The St. Louis Rams are less than a week from their first preseason showdown, a game against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Through just over a week of training camp, the team is still ironing out some issues with the playbook and the roster. Position battles have also been raging, from left guard to an unexpected face off at safety. Let's check in and see where things stand on the position battles.
The offensive line is keeping fans awake at night. Who will start at left guard has faded into a much smaller issue compared to whether or not the Rams can protect Sam Bradford at all points along the front five.
Right now, Quinn Ojinnaka (6-foot-5, 306 pounds) leads the race. The journeyman tackle has been taken the lion's share of reps at the position. He has struggled at times against rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers as the defensive line has generally been able to get the better of their offensive counterparts.
Bryan Mattison, who handled the gig in spring practices, has seen a few reps with the starters. Mattison was brought over from the Jets, where he worked with Brian Scottenheimer.
The name to watch here is rookie Rokevious Watkins. He reported to camp out of shape, but after some remedial physical training, he got back on the field late last week. Watkins is a road grader type of player, who will be closely watched in preseason play.
No. 2 Cornerback
Janoris Jenkins pretty much has this job sewn up. The Florida product, by way of North Alabama, exceeded even the most optimistic expectations through the early days of training camp. ESPN's Adam Schefter even mentioned his name in the same breath as a Pro Bowl berth.
Behind Jenkins, Bradley Fletcher looks to be healthy and has the third spot locked down. Fletcher will be one to watch in the preseason games as well. He is coming off his second ACL tear, and those games will be a better window for judging his progress. Keep an eye on how he moves and how fast he moves. Trumaine Johnson has the skills, especially as a physical corner, but has been rough around the edges.
This is less a position battle than just sorting through the roster to see exactly what it is the Rams have. So far, rookie Brian Quick is still trying to play his way into a starting role. The Appalachian State product performed well in the early days of practice, but does still show some of the normal bumps expected of a rookie receiver, particularly on his routes.
Steve Smith has been the story at wide receiver. John Clayton thinks the former NFC East stud is a candidate for a big rebound season. From the Professor's column:
Smith arrived in St. Louis healthy and with more speed than anticipated. Instead of playing the slot he worked in New York, Smith is working as an outside receiver who can get downfield. The coaching staff has the receivers using their hands more to get off the line against press coverage, another missing element from last year's team.
Quarterback Sam Bradford seems to be fond of fourth-year receiver Brandon Gibson. Fans are firmly in "show me" mode when it comes to the player that dazzled in training camp the last two seasons, only to produce inconsistently when the games started counting. Gibson does have raw talent, something fans caught a glimpse of in his second game with the Rams, when Marc Bulger hit him seven of nine times for 93 yards.
Jeff Fisher talked up Jo-Lonn Dunbar after a recent practice session, and it looks like the former Saint is locked in on the weakside. Said Fisher:
"The weakside linebacker spot requires some great speed, anticipation, physical play, cover skills and it also requires somebody that understands the defense. Many times he's kind of mopping up and he's almost a safety at the linebacker position. He knows the system. It's just a perfect fit for us ... he can also take on, stop, shed and get off blocks. He recognizes things very well. If he's not calling something out, it's because he knows what's coming and he can make the play himself."
Mario Haggan, a free agent pickup from the Broncos, is seeing most of the work opposite Dunbar. He isn't really turning heads one way or another. He usually comes off the field for the nickel package. Look for Rocky McIntosh to start getting more looks.
The term No. 2 safety would probably be more apt here, as the Rams have tended to use the safeties interchangeably. Craig Dahl and Darian Stewart have been splitting time alongside Quintin Mikell. I talked about this battle late last week. Dahl brings a little more as a run defender, while Stewart is more of the pure free safety type.
The two are not exactly the most interchangeable players, which makes for some concerns. However, a managed rotation could limit some of the exposure.
Undrafted rookie Matt Daniels, out of Duke, brings a nice package of talent, and could be the favorite behind those two.