Have no fear, football is finally here! At 2:o0 pm CT, the gates will open for the St. Louis Rams 3:30 practice at Rams Park, unofficially cutting the ribbon on the start of the 2014 season. While we’re still a bit away from the August 8 preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints, these camps are where the battles are truly won. Like most years in Rams Park, there are a numbers of positions on both sides of the football that are still “up in the air,” at least in terms of naming their starter(s). With that in mind, here are the top three roster battles to keep an eye on as camp gets underway:
Tre Mason vs. Zac Stacy
After taking over the starting reins from Daryl Richardson in Week 5 of the 2013 regular season, Stacy was one of the most dominant power running backs in the NFL. The 5th-rounder led the NFL in rushing yards for a majority of the year from the one-quarter mark of the regular season, finishing with 972 yards and seven touchdowns in only 12 games. So, the fact that Tre Mason has been told that he will be competing for starting reps says everything you need to know about this offensive battle.
Mason and Stacy are similar in size, but vastly different in running style. Mason is a “home run hitter,” with an ankle-breaking jump cut and excellent vision to squeeze through unbelievably small opening in the defense. Stacy is a bowling ball of power, capable to shaking off would-be tacklers in closed spaces, and dragging defensive player on his back for extra yards.
Barring an injury, Stacy will likely keep his role as the starter in the backfield. However, it should still be fun to see these highly competitive running backs battles it out behind the Rams newly-formed, monstrous offensive line.
Kenny Britt vs. “The Field” of Wide Receivers
Since Torry Holt moved on to Jacksonville, the battle at wide receiver at Rams Camp has been a staple of the offseason. Seemingly every year, a new name emerges as a potential savor in the receiving corps, whether it be a previous practice squad reject (i.e. Danny Amendola), a veteran attempting to make a comeback (i.e. Steve Smith, Mike Sims-Walker, etc.), or a draft pick (i.e. well, take your pick). This year, the newest face, Kenny Britt, sort of falls into the middle category. However, unlike year’s past, Britt isn’t necessarily a washed-up, near-30 year old vying for one last shot in the spotlight. Instead, he is a relatively-young, former Top 32 selection battling back from injury and hoping to revive his career under the watchful eye of the head coach that originally drafted him, Jeff Fisher.
If OTAs and minicamps were any indication, Britt has been the “toast of the town” in the young receiver corps. A solid showing during training camp and through the preseason could cement a spot in the starting lineup for Week 1 of the regular season. However, he’ll have to battle with a rejuvenated Chris Givens, a suspension-driven Stedman Bailey, and Austin Pettis, who typically shines during the offseason. This should be fun…
Rodney McLeod vs. Mo Alexander vs. LaMarcus Joyner
The only battle more predictable than wide receiver during Rams training camp is in the deep secondary. T.J. McDonald is cemented in the strong safety spot, and figures to “breakout” this year under the aggressive play-calling of new defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams. However, after a mediocre showing at free safety last season, Rodney McLeod appears to be merely a placeholder in his starting spot; one that could be easily overtaken with a solid showing from any number of recently signed prospects.
Tops among those is Maurice Alexander, a Jeff Fisher favorite, who was drafted a bit high back in May, at least relative to where most reputable scouts had him valued. The linebacker-to-safety convert still plays with a mentality of a second-level punisher, and sports impressive size, speed, and natural athleticism, similar to that of Kam Chancellor. If his read-and-react instincts and coverage skills develop in a timely manner, he and McDonald would certainly pair nicely on the backend of the Rams secondary.
LaMarcus Joyner is the other defensive back to keep an eye on during training camp. Despite already being crowned as the “starting” nickelback, replacing the departed Cortland Finnegan, there are certainly some that believe Joyner’s talents would be better served in the deep secondary. Part of that reasoning is the eminence talent that was brought in this offseason to compete at cornerback, including names like Marcus Roberson, Greg Reid, and “hometown” favorite, EJ Gaines.
Last year, due to injury and limited talent on the roster, the Rams were forced to settle for a rotating secondary of mediocrity. This year, there will be plenty of competition, which will hopefully lead to some much improved play on the backend.
Tags: St. Louis Rams