5 Storylines to Follow During St. Louis Rams Training Camp
5 St. Louis Rams Training Camp Stories to Watch
The St. Louis Rams already were expected to be one of the NFL's most exciting teams to watch this year due to the progress they made last year and the players that they selected in this spring's draft. Now, though, with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks both having lost their top receivers, the chances seem to increase by the day that the Rams will be able to contend for a playoff spot.
The truly exciting thing about a team as young as the Rams is the high level of unpredictability that accompanies everything. The Rams are receiving record crowds at training camp practices this year because people want to see how rookies like Tavon Austin, Alec Ogletree and Stedman Bailey perform. So far, the results have been very pleasing, with each player showing off their skills on multiple occasions during the initial days of camp. That being said, practices with little contact and often no pads are not always indicative of a player's game performance. The rookies, as well as big free-agent signings Jake Long and Jared Cook, will have the spotlight shone brightly upon them once the Rams begin their preseason schedule next weekend.
From now until the regular season starts, there will be a boatload of stories for Rams fans to focus in on and follow. With as much turnover as there has been over the past two years, no player's job is completely safe and there are wide open position battles in several areas. Here are five of the biggest talking points as the Rams navigate through the dog days of summer.
5. Battle for Starting Left Guard Position
With all due respect to the Rams' wide-open running back competition, the position with perhaps the most uncertainty has to be team's left guard spot. Former Chicago Bears first-rounder Chris Williams is handling the first team reps thus far during camp and has been solid. However, he is far from assured of a spot on the opening day line.
Fellow guard Shelley Smith, who started six games last year and split reps with Williams at right guard following Harvey Dahl's injury, has been pushing Williams. The 26-year-old Smith has a different style than Williams, being more of a finesse blocker, as opposed to the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Williams' power-blocking, sometimes overaggressive style, and he very well could emerge as the starter.
Two dark horses for the spot lie in rookie Barrett Jones and second-year guard Brandon Washington. Jones, a fourth-rounder who fell to the Rams due to injury concerns, will likely be a center in the long term, but the Rams could ease him into his NFL career as a guard. Jones, however, will likely earn his spot during the regular season if he is going to start this year.
Washington, a Philadelphia Eagles sixth-rounder last year, spent 2012 on the Rams' practice squad and is well-liked by the coaching staff. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound guard out of Miami has impressed during early practices with his intense and physical style. Don't count him out, either, in the battle for the left guard spot.
4. Alec Ogletree's Development
Outside linebacker Alec Ogletree was the Rams' second first-rounder this past April, but it has largely been a mystery as to how much or in what way he would be utilized. Ogletree has looked like he could be a major contributor this year through the first several days of practice. He is already a full-time member of the first team defense, and when the team has gone into a nickel defense, they have kept Ogletree on the field rather than the more experienced Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Ogletree's experience as a defensive back should greatly aid him in a look that is so focused on defending the pass. Look for Ogletree to get plenty of opportunities to prove just how good he can be as a pro.
3. What Will Lance Kendricks' Role Be?
One thing to watch as the summer goes on will be what role tight end Lance Kendricks fits into. The 25-year-old, who progressed nicely as both a receiver and blocker in his second season last year, has been pushed down on the depth chart by the Rams' signing of Jared Cook. He has missed all of the Rams' practices this year while recovering from a knee scope that he underwent this past spring. During the early days of camp, the team has been working mainly out of three receiver sets while using second-year player Cory Harkey for blocking situations.
Kendricks is a starting-quality tight end, so it will be intriguing to see how the Rams decide to use him. They could use him and Cook together in Patriots-eque offensive sets. Kendricks could be used simply to spell Cook when he gets fatigued, or he could be used as a blocking specialist. Then again, with Kendricks' lack of participation thus far, it's within the realm of possibilities that the Rams could just decide to move on from him and rely on someone like Harkey instead.
2. Which Running Backs Will Impress?
With the departure of Steven Jackson, the Rams have no clear number-one option at the running back position. It's been a free-for-all during the early days of training camp, and that competition will continue throughout the preseason. Daryl Richardson, who racked up 475 yards over 98 carries last season, has worked with the number one offense thus far, and has looked solid. However, Terrance Ganaway, a 6-foot, 240-pound back who was a sixth-round pick by the New York Jets out of Baylor last year, has been extremely impressive early on, and provides a power running and pass protecting option that the Rams seemed to be lacking without Jackson.
Of course, the Rams still will be looking to see what last year's second-rounder, Isaiah Pead, can do, but he has not been as impressive as Richardson or Ganaway thus far. One more name to keep an eye on is Benjamin Cunningham, an undrafted back from Middle Tennessee State, who the coaching staff is high on, and who has been impressive during early practices. With Pead being suspended for the first regular season game, Cunningham has a good shot to stick around and prove himself for an extra week before the Rams are forced to make a decision.
1. The Battle for Playing Time at Wide Receiver
The most exciting thing to watch during the Rams' first several practices of the 2013 campaign, which will carry over into the 2013 preseason, will be the performance of the team's young receivers. The current starting group consists of Chris Givens and Austin Pettis with Tavon Austin in the slot, but last year's 33rd overall pick, Brian Quick, and 2013 third-rounder Stedman Bailey have definitely impressed during practice.
Quick may have the most pure receiving skill and athleticism out of any of the Rams' receivers. However, he was set back last year by an inability to learn the offense, and he entered this year's training camp ranked fourth on the depth chart. Meanwhile, Bailey has made some of the most electrifying catches of anyone in this year's camp, and will likely be expected to contribute in some way this year.
Austin has made some spectacular plays thus far, and will be relied upon to be one of the Rams' key offensive weapons this year. Pettis and Givens have shown no signs of letting up during early practices, so it will be fun to watch and see if either Quick or Bailey forces their way into the lineup.