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What’s the backup plan? By Vinny Bonsignore...

August 12, 2019 02:42PM
What’s the backup plan? Projecting the Rams’ 53-man roster

[theathletic.com]

By Vincent Bonsignore

With the Rams’ offensive and defensive starters virtually set, a fierce battle is underway among a talented group of backup and situational candidates to secure spots on the 53-man roster. Two weeks into camp, and one preseason game in the books, here is how I see the final roster shaping up.

Quarterbacks
Jared Goff is coming off back-to-back division titles and a Super Bowl appearance last season, and soon he’ll be paid as a franchise-caliber quarterback. He’s looked fabulous during training camp and looks poised to take another step forward. The Rams signed Blake Bortles, the former Jacksonville Jaguars starter and third overall pick in the 2014 draft, and he will be the experienced backup the Rams have been lacking. Brandon Allen, who has been in the Rams organization for two years and spent the majority of last season on the practice squad, is in a battle with Wake Forest undrafted free agent John Wolford for the final spot, should the Rams opt to keep three quarterbacks. But it seems more likely the Rams will keep just two quarterbacks on the active roster with a third candidate as a developmental project on the practice squad.

Who makes the cut?: Goff, Bortles.

Running backs
Todd Gurley remains one of the NFL’s most fascinating stories of the 2019 season as all eyes are on the left knee he hurt at the end of last season and how the Rams plan to manage the situation moving forward. Gurley has looked healthy, dynamic and explosive in camp, but the key is keeping him that way deep into the season. Malcolm Brown and third-round draft pick Darrell Henderson will likely get plenty of touches in the Rams’ pursuit of getting Gurley through December and January as healthy as possible. John Kelly, Justin Davis and rookie Matthew Colburn will battle for the last spot, with special-teams capabilities playing a huge role.

Who makes the cut?: Gurley, Brown, Henderson, Davis.

Wide receivers
The Rams’ three-headed wide receiver monster of Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp is as dangerous as any trio in the NFL. The Rams sorely missed Kupp after he sustained a season-ending knee injury in early November, but he’s looked healthy in camp. Josh Reynolds filled in admirably when Kupp was lost for the season, and he’d be in the mix for a starting job on almost any other team. With the Rams, he represents tremendous value. KhaDarel Hodge played in 14 games last year after earning a roster spot as an undrafted free agent and is in a fierce battle with Mike Thomas for a job on the 53-man roster. Thomas missed last year with a leg injury and has returned with a splash. JoJo Natson has a leg up on a roster spot thanks to his punt-return abilities, and he’s shown improvement in camp as a slot receiver. Austin Proehl, Alex Bachman, Nsimba Webster, Johnathan Lloyd and Jalen Greene are all in fights for spots in a crowded wide receiver room.

Who makes the cut? Cooks, Thomas, Woods, Reynolds, Kupp, Natson.

Tight ends
Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett have developed into a nice tight-end tandem, and if the Rams opt to make them more of a focal point in the offense they both appear up to the challenge. Everett, in particular, has been on the edge of a breakout for more than a year. Johnny Mundt has been a capable blocker when called upon and got 127 snaps on special teams. The Rams, though, brought in undrafted rookies Romello Brooker, Keenan Brown and Kendall Blanton, hoping one or two could play their way into a spot on the 53-man roster or practice squad.

Who makes the cut? Higbee, Everett, Mundt.

Offensive linemen
The Rams are set with LT Andrew Whitworth, RT Rob Havenstein, LG Joe Noteboom, C Brian Allen and RG Austin Blythe, but behind them it’s a mix of first- and second-year players with minimal experience. Bobby Evans and David Edwards are a pair of drafted tackle prospects, and both played extensively in the preseason opener while appearing at LT, RT, RG and LG. The plan for both is to spend this year as development players. Jamil Demby, now in his second year, played decently at guard and tackle on Saturday although he struggled with a shotgun snap in a brief appearance at center. He figures to stick on the roster as a versatile backup. Aaron Neary spent last year on the Rams’ practice squad, but his opportunity to win a full-time job was dealt a big blow when he was suspended for the first four games of 2019 for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. His ability to play guard and center should secure a roster spot. Jeremiah Kolone, Brandon Hitner, Vitas Hrynkiewicz, Chandler Brewer and Matt Kaskey still have a chance to impress, but more likely will battle for practice-squad consideration.

Who makes the cut? Tackles: Whitworth, Havenstein, Edwards, Evans; Guards: Noteboom, Blythe, Demby; Center: Allen.

Defensive linemen
Aaron Donald is obviously the anchor along with Michael Brockers, and second-year DT Sebastian Joseph-Day has made a strong push for a starting job at nose tackle. Greg Gaines, a fourth-round pick, has had an up-and-down camp while Tanzel Smart has re-emerged in his third year and is making a case for another year on the roster. Meanwhile, John Franklin-Myers and Morgan Fox appear set in their roles as rotational pass rushers. Both have looked good in camp. That leaves rookies Marquise Copeland, Bryant Jones and Boogie Roberts in an uphill battle to earn roster spots.

Who makes the cut? Defensive tackle: Donald, Gaines, Joseph-Day; Defensive end: Brockers, Franklin-Myers, Fox.

Outside linebackers
Dante Fowler Jr., Clay Matthews III and Samson Ebukam have looked like a nice three-man rotation at outside linebacker, with each bringing a different skill set and level of experience. Matthews has looked rejuvenated in his return home to Southern California, and Fowler has looked active and explosive. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, whose rookie season was pretty much wiped out by a broken foot he sustained during OTAs in 2018, has been banged up throughout camp and could be losing a grip on a job. Meanwhile, Justin Lawler was lost indefinitely to a foot injury that required surgery and could be headed to the injured list. Rookie Landis Durham — who had seven tackles and a sack against the Oakland Raiders on Saturday — and second-year man Trevon Young have stepped up and put themselves on the radar for roster spots.

Who makes the cut? Fowler, Ebukam, Matthews, Young, Durham.

Inside linebackers
Cory Littleton gave the Rams everything they could have hoped for and more as a first-year starter last season while finishing with 125 tackles, four sacks and three interceptions. He has not taken any steps back thus far in camp. Micah Kiser, a rugged, run-stopping inside linebacker, and veteran Bryce Hager are battling for the starting ILB job vacated by Mark Barron. Kiser and Hager both looked solid on Saturday against the Raiders, as did Josh Carraway, a former seventh-round draft choice by the Tennessee Titans who spent the past two years on the practice squads of Tennessee and Washington. Rookie Dakota Allen has battled through injuries in camp, but over the past week, he has finally been able to practice consistently. He’s in a battle with Natrez Patrick (an undrafted free agent from Georgia who flashed against the Raiders), Travin Howard, Troy Reeder and Ketner Kupp for consideration.

Who makes the cut? Littleton, Kiser, Howard, Carraway, Hager.

Cornerbacks
Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Troy Hill and Nickell Robey-Coleman form a deep, talented starting and situational cornerback group, but there is plenty to like behind them. But with limited spots available, a good player or two will get cut. Among those hopefuls, Darious Williams, rookie David Long, Kevin Peterson, Donte Deayon and Dominique Hatfield have all shown an NFL skill set.

Who makes the cut? Peters, Talib, Robey-Coleman, Hill, Long, Peterson.

Safeties
Eric Weddle and John Johnson have a chance to be one of the best safety tandems in the NFL, and each has had a strong camp. Rookie Taylor Rapp, who backed up a tremendous week of practice with a terrific performance against the Raiders, is already pushing for major playing time. That means Marqui Christian, a valuable reserve and special-teams ace, could see a reduction in action. Christian, though, offers tremendous value in a backup role. Nick Scott could have an edge on the rest of the safety population due to his special-teams prowess, although Steven Parker continues to shine when given a chance. Ramon Richards and Jake Gervase have their work cut out for them to earn spots on the regular roster or practice squad.

Who makes the cut? Weddle, Johnson, Rapp, Christian, Scott.

Special teams
The Rams have Pro Bowlers at punter, kicker and long snapper. There will be no drama here.

Who makes the cut? P Johnny Hekker, K Greg Zuerlein, LS Jake McQuaide.
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  What’s the backup plan? By Vinny Bonsignore...

Rams43350August 12, 2019 02:42PM