Training Camp Primer: Offense

Posted Jul 17, 2013

Tackle Rodger Saffold's training camp focus will center on switching from the left side to the right.

As the Rams headed toward the 2013 offseason, they made it abundantly clear where they were turning their attention in hopes of taking another step forward this season.

The goal was simple in explanation and a bit more difficult in execution but at its core, the idea was to improve an offense that ranked 25th in the league in scoring and 23rd in the league in total yards.

It didn’t take long for them to put their money where their mouth was. Soon after free agency opened, the Rams handed out two of the richest free agent contracts of the offseason, one to tight end Jared Cook and the other to left tackle Jake Long.

When the draft rolled around, the Rams made a bold move eight spots up the draft board to get the draft’s most dynamic offensive weapons in receiver/returner Tavon Austin out of West Virginia. They added his teammate, receiver Stedman Bailey in the third round and picked up versatile offensive lineman Barrett Jones and running back Zac Stacy in the fourth and sixth round, respectively.

All told, perhaps no team in the league did more to try to bolster its offense than the Rams.

Heading into the beginning of training camp next week – the rookies begin Monday and the full squad kicks off on July 25 – the Rams figure to have some heated competition at a number of positions on their offense.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the Rams’ offensive roster and how things could shake out in the next month-plus.

Quarterbacks (4): Sam Bradford, Austin Davis, Kellen Clemens, Timothy Jenkins

On the surface, it would appear there is no competition to be seen here but that would be an incorrect assumption.

Make no mistake, Bradford is the starter and the Rams are expecting good things from him as he enters his fourth NFL season. The offense figures to be more Bradford-centric in 2013 after the Rams worked hard and spent big money to surround him with talent in the offseason.

For Bradford, this year’s camp will be about continuing to grow in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense and develop further rapport with the young skill positions players around him.

The competition comes in behind Bradford where Davis, in his second season, will look to usurp the backup job from the veteran Clemens. Davis earned a roster spot as an undrafted rookie in last year’s camp after flashing some play making ability during the preseason.

Clemens returns as the veteran of the group and both Davis and Bradford have credited him with being helpful in learning Schottenheimer’s system. He’ll be in the mix with Davis to earn the No. 2 job.

Running Backs (7): Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Terrance Ganaway, Zac Stacy, Chase Reynolds, Benjamin Cunningham, Eric Stevens (FB)

This is where the real competition figures to take shape. After the departure of veteran Steven Jackson to Atlanta in the offseason, the Rams have an opening for a starting running back for the first time in nearly a decade.

Most signs point to a running back by committee approach but somebody still has to be the first back on the field when a game begins.

Richardson comes with the most experience after bursting on the scene as Jackson’s change of pace backup last preseason. He figures to be firmly in the mix and could get the first look when camp opens.

Pead is the most decorated of the group after the Rams used a second-round choice on him in the 2012 draft. Although he’s suspended for the first game of the season, the Rams believed when they drafted him that he could be an all-around back capable of handling a large workload.

Ganaway intrigued the Rams enough for them to scoop him off waivers after last year’s preseason and stash on the roster for the duration of the season. He could provide a powerful, between the tackles option to complement the speed of Richardson and Pead.

Stacy is the rookie looking to bring a little of everything to the table after leading the SEC in rushing last year for Vanderbilt.

Reynolds is back for more after a couple of seasons on the practice squad and Cunningham is an intriguing undrafted rookie in the mix.

Ultimately, how the depth chart sorts itself out at running back will come down to who proves they can handle all parts of the job, including things like blitz pickup and pass catching.

Tight End (8): Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks, Cory Harkey, Mike McNeill, Zach Potter, Colby Prince, Philip Lutzenkirchen, Cameron Graham

The Rams biggest addition to their pass catching corps comes in the form of the uber-athletic Cook. Signed away from Tennessee where he never was able to reach his vast potential for a variety of reasons, Cook figures to immediately become a favorite target of Bradford.

Cook will be complemented by the versatile Kendricks, whose ability to play on the line, in the backfield and detached from the line make him a piece the Rams can move all over the place.

Behind the top two, though, the Rams have an assortment of six bodies to sort through during the preseason. Harkey earned a promotion to the active roster late in 2012 and given his size and blocking ability, figures as a logical replacement for the departed Matthew Mulligan.

McNeill also spent the 2012 season on the roster and has showed glimpses of the same versatility that Kendricks brings to the table. If he can continue to handle varied roles, he could again find himself suiting up for his hometown team.

Graham, Prince, Potter and Lutzenkirchen bring different skill sets to the table but all could barge their way into the competition with strong showings in camp and in the exhibition season.

Wide Receiver (9): Austin Pettis, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Nick Johnson, Emory Blake, Raymond Radway, Andrew Helmick

Depending on how many wideouts the Rams choose to keep in 2013, the competition here could be limited to more of a jockeying for position amongst the receivers that seem certain to make the roster.

The young group – Pettis is the elder statesman entering just his third season – features five players that are almost certain to land roster spots. In addition to Pettis, that group figures to include Givens, Quick, Austin and Bailey.

The question then becomes how that group will shake out. Givens is the most accomplished after a strong rookie season in which he proved a dangerous deep threat. His camp will be geared toward diversifying his game a bit with more intermediate routes but he seems the most likely to lock down a starting job.

Pettis had a strong finish to the 2012 season and followed it up with an impressive showing in OTAs. His versatility could ultimately make him more of the ultimate backup, capable of lining up anywhere but he figures to be heard from in the competition for a starting job before all is said and done as well.

Quick enters his second season hoping to take the next step forward in his career by earning a starting job on the outside. He’ll need to be more consistent during camp to achieve that goal but the Rams have high hopes he’ll be able to do just that.

There’s little doubt that Austin will be strongly in the mix as the Rams look to find creative ways to get him the ball. He can play in the slot, the backfield, on the outside and in the return game. Even if he doesn’t technically become a starter, it’s not going to mean much in terms of how much he’ll play as a rookie.

Like Pettis, Bailey also seems to have the ability and know-how to line up in any position and contribute. He will fight for playing time as well but is also likely to have the ability to step in and help at any of the wideout spots.

Should the Rams opt to keep a sixth receiver, the likes of Johnson, Blake, Radway and Helmick will battle it out for that spot.

Offensive Line (16): Scott Wells, Jake Long, Rodger Saffold, Harvey Dahl, Chris Williams, Joe Barksdale, Barrett Jones, Shelley Smith, Tim Barnes, Rokevious Watkins, Ty Nsekhe, Brandon Washington, Braden Brown, Ryan Lee, Sean Hooey, Kevin Saia

The offseason addition of Long made this the most experienced projected starting unit on the offense. Long, Wells, Dahl, Williams and Saffold have all spent at least three seasons in the league.

For most of the offensive line, this preseason will be about working into shape and jelling as a unit. Long, Dahl and Wells are working back from injuries suffered in 2012 but should be ready to go.

Saffold’s task is learning to handle the right side after spending his first three seasons at left tackle.

The biggest competition figures to again come at left guard, a position that was open in last year’s camp as well. Williams split time with Smith during OTAs and possesses the most game experience of the potential competitors.

The rookie Jones is battling back from a foot injury and could get into the mix if he gets healthy sooner than later. Watkins was in the battle last year and could do the same again this year.

Barksdale came to the Rams midway through last season and ended up starting a pair of games at left tackle and playing in six total. He spent part of his offseason training with Rams legend Jackie Slater and looks to nail down the swing tackle role.

Barnes worked as the backup at center for much of last season and will battle Jones for that role during camp. Nsekhe and Washington spent most of last year on the practice squad and will again fight for a roster spot.

Brown, Lee, Hooey and Saia will also look to fight for jobs.