The NFL lockout is ending soon, real soon. And that means teams can get back to the business of preparing for the 2011 NFL season. Just as important, we fans can get back to the business of preparing ourselves for the season. To get back up to speed, TST is grinding out our annual roster review, taking a look at where the St. Louis Rams stand on the eve of free agency and camp. Today I'm looking at the Ram's safety position, which has been a topic of great discussion since OJ Atowge left. It's also a position that the Rams have been rumored to be targeting in free agency, specifically Quintin Mikell from the Eagles.
Let's get to it.
Craig Dahl- The starting SS going into camp and likely the season. He has played okay the last few years. He makes a lot of tackles and is good in run support, but he doesn't make a lot of turnovers. He is a league average safety, who won't hurt the defense but he won't really improve it. At times he isn't as good in coverage as the Rams would like and the defense can be exposed to long bombs. Overall I would be okay if he remained the starter, but I would prefer to get a guy like Quintin Mikell and have Dahl be the 3rd safety or the FS.
James Butler- The starting FS going into camp. One of the first FA Spags brought in. He lost his staring job at SS to Craig Dahl two years ago, but he still played a lot last season and contributed to the defense. I actually like his skill set. He has good size combined with good leaping ability. He is a lot more solid in coverage than Dahl is, but he isn't as good in run support. They are both average players and it makes it that at this point our safety play will be average. This is why I'm hoping that we can get a good safety in FA this year.
The third safety
Darian Stewart- As an undrafted rookie last year, he played very well. He was very versatile for the team last year. At times he lined up as the WIL in nickel formations. He also played well on ST. He has the talent to be a good safety in the league, but does he have the experience yet? I don't see him becoming a starter this year unless there is an injury. I'm expecting to see him used in roles like he was last year, playing most of his time in nickel and dime defenses, while being a good special teams player.
The roster spot battlers
Since we played with four safeties last year it seems we will only keep one on the roster and put the other on the practice squad.
Jermale Hines- An athletic and versatile safety. We spent our fifth round pick on Mr. Hines this year from Ohio St. He was know as a big hitter for the Buckeyes and he also played in coverage well. He didn't make many turnovers though and a a need for our defense. For more on Hines here's VanRam. He covered TEs and slot receivers very well with Ohio St. and that alone could get him a roster spot. He reminds me of a more athletic Craig Dahl.
Jonathan Nelson- He was a sleeper pick in the 7th round for the Rams this year. He is a guy who didn't play much in college, but he played decently for the Sooners when he finally hit the field. For more on Nelson,read this article from VanRam. If he makes the team it will be through special teams, but I don't know if he can beat out a guy like Hines.
The question mark
Michael Lewis- The Rams picked him up after the 49ers gave up on him, but he never hit the field much. He made 3 tackles and one sack in two games. From what I heard the niners got rid of him because his coverage was horrendous. The Rams picked him up just because they needed a guy in case someone got hurt. I don't see him making the team this year.
Overall if we went into the season with these guys, I would be marginally satisfied. I would really like to see the Rams go after another guy in Free Agency to start over Butler or Dahl. Then Dahl or Butler could be the third safety and Stewart would be mostly used in special teams where he played well last year. Then one of the rookies could be put on the practice squad. We could also keep five safeties to have the fifth be a special teams guy. It will be interesting to see what the Rams do with the safety position over the next week, since it seems the players will approve the CBA tomorrow.