The question of which players will start at outside linebacker for the St. Louis Rams has been weighing on the minds of fans throughout the offseason. A handful of veteran free agents have been added to complement a group of rookies and young players vying for the two spots beside James Laurinaitis. According to a report from Pro Football Weekly, those outside spots could see a rotation of players.
Citing "close team observers," the PFW report says to watch for a platoon approach leaning heavily on a trio of Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Mario Haggan and Rocky McIntosh.
The best guess among close team observers is that Dunbar will continue to spend most of his time on the weak side, the DL-sized Haggan will work extensively on the strong side in run situations and McIntosh, who made at least 85 tackles in each of his four seasons as a fulltime starter with the Redskins, could frequently shift around to both spots.
Deposed defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was Washington's defensive coordinator during McIntosh's first two seasons in the league. Williams may be gone, but his defensive playbook will still be the basis of the Rams' approach this season.
Dunbar obviously knows the scheme from his work with the Saints. Interestingly enough, using the data at Pro Football Focus, Dunbar spent the majority of his snaps last season on the strong side and in the middle. He also graded out a pretty poor -26.3 as part of a Saints group of linebackers that played really poorly last season. It was his first full season as a starter, and he graded positively the year before, 2010, with eight starts mostly on the strong side.
Haggan scored well as a run defender with the Broncos last year, netting a 5.4 from PFF. His role was reduced under John Fox. The year before, Haggans scored a 16.6 against the run as a starter in the middle of Denver's 3-4 defense. Poor grades in coverage and as a pass rusher pulled his overall score down to -2.2.
The truth of the matter is that the linebacking picture will always be something of a rotating image, with the notable exception of Laurinaitis in the middle. You can count on seeing the nickel package often, and with it an extra defensive back.
Hopefully, improvements in the middle of the defensive line and in the secondary limit the exposure of the outside linebackers. Chris Long and Robert Quinn could stand to improve in run defense as well.