St. Louis Rams: Matt Daniels

Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine JohnsonGetty ImagesThe Rams have been pleased with the work of CBs Trumaine Johnson (22) and Janoris Jenkins.
The St. Louis Rams said goodbye to cornerback Cortland Finnegan early in free agency, releasing him in a move that will save them $7 million in salary-cap space. Safety Darian Stewart signed with the Baltimore Ravens. Fellow safety Matt Giordano remains unsigned.

None of those three moves will do much to hurt the fortunes of the Rams' secondary in 2014, but they have left the team short on experience in the defensive backfield. At cornerback, Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins, each entering his third season, are the longest-tenured NFL players. Likewise at safety, where Matt Daniels and Rodney McLeod enter their third years.

Under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, the Rams have not been afraid to roll with young players and, after staying out of the fray for free-agent defensive backs, it appears that's one area they will do so again in 2014.

According to Fisher, the team's lack of veteran help on the back end of the defense wasn't necessarily by choice but also doesn't have him concerned, either.

“It would have been nice [to add a veteran], but honestly that market got priced out of what we were looking for," Fisher said. "And again, we’ve got two young safeties coming into their second year as starters. Not disappointed in the improvement we saw out of Cody [Davis], got Daniels coming back, the potential to draft and there’s still going to be experienced safeties out there. Not disappointed.’’

There may still be some experienced safeties and even corners on the market, though those shelves have mostly been picked over at this point. It's going to be hard to find starting-caliber players anywhere but the draft at this point in the offseason. Which means the Rams' secondary could well bear a striking resemblance to its 2013 receiving corps, relying on players with no more than two years of experience to handle the bulk of the snaps.

The Rams haven't completely ignored the defensive backfield this offseason, rolling the dice on cornerback Greg Reid, an under-the-radar signing they hope can pay off big as a potential solution for the nickel role next to Jenkins and Johnson. Brandon McGee, a fifth-round pick in 2013, also has drawn positive reviews from Fisher and Snead and could be part of the mix.

It's probably safe to assume the Rams will add some help at cornerback at some point in the draft, though it remains to be seen how early. Reports over the weekend indicated Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert is scheduled to arrive in St. Louis this week for a visit. He's considered one of the top corners available in May's draft.

Either way, the Rams do appear quite confident in the ability of Jenkins and Johnson to take another step forward.

“I think the corners can always improve. I’m pleased what we got out of them last year," Fisher said. "Jenks had a couple issues with the ball, he got tangled up in the Seattle game on the Golden Tate touchdown and a couple others, but was productive week in, week out. Tru, on the other hand, didn’t give up a lot of plays, the balls were in front of him, thought he tackled well, it’s been good to see Tru in the building, he’s committed, he’s working hard this offseason. I think he’s really growing up and maturing, think you’re going to see a lot more improvement out of him.’’

Meanwhile, at safety, the Rams believe in T.J. McDonald at one starting spot but his running mate remains a spot up for debate. McLeod started every game last season and proved valuable if for no other reason than his versatility to play in the slot when needed. But the Rams are still in serious need of a ball-hawking, rangy safety to complement McDonald.

That's why one of the most consistently predictable mock draft selections found anywhere is the Rams taking Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and, to a lesser extent, Louisville's Calvin Pryor, with the No. 13 overall pick.

Armed with 12 picks in this year's draft, it's a safe bet the Rams will select at least one corner and one safety somewhere along the way. All that remains to be seen is whether those positions are enough of a priority for those picks to happen sooner than later.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the second consecutive year, St. Louis Rams safety Matt Daniels' season has come to an early end.

Daniels
Daniels was placed on injured reserve Monday because of a fractured ankle he suffered against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Daniels will have surgery sometime this week to repair the ankle.

Losing out on his second season in as many years is a tough blow for Daniels, who had worked vigorously to return from a torn ACL and MCL suffered against New England on Oct. 28, 2012. Although this injury is different, it occurred in a similar way.

The knee injury happened when Daniels was blocking on a punt return and receiver Austin Pettis rolled into him. On Sunday, it was a kick return and a similar situation with returner Benny Cunningham rolling into Daniels. Clearly, Daniels simply has bad luck.

"It’s difficult for Matt," Fisher said. "He worked so hard to come off the ACL, then to have this thing happen, it’s difficult for him. He’ll bounce back. He’s a tough young man."

In other injury news, or non-news, Fisher said more information would be available on right tackle Rodger Saffold's injured knee on Wednesday. Saffold left the game in the second quarter and did not return. He left the locker room on crutches after the game.

Perhaps in a sign of Saffold's status for this week, the Rams added yet another offensive lineman to the roster to take Daniels' spot. The Rams claimed offensive tackle Mike Person off waivers from Seattle on Monday afternoon. They now have 11 offensive linemen on the active roster.

Joe Barksdale replaced Saffold against Atlanta. Person was a seventh-round choice of San Francisco in 2011 and has also spent time with Indianapolis.

Locker Room Buzz: St. Louis Rams

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
5:36
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ATLANTA -- Observed in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams' 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

C. Long
Chris Long frustrated with offside penalty: On the game's opening drive, the Rams appeared to get a quick three-and-out when tight end Tony Gonzalez was dropped for no gain on third-and-12 at Atlanta's 18. A flag came out on the play, and Rams defensive end Chris Long was called for offside. The drive stayed alive, and the Falcons scored to take an early 7-0 lead. On the play, Atlanta right tackle Lamar Holmes appeared to move early, causing Long to jump and the flag to come out. Lined up in a two-point stance, the normal reaction to a snap would force Long to come off late, not early, leaving Long stunned when the call went against him.

"Absolutely I was surprised," Long said. "They’ll watch tape, too, and they’ll get better just like we will."

Long said he was offered no explanation for the call.

Saffold on crutches: Right tackle Rodger Saffold left the game with a knee injury about halfway through the second quarter and did not return. Injury issues have been a persistent problem for Saffold, and Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Saffold has further evaluations that need to be made before determining his status. Saffold was moving around the locker room on crutches after the game.

Daniels fractures ankle: Rams safety Matt Daniels clearly doesn't have much luck when it comes to injuries. He suffered a fractured ankle in the first quarter and will need to have surgery as soon as possible, according to Fisher.

Penalties killer: The Rams once again had penalty problems, racking up seven for 53 yards. Most egregious, though, were the flags that cascaded down upon the special teams. Those flags drew the ire of Fisher after the game. The Rams got good work from the special teams last week, but the group posted four penalties for 33 yards. More often than not, the result of those penalties left the Rams with dreadful field position.

Notes from Rams' preseason finale

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
12:00
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A few, quick leftover observations from the Rams' 24-21 win against Baltimore in Thursday night's preseason finale:

• Rams coach Jeff Fisher was thoroughly disgusted by the continued mistakes of his team in the first half against the Ravens. They finished with 17 penalties for 123 yards and Fisher voiced his displeasure at halftime. Although the bulk of the penalties were coming from players who likely won't make the final roster, it has to be a concern when you fumble three times in the opening five minutes and each fumble came from a player (receivers Brian Quick and Tavon Austin and running back Isaiah Pead) expected to contribute in the regular season.

[+] EnlargeBrian Quick
AP Photo/Bill BoyceBrian Quick had a busy night Thursday with five catches on six targets.
• Quick did bounce back with a solid performance in the first half as a repeated target of quarterback Kellen Clemens. He finished with five catches for 60 yards while being targeted six times. He probably should have hauled in that sixth catch too as he struggled to drag his feet in bounds and haul it in at the same time. Quick is hopeful that he's done enough to earn a role in the offense when the season starts. I believe he's earned a chance to get worked in but I also believe that Fisher isn't going to put Quick into that role on a more permanent basis until he's convinced that Quick can be consistently successful.

• In the competition for the backup quarterback job, Clemens and Austin Davis each probably had his best outing of the preseason though Clemens' effort was probably the best by either during the exhibition slate. He kept plays alive with his legs and was getting the ball downfield on a consistent basis. It still seems logical that the Rams would do what they did last season and release Clemens and bring him back after Week 1 on a nonguaranteed contract but he certainly helped his cause to be the No. 2 guy if the Rams opt to go that route.

• Safety Matt Daniels was all over the place in Thursday night's game, coming up with an interception, making tackles on defense and special teams and just being around the ball in general. The competition at safety is an interesting one and Daniels was probably in good shape to make the 53 before last night but Daniels' efforts might have sewed up a spot.

• Competition for a possible sixth receiver spot didn't gain a ton of clarity as Justin Veltung and Nick Johnson both had their moments. There's still a real chance the Rams will only keep five and Veltung and Johnson could both go to the practice squad.

• Nice night for tight end Mike McNeill, who also finds himself in a battle for roster positioning. It's entire possible the Rams keep five tight ends, especially if they only keep five receivers. McNeill would almost certainly be one if they keep five but his two catches for 48 yards probably bolstered his chances to be No. 4 in the pecking order if the Rams opt to keep that many.

• Should the Rams keep nine defensive linemen as they did last season, they have a tough choice between the versatile Mason Brodine and rookie Gerald Rivers. Brodine scooped up a fumble and generated some pressure against Baltimore. Rivers was active again, coming up with a sack and six tackles. The decision boils down to whether the Rams believe they can sneak Rivers through to the practice squad given the strong film he's put out for other teams to see. If they do, Brodine probably makes it because of his ability to play inside and out. If not, Rivers might make the 53 outright.

• Will the Rams keep four running backs, not including the suspended Pead? Daryl Richardson, Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham appear locked in for roster spots. I mentioned Chase Reynolds as a possibility to make it for at least one week in Pead's absence and he did nothing to hamper that last night. Reynolds had a fumble recovery and scored the winning touchdown on a 17-yard catch and run late. He's been a staple on the first unit special teams throughout preseason and might have earned a job on the initial 53.

What to watch revisited: Rams-Ravens

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
11:35
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Looking back on five things to watch in the St. Louis Rams' 24-21 win against Baltimore in Thursday night's preseason finale.

1.Backup quarterback quandary. Starting quarterback Sam Bradford didn’t play a single snap as the Rams protected him in the final preseason game. That meant plenty of work for backups Kellen Clemens and Austin Davis. Clemens got first crack at the job, playing the entire first half. And though Baltimore played none of its starters, Clemens made the strongest case either backup has made in this preseason, finishing 13-of-18 for 188 yards for a rating of 105.8. Davis didn’t have as much success, though he did lead two scoring drives, finishing 6-of-13 for 50 yards with two touchdowns.

2. Sitting starters. Rams coach Jeff Fisher followed through on his statement that he’d make some “adjustments” to the starting lineup for the preseason finale. The majority of his usual starters did not start or even play a snap in the game. In fact, only six presumptive starters – guard Chris Williams, tackle Rodger Saffold, receiver Austin Pettis, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald – played. If you include safety Rodney McLeod, who is competing with Darian Stewart for a starting job, it brings the total to seven.

3. Coming out healthy. From all appearances, the Rams made it through the game and the preseason without suffering any serious injuries to a key contributor. Tight end Cory Harkey will miss a bit of time from his injury suffered last week against Denver, but the few starters who did play against the Ravens made it out of the game OK.

4. Last chance. A full evaluation of players who might have earned or cemented roster spots won’t come until the final cuts are made tomorrow or Saturday, but a few players made some good cases. Safety Matt Daniels might have made the best. Aside from a missed tackle on a Baltimore touchdown run, Daniels was all over the field. He finished with two tackles, two passes defended and an interception in unofficial press-box statistics. Daniels was likely in good shape to make the final roster before Thursday night. He seemed only to help himself with his performance.

5. Running in place. Starter Daryl Richardson did not play, a logical move considering the Rams still need to sort out their backup running back situation. Once again, there wasn’t much room to run as the backups on the offensive line couldn’t create many holes. Zac Stacy and Isaiah Pead got the first opportunities. Pead got off to a rocky start, fumbling the opening kickoff before the Rams recovered. He carried seven times for 27 yards and caught two passes for 16 yards. Stacy didn’t have much room to run but finished with 37 yards on 11 carries and scored on a 1-yard run. He could become a factor in short-yardage and goal-line scenarios given his size and style. Benny Cunningham got some limited late reps and was the most effective of the group. He finished with 76 yards on eight carries and one grab for 7 yards as he likely cemented a spot on the roster. Chase Reynolds even got in on the act with a 17-yard catch and run to give the Rams the lead in the fourth quarter.

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