The Rams FINALLY have some real depth on their roster, making available slots for players to slide into very limited. As far as competition goes, this could prove to be the most competitive training camp in St. Louis in ten years. Only the strong will prevail, and in typical Jeff Fisher fashion, the team is loaded with tough and strong-willed players. This should all make for some interesting camp battles....
Right now Greg Reid is somewhat of an afterthought. There's not many people pounding the table for Reid. But he is a real dark horse for a roster spot, and possibly even a little playing time. There is no denying the athletic ability and skill that he brings to the secondary. Shorter than ideal, or not, Reid is a true football player. He can help in the return game (remind you John Fassell does not want Tavon Austin returning kicks), and he can be a monster in the slot. Reid will compete for the fourth or fifth - possibly even a sixth - corner back spot. If he is completely healthy and can shake off the rust, look out.
Michael Sam is going to receive a lot of media, but for the wrong reasons. The truth of the matter is: Mike is not a good athlete. But he is a helluva football player. That one quality could very well help him crack the 53 man roster. Also, as we have all heard him say time and time again, Jeff Fisher does not believe you can have enough defensive linemen. There is a strong chance the Rams keep nine defensive linemen, and in that scenario Sam could be the favorite to fill the last slot.
Alex Bayer is somewhat of an under the radar signing for the Rams. He is a much better tightend than he is being recognized as. He is a very good pass blocker and a solid receiver. With the Rams showing very little reason to believe they won't carry four tightends again - considering that they plan to continue to pound the ball and use multiple TE's - Bayer will have to fight off Justice Cunningham. While Cunningham is a solid blocker, he is not as good of a receiver as Bayer. This one difference could very well be the deciding factor in who gets the last available chair in the tightend meeting room.
EJ Gaines could go down as one of the more underrated steals of the draft. Very few people - if any at all - saw Gaines as a sixth round draft choice. The most common draft range for him was 3-4, and possibly the fifth round. To get a player that many thought should have been drafted two rounds earlier - and the player did not drop due to injury or character issues - is the definition of a steal. Gaines is a physical corner with good ball skills, and an exceptional tackler. There is almost zero reason to believe that he does not make the team. Gaines could be a heavy favorite for the fourth corner back position.
Daren Bates will make this team. He is a special teams ace, there is no question about it. But he is being overlooked as a possible candidate for the starting outside linebacker position, opposite Alec Ogletree. It has been presented for much of the off-season that the only real threat to Jo-Lonn Dunbar's starting position is Ray Ray Armstrong. I tend to disagree. While the Rams are high on Armstrong I believe them to also be high on Bates. While he is not the ideal height of a NFL linebacker, he has all the skills to be a successful one. He is arguably the fastest linebacker on the team, he plays with tenacity, reacts very well, and he is a spark plug. He should not be counted out as a challenger for the starting position.
Phillip Steward might be the biggest dark horse on the team. Steward has flown so far under the radar, it almost seems that he is destined to surprise. This time last year I had high hopes for Steward, but a torn Achilles tendon at the start of training camp ended those dreams. But surely there is something intriguing with this player considering he never got to put the pads on and the Rams felt that they should keep him on the team (spent 2013 on IR), instead of waiving/injured. And with a college resume that saw him total stats as follows; 378 Tck, 40 TFL; 14 Sck, 11 Int, and 6 FF, you can kind of understand why they kept him around. At 6'1" 235 pounds and 4.6 wheels, Steward does a great job with all responsibilities as an outside linebacker.
I tried and tried to find a reason for him going undrafted in the 2013 NFL draft but found nothing. He did not test poorly, he had no prior injury history, and zero off field incidents. He can both play the run and blitz extremely well. His real impressive traits are he can cover the slot effectively and has insane field awareness. Steward has all the tools to be a starter, and with the strong side linebacker position being all but locked up by Jo-Lonn Dunbar (honestly, no pun intended) there should be a great battle between himself, Ray Ray Armstrong, Daren Bates, and Phillip Steward.