This week, Brian Schottenheimer echoed what we first reported last month at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles: that Tre Mason and the other running backs will compete with Zac Stacy for the starting role ... or at least the lead back role.
Here's what Schottenheimer said (via transcript of his presser):
"Well right now, competition is for who's the starter. We're just going to let them all roll and see what happens. You saw some guys that worked with the young guys today. Zac's (Stacy) obviously a really, really good player, but we're going to create competition for all the guys. That's a long way off, but we know we have a good stable group of backs and they all have different skill sets, which we'll try to use throughout the course of the year.
"No, not at all. We're just trying to create competition. (QB) Sam Bradford is going to compete. That's what we're trying to do and whoever wins the job, wins the job. But I expect to see multiple guys carry the football."
And here's what Mason told me last month:
Tre Mason says Rams coaches told him that he'll compete for the starting job— ryan van bibber (@justRVB) May 29, 2014
Fisher wants Mason to be ready as soon as possible— ryan van bibber (@justRVB) May 29, 2014
Competition is a big buzz word this time of year. It usually carries as much meaning as all those other OTA reports about how great a player looks and how ready they are to ascend this season. It's just talk, as Nick Wagoner noted in an article about the Rams running back competition on Wednesday.
I'm the first person to ignore the spring talking points. However, it was enough to make me take a closer look at the stats.
Stacy emerged from last year's running back competition, one that we assumed Daryl Richardson had locked up heading into camp. Richardson did win the No. 1 running back role, before he flopped to start the season. Stacy had the job by Week 6, and he finished the season with 973 yards on 250 carries.
That adds up to just 3.89 yards per carry, not a terrible number, but still on the wrong side of that all-important 4.0 yards per carry. Over the last five weeks of the season, Stacy topped 4.0 yards per carry in just one game. Of the 29 missed tackles he caused, only seven of those came during his last seven games of the season.
What about the impact of the offensive line? According to Football Outsiders, the Rams had an adjusted line yards mark of 3.95 yards, the same as running back yards. On the surface, that shows what's essentially a push.
Finally, there's some historical precedent. LenDale White took over the starting running back job in Tennessee in 2007, one year after the Titans used a second-round pick to get him. He carried the ball 303 times for 1,110 yards, seven touchdowns and 3.7 yards per carry in 2007. The next year, the Titans drafted Chris Johnson in the first round. White's carries dropped to 200 in 2008, while Johnson carried the rock 251 times. White carried the ball 64 times for the Titans in 2009, and he was gone after that.
Fisher has a history of churning through running backs.
But there's potentially good news in the White/Johnson precedent for the Rams and Stacy owners in fantasy football: LenDale White scored 15 touchdowns in 2008, despite ceding the No. 1 role to Johnson. I know that Mason isn't the most comparable player to Chris Johnson, but there's enough there to think that this could be more of a 1a-1b situation than a traditional 1 & 2, 70/30 split.
Of course, the real takeaway here is that not all OTA talking points are created equal. Sure, Sam Bradford is technically competing for his starting job, but he's really not. Stacy, on the other hand, might have a legitimate competitor trying to claim his role as the primary back.