With the St Louis Rams a day away from their week-three preseason contest with the Kansas City Chiefs, there are still plenty of starting positions that haven’t been decided. Typically, the third preseason game tends to be the most important, with the fourth preseason game serving the purpose of determining who will make the team as a backup, special teamer, etc…With the lockout taking up a lot of practice time however, we could see teams opt to play their starters/potential starters for longer durations than they usually due in the week before the regular season starts.
Regardless, this game could prove crucial in determining the depth chart for certain positions, at least for the near future. Which positions will be up for grabs?
-Quintin Mikell is already set in stone at free safety, but the Rams still have a wide open competition at strong safety. Second-year safety Darian Stewart will get the start opposite Mikell, but not much is known as to whether they are seriously considering Stewart for the starting role, or if they are having open tryouts for the position. Stewart has looked impressive throughout the preseason however.
-Craig Dahl has been inconsistent, but at the same time he has shown improvement. His coverage skills are still lacking, and you’d like to see him play zones better. There is still much to be desired from the North Dakota State product, but at this point he is likely the best option.
-Rookie safety Jermale Hines has looked much better than expected, but whether the Rams will be willing to throw their fifth-round selection immediately into the fire remains unseen.
-James Butler is also an option, but he appears to be more effective when he sees limited playing time. Regardless, the position should receive plenty of attention from coaches tonight.
One of the positions that hurt the Rams in 2010 was outside linebacker. Sub-par performances from Larry Grant, Na’il Diggs, David Vobora, and a collection of other linebackers ran the Rams into the ground on a few occasions, and the team must improve at the position.
-Ben Leber is the most obvious of choices. While he is typically more productive when he only comes in on passing situations, he is the most experienced and likely the most talented of the outside linebackers. When the season opens, expect Leber to have a spot somewhere along the starting line.
-Brady Poppinga is the toughest and nastiest of the linebacker group, but he lacks the athleticism and awareness the Rams would like to see in a starter. He will be getting the start tonight however, and he will likely have the coaches intently watching him all night.
-Zac Diles has looked very impressive so far in preseason, but he hasn’t received much opportunity to play with the starting unit. He possesses good athleticism and tackling skills, and he could be the starter by the end of the season. For now though, don’t expect him to crack the starting lineup
-Na’il Diggs had his moments in 2010 where he looked like a fairly decent linebacker, and when Diggs was lost to an injury the linebacker position struggled. He will be in the mix for a starting spot this season, but it isn’t a guarantee. Poppinga and Diles have performed better than him so far in the preseason, and in week three Diggs will have a lot of performing to do.
-Bryan Kehl has an outside shot, but he isn’t considered to be a serious contender on the outside. He performed admirably in limited time last season, but he lacks the talent of Diles, Diggs, and others.
The only receivers who have have really stepped up so far are Mardy Gilyard, Brandon Gibson, and Danario Alexander. Donnie Avery showed a flash of what Rams fans have been waiting for four years to see, but it is far too early to make a read on the veteran. Mike Sims-Walker has yet to pick up a firm grasp on the offense, but once he develops an understanding of Josh McDaniels’ philosophy, he should see a drastic improvement.
Regardless, this is the most wide open position battle, and the Rams have shown little hints of who will play which roles once the season is underway. Will the Rams carry eight receivers into the regular season, or will one of the many up-and-coming youngsters be cut? We’ll have a clearer picture of that tonight.