A day before their preseason opener and the St. Louis Rams have suffered just one major injury. Cornerback Jerome Murphy fractured his ankle in practice last week. James Laurinaitis' pectoral injury gave them another scare, but it turned out to be relatively minor. Beyond that, nagging injuries have put a couple of key players on the sidelines through practices, and the sum total of those injuries will have an impact on tomorrow night's preseason opener, possibly beyond that.
Middle linebacker depth
Laurinaitis will not play tomorrow night against Indianapolis. This being his third season, Animal Junior may have reached that level where he just doesn't need as many reps as the guys below him on the depth chart, a la Steven Jackson, though running back and middle linebacker are much different jobs. With Laurinaitis on the sidelines, the Rams can evaluate their potential backup options.
David Vobora will take some reps at MLB tomorrow night. The last pick of the draft in 2008, Vobora performed very well in a starting role on the strongside. With stronger outside linebackers next to him, Vobora could be a solid backup in the middle. Former Penn State LB Josh Hull, a seventh-round pick last year, will also get some looks, after missing all of 2010 after suffering a preseason injury. A newbie seventh-round pick may not inspire much confidence, but his Penn State background as a linebacker - they don't call it "Linebacker U" for nothing - speaks well of his chances to learn. He needs reps to make the final cut.
Obviously, you don't want to envision life without Laurinaitis, the leader of the Rams' defense and one of the best linebackers in the league, but teams win with depth. I wrote about the Rams options at linebacker, suggesting Vobora for the middle, while we were all holding our breath about Lauinaitis' injury.
Donnie Avery's future with the Rams
Avery once took exception to being labeled injury-prone. However, if the shoe fits... The Rams' second-round pick from 2008 spent some his time in camp so far on the sidelines with a hamstring injury. He didn't practice again yesterday, and has to be considered questionable for tomorrow's game. It's a terrible place to be when you're one of a dozen receivers trying to make the final cut. The culprit this time: his hamstring.
Lost snaps represent lost opportunities for receivers in a crowded field. Anymore missed time, especially with Mark Clayton potentially coming back, makes it that much more difficult for him to have a future with the Rams.
Ron Bartell is dealing with a thigh injury, not serious, but enough to keep him off the field. Of course, his position is secure. No word on his status for tomorrow night, but it's unlikely he'll play much if he plays at all. The preseason games would have belonged to Jerome Murphy. With Murphy out, it's golden opportunity for the Rams to see just how deep they are at cornerback. Can Justin King step it up? Does Al Harris, who left practice with a minor injury yesterday, have enough left to contribute? And what about that gaggle of young guys behind them, Jonathan Nelson, Mikail Baker, Marquis Johnson and surprising UDFA Dionte Dinkins. GM Billy Devaney may have one more free agent move up his sleeve, looking for another cornerback.
The tight end race
Lance Kendricks secured his roster spot, getting more reps than anyone else in camp so far. Behind him, it's a wide open competition. Michael Hoomanawanui is dealing with a concussion. Fendi Onobun has a groin injury. That gives Billy Bajema and UDFA Schuylar Oordt more reps against the Colts tomorrow night, and the potential to shape the race.
I'll be at practice this afternoon; it starts at 2:45 p.m. I won't shush you if you talk while practice is going on.