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The Cage Fight at Linebacker

Ben Leber celebrates after a fourth quarter fumble recovery against the Buffalo Bills at the Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Dec. 5, 2010.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Ben Leber celebrates after a fourth quarter fumble recovery against the Buffalo Bills at the Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Dec. 5, 2010. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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  The St.Louis Rams have a crowded cage fight going on at the linebacker position. How crowded? By my last count, the Rams have eleven, that right ELEVEN linebackers on their current roster trying out for at best six final roster slots. While most people look at the battle going on at the wide receiver position to decide which one has any real talent, the linebacker battle is filled with both proven and potential NFL players. Coach Steve Spagnuolo, who loves to build a great defense, has to be having a few sleepless nights from wondering who to keep or let go. Have a look at the list of linebackers:

Chris Chamberlain - Starting his fourth NFL season, the 6'1" - 230 lbs linebacker out of the Univerisity of Tulsa was picked in the seventh round by the Rams in the 2008 draft. He's excelled at special teams play. Chris has had his problem playing outside linebacker, especially in pass coverage. Though tendered a restricted free agent offer before the lockout, he may not have a place on the Rams roster this year. If he doesn't stick, he won't wait long for a new team to pick him up. He has shown growth while with the Rams, though slower than coaches and fans would like to see. My opinion: He stays! Low cost depth here.

Na'il Diggs - Starting his 12th season, the former Green Bay Packer's fourth round pick out of Ohio State has had a steady, though not stellar career. At 6'4" and 240 lbs, he's still has good speed and motivation enough to play at the NFL level. Diggs has had trouble playing a complete season ( He has only 5 complete seasons as a started). He won't be around for Eagles game, unless of course the Eagles pick him up after he's released, which will happen very soon indeed.My opinion: Nope! The FA linebackers the Rams have acquired look like a direct and determined effort to improve his position.

Zac Diles - A seventh round draft pick in 2007 by the Houston Texans, Diles came to the Rams as a free agent. At 6'2" and 245 lbs, his size and speed aren't all that remarkable. After reviewing a few videos of his play with the Texans, I'm not all that sure why the Rams took a chance on him? His acquisition doesn't guarantee a roster spot. This pre-season is as important to Diles as any player to showcase his ability to improve the Rams run and pass defense at the outside linebacker position. My Opinion: Nope!



Pete Fleps - This rookie, undrafted free agent out of SMU, has an up hill battle to make the Rams roster. His final season at SMU was his breakout year with 123 total tackles. He played inside linebacker in college, and won a number of academic awards. His invitation to camp could be to provide competition for the next player on this list? In any case, Fleps is a fine player going out for a position that is packed with more versatile choices. Fleps does offer run stopping capability though, so...Special Teams player? Could be, but roster spots are too precious to limit a spot to someone without more to offer, let alone experience. My Opinion: Nope! Fleps is a project player, but he will find work elsewhere... You listening Colts and Cardinals?



Josh Hull - He is in his second year with the Rams as a seventh round pick in the 2010 draft out of Penn State University. The 6'3", 240 lbs Hull spent his rookie year recovering from a knee injury. He currently hold the back up position at middle linebacker. Hull is smart, big and physical, and I liken him to Barrett Ruud in both size and style of play. My Opinion: He Stays!

Bryan  Kehl - Selected in the fourth round by the New York Giants out of Brigham Young University, the team had high hopes for Kehl that never materialized. His play at the weak side linebacker position has been consistent, though far from remarkable. Taken off waivers by the Rams in September 2010, he's shown enough to fill short term needs, but not without cost. Kehl is part of the reason the outside linebacker position has become the focus of this year's free agent acquisitions on defense. My opinion: Nope! There are simply better options to be had, and the Rams aren't going to stop searching till they fill their needs.

James Laurinaitis - JL55 has no current equal on the Rams among the pretender to starting linebacker. This is one player destined for a Pro Bowl. The biggest concern the Rams have is his next contract, which won't come cheap. My opinion: You can't figure it out? Ok, I'll say it - He stays!

Ben Leber - A third round pick out of Kansas State University in 2002 by the San Diego Chargers, he moved on to the Minnesota Viking in 2006 to become an integral part of one of the NFL's best defenses as a strong side linebacker. His career marks him well as a player who has a nose for being around the ball at any given moment. The 6'3" - 243 lbs Leber came to the Rams as a free agent this year and he may very well be the answer to their strong side dilemma. He adds experience to a young defense that is looking to improve upon a great 2010 showing. My opinion: He stays!



Brady Poppinga - A fourth round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2005, he spent six seasons as a valued player and team member. Known for his "high motor" and aggressive play, he now fills a void on the Rams that most NFL teams possess to some degree. Poppinga is, well... Kind of nuts? I say this with all due respect, since I've always enjoyed watching players that pride themselves on having a touch of reckless abandon. While it could be fun to watch, it could also be Brady's downfall when it comes to making the roster. The Rams need a player that is likely to play the entire season and Poppinga just doesn't match that description to me. I personally hope he sticks, my opinion:  He's stays... for the five or six games it will take for him to get hurt.



Maurice Simpkins - Signed by the Green Bay Packers in 2010 as an undrafted free agent out of Coastal Carolina University after a short stint in the IFL. The 6'0", 238 lbs linebacker is a project player, which doesn't bode well for his chances in this years gang of linebacker hopefuls. My Opinion: Nope! Green bay released him after two games, we won't wait that long.

Jabara Williams - Skinny! Seriously skinny at 6'2" and 210 lbs. according to his SBNation page. His Wikipedia page list him at a whopping 228lbs. Yet there is reason enough for the Rams to be taking a flier on Williams. A seventh round pick by the Rams in this year's draft out of Stephen F. Austin University, he finished his career with 411 tackles and being named twice an All-American small school team member. This is a project player, of this I have no doubt. My Opinion: He Stays, though possibly PUP List. This is one of those guys that could be a true diamond in the rough.



  This is one hell of a list of linebackers. The competition is fierce. The players that earn a roster spot by living through this battle will have it well earned. I'm just glad I'm not Steve Spagnuolo or Ken Flajole. Deciding who stays and who leaves from this huge crew ain't going to be easy...

  So what do you think? While the Rams could keep more than six linebackers, limit your choices to six. Give the Ram linebacker corp for the 2011 season!