After losing Oshiomogho Atogwe to poor contract planning, safety is a big position of need for the St. Louis Rams. It's also a position that they look likely to address in the 2011 NFL Draft based on the number of private workouts and visits conducted with safeties recently.
Head coach Steve Spagnuolo has never prioritized the classic centerfielder model in his free safeties. In fact, Spagnuolo has tended to prefer his strong and free safeties to be interchangeable, able to provide coverage deep as well as in the middle and offer run support. He's also been known to use his defensive backs on the blitz with some regularity, Atogwe had two sacks in 2010. Blitzing defensive backs isn't exactly unusual, but it is a quality to look for when considering the Rams draft prospects, guys with the speed and an ability to shed blockers. They also tend to play a little more in zone than man, opposite the corners, though you often see them playing it both ways.
Of the safeties the Rams have looked at so far, how do they measure up to the kind of player likely to fit in Spagnuolo's system?
Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple: Scouting reports usually mention Jarrett's read and react ability atop their list of qualities. The Rams defense as a whole didn't do a great job against play action passes and fakes, and any safety they bring in this offseason has to be part of the solution to that.
Jeron Johnson, Boise State: Johnson has a reputation for his physical style of play; he gets compared to a LB by some. We noted in an earlier report that his read and react abilities are well considered.
Marcus Gilchrist, Clemson: Jeez, the Rams have a line on Clemson players this year, huh? Anyway, Gilchrist is listed as a CB, but reports note his strong play in zone coverage. Like we said before, that probably means the Rams see him as a safety, and he has experience at that position in college.
Robert Sands, West Virginia: This was one of those notable conversations. Sands is a big man at 6'4" and zone is seen as his primary fit. Those long legs and a long stride boost his range on the field, hence the zone fit.
Whether the Rams pick one of these guys remains to be seen. However, it does look like a pretty good indicator of what kind of player they're looking for.
(Sorry for the cliched headline...I got stuck on it and could get it out my brain).