Another preseason game gives the St. Louis Rams to get a better feel for some competitive spots on the depth chart. With a few notable exceptions, the starting lineup looks to be mostly written in ink at this point, barring injuries or a surprise performance. Superstars aside, depth plays a big role in whether or teams win or lose in the NFL. The Rams have a few interesting subplots brewing on the roster among players who will become a key part of the team's depth chart.
To help you fill out the fight card for tomorrow night's preseason game, join me as I preview a few of those depth chart battles that will give you something to watch in the third and fourth quarters tomorrow night. Let's take a look at the cornerback situation.
Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher have quietly emerged as one of the league's better coverage pairings. Fans and the team carry high expectations for the duo this year, but they'll need some help behind them.
The Rams never found an ideal answer for the nickel corner role last year, alternating between adequate (Justin King), potential (Jerome Murphy), less than adequate (Quincy Butler) and disastrous (Kevin Dockery). This was suppose to be Jerome Murphy's year, but a broken ankle in training camp likely writes him out of the 2011 equation entirely.
Of course, finding a nickel corner is not the Rams only pressing matter at the position. Bartell and Fletcher both own a hefty injury file. Fletcher is rebounding from a nasty knee injury as a rookie, and Bartell dealt with nagging injuries that limited him at time last year and again in the preseason. Should either of those player not be available, the Rams will need a solid replacement for them. And just how might that player(s) be?
Justin King started last week against a Peyton Manning-less Colts. Curtis Painter beat him with a perfect 41-yard pass to Pierre Garcon, that King had almost no chance of defending without incurring a pass interference penalty. Overall, King played a solid game against team known for rolling over in the preseason, but didn't exactly seize the opportunity.
Al Harris missed last week's game, but is set to play this week. Reports from practice said Harris still had the coverage skills that made him a valuable player in Green Bay. At 36, he's not exactly in the prime of his career, but conerbacks contributing in their mid-thirties has been seen in seasons past.
With Murphy gone, the depth chart gets a little thin after the first four players. How many cornerbacks the Rams keep on the final roster depends. Last year, they started the season with five corners and four safeties. Let's assume that they stick with the five corners; that leaves one more spot after Bartell, Fletcher, King and Harris.
Dionte Dinkins has made a pretty solid case for a spot on the final roster. The undrafted free agent from Fort Valley State has performed well in practice and against the Colts' scrubs last week. Tim Atchison and Jeremy McGee will get scrutinized closely, but face an uphill battle for a final roster spot.
I'm interested in seventh-round pick Jonathan Nelson out of Oklahoma. He can play corner and safety, and played well in limited work while at OU. Marquis Johnson, a seventh-round pick from last year, has been on the PUP list.
By all accounts, Rams GM Billy Devaney is keeping an eye on cuts made elsewhere, hoping to find a veteran cornerback. Teams are required to trim rosters to 75 players by August 30, and down to 53-man rosters by September 3. For now, they'll let the rookies make their case.
Odds for the nickel job: Al Harris, 65 percent; King, 55 percent; Yet-to-be-acquired player, 40 percent.
Odds for the fifth CB spot: Yet-to-be-acquired player, 75 percent; Dinkins, 40 percent; Nelson, 30 percent.