Yesterday, the St. Louis Rams released their massive Training Camp Preview filled with everything from the upcoming schedule to directions on how to get to the camp. While all of the additional information is nice, the real “meat” of the brochure is the 2013 “projected starters.” Of course, that roster could, and likely will, change prior to season opener against the Arizona Cardinals. However, that does not mean that is doesn’t give us some clues about what the coaching staff is actually thinking heading into the season. Naturally, all of the inferences from this single page are mere “guessimations,” but these are Ramblin’ Fans’ three main takeaways from the roster release:
The Two-Tight End Set
The first thing that might pop out on the offensive side of the “starters” list is the fact that both Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks are listed, with no fullback. Kendricks was thrust into the role of fullback last season, after Brit Miller was released shortly after his mishap against the Miami Dolphins. Both he and Cook might play that role in spurts this season, with Jeff Fisher explicitly mentioning that Jared Cook would used “all over the field,” including lining up in the backfield. Regardless of the fullback situation, it appears as though the St. Louis Rams are finally moving towards the two-tight end sets that had been projected since Lance Kendrick and Michael Hoomanawanui were paired up on the 2010 roster. The St. Louis Rams will undoubtedly play around with numerous formations offensively, but it does appear that Kendricks and Cook will not be swapping snaps, but, rather, tag-teaming as a double matchup nightmare.
“Surprise” Starters on the Offense and Defense
While the makeup of the roster might not immediately jump off the page, there certainly are some names that will, on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football. The most surprising might be Rodney McLeod, marked as the projected starting free safety, appearing ahead of the recently-drafted T.J. McDonald on the depth chart. Most expect that McDonald and the veteran Darian Stewart will be the starting duo in the deep secondary, but it is not necessarily a shock that the rookie would not be listed at this point in the offseason. Of all the returning safeties, McLeod is the only one with in-game experience at safety in the Rams’ defense. The 2012 undrafted free agent played only a handful of snaps in the secondary, but with the departure of Craig Dahl and release of Quintin Mikell, he gets the “most experience” label by default. In this particular case, McDonald will likely surpass McLeod on the depth chart by mid-preseason. However, for now, the 2013 3rd-rounder will have to wait to see his name on the “starters” card.
On the offensive side of the football, there are no real surprises on the roster. After signing a relatively large contract and watching Rok Watkins get handed a one-game suspension, the stars magically aligned for Chris Williams to get a shot at the starting left guard spot. Unless there is an injury or some massive failure to perform in the preseason, Williams will likely maintain that spot into the opener. Austin Pettis is the other name on the starters list that might pop out, especially with Tavon Austin penciled in the “Key Contributors” section. Austin will likely remain listed as a “non-starter” by virtue of the position he will play in the offense, the slot receiver. However, it will be a massive surprise if Austin Pettis maintais his place in the starting lineup, especially with players like Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey completing for that same spot. With Pettis, it might be a repeat of the Rodney McLeod situation, merely listed as the start because of experience in the system. However, Brian Schottenheimer mentioned during the OTAs that Pettis was the star of camp, swooning over his improvement this offseason. Could Pettis be hitting his third-year stride? Only time will tell…
The “Pick Your Side” Defense
Earlier in the offseason, Jeff Fisher announced that Alec Ogletree would be playing the “left linebacker” position, as opposed to the strongside or weakside, as is typical in the 4-3 base defense. Without regular, pre-snap shifting in the defensive alignment, the St. Louis Rams will be advertising a “pick your side” style of defense. If you want to target the left side of the field, the Rams’ have Chris Long, Alec Ogletree, and Cortland Finnegan; if you want to go at the right side, St. Louis will have Robert Quinn, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, and Janoris Jenkins. While this formation will change on a play-by-play basis depending on the scheme, coverage, audibles, etc., the St. Louis Rams appeared to have paired the defensive ends, linebacker, and cornerbacks with an ameliorating partner(s). For example, the run-dominating Jo-Lonn Dunbar will be playing behind Robert Quinn, who struggled mightily against the run last season. On that same side, Cortland Finnegan, widely considered the best coverage defensive back on the roster, will be lined up behind Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who struggled against the pass last season. Go to the other side and you see Janoris Jenkins, who is notorious for jumping routes and taking chances in coverage, paired with Alec Ogletree, a converted safety with the speed and instincts to reliably defend against the pass. Again, those alignments will undoubtedly vary throughout the game, but in its most “base” form, the Rams appear to have masterminded a formidable “pick your poison” scenario for opposing offenses.