Today, the St. Louis Rams will kickoff against the Green Bay Packers in Week 2 of the NFL preseason. NFL Network has highlighted the matchup, slotting it as the lone game in the early Saturday slot, and headlining their articles with images of Packers’ green and the Rams’ golden horns. In previews, pundits have outlined several marquee watching points, including Aaron Rodgers vs. the St. Louis’ pass rush and the return of Sam Bradford to the starting lineup. However, like with any preseason game, the real battles are taking place within each team’s depth chart, as backups and fringe player fight for only a handful of open spots their respective 53-man roster. Keeping that in mind, here are our top three St. Louis Rams positional battles to watch this evening:
EJ Gaines vs. Greg Reid vs. Marcus Roberson vs. Brandon McGee
So far at camp, it appears as though the St. Louis Rams have more talent than they know what to do with at the cornerback position. Even with Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson being held out for large chunks of training camp, the young batch of defensive backs have certainly had their moments. However, the practice field and the game field are completely different monsters.
Last week, Gaines and Roberson were impressive in their rookie debuts, making excellent open field tackles and limiting yards after the catch in coverage. If last season is any indication, the St. Louis Rams will likely only keep five cornerbacks on the roster, especially given the versatility of Rodney McLeod to play the nickelback role in a pinch. With Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins, and Lamarcus Joyner cemented on the 53-man roster, that leaves only two spots between four players. Let the battle begin.
Michael Sam vs. Ethan Westbrooks
Jeff Fisher loves his defensive linemen, and has regularly maintained above the league average on his final 53-man roster. However, in this case, more spots doesn’t necessarily equate to an easier time making the cut, on unarguably the deepest and most talented defensive front unit in the NFL. For the majority of 2013, the St. Louis Rams kept nine defensive linemen on the 53-man roster. That is unlikely to change this year. Still, one could argue that eight of those nine spots are already locked up: Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Chris Long, Eugene Sims, Aaron Donald, Alex Carrington, and Williams Hayes.
Historically, Jeff Fisher has only rotated three interior defensive linemen, regularly using “hybrid” player, like Sims and Hayes, to shift to the inside during obvious passing downs. That points to the final spot being a defensive end; Sam vs. Westbrooks. Both players were impressive in their rookie debuts, each recording at least one tackle and a pressure on the quarterback. However, Westbrooks was clearly the more “dominant” of the two, subsequently grading out as the No.2 overall 4-3 defensive end during Week 1, according to Pro Football Focus. With Hayes out, and Quinn and Long likely to see only a handful of series, tonight should give both players an opportunity to show their wares on the football field.
Alex Bayer vs. Justice Cunningham
At the start of training camp, Cunningham was the “favorite” to fill the St. Louis Rams opening at their tight end/full hybrid position on the roster. The former Colt obviously had the upper hand, being selected No.254 overall by Indianapolis in 2013, and even seeing some “real” NFL snaps in Week 12, managing one reception for four yards. However, after some impressive practices and a “breakout” preseason performance in Week 1, Bayer may have taken the lead in the battle of the tight ends. Another standout performance against the Green Bay Packers should widen that gap even more.
Tags: St. Louis Rams