident but also buoyed by the fact that both were capable of making big plays in the pass game when needed.

Seattle ranked 31st in the league in dropbacks but second in yards per attempt (8.35), third in yards per completion (12.12) and fifth in yards per dropback (7.15). San Francisco was last in the league in dropbacks but seventh in yards per attempt (7.70), second in yards per completion (12.21) and ninth in yards per dropback (6.73).

Beyond that, when the Seahawks and Niners did look to pass, they rarely looked to dink and dunk. Seattle ranked seventh and San Francisco third in air yards per attempt in 2013.

Among the receivers on all three teams only San Francisco's Anquan Boldin broke 1,000 receiving yards with 1,179. But Seattle and San Francisco each had at least two receivers with 778 or more yards.

With a young, mostly unproven receiver corps, the Rams are expected to be a run-focused offense with play action passes spinning off any success on the ground. Of course, half the onus also falls on Bradford but they don't necessarily need any of their wideouts to bust loose for a 1,200-yard season or even a 1,000-yard season.

That's probably a good thing since nobody on the team has ever exceeded new addition Kenny Britt's 775 yards in 2010. Tight end Jared Cook led last year's team with 671 receiving yards and Givens was first among receivers with 569.

The Rams are betting on improvement from that group in 2014 but if the passing game can complement the rushing attack and defense like it does in Seattle and San Francisco, it might not be as big of a gamble as it might seem.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- By the time his five-year tenure with the Tennessee Titans came to an end after the 2013 season, wide receiver Kenny Britt had long-since decided he was in dire need of a change of scenery.

Britt's welcome had been worn out in Nashville as injuries and off-the-field incidents accumulated to the point that in a matter of a few seasons he went from potential No. 1 receiver to game day inactive. As he entered free agency, Britt's next career step was unclear other than the fact it would involve a departure from Tennessee.

[+] EnlargeKenny Britt
Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoIn five seasons with the Titans, Kenny Britt caught 157 passes for 2,450 yards and 19 touchdowns.
When the St. Louis Rams and coach Jeff Fisher came calling, the choice picked up a healthy dose of clarity. Although Britt received interest from other teams, his ties to Fisher, the coach who spent a first-round pick on him in 2009, made it an easy decision.

Britt signed a one-year deal with the Rams in April and has quickly found the fresh start he sought at the outset of free agency.

"It’s everything to me, to tell you the truth," Britt said. "My mind is free and relaxed right now. I’m taking this year as a rookie year, like when I first came into the league. That’s my mind state right now."

Britt has wasted little time making his presence felt in St. Louis. The Rams held their second organized team activity Thursday and Britt stole the show for reasons both positive and negative.

During one-on-one passing drills, Britt showed his speed, racing past cornerback Janoris Jenkins for a touchdown from quarterback Shaun Hill from about 40 yards out. On his next rep, Britt did the same to the other starting cornerback, Trumaine Johnson.

Without pads or any sort of designed coverage schemes, there's not much to be taken from the plays but if nothing else, Britt showed some explosion and deep speed on a surgically repaired knee.

"He’s a big, explosive wide receiver who can make plays down the field," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "He’s looked really good in his time here. Watching him and the energy that he comes on to the field with every day has been great, not only for the offense but for that wide receiver corps. I feel like he brings kind of a presence and energy that maybe hasn’t been there in the past."

That presence and energy could be a good thing for a young wide receiving corps in which Britt is the "grizzled" veteran at the ripe old age of 25. With so many young and unproven wideouts surrounding him, Britt's competitive and feisty approach could be a welcome addition to the practice field.

But it's also important for that approach to have its limits. After both of Britt's catches, he was quick to let the young corners know about it. The ensuing trash talk eventually gave way to a fairly serious fight with Johnson. The scrap was enough for Fisher to stop the practice and let his team know such antics would not be tolerated, even going so far as to threaten to kick Britt and Johnson off the practice field.

Competitiveness and attitude are needed and can be a net gain for both the young wideouts and young corners but must also be kept in check.

"We take that on the field, off the field, in the weight room, in the locker room," Britt said. "Guys love it. We're males out there, this is a man's game. That's one thing, when you come between those lines, you compete. When we go in the locker room, we're brothers."

Despite never registering more than 775 yards in a season and with a career tally of 2,450 yards, Britt is still the most accomplished receiver on the team, which speaks to the youth and lack of production from that group.

At 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, Britt cuts an imposing figure as a solution to be the big, physical receiver the team has lacked. His chiseled frame has some teammates already referring to him as "The Incredible Hulk."

Based on early returns, like the Marvel superhero, Britt also must find a way to pick and choose when he lets the beast out of the cage.

“He’s a very emotional kid," Fisher said. "He’s an emotional receiver. He looks the part and he can make the plays. I was really happy to see him come on. He kept himself in really good shape during the free agency period. He came in, has done a great job inside. He’s had no setbacks, feels great physically. He could potentially return to where he was a very productive receiver.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams were the last team to jump into the fray of organized team activities. They officially began the work on Tuesday, but Thursday offered the first session open to the media.

As OTA practices go, Thursday's workout came with plenty of fireworks and much more to chew on. Here's what I took away from the day's work:

Scuffles abound: On an overcast day with cool temperatures, tempers ran hotter than one would expect, especially for a second OTA. There were three noticeable scuffles, one involving linebacker Alec Ogletree (his opponent was unrecognizable because the scrum happened too far away and was quickly broken up) that led coach Jeff Fisher to quickly stop practice and tell his team to cool down.

[+] EnlargeKenny Britt
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonRams receiver Kenny Britt caught a long TD pass against Janoris Jenkins during practice on Thursday.
Upon getting back to work, receiver Kenny Britt promptly beat cornerback Janoris Jenkins for a touchdown of about 40 yards then did the same to Trumaine Johnson soon after. Britt let the young corners know about it and eventually it led to a full on fight between he and Johnson. Fisher again stopped practice but this time read his team the riot act with language not fit for print here but audible from about 100 yards away.

Fisher doesn't mind spirited, competitive practices but his message was clear.

"We have some rules we have to abide by and we have to learn to protect each other a little better," Fisher said. "It was very competitive. It started out early. Kenny caught those two deep balls in the 1-on-1s. That kind of got things going, but it was good."

Later, defensive end Michael Sam and running back Isaiah Pead quickly exchanged not-so pleasantries but heeded Fisher's words and quickly separated.

Speaking of Britt: As mentioned above, Britt's two long touchdown catches (both from Shaun Hill) and subsequent reactions spurred the scuffles, but let's not lose sight of the fact that he made those plays in the first place. Britt has an opportunity to start fresh and told reporters after practice that he's viewing this season like he's a rookie starting anew.

Britt is a big, physical player and has already been nicknamed "The Incredible Hulk" by some of his teammates. Clearly, he has some impressive physical skills but he's also a bit emotional. You can look at Britt beating Jenkins and Johnson for long catches and his past off-field issues however you choose, but if nothing else Britt brings an attitude and competitiveness on the practice field that should be a net positive for a young receiver group.

For what it's worth, Britt chose not to address the Instagram post which drew some attention during the draft, saying it is between he and his wife.

Sitting it out: Heading into the practice, we already knew that left tackle Jake Long and end William Hayes would not be practicing. Those two did indeed sit out the workout though they did a little in the individual drills at walkthrough pace.

Joining Long and Hayes on the sideline were quarterback Sam Bradford, running back Chase Reynolds and safeties Maurice Alexander and Christian Bryant. Bradford is expected to participate in Friday's OTA, at least during seven-on-seven. With no injury reports at this time of year, getting an answer on injured players is a difficult proposition but Alexander and Bryant did some work on the side and Reynolds appeared to be moving with a slight limp.

Center Scott Wells also wasn't present as he had an excused absence.

Line dance: With Long and Wells absent, the Rams had to adjust their line on the first day a bit. Sean Hooey filled in for Long at left tackle and Tim Barnes for Wells at center.

The rest of the line was as expected with Greg Robinson at left guard, Rodger Saffold at right guard and Joe Barksdale at right tackle. Wells is expected to return Friday but Long will be out beyond the OTAs.

But the Rams are clearly optimistic that Long will be ready sooner than later. Fisher said Long's target return is the middle of training camp. In the meantime, they don't appear to be in a rush to disturb Saffold or Robinson from their spots at guard.

“We want to go through OTAs and most of camp with players playing the position they’ll play in the opener," Fisher said. "You assume Jake comes back, so we’ll just plug someone else in out there.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- True to their word, the St. Louis Rams have been one of the least active teams in free agency this year.

Instead of the big, splashy signings of recent years, the Rams opted to be bargain shoppers with the re-signings of offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar as the only deals extending beyond a single year.

That should come as no surprise as the Rams indicated that would be their approach early in the offseason. In sticking to that approach, the team has signed quarterback Shaun Hill, defensive lineman Alex Carrington, receiver Kenny Britt and guard Davin Joseph to one-year deals.

After adding 11 more players through the draft, the roster is mostly set and the initial 53 players to make the team out of camp will probably come from the group that's already in St. Louis. But the Rams could still make a couple of tweaks here and there to add depth, like they did in signing Joseph late last week.

Last year, the Rams continued looking at veteran options deep into the offseason, signing safety Matt Giordano on June 15 and linebacker Will Witherspoon on July 18. Of course, part of the Witherspoon addition later became clear because of a pending suspension for Dunbar, but Witherspoon did provide some much-needed depth behind the starting trio upon Dunbar's return.

Heading into 2014, the Rams have plenty of options at most positions, but linebacker and safety again represent logical positions where veteran depth might be needed.

At linebacker, the starting group of Dunbar, James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree is pretty well set. Ray-Ray Armstrong could push for playing time as he enters his second year, but beyond that, there simply aren't many known quantities in terms of contributing to the defense (and Armstrong isn't really one either). Armstrong and Daren Bates again figure to be core special teams players and the rest of the group includes unknown commodities like Etienne Sabino, Phillip Steward and Tavarius Wilson, among others.

The Rams could use a versatile, reliable veteran capable of playing anywhere in the group. As it stands, Dunbar is the de facto backup to Laurinaitis in the middle but adding someone who could play there as well at outside would make sense.

As for what's left on the market, should the Rams choose to add a veteran, Witherspoon, Pat Angerer, James Anderson, Jonathan Vilma, Desmond Bishop and Dan Connor are among the linebackers still unemployed.

At safety, the Rams have Rodney McLeod, T.J. McDonald and Maurice Alexander who seem all but certain to land roster spots. They'll probably keep four or five at the position leaving competition amongst the likes of Matt Daniels, Cody Davis and Christian Bryant.

Veteran safeties still on the market include Giordano, Quintin Mikell, Ed Reed, Jim Leonhard, Mike Adams and Will Hill.

Of course, all of the names mentioned above come with some sort of red flag -- age, off the field issues or simple lack of productivity -- which is why they're available this late in the game. The Rams have proved time and again they won't add veterans just for the sake of doing it, so any move made would be because they see an obvious upgrade to what they already have.

As the Rams open organized team activities this week, they'll get a chance to evaluate the players already on the roster. From there, they'll be able to determine if they need to dip their toes back into free agency.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With the NFL draft and free agency complete, the St. Louis Rams' 53-man roster will likely come mostly from the players already on the team.

With organized team activities (OTAs) 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 wide receivers.

Who returns: Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Brian Quick, Austin Pettis, Justin Veltung, Emory Blake

Who is new: Kenny Britt, T.J. Moe, Austin Franklin, Jamaine Sherman, Jordan Harris

Who is gone: None

Projected starters: Givens, Austin

Pending competition: There's a lot to sort out at this position. It seems likely Givens will get first crack at nailing down one of the jobs though nothing is guaranteed. After that, Austin is almost certain to play and play a lot though whether he's a "starter" might depend on if the Rams come out in three-wide sets to open the game. Either way, Austin will be on the field and in a role that has him moving all over. From there, it figures to be a battle. Bailey might have earned a shot at playing time with his late-season performance but his four-game suspension complicates matters. The team would probably like to see Quick win the job as he enters Year 3. He's a good blocker on the outside and provides a size element that Givens and Austin don't. But Quick will need to be much more consistent as a pass-catcher. The Rams brought Britt in to push for a job, also, and coach Jeff Fisher clearly believes Britt has the potential to contribute. It's been a while since he produced, though, so he'll also need to prove himself. Pettis still lurks and might have a shot at a reprieve with Bailey's coming absence. If the Rams keep six wideouts, most of the jobs are likely spoken for though they could carry one of the younger guys like Moe, Veltung, etc. for the first four weeks and re-evaluate when Bailey returns.

Outlook: After making Britt the only noteworthy addition at receiver, the Rams sent a clear message that they are willing to bet on the development of the young group they have in place. In fairness, this group hasn't had much of a sample size yet with players like Quick and Givens entering Year 3 and Austin and Bailey beginning Year 2. Still, the time is now for a couple of these guys to validate the team's faith. There's no clear-cut No. 1 wideout but the Rams can get away with that if a couple can be consistent enough to produce in the range of 800 yards. That was the formula Seattle followed to a Super Bowl last season and it can work if paired with a strong run game and defense. Still, until someone proves they can consistently get open outside the hashes from down to down, this is a position that will be closely monitored from the outside.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the better part of the past decade, any time even a semi-notable wide receiver becomes available or is perceived as available, fans of the St. Louis Rams wonder whether the team will be pursue him.

Just last week, rumors of Houston wideout Andre Johnson's unhappiness with the Texans had some asking if the Rams could pursue him. And when the Cleveland Browns released Greg Little, it brought on even more questions. Those are just two names to add to the list of the likes of Chad Johnson (multiple times), Terrell Owens (multiple times) and many others.

For what it's worth, the Rams don't have the cap space to add Johnson nor do I believe he'll be traded anyway. But the Rams have seemed to make it clear that they are pleased with their current options at the position even with potential starter Stedman Bailey suspended the first four games of the season for violation of the league's policy on performance enhancing substances.

Early in the offseason, Rams general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher voiced confidence in the team's current receiver corps but it was fair to wonder whether that faith remained after the team signed Kenny Britt to a one-year deal in free agency.

But the team's belief in the wideouts was on display again when it chose not to use any of its 11 picks on a receiver.

As it stands, Chris Givens and Britt are the most "proven" of the wideouts on the roster but neither has an extensive history of production. Without the services of Bailey, that duo would seem poised to have the first shot at starting on the outside with Tavon Austin working in the slot and mixing in outside the numbers.

Brian Quick is back for his third season and this year is clearly important for him since he has yet to reach the potential the Rams saw in him when they used the first pick of the 2012 second round to select him. Quick is a solid blocker and could play plenty because of that but will need to develop consistency as a route runner and pass catcher before his role can expand beyond that.

Austin Pettis also returns for his fourth year, making him the longest tenured receiver on the roster. He's the wideout whose playing time dipped the most toward the end of the season when Bailey started getting more reps though he worked back into the mix when Austin suffered an ankle injury. Pettis looked to be the odd man out heading into this year but could get a reprieve without Bailey in the first quarter of the season.

The Rams have some other options on the roster in the likes of Justin Veltung, Emory Blake and T.J. Moe but they aren't likely to get many chances to play right away.

As they are with a handful of positions on the roster, the Rams are counting on player development to help the young receiver corps become productive. The Rams never really considered taking a receiver in the draft, even at the top of it, because of their faith in the group they already have. Only time will tell if that gamble pays off.
The NFL draft is set to begin May 8 and the St. Louis Rams hold 12 picks. For the next week and a half, we'll take a look at a different position every day with what the Rams have in place, what they need, when they might address it and some possible fits.

We continue the countdown with a look at this year's crop of wide receivers.

In place: Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Stedman Bailey, Brian Quick, Austin Pettis, Kenny Britt, Justin Veltung, Emory Blake

What's needed: For the past two drafts, the Rams have made a habit of doubling down on receivers, grabbing Quick and Givens in 2012 and Austin and Bailey in 2013. Those picks were all made within the first four rounds, including the move up to No. 8 to acquire Austin last season. To varying degrees, each of those four players has flashed potential to be a successful NFL wideout, though it's still too early to project how high that ceiling goes for any of them. In the case of Givens and Quick, both bring a different skill set to the table with Givens having accomplished more in his rookie year than Quick did in his first two combined. Austin appeared to be coming on late last year before an ankle injury cost him the final three games. Bailey also flashed at the end of last year and figures to have an expanded role in 2014.

Pettis has, at times, been a useful target in the red zone and third down but fell further down the depth chart as the season wore on. The team added Britt in free agency and is hopeful he can provide the size element that Quick hasn't yet but it remains to be seen.

In terms of depth, the Rams seem to be trending fine at receiver. The problem here is a lack of a clear-cut No. 1 option who can consistently win one-on-one battles against cornerbacks outside the hashes. Bailey showed a bit of that ability and Givens and Austin have showed they can be deep threats with Austin also excelling on crossing routes. Perhaps it's too early to make sweeping generalizations about the group as a whole but a true No. 1 receiver would go a long way in bolstering the offense.

Possible fits: The obvious name linked to the Rams here is that of Clemson's Sammy Watkins. The Rams have lacked a receiver of Watkins' pedigree and ability since Torry Holt and Watkins is the first wideout of that caliber they've had a chance to draft since Holt and Isaac Bruce were at the end of their run. The Rams have showed plenty of interest in Watkins, bringing him in for a visit and putting him through a private workout. Texas A&M's Mike Evans would also be an intriguing option and another the team brought to St. Louis for a "top 30" visit. Evans brings the size to win jump balls on the outside and would likely step into the role the team envisioned for Quick. Beyond the top two, it's a deep receiver class with excellent talents such as LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and USC's Marqise Lee also on the board. The Rams also showed some interest in Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin and South Carolina's Bruce Ellington.

Verdict: The Rams have played their plans at No. 2 overall extremely close to the vest but it's safe to assume Watkins is in the conversation. If the Rams can't find a trade down partner, it's a discussion that likely boils down to a choice of three players (assuming Jadeveon Clowney goes No. 1) Watkins, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews. The interest in Watkins is real and it's possible the team would take him but it's still unclear whether they'd prioritize him over Robinson or Matthews. If the Rams can find a trade partner and Watkins remains on the board while the tackles go, the problem is solved. If they move down and all three are gone, perhaps Evans enters the conversation. With a dozen picks, it's likely the Rams take a receiver at some point in the draft. It's always possible a wideout not taken at the top could fit the bill as a No. 1 eventually but if the Rams are truly in the market for an upgrade to the position, they'll come away with one of the top two.

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