St. Louis Rams: Trumaine Johnson

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Lost in the rubble of St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford season ending ACL injury Sunday evening was the relatively good news the team got on four other injured starters.

Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson, defensive tackles Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers and offensive lineman Rodger Saffold all left Saturday night's preseason game against the Cleveland Browns with injuries and uncertain statuses moving forward when they did not return. But Rams coach Jeff Fisher was at least able to offer a positive outlook on that quartet before confirming Bradford's injury.

Johnson
Of the four, Johnson's knee injury looked the worst when it happened. After taking a helmet to the knee, Johnson had to be taken off on a cart. Of all the injuries suffered in that half, Bradford's included, Johnson seemed the most likely candidate to miss extended time. But where further tests revealed Bradford's was worse than first feared, the additional exams worked in Johnson's favor.

"We got good news considering the mechanism of what happened to Trumaine Johnson," Fisher said. "We’ll miss Trumaine anywhere from four to six weeks with an MCL sprain."

The news was even better in the case of Saffold, Langford and Brockers. All three left with ankle injuries though Saffold's looked the worst after a player rolled up on his leg. But Fisher said the damage was minimal and the trio might even be ready to go this week.

"I can report on three of them who we got good results back," Fisher said. "Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford and Rodger Saffold could potentially play this Thursday night in the fourth preseason game at Miami."

The Rams may take a cautious approach with those three considering, but all three have missed time in camp and might need the reps before the regular season starts.

As for Johnson, the Rams have a few options to take his place, but none of them has proven much of anything in the NFL. Fisher listed rookies E.J. Gaines and Lamarcus Joyner as options as well as second-year corner Brandon McGee. Obviously, McGee has the most experience of the three though most of that is limited to special teams and one rough outing against Chicago in week 12 last season.

McGee has also been dealing with an ankle injury during the preseason and the Rams would probably prefer to keep Joyner in the slot as the primary nickelback. That could leave the door open for Gaines, who has impressed in camp and the preseason with his tenacity and physical approach.

Fisher wouldn't tip his hand Sunday but will have to offer at least a glimpse of the plans in the preseason finale Thursday night.

"E.J. has come on," Fisher said. "And Brandon McGee from last year missed this game with an ankle, he should be back. We’ll be OK there until Tru comes back. Lamarcus is making plays, he played there last night and inside. We’ve got a good, solid group there."

Observation Deck: St. Louis Rams

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
12:02
AM ET

CLEVELAND -- If possible, the score of the St. Louis Rams' preseason meeting with the Cleveland Browns has even less meaning than an average exhibition contest.

The Rams (1-2 in preseason) dominated in a 33-14 win, but the victory is about as hollow as possible considering what occurred in the first half. The first 30 minutes turned the team's starters into something resembling a MASH unit.

Quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a left knee injury with a little more than eight minutes to go in the first quarter and did not return. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that initial tests did not reveal any further damage to Bradford's surgically repaired ACL, but Bradford will have more tests in the next 24 hours. Rams coach Jeff Fisher indicated after the game that it could be a hyperextended knee.

Had it stopped there, it would have been bad enough, but four other starters left the game with injuries and did not return. Defensive tackle Kendall Langford (ankle), cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee), defensive tackle Michael Brockers (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (ankle) also departed early. Early indications on those injuries are that Saffold and Langford were taken out more as a precaution. Johnson's looked to be the worst after he took a helmet to the left knee and a cart took him to the locker room.

Some more thoughts and observations from Saturday's game:
  • It was a rough go for left tackle Jake Long in his first game back. He picked up a penalty for hands to the face and struggled on two plays that led to Bradford getting hit. Obviously, he's got some rust to knock off but it was a potentially damaging sequence.
  • Wideout Brian Quick has put together the best training camp of his young career and has now carried that momentum into two consecutive preseason games. He finished with four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown and was clearly Bradford's favorite target. Time will tell if he can do it when the games count, but the Rams have to be encouraged by his consistency in camp and preseason.
  • Hard to fathom why, after the injuries to Bradford, Saffold and Langford, the Rams still had the starting defense on the field when Johnson and Brockers were hurt.
  • Receiver Chris Givens has been awfully quiet in this preseason to the point that he's not playing at all with the starters. But Givens offered a reminder of why he's a piece worth keeping around with an impressive 75-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He added a nice catch on a crossing route for a gain of 19 earlier on the drive.
  • Defensive end Michael Sam came up with his second sack in as many games, dropping Johnny Manziel with a little more than 10 minutes to go. Best I can tell, Twitter is still functional. Barely.
  • Rookie offensive lineman Greg Robinson did not start against the Browns after doing so in each of the first two games. Moving back and forth between left guard and left tackle has left him struggling to settle in. Rodger Saffold started at left guard with Davin Joseph at right guard, but that doesn't mean that's how it will be when the season starts. With the rest of the line healthy and in place, expect the Rams to try to get Robinson settled in at left guard moving forward.
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) did some work in practice this week but the Rams clearly didn't want to push him and he sat this one out. Fellow linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar also didn't play.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams were thin at cornerback in last week's preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints, playing without three of their top four at the position.

Without the services of projected starters Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson as well as key reserve Brandon McGee, it was an all rookie affair for the Rams at cornerback against the Saints. E.J. Gaines played 51 snaps, Marcus Roberson got 42 and Lamarcus Joyner played 33. A few others got a handful of reps but that trio took on the bulk of the work.

That shouldn't be the case Saturday afternoon when the Rams host the Green Bay Packers in their second preseason game. That's because Johnson and McGee have been back at practice all week and Jenkins returned to team drills Thursday after getting some individual work in earlier in the week.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher offered some updates after Thursday's workout.

“(Jenkins) practiced today," Fisher said. "Don’t know what we’ll be doing with him in the game. Trumaine will be back in the game, Brandon McGee will be back, so the younger corners will play later in the game.”

Of the three corners missing time, it was Jenkins who missed the most time after suffering a hamstring injury when contesting a pass thrown to receiver Brian Quick during a drill. Jenkins reached back over his head to try to knock the pass away and apparently suffered the injury when he landed awkwardly.

But after some stops and starts since, including a couple of times when Jenkins tried to sneak on to the field during team drills only to be stopped by Rams staff, he finally got back to work on Thursday and said he felt good doing so.

“I’m doing wonderful,” Jenkins said. “I feel pretty good. Glad to be out there with my teammates, compete, and just have fun.”

Although it's uncertain whether Jenkins will return against the Packers, he's expected to continue practicing and should be ready for next week's game against Cleveland.
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. -- As the St. Louis Rams prepare to enter their third training camp under coach Jeff Fisher and staff, much will hinge on the ability of the team's many young players to turn potential into production. In this final week before camp officially begins, we take a look at some players who must take the next step either to preserve their jobs, help the team reach its first winning record since 2003 or, to the team's preference, both.

We finish this week-long series with cornerback Trumaine Johnson.

What he's done: With Cortland Finnegan struggling and dealing with injuries, Johnson officially moved into the starting lineup in 2013 after making a cameo appearance in the role near the end of his rookie season. Johnson has had his share of ups and downs, with some performances brimming with potential and some games in which he's struggled quite a bit, especially in coverage. In two years, Johnson has 97 tackles with five interceptions and a forced fumble. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus marked Johnson down for a 74.5 passer rating against, including a 61.3 percent completion percentage at a rate of 11.4 yards per completion.

Why he must do more: Johnson's production in 2013 offered plenty of hope that he's on the verge of becoming a solid to good starting corner in the NFL. At 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, Johnson fits the bill of a modern corner capable of matching up with bigger receivers and playing more physical at the line of scrimmage. In fact, those characteristics could make him an ideal fit in new coordinator Gregg Williams' defense. Williams' aggressive approach should put Johnson in position to have more success. It would also serve Johnson well to be more consistent as a tackler in run support. The Rams gave Johnson and fellow corner Janoris Jenkins a vote of confidence by not investing in another possible starting outside corner in the draft or free agency. But they might not offer the same courtesy if the third-year corners don't take another step in the right direction in 2014.

Where he fits: Barring an unforeseen injury or complication, Johnson will be one of two starting corners alongside Jenkins this season. The Rams haven't mixed and matched corners on receivers under Fisher, though it will be interesting to see if that philosophy changes with Williams in charge of the defense. Either way, expect Johnson to get more chances to use his size and strength in press coverage more consistently and less of the "off" coverage that resulted in the aforementioned completion percentage and yards-per-completion rate.
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. -- 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 cornerbacks.

Who returns: Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Brandon McGee, Darren Woodard

Who is new: Lamarcus Joyner, E.J. Gaines, Greg Reid, Jarrid Bryant, Marcus Roberson

Who is gone: Cortland Finnegan, Quinton Pointer

Projected starters: Jenkins, Johnson, Joyner (in nickel package)

Pending competition: The top three corners look to be etched in pretty solid stone with Jenkins, Johnson and Joyner handling the duties in the nickel package. Things will get interesting after that for a fourth and, possibly, fifth corner on the roster. McGee would seem to have an edge for a spot as he comes back for Year 2, but his spot is far from guaranteed with the additions of Gaines, Reid and Roberson. Gaines has the ability to play all three corner positions and could be a sleeper. Roberson is probably the most high profile of the team's undrafted free agents and could also push for a spot. Reid brings intriguing speed and return ability that could make him a keeper if for no other reason than special teams. Woodard was also with the time for much of last season on the practice squad and has some knowledge of the defense. Even Bryant adds some intrigue with his 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame. Regardless, look for a battle between McGee, Woodard, Gaines, Reid, Bryant and Roberson for what will likely be one or two spots.

Outlook: Jenkins and Johnson are the "grizzled" vets of this group, entering their third season in the league. It's time for both to take expanded roles as leaders in the young secondary and, more important, perform with more consistency from week to week. Both have flashed potential and the Rams would love nothing more than for that pair to be the long-term answer on the outside, but they'll have to improve over a 2013 season that was up and down at best. Joyner should be able to help right away and brings the intangibles to one day provide some leadership for this group though he doesn't have much size and will probably be tested as a rookie. Beyond that group, the others provide upside but it must be developed. In many ways, this position is similar to wide receiver where you can see flashes of ability here and there, but so far the productivity hasn't matched the potential. If players such as Jenkins and/or Johnson don't take a step forward in 2014, the Rams could be searching for starting caliber corner in 2015.
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 possible fits.

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

In place: Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Brandon McGee, Greg Reid

What's needed: Jenkins and Johnson are entering their third years and are penciled in as the starting duo after some rough spots in 2013. But the Rams are clearly confident in the pair after choosing not to pursue a veteran in free agency and cutting the chord with Cortland Finnegan. McGee becomes the incumbent nickel corner almost by default unless the Rams envision making that role a full-time one for safety Rodney McLeod, who handled those duties after Finnegan suffered a season-ending eye injury. Reid is a complete unknown trying to break into football after injuries and off-field issues.

A veteran presence here would have been a wise move but the Rams opted to wait. They seem relatively content with who they have in place and hope that the addition of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be enough for the light to go on for Jenkins and Johnson. But there's still an obvious need for depth at least and a starting-caliber corner at most. I'd lean toward the latter with the idea cornerback should be a top priority, if not the top defensive priority, for the team entering the draft.

St. Louis allowed opponents an average of 15.1 yards per on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield, the worst rate in the NFL last season.

If nothing else, finding a corner who can handle the nickel role right away would be a good investment.

Possible fits: The Rams appear to be aware of their needs at the position, at least based on reported pre-draft visits to Rams Park. That list includes top corners such as Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, both of whom would require the Rams' No. 13 pick if they don't go off the board sooner. TCU's Jason Verrett would be a great fit for the nickel role but is likely to go in the no-man's land between the Rams' 13th selection and their second-round choice. A trade down from 13 could put him in play, however. The same could probably apply to Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, though some believe he's the best corner in the draft and worthy of the 13th choice.

The type of corner Williams is looking for remains up for debate. It's widely assumed he wants big, physical press corners so the Rams can be more aggressive in coverage schemes. If that's the case, a player like Dennard fits the bill more than Gilbert, for example. But Williams has proved able to get the most out of any "flavor" of corner as he did last year with Alterraun Verner, who had a great year and doesn't fit as a physical, press corner.

Verdict: The Rams are going to take a cornerback, maybe two, and probably grab one within the draft's first two days. It would not be a surprise to see the team use the No. 13 pick on a Dennard or Gilbert and, failing that, perhaps moving back and grabbing Fuller or Verrett. Barring that, it's a good cornerback class with possible starters available through round three. And with a dozen picks in the draft, don't be surprised if the Rams do what they did in 2012 and double down on the position by adding a potential starter early and depth later.
Earlier today, we took a look at what needs remain for the St. Louis Rams in the secondary. Coach Jeff Fisher said at last week's owners meetings that his team wanted to get involved with some veteran defensive backs but they were quickly priced out of the market.

In more general statements about free agency, Fisher has also indicated the Rams might not be done adding low cost free agents. While we wait on a decision from Tennessee receiver Kenny Britt, let's take a quick spin through the market to see what's still available in terms of free agency (as ranked by ESPN's Bill Polian) and what the Rams' secondary looks like as is. To see all of Polian's rankings of the top free agents left, you can check out his list on ESPN Insider here. Insider

Cornerback

Current expected starters: Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson
Also on the roster: Brandon McGee, Darren Woodard, Greg Reid

Free agents available: Dimitri Patterson, Carlos Rogers, Dominique Franks, Jabari Greer, Terrell Thomas, Cassius Vaughn, Josh Wilson

Thoughts: There simply isn't much left here to pursue. The Rams seem content with Jenkins and Johnson but need at least one more corner who can help in the nickel. Safety Rodney McLeod has that ability, but the Rams would be better served to find a true nickel. The hope is that McGee or Reid can develop into that but the Rams could peruse other options. Polian points out that Rogers is best suited to play in the slot at this point in his career, and he would provide a veteran presence. Greer has a history with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Still, the Rams haven't really expressed interest in any corners so far, and they have shown even less inclination to sign veterans unless they're certain it's an upgrade over what they have.

Safety

Current expected starters: T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod
Also on the roster: Matt Daniels, Cody Davis

Free agents available: Thomas DeCoud, Reed Doughty, Danieal Manning, Mike Adams, Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Major Wright, Ryan Clark

Thoughts: The Rams like McDonald's trajectory, and he figures to be the movable piece that Williams likes to have as his primary-box safety. McLeod is the incumbent in the spot next to McDonald, but that's the spot the team would like to upgrade. When healthy and in the lineup, Daniels and Davis have primarily been special-teams contributors, though Davis profiles more as the rangy type of safety the defense needs. In looking at the group available on the market, none of the free agents really fit the mold of a rangy type capable of running the alley and playing center field. The lone possible exception is Manning, whom Houston released Monday afternoon. If the price is right, perhaps he could be of interest to the Rams, though he's coming off an injury and he's 31. Matt Giordano, who filled the role of veteran at safety in 2013, is also available and could still potentially be brought back for depth.
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.
On Sunday afternoons, colleague Mike Reiss, ESPN's outstanding New England Patriots reporter, likes to take a spin around the NFL and New England. In this week's edition, he touched on an interesting topic involving the St. Louis Rams.

Here's an excerpt from that Rams mention:

"I’m always fascinated with the various aspects of building a team and one line of thinking is that sometimes the addition of a veteran player can get in the way of the development of a youngster. This is something the Rams have had in mind this offseason, and it explains, in part, their less-than-proactive approach in signing unrestricted free agents. They want to see what they truly have in their younger players, with third-year cornerback Trumaine Johnson one prime example of a prospect they want to “let breathe” a bit."

This concept is clearly a big part of the Rams' thinking this offseason. Johnson is a good example of a player the Rams believe will make important strides in his third year. Fellow cornerback Janoris Jenkins is too.

The concern is whether the Rams have faith in allowing too many of their young players "to breathe" without having a veteran taking repetitions away. There's nothing wrong with having a system in place and believing in your ability to develop players but chances are some of those players won't pan out. Nobody bats 1.000 in this league.

Getting more to the point, however, it's worth noting that Johnson is a corner and the secondary is an area the Rams figure to be extremely young in 2014. I'll have more this week on why the Rams haven't added to the defensive backfield and how finding more help there is still a priority.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of the weekend's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In Saturday's Ram-blings, we discussed the positives and negatives of drafting players to fit your coaching staff. ... Next, we took a look at the film of Friday's chat with plenty of topics covered. ... Finally, we took a little Sunday stroll with Rams notes on topics including Tavon Austin, DeSean Jackson and more.

Elsewhere:

ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando has been spending time at Jon Gruden's quarterback camp and come back with some takes worth reading on this year's class in this Insider piece.

All 32 of our NFL Nation reporters weighed in on whether DeSean Jackson is a fit for the team they cover.

At stltoday.com, Jeff Gordon hits on some Rams topics in his weekly chat.

Jim Thomas explores the possibility of a team such as Buffalo or Oakland moving to Los Angeles.

Thomas also take a closer look at the Rams' addition of cornerback Greg Reid.
The free-agent market is scheduled to begin March 11 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 8. We'll countdown to that with a position-by-position look at what the Rams have in place, who is set to hit the market, what they might need and who might fit the bill.

In place: The top four cornerbacks on the roster all remain under the Rams' control for 2014, though the possibility for tweaks remains. Starters Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are set to enter their third year and will be back as will Brandon McGee, who is set to enter his second season.

Where the intrigue comes in is with veteran Cortland Finnegan. Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have publicly given Finnegan the vote of confidence in terms of his return, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be back under the same contract with his $10 million salary cap hit. The Rams technically don't have to do anything with Finnegan's contract right away since they have room to sign a player or two without restructuring, but having an agreement in place if they plan to bring him back would seem to be a priority.

Pending free agents: Quinton Pointer (exclusive rights)

What’s needed: Simply put, the Rams need to find another starting-caliber cornerback or at least good enough to be one of the top three options on the team. They've invested picks and time in Jenkins and Johnson, and though signs of progress have been evident for both, inconsistency has been just as prevalent. Many believe defensive coordinator Gregg Williams can get that duo on track, but even if that's true, the Rams need another option ready to go.

Finnegan played hurt before he went on injured reserve last year and didn't look right before the season even started. He's still relatively young at 30 and one would think he has some gas left in the tank, but it's hard to imagine the Rams bringing him back at his projected cost.

Possible fits: The obvious name here is pending Tennessee free agent Alterraun Verner. Verner had his best season last year under the guidance of Titans defensive assistant Williams, who is now running the defense in St. Louis. He would certainly fit the need for a starting-caliber corner. But Verner figures to get a hefty contract, and with what the Rams have invested in Jenkins and Johnson and the lack of return on investment for Finnegan, it might not be the best idea to invest heavily in a corner who doesn't have a long track record of success.

Other top corners who will be available include New England's Aqib Talib, Miami's Brent Grimes and Green Bay's Sam Shields. All figure to get big-money deals. The better bet for the Rams might be to find a mid-level veteran type like Oakland's Tracy Porter or San Francisco's Tarell Brown.

Verdict: I wouldn't be surprised if the Rams kicked the tires on Verner, but I also don't expect them to spend the kind of big money on a free agent that would be required to land him. They could use an early pick on a top corner, but they could use a veteran presence in the secondary. Perhaps Finnegan will be that guy, coming back on a lesser contract.

Rams-Buccaneers study session: Defense

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
4:00
PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Some thoughts and observations on the St. Louis Rams' 23-13 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, after reviewing the All-22 film.

  • Let's get our weekly praise for defensive end Robert Quinn out of the way right now. The most impressive thing about Quinn's day against the Bucs wasn't his three sacks. It's that he managed to get them despite having only a handful of snaps in which he didn't receive extra attention. Quinn is often described as being super athletic and fast, both of which are true, but his non-stop motor deserves mention, too. As this game went on, Quinn began to find ways to use the extra blockers against the Bucs. On his second sack, Quinn noticed an extra blocker in the form of a running back chipping on the outside, Quinn made contact with the back and left tackle Donald Penn, used an inside spin move and got to Mike Glennon for the sack. His understanding of space and angles has improved to the point where he's finding ways to not only win athletically but with intelligence as well. To think, Quinn is only 23.
  • [+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Robert Quinn
    Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty ImagesRobert Quinn recorded three sacks against the Buccaneers, bringing his season total to 18.
    The Rams run defense has made certain strides in the final month and a half of the season, shutting down nearly everyone since that Tennessee game. This one was no different. There are many reasons for that improvement, including better tackling across the board but one player who might not be getting enough credit is defensive tackle Kendall Langford. Langford has been integral in shutting down the run and he was particularly impressive in this one. Langford and Michael Brockers punished the interior of Tampa Bay's offensive line for most of the day, pushing them around in the run game or, at worst, getting a standstill at the point of attack. Langford isn't just occupying blockers, either. He had a couple of nice plays getting off blocks and dropping Bobby Rainey for a loss.
  • It was a solid day overall for the Rams linebackers with Alec Ogletree again leading the way. His week-to-week progress continues. Watching him go after the ball is impressive. Quinn gets most of the attention for his ability to get strip sacks but Ogletree has a knack for identifying when to go after the ball and then finding a way to get it out when he does. Both of his forced fumbles came after he'd established the tackle was about to be made and before the runner was down. It's an ability that seems to be innate for Ogletree, who had no glaring missed tackles to my eye, another sign of improvement.
  • James Laurinaitis has quietly put together another strong season and he was good in this one as well. Laurinaitis seemed to know where Rainey was running every time he got the ball and was a sure tackler when he got there. Jo-Lonn Dunbar also had perhaps his most productive game of the season.
  • Rookie safety T.J. McDonald also looked to have one of his better games. He's had a habit of missing tackles he should make but I didn't see any from him and he looked more sure of himself coming on the blitz as well.
  • Speaking of blitzes, the Rams did a nice job of “adding” in this one. The concept is simple. When a team sends extra blockers to one side, you can add pieces to the places vacated and create major matchup issues. On McDonald's sack near the goal line, the Rams moved Quinn to defensive tackle with Ogletree and McDonald lining up on the edge over left tackle where Quinn usually lines up. Both blitzed as the Bucs tried to send extra help on Quinn. Ogletree was picked up but McDonald went untouched and nearly had a safety. Coincidentally, Quinn still beat his man but McDonald simply got to Glennon first. That type of confusion comes from a simple but well-designed concept.
  • William Hayes didn't play much but made the most of his chances. He played about 16 snaps but recovered two fumbles and stuffed a run in that time.
  • I've consistently believed the Rams defensive line is at its best when the secondary -- especially the corners -- is aggressive in coverage. Which is to say when they play more press coverage and force routes to take longer to develop. Glennon had few chances to get the ball out quick and the Rams took advantage for seven sacks. ESPN Stats & Information keeps a statistic for time a quarterback has the ball before passing. Glennon's time in this one was 4.13 seconds on average. That's a bit longer than what he's used to and the credit for that goes to the Rams doing a good job in coverage. For comparisons sake, the Rams had just one sack against Arizona's Carson Palmer on a day when he got the ball out in 2.68 seconds. He did that against soft zones where receivers came open right away.
  • The cornerback duo of Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins seems to be coming into its own a bit toward the end of the season. Jenkins has had some hard luck on close interference calls this year but he's also been guilty enough that he's not going to get the benefit of the doubt. Still, he continues to battle and come up with a picture perfect pass breakup or two seemingly every week. From a pure coverage standpoint, the past two games might have been his best of the year. Johnson was even better against the Bucs, though he appeared to get turned around on a long completion to Vincent Jackson. Hard to tell if it was his responsibility, though.
  • Aside from a silly block in the back on a punt return, it was another solid day for the Rams special teams. Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein make one heck of a punter/kicker combination.

Mock draft: About that 'other pick

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
1:00
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay released his newest mock draft Insider Wednesday and it generated plenty of discussion when it comes to the St. Louis Rams and the second overall pick they own courtesy of the Washington Redskins.

Lost in the mix of McShay's projection of the Rams taking Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews at No. 2 was the fact that the Rams hold another pick, currently No. 14 overall, in the first round. McShay's projection there was no laughing matter.

OK, sorry, had to get that first bad pun out of the way now because I have a feeling McShay's choice of Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the Rams with their second first-round pick is one that's going to be quite popular in the buildup to the draft.

Here's what McShay had to say about the free safety and the Rams:

"This might be something of a reach, but I actually think that safety has taken on more importance with the increasing number of slot receivers and pass-catching tight ends. Clinton-Dix doesn't have elite man-to-man cover skills, but he has good range when asked to cover the middle of the field and very good closing burst. He comes in hard, blows up plays and isn't afraid to mix things up. He's exactly what you're looking for in terms of a complete safety, and he fills another need for the Rams."

The safety position has generally been the biggest weakness of the Rams defense in 2013. They believe they have one piece locked in for the future in T.J. McDonald, who has started every game in which he's been healthy. McDonald is more of a box safety, capable of coming up and helping in run support. What the Rams need next to him is a ball hawking type to patrol the middle of the field. Rodney McLeod has improved as the season has gone on but is probably best suited as a backup and special teamer. If Clinton-Dix fits the play making mode, he would make sense for St. Louis.

Of course, there are other directions the Rams could go here if, as McShay says, the team considers Clinton-Dix a bit of a "reach" at this point in the draft. A top receiver such as Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M's Mike Evans or USC's Marqise Lee would also have to be intriguing for an offense still in need of a true No. 1 type wideout. If the Rams felt one of those guys was capable of being that, it's something they'd have to consider.

But at the end of the day, the Rams' biggest need heading into the offseason is help in the secondary. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan may not be back and if he is, it would almost certainly be under a drastically altered contract. That leaves Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson as the top two corners. Even if the Rams believe that's their starting duo moving forward, another top corner would remain a necessity with the need for at least three in today's NFL.

Although plenty can change in the next five months, there doesn't appear to be a defensive back worth taking in the top 10. Thus, going with the best secondary piece available, be it a safety or a corner, would make a lot of sense for the Rams' second first-round choice.

Rams-Cardinals study session: Defense

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
4:00
PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Some thoughts and observations on the St. Louis Rams' 30-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals after reviewing the All-22 film.
  • From the beginning of the game, the Rams' defensive approach to "covering" Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald was perplexing to say the least, especially in the first half. Carson Palmer only threw to him twice on the opening drive, but it was no coincidence that both completions came when cornerback Janoris Jenkins was playing off coverage in a soft zone with linebackers, safeties or even defensive end Chris Long asked to drop underneath to make Fitzgerald work for it. On the first play of the game, Palmer hit Fitzgerald for 19 yards when safety T.J. McDonald dropped into the flat with Jenkins dropping deep. As McDonald ran to the short area, Fitzgerald ran an intermediate in route for an easy pitch and catch. Later, on third and 5, Rodney McLeod dropped into the flat but Long was asked to run all the way across the field to get in coverage and the ball was in Fitzgerald's hands before he could get there. Gain of 15, first down and a play later Arizona is up 7-0.
  • Later, Fitzgerald lined up in the slot and the Rams opted to go to man coverage with Quinton Pointer covering him. Again, mismatch and an easy 15 yards. More head-scratching ensues.
  • Fitzgerald simply outclassed an overmatched Rams secondary once again in this one. He finished with 12 catches on 12 targets. He's still a great player and some of those grabs came against decent coverage but as the examples above point out, the Rams didn't have many good ideas on how to slow down a guy who regularly makes their lives miserable.
  • One player who did fare pretty well against Fitzgerald after a rough week last week was cornerback Trumaine Johnson. He showed good read and react skills as he closed on Fitzgerald a couple of times and tackled him quickly for short gains. Much better performance for Johnson this week.
  • Tougher sledding for Jenkins on the other side. He had a couple of borderline calls go against him and a couple of tough catches made on him.
  • Still not getting much help from the safeties, a regular theme this year. McLeod made a nice play to force the fumble near the goal line but otherwise was pretty quiet from that spot.
  • Quinn
  • The Rams' pass rush was unable to get to Palmer much but they were buzzing him quite a bit. Robert Quinn's frustration, which led to a penalty, was understandable after watching this again. He was held without calls a few times and the Cardinals threw extra blockers his way. But Palmer's ability to get the ball out quick had to be most maddening. Playing that soft zone coverage against a team aware of your pass rush prowess again is a good way to negate your ability to rush the passer. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Palmer's average time before throwing was 2.68 seconds. His previous low number for the year was 2.93 seconds against Tampa Bay. Hardly enough time for any pass rush to get home.
  • Aside from the struggles in coverage, the Rams defense once again did all it could to make its life more difficult with penalties. Some were questionable, sure, and I've already documented how I felt about the call on Eugene Sims, but some were just plain silly, too. McDonald's late hit out of bounds on the opening drive, for one, was unnecessary. Seven more penalties on the defense in this one a week after piling up six in the first half against the Niners.
  • Looking for a bright spot? The Rams run' defense was pretty good again with a few obvious standouts. Linebacker Alec Ogletree, save for a missed tackle in the hole early on, had a nice day and showed continued improvement as a run defender. He's getting off blocks better and appears to be reading things better now than earlier in the season. His arrow seems to be pointing up and that's a good thing because he'll be a key cog for this team moving forward. Jo-Lonn Dunbar and James Laurinaitis were solid against the run as well.
  • The defensive line did well against the run most of the day but two players in particular stood out to my eyes: tackle Kendall Langford and Quinn. Langford was stout at the point of attack and made running between the tackles quite difficult.
  • The defense didn't have a great day by any means but it certainly didn't get much help from the offense in terms of field position. The Cardinals' average starting field position was their own 33 and they started two drives in St. Louis territory.
  • More good work from the Rams' coverage units on special teams. Patrick Peterson had two punt returns for 3 yards, including a 6-yard loss. That group has been perhaps the most consistent bright spot this season for the Rams, led by the right leg of punter Johnny Hekker.

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