5 St. Louis Rams With the Most to Lose During Training Camp
5 St. Louis Rams Under Pressure in Training Camp
In the NFL, training camp has always been a time for coaches to evaluate personnel and players to separate themselves from the competition. Particularly with the NFL's CBA that was put into place in 2011, this period of time is important, as it is the first, and really only, time that players are practicing in full pads with a high amount of contact.
If there is any training camp where things are up in the air, it's the St. Louis Rams' camp. Having lost nine starters this offseason, there will be plenty of spots where everyone has a chance to compete. One particularly exciting battle comes at running back, where the four competitors have a combined 108 NFL carries, 98 of those coming from Daryl Richardson. In this camp, there's going to be a huge amount of opportunity.
With opportunity, however, there comes a high amount of risk. The Rams have a huge group of young players who can improve or hurt their reputations based on what they do during the preseason. This is a particularly pressing issue at the positions where inexperienced players are currently at the top of the depth chart. If the team doesn't like what they see, they could end up bringing in free agents to fill those roles. We already saw this when the Rams brought in free agent safety Matt Giordano at the conclusion of the spring practice period.
With so few established starters on the team, plenty of things could change before they kick off the regular season on September 8 versus the Arizona Cardinals. Here are five players that have the biggest load on their shoulders as training camp begins.
5. Austin Davis, QB
Head coach Jeff Fisher said earlier this season that Davis would likely move into the second-string quarterback role this year after serving as the third-stringer last year. The Rams showed, however, that they don't have 100 percent confidence in the second-year Southern Miss product, as they re-signed veteran backup Kellen Clemens. As things stand now, the plan is for Davis to be the primary backup and Clemens to serve as the third-stringer, but if Davis doesn't show that he is ready during training camp, things could easily go back to the way they were last year.
4. Harvey Dahl, RG
Dahl missed the last two games of last season with a torn triceps and could still be feeling the effects of that injury during this year's camp. That's inconvenient for him, as the team has plenty of younger, cheaper guards who are ready to challenge for the 32-year-old's spot. It would be a great financial move for the Rams if they were able to plug in a young player and get rid of Dahl's $4 million salary. He needs to outperform several players, particularly Rokevious Watkins and rookie Barrett Jones, in order to feel safe with the starting right guard position this year.
3. Rokevious Watkins, OG
Watkins could end up being a key part of the Rams' offensive line this year if he is in condition and plays well during training camp. On the flip side, he is in jeopardy of being cut if he makes more errors in judgement. The fifth-rounder from last year, who is generously listed at only 338 pounds, was expected to compete for the team's starting left guard position last year but came to camp severely out of shape. He was prevented from practicing for a long while because of this and missed out. He recovered well enough to get considerable playing time in the Rams' season opener at Detroit, but he got injured and missed the rest of the season. This may have been a blessing in disguise for Watkins, however, as he had an opportunity to focus solely on working out.
This year, the Rams are justifiably concerned about Watkins gaining too much weight while the team isn't practicing. He seems to be making a good effort, watching what he eats and staying in St. Louis to work out with the Rams' strength staff during the break. That being said, Watkins will also be hampered by a one-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. The young guard is a ferocious road-grader who can be a difference-maker when he is in shape, but there's always the possibility that he will mess it up.
2. Darian Stewart, S
Stewart was expected to be a big part of the Rams' defense last year but got injured and failed miserably. He lost his starting spot to the often-criticized Craig Dahl and was reduced mostly to special teams duty. Luckily for Stewart, the Rams lost both of their starting safeties from 2012 and didn't bring in any sure starters to replace them, so Stewart has a good chance to start again this year.
The 24-year-old had a career year in 2011, when he had 84 combined tackles and three sacks. He was also very solid in coverage. Now, though, injury concerns loom as a cloud over Stewart's reputation, and he does not have the complete trust of the Rams. The team brought in 30-year-old free agent Matt Giordano to compete for a job, and rookie T.J. McDonald is penciled in for a starting spot. Stewart will have to assert himself in order to regain his spot in 2013.
1. Isaiah Pead, RB
Pead is currently the favorite to win the starting running back position, but he already showed last season that he can have trouble living up to expectations. Pead, who was taken in the second round last year out of Cincinnati, was supposed to be the Rams' number two running back and take some carries away from Steven Jackson. He disappointed and ended up third on the depth chart behind Daryl Richardson, a late seventh round pick, and only got ten carries all year.
Pead got off to a late start after missing minicamp due to the late date of Cincinnati's graduation. This missed time unquestionably hurt him, and he never seemed to get back on the right foot. As we later found out, he was also arrested last July 7 for marijuana possession, so that probably contributed in his entrance to Jeff Fisher's doghouse. It's worth noting, by the way, that he has to serve a one-game suspension for that arrest in the season opener this year.
This year, Pead will be expected to take the majority of the carries, but he will have to fight off competition from fellow second-year players Richardson and Terrance Ganaway, as well as fifth rounder Zac Stacy. The word is that Stacy has been particularly impressive during spring practices, so Pead will have to at least live up to his second-round grade to get playing time.