St. Louis Rams 2013 roster: Linebacker

Dilip Vishwanat

Forming the second level of the defense has taken some time. It could well be that 2013 is the year the task is complete for the Rams.

So let's keep the position preview train running...

The linebacking history of the Rams in the last decade has been one to put this...incompleteness.

Just two years ago to buttress the play of James Laurinaitis, the Rams played a combination of Chris Chamberlain, Brady Poppinga, Bryan Kehl and Ben Leber. Good job, good effort. The season prior to Laurinaitis' selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Rams' LB corps consisted of Will Witherspoon, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Quinton Culberson, David Vobora and Chris Draft. Witherspoon and Tinoisamoa offered capable play, but that was far from an outstanding unit. Go back to the beginning of the end of the GSOT in 2004 -- the Rams' starting trio was made up of Tinoisamoa, Tommy Polley and Robert Thomas at the Mike. Brandon Chillar and Trev Faulk provided the depth for a unit that looked the part of a holdover crew.

Back toward the present, the Rams are coming off of a season that saw, at a minimum, capable play between James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar, finishing first and second in tackles respectively. Depth was provided in the form of Rocky McIntosh, Mario Haggan and Josh Hull. While the move for Laurinaitis to a more consistent Tampa-2 left some wanting more and given his weight loss to adapt to the role, the effect that had on his physicality, it certainly wasn't a unit that should be looked at as a weakness (safety spot, I'm looking at you...).

The addition of first-round athlete supreme Alec Ogletree could boost the profile of this group, let alone shift the makeup of the Rams' defense from more of a nickel base to a potential 4-3. Going into camp, though, behind the top three of Laurinaitis, Dunbar and Ogletree, there are a couple spots on the roster available especially for those LBs who offer something in the special team arena.

Here's a rundown of who's listed at LB for the Rams as of today:

The Returning Duo

James Laurinaitis - JL55 is, in all likelihood, on this team for many more years. Next season is his salary peak; from 2015-2017, he's actually pretty cheap all things considered.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar - Dunbar shined last year. This year is going to define the pathway forward to see if Dunbar and Ogletree can coexist...and do so in a way that provides positive performance on the field. If not, this could be Dunbar's final season with the Rams.

The Big Rookie

Alec Ogletree - The lesser heralded 2013 1st round draft selection for the Rams, Ogletree's camp (and following preseason) should give us an idea of if his trajectory sees him take the field early and often or if he's on something closer to a Brian Quick timeline of gradual escalation.

The Second Shifter

Will Witherspoon - The Rams brought back a former member of the LB corps by signing Witherspoon to a one-year deal. Spoon played under Fisher in 2010, so he's got a solid trio going for him: overall NFL experience, time with St. Louis & the Rams (though since he left in 2009, there's no one left from his tenure here except for Chris Long) and experience under Fisher. If nothing else, those are good blocks to build on.

The Demonstrated Depth

Josh Hull - Remember what I said about linebackers who contribute on special teams? Hull saw the most action of his three-year career last season largely due to his production in the third realm of football. This is a contract year for Hull from his rookie contract, so he shouldn't be lacking for motivation.

Sammy Brown - Brown's out and back 2012 season was most notable for his Clay Matthews impression in preparing for the Packers in week seven last year. Keep an eye out to see if his year of experience keeps him above the fray of those fighting for a spot.

Jabara Williams - Williams, like Witherspoon and Brown, spent time with the Rams, left, and has returned to the team. Three makes a trend... Like Brown, his experience in the league and with the Rams could help ensure he gets through camp into the 2013 season with a Rams jersey.

The New Fringe Crew

Ray-Ray Armstrong - Armstrong has the highest profile of this group thanks to a standout career at the U, though he'll likely be remembered as much for his untimely dismissal from the team and the promise unfulfilled he presented when he first arrived on campus. Armstrong played safety, but is currently listed a linebacker on the Rams' official site. As for his NFL future, he's certainly got potential. Just bear in mind he had that in Miami as well.

Jonathan Stewart - Stewart moved from OLB to ILB early on his Aggie career, a move that delayed his development. If you ask most of College Station though, I'd suspect the overwhelming majority were shocked that Stewart didn't merit a selection in the 2013 NFL Draft. He left them with positive memories all around.

Daren Bates - Given that he's one of three UDFAs from Auburn (including WR Emory Blake and TE Phil Lutzenkirchen), he could be part of "a nod and wink" job by GM Les Snead to his alma mater. Still, Bates, who moved from safety to linebacker early in his college career, was tested by plenty of NFL-quality opponents on the offensive side. His size (5'11", 212 lbs.) is definitely a hindrance at this level as it was at the last one. He's got an uphill battle to compete in the NFL with that frame.

Joseph LeBeau - Joseph LeBeau grew up in the midst of it. Squalor, pain, defeat - he had excuses. When it rained, water would navigate the age-blossomed pathways through the plaster in the ceiling on to his bed, on to his head. He found it hard to sleep when it was raining outside and he stayed dry. By the time he was 11, he had the hands of a millwright near retirement. The nicks and scars pockmarked every plane of his hands - the tops, the palms, the knickles, the sides, the webbing between his fingers. His hands were less a collection of fingers and more a landing place for memories of the minor injuries he never felt in the first place. When he was 13, he saved a little girl's life by lifting an old row-crop tractor under which she had been pinned. It took a chunk out of his side on the way back down. He didn't mind. By the time he was in high school, he had the wizened veneer of a strop band and a voice to match. He didn't have many friends. Didn't fraternize with the ladies much. His parents had taught him the value of a good day's worth of hard work and the self-satisfaction of commitment and application. Joseph LeBeau wasn't a fish out of water. The problem was he wasn't a fish at all. He knew that. And to Joseph LeBeau, that was just fine.

I don't know a damn thing about Joseph LeBeau. Sorry.

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