When a team that was once considered a perennial doormat can officially claim to have whittled its number of problem areas down to a select few heading into training camp most would call that a quiet victory. For the St. Louis Rams, their expectations have increased right along with the win total, so those few questions will need to see some quick answers for success to continue in 2013.
The battle at running back is a definite area of interest, but that cannot be called the top issue for a team that figures to be primarily pass oriented this season. Clearly getting solid play at the weak side linebacker position is a desired result, but the team’s season doesn’t hinge on that area. No, the biggest question facing the Rams this NFL season is a dual issue really with both starting safeties from last season no longer on the roster.
Craig Dahl is now with the San Francisco 49ers and Quintin Mikell remains a free agent currently being heavily pursued by the Carolina Panthers. That means the Rams will see two brand new starters at safety in 2013 just one year after introducing fresh faces at both cornerback positions. This new-look secondary will be a deciding factor on just how well the team fares in the upcoming campaign.
At safety in particular, the team has plenty of youth battling it out for the two starting jobs. Eight players figure into the mix for two starting spots with rookie third-round pick T.J. McDonald out of USC the favorite to hold down the free safety position and soon-to-be 25 year old Darian Stewart heads into his fourth season with the Rams penciled in as the starter at strong safety.
Other guys in the mix will be second-year players Rodney McLeod, Quinton Pointer, and Matt Daniels, undrafted rookies Cody Davis and Cannon Smith, and recently signed veteran Matt Giordano. Daniels actually commented on the safety competition to the team website in June saying:
“You look around the entire defense; the safety position might actually be the youngest within the team, especially on the defense. We are stout at all positions but everyone does question the safety spot.”
With every question mark comes an opportunity, however, and someone will stake a claim to a starting job in the St. Louis secondary whenever camp concludes. Even though the rookie McDonald is the favorite at the moment to win the free safety gig, the veteran presence of a guy like Giordano could make head coach Jeff Fisher feel more comfortable when the regular season gets started. His experience is something that is lacking across the board on defense for the Rams as Daniels pointed out in his quote. Adding any type of leadership could be invaluable to a team relatively devoid of that quality.
If the Rams want to realize their potential in the 2013 season and make some serious noise in the ultra-competitive NFC West, solidifying the safety position is going to be an absolute must. The pieces are in place to have a really competitive training camp for the starting roles, and the hope is that the tandem to ultimately emerge as starters can bring consistent production to the middle of the secondary this season.