We've been covering the positions this week, going through the team bit by bit and trying to pick out what we see as the way things will pan out when the season resumes. Today, I'll be trying to sort through the mess the Rams have at linebacker.
If you are ready to take the plunge, hit the jump.
Any look at the linebackers must start with James Laurinaitis. The oft misspelled linebacker (or is it only me?) is the foundation of the defense, and already one of the best middle linebackers in the game right now. When the Rams make it out of the scrapheap of the NFL, his name will be called for many and more awards, and hopefully Pro Bowl invitations (where he will drag Donnie Jones along with him, come hell or high water).
But beyond him, it is a tough call. Na'il Diggs has that veteran presence that this young team lacks in many areas, but his best days are already behind him, and it is a question as to whether or not he can even stay healthy. David Vobora has greatly surprised all of us after being drafted dead last, but he still has a long way to go. Beyond them, only Larry Grant has a chance of making an impact; others may start, but that isn't saying much.
Depth (Not Quite There Yet)
Ideally, Na'il Diggs and Larry Grant should be depth, in my mind. Most of the linebackers behind Laurinaitis have their uses, but aren't steady, dependable players that you would want behind your defensive line. We saw what happened when the outside linebackers were exposed and it wasn't pretty. Some might even go so far to say that the OLB play last year cost us a spot in the playoffs. I've been bouncing around in the comments saying we should get James Anderson to come to town for a visit, but who knows what will happen when the lights get turned back on around the league.
That being said, I think the Rams have good depth at linebacker. They have a lot of players, like Chris Chamerblain, Diggs, Grant, Bryan Kehl and Vobora (who is probably my favorite out of those five), who have experience playing something beyond special teams, and who have their uses. But none of those uses include being a full time starter, and for that, they get to be called 'depth' players. Perhaps a third year of the system will help one of them out.Mauric
Special Teams and Rookies
I can't start any talk of special teams linebackers without beginning with Chris Chamberlain. The man is a beast, but his powers unfortunately only extend to times when the pigskin is being kicked. Josh Hull is an intriguing prospect, but tell that to Jay Zygmunt and see what he has to say. Brit Miller is another special teamer who also had some duty as a hybrid/fullback type player. Maurice Simpkins and David Nixon are most likely camp fodder, but one can never be sure about those things.
As far as the rookies go (Jabara Williams was the only linebacker the Rams drafted, but I think one of the safeties they drafted may be moved over, or at least looked at here), all of them have potential to fit in with Spags system. At this point, unless they are a real steal, they will probably stick with special teams, but given the fact that the Rams linebackers aren't really fearsome, they may see some time with the defense later on in the year.
All in all, the Rams have a few good pieces in place at LB. Laurinaitis is a stud, and will be for the foreseeable future. Na'il Diggs is the Adam Goldberg of the line- a veteran presence who can fill in in a pinch. Vobora and Chamberlain also have their uses, and I can't count Larry Grant out yet (I think he's a decent backup). But it is clear that the Rams will either need someone to step up, and step up big time, or they will need someone from the outside (Free Agency) to help the defense take that next step.