Rams Must Make Difficult Decisions

Posted Sep 2, 2011

When asked when he would start preparing for the regular season opener against Philadelphia on Sept. 11 following last night’s win against Jacksonville in the preseason finale, a sly grin crept across Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo’s face.

“Two weeks ago,” Spagnuolo said with a laugh.

While Spagnuolo and his staff and team have been taking a peek here and there and getting ready for the Eagles to come to town for a while now, there is one major order of business that has to come first.

With the preseason finished, the Rams’ unblemished 4-0 record will be wiped away and along with it, 27 players must also be let go by Saturday at 3 p.m. to establish the final 53-man roster.

The Rams began that process Friday morning by releasing seven players: end Damario Ambrose, linebacker Pete Fleps, guard Randall Hunt, cornerback Tae Evans, cornerback Jeremy McGee, running back Van Stumon and tackle Cody Habben.

Spagnuolo said Friday that he and his staff and general manager Billy Devaney and his staff will spend more time meeting tonight and come up with the other 20 cuts necessary to reach the limit sometime Saturday morning.

In each passing season, the decisions get more difficult, something Spagnuolo says is a sign of growth but something he also doesn’t enjoy.

“They are real difficult,” Spagnuolo said. “We have been staring at the board here the last three hours and there are a couple of spots here and there that you really, really struggle with and at some point you have got to pull the trigger and finish with a final 53.”

Perhaps the hardest part of figuring out the cuts aside from the human side of the business is figuring out how the roster is going to break down.

Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole have proved that they have an affinity for defensive linemen, keeping 10 last year and regularly rotating them in and out during games.

Like with anything, though, keeping more at one spot means one less spot available somewhere else.

And with a new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels, things could shake out a bit different in terms of numbers on that side of the ball as well.

“The number is 53, you’d like X number of linebackers, X number of tackles, X number of wide receivers but all of a sudden in one particular spot there’s some really good players so do you pick from here and do you pull from there?” Spagnuolo said. “That’s kind of the jigsaw puzzle that we are trying to put together and we want to keep the best 53 players in a lot of ways regardless of position and yet we know we have to have a certain number of guys at each spot.”

Preseason performance in games and on the practice field will ultimately determine how the final 53 shakes out but the heated competitions at a variety of positions will make things even more difficult for Spagnuolo and Co. to figure out.

Particularly heated are the contests for the receiver spots (probably six), backup quarterback (two or three spots) and backup linebacker (three or four spots).

No competition in this camp has been more hotly contested or debated than wideout.

While it seems every receiver has had a shining moment or two in camp or in a game, aside from the trio of Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola and Mike Sims-Walker, nobody has done much to differentiate himself from the group.

In a closer look at the preseason statistics, none of the group of Danario Alexander, Donnie Avery, Greg Salas, Mardy Gilyard or Austin Pettis had more than eight catches and from that quartet, all but Pettis had at least six.

Of course, the further down the depth chart you go at a position, the more important special teams is which is why Dominique Curry is a major factor in the race that can’t be ignored, either.

“The other thing that becomes really important – and (special teams coordinator) Tom McMahon was in here an hour or so ago and we were sitting down and talking about how he saw the guys,” Spagnuolo said. “The special teams is really, really important to us. It should be with any team and it always will be with us. We are kind of working through that as well.”

Quarterback Sam Bradford worked with all of the wideouts during camp and says that many have made a good case for a spot in the final mix. 

“I think it is going to be interesting,” Bradford said. “It’s one of those things you don’t like to see because we’ve got a great group of wide receivers. I think we’ve got seven or eight guys who can legitimately play for this football team. I’m not really sure who they are going to keep and who they aren’t but I think the guys that are here will be ready to roll next week.”

At quarterback, Thaddeus Lewis stated his case well once again to not only earn a roster spot but also possibly supplant A.J. Feeley as the primary backup to Bradford.

The Rams kept just Bradford and Feeley last year with Lewis on the practice squad. But Spagnuolo acknowledged that the competition has heated up this year and Lewis’ 12-of-15 for 164 yards in the preseason finale certainly only added to that.

“I feel like I gave it my all when I had the opportunity,” Lewis said. “The only thing I could control is that I got an opportunity to play in the second half and had an opportunity to help my team win the game. That’s the only thing I could control and I don’t have a clue if they will keep three quarterbacks or not.  The quarterback position is tough and you have to be patient. You never know when you’re going to get the opportunity, but when you do, you have to be ready.”

If nothing else, this preseason has proved that the Rams have come a long way in terms of talent and depth on the roster. The decisions for the coaching staff will get progressively harder as the deadline approaches.

And, of course, it’s hard on everyone, not just the coaches.

“That’s the unfortunate part about this business is that everyone starts off in training camp won’t go into the regular season with you,” running back Steven Jackson said. “You just wish them the best and hope over the last six weeks they could see how we as an organization runs things, some of the good rubs off on them and they are able to continue their careers and influence them to continue to chase their dreams.”

The Rams will make the final cuts Saturday morning, hold a team meeting and a short team run before getting the day off on Sunday.

But once the team is set, there’s no doubt that all emphasis shifts to Philadelphia and the opener.

“We are expecting to roll the sleeves up and work even harder because the speed of the game changes now, the speed of practice will change, the sense of urgency will go up and we’ll open up in the Dome on the 11th,” Spagnuolo said.