When the Rams entered mini-camp, 3rd round pick T.J. McDonald and Darian Stewart were the starters. Nothing has change on that front, but one may be starting to lose grip on his starting spot.
T.J. McDonald has all but secured the strong safety spot. The rookie has been impressive in training camp. The Rams may have found a great value pick in McDonald.
He did struggle with tackling in the Browns game, but it was the first live tackle action for the Rams in months. The majority of the team struggled in that area. Fisher expressed confidence in McDonald after the game, and the Rams coaches think very highly of him.
McDonald is a third round rookie, so expectations shouldn't be too high, but the former USC captain should be in the lineup for the Rams week 1 and beyond.
Darian Stewart, on the other hand, still hasn't clinched his starting role at free safety, which he is currently penciled into. In 2011, Stewart started 13 games for the Rams, and he lead the league in missed tackles. His coverage skills aren't of high quality either. (Necessary reminder that he sat behind Craig Dahl in 2012)
Stewart has good physical gifts, and he has made a few highlight plays, explaining why many Rams fans think highly of him. But his performance on the field doesn't match up to perception.
He is not awful by any means. He isn't good either. Darian Stewart is simply a mediocre safety. Stewart's play should improve, but he does have guys behind him who may challenge him.
Rodney McLeod is one of the Rams better special teams players. He only played 12% of the Rams defensive snaps against the Browns. It's possible the Rams could give him more snaps on Saturday just too see what they have behind Stewart. It's a big jump from being a special teams standout, to being a starter. Many can't make that jump. Can McLeod?
Cody Davis, an UDFA out of Texas Tech, played 64% of the snaps in the Rams first preseason game. He runs a 4.4 and is 6' 3", 200+ pounds as to boot. Jeff Fisher obviously wants to get a very good look at Davis in these preseason games. He can run and he can tackle. I don't see a way he can challenge Stewart early in the regular season, but if Stewart struggles, don't be surprised to see the Rams run out Cody Davis later in the year if he makes the roster.
I am still of the opinion that Stewart will land the job going out of training camp, but this battle will extend into the regular season if his performance isn't up to par.
The Rams don't need great or even good safety play with the talent with the rest of the defense. But they will need league average safety play if they want to be a top 10 defense, and contend for the playoffs.