All eyes will be firmly fixed on the St. Louis Rams starters in tonight's preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Those units need to iron out some kinks before games start counting for something. A number of players are also jockeying for position on the depth chart.
Yes, the Rams are due to cut down from 89 to 80 players next Tuesday, but those first nine cuts will be relatively easy to make with so many undrafted free agents filling up the roster. Tonight's most interesting subplot are the guys trying to claw their way into a bigger role, even if they are not at risk for being cut, when the regular season starts. Let's meet those players.
Donnie Avery - Really, you can put any receiver not named Amendola or Gibson on this list. Avery's a slightly more interesting case than the rest because of his incumbency. This time last year, Avery sat on top of the Rams depth chart at receiver, before blowing out his knee. Barring a big surprise of some sort, he will be a lock for the roster. Avery's playing for more snaps, proving that he can be finally be the offensive weapon he was drafted to be.
Daranio Alexander - So much talent, so much scar tissue in his knee. His health will limit what he can do in the NFL. The Mizzou product needs to prove that he deserves a roster spot, despite a limited role.
Mardy Gilyard - Can he be a weapon on special teams? He looks like the real deal as a gunner, and no other play has returned more kicks and punts than Gilyard in the preseason.
Fendi Onobun - The situation with the oft-injured Michael Hoomanawanui will force the Rams to make some hard choices at tight end. Stick with just three on the final roster, in spite of Hoomanawanui's inability to stay healthy? If Fendi can build on what he has shown so far, it will be hard to ignore him come decision time.
Quinn Ojinnaka, Hank Fraley - They're vying for backup jobs on the roster as versatile linemen who play more than one position, including center. Neither has inspired great confidence, and Fraley is a Shurmur guy.
C.J. Ah You - The Rams have some tough choices to make on the defensive line. Ah You made a case for himself last year as a serviceable role player, but he just doesn't show much as a pass rusher.
Zac Diles - Many, myself included, thought Diles became the de facto starter on the weakside when the Rams signed him. It looks like Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga have the outside jobs, for now. Diles needs to prove that he belongs right below them on the depth chart, a viable option to start. Na'il Diggs and Bryan Kehl might also be fighting for their roster spots.
Justin King - King has a spot on the roster, no question. However, he seems to have lost his place as the team's third corner to 36-year-old Al Harris. Can he play his way back into the confidence of the coaches? We know that Devaney will be looking for veteran help at cornerback when roster cuts come. King's play will help determine what level of player they sign.
Craig Dahl - With Darian Stewart now the starter, where does Dahl fit? He looks safe from the final cuts, but his playing time will be determined by how well he plays compared to James Butler and rookie Jermale Hines.
We'll have a game thread up and instant analysis tonight. Keep it tuned here.