Training Camp Primer: Offense

Posted Jul 23, 2012

Perhaps no starting position is as available as the left guard slot where Bryan Mattison is among the many that figures to be in the mix.

Less than a week from today, the Rams will kick off their first full squad practice of 2012 training camp at the ContinuityX Training Center.

After a busy offseason in which the Rams turned over about half the roster and went from one of the oldest teams in the league to one of the youngest, there figures to be competition abound at nearly every position.

New coach Jeff Fisher is a big proponent of that competition and with the next month full of padded practice opportunities and four preseason games, there’s no doubt that Rams fans will have plenty to keep an eye on as the regular season nears.

With that in mind, we’ll take a look at each of the three units on the Rams, who will be vying for spots and what spots figure to be up for grabs in this year’s camp.

Quarterbacks (4): Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens, Tom Brandstater, Austin Davis

There’s no quarterback controversy to be seen here. Bradford is the starter and Fisher and his staff is expecting good things from him in his third NFL season.

The key for Bradford in this camp will be to continue to grow comfortable with new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s system and to find a rhythm with what figures to be an ever-evolving group of wideouts.

Behind Bradford, Clemens figures to lock down the backup job and provide a veteran presence with prior knowledge of Schottenheimer’s scheme from their time together with the New York Jets.

The battle here will be for a potential third quarterback job. It remains to be seen if Fisher’s Rams will even keep three signal callers on the active roster but if they do, the final job figures to come down to a battle between the rookie Davis and the returning Brandstater.

If nothing else, the competition between Davis and Brandstater figures to give a good reason to watch the final two quarters of preseason games.

Running backs (6): Steven Jackson, Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson, Chase Reynolds, Calvin Middleton, Nick Schwieger

Again, there is no doubt who rules the roost at running back as Jackson returns for his ninth NFL season. Jackson will again assume the role of bell cow for the offense and figures to get plenty of work in Schottenheimer’s offense.

While Jackson is less than 1,000 yards away from 10,000 career rushing yards, the backs behind him will come from a group of pure rookies.

That’s right; the five backs behind Jackson are all rookies and have yet to take a snap in a regular season contest.

Heading the list is Pead, who as a second round pick will get work as Jackson’s backup and figures in the mix in the return game as well. Richardson is a seventh-round choice and also could do some return work as he battles to earn the third spot at running back.

Beyond that group is a set of youngsters including Reynolds, Schwieger and Middleton hoping to make a name for themselves. Reynolds spent time on the practice squad last year and is the most “experienced” of the Rams backs behind Jackson.

Fullbacks (3): Brit Miller, Ben Guidugli, Todd Anderson

Miller served as the main fullback and ace special teamer last year before an injury ended his season early. He is back for another go around but he figures to be in a bit more of a heated competition this year.

In the power offense Fisher prefers, the fullback must handle lead blocking duties a bit more often than previous offenses. Guidugli is making the switch from tight end and provides an intriguing option as a guy who could catch passes in addition to blocking duties.

Anderson is a massive undrafted rookie with a love of contact who could give Miller a run for his money as well.

While Miller returns as the incumbent, the competition here could turn interesting as the pads come on and these guys get a chance to distinguish themselves.

Wide Receivers (10): Danny Amendola, Steve Smith, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas, Brian Quick, Chris Givens, Mike Campbell, Nick Johnson

Perhaps no position brings more uncertainty than wideout, a spot the Rams spent considerable resources in draft picks trying to revamp the past two years.

Amendola figures to be a slam dunk as the slot receiver and as a potential returner as he returns from injury.

Rookies Quick and Givens will be given every opportunity to earn immediate playing time and opportunities on the outside.

The veteran Smith has the most experience and best resume of the group. He showed he still has plenty in the tank late in the offseason program. He figures to get a long look as a versatile guy who can play inside and out.

Likewise, Salas also had a strong offseason in returning from an injury. He worked a lot on the outside and had some strong moments during OTAs and minicamps.

More than likely, that group of five would seem to be in the driver’s seat for spots at a position where the Rams figure to keep six.

Gibson is the incumbent who has made the biggest contributions and he’ll likely work with the top team early in camp with a chance to make an impression on the new staff.

Pettis still has two games to serve on a suspension for violating the banned substances policy. He could theoretically be stashed on the reserved/suspended list for the first two games then become available to the Rams in week three.

Alexander still brings a dimension of size and speed that nobody save for Quick on the roster has and if he can stay healthy should be right in the middle of the competition for one of the spots on the roster.

Campbell and Johnson each had some nice moments during the offseason program and should get a long look though they’re more likely to be practice squad candidates.

Tight Ends (8): Lance Kendricks, Mike Hoomanawanui, Matthew Mulligan, Brody Eldridge, Mike McNeill, DeAngelo Peterson, Cory Harkey, Jamie Childers

If receiver is the position most in flux on the offense heading into camp, tight end probably ranks a close second.

Schottenheimer said in the spring that Kendricks is probably the one player with a pretty solidified spot but beyond that, there figures to be a lot of competition.

The Rams figure to keep four tight ends considering how they’re used in Schottenheimer’s offense. Those four will probably be divided into two groups of two with one emphasizing pass catching skills and the other more geared toward blocking.

Kendricks can do a little of both but probably qualifies more as a pass catching type. Hoomanawanui is similar in his versatility but has to get and stay healthy to be the type of impact player he flashed glimpses of in his rookie season.

Mulligan, Eldridge and Harkey come with reputations as powerful blockers and will likely battle for two spots. Eldridge is suspended the first four games of the year, meaning he, like Pettis, could become a player that becomes available a quarter of the way through the season and potentially replace an injured player.

Mulligan seems to be the most likely to lock down a spot as he’s a talented blocker with knowledge of Schottenheimer’s offense.

Harkey was considered one of the best blocking tight ends in this year’s draft but will have some catching up to do after missing the offseason program because of league rules on finishing school.

McNeill, Peterson and Childers have each flashed some ability as pass catchers in their short stints here. McNeill came to the Rams late in the 2011 season and the hometown boy would love nothing more than to win a roster spot.

Peterson is an athletic dynamo with a variety of skills who simply didn’t get many opportunities as a pass catcher in LSU’s run heavy offense. He caught Schottenheimer’s eye in the offseason program and could be a sleeper to watch out for during camp.

Childers was the last addition to the roster in that same time frame and surprised many with soft hands and solid route running skills.

All told, the Rams have what figures to be three job openings and seven players fighting for those spots at what will be one of this camp’s most hotly contested position battles.

Offensive Linemen (16): Harvey Dahl, Scott Wells, Jason Smith, Rodger Saffold, Robert Turner, Quinn Ojinnaka, Bryan Mattison, Barry Richardson, Kevin Hughes, Rokevious Watkins, T. Bob Hebert, Tim Barnes, Michael Hay, Jose Valdez, Ryan McKee, Joe Long

As for the big fellas up front, it would seem that things are pretty stable…at four of the five positions, anyway.

After signing center Scott Wells from Green Bay in free agency and getting Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith back healthy at tackle to join incumbent right guard Harvey Dahl, the Rams have a quartet of players ready to plug in on the line.

What isn’t settled, though, is which player will fill the fifth and final spot on the line at left guard. More than any position on the team, that figures to be the most wide open competition for a starting spot.

During the offseason program, Mattison got a big bulk of the work with the first unit but the Rams were without Wells, Saffold and Smith for various injury issues during that time and never really had a chance for any type of group to coalesce.

Now, though, the job of forming a bond and jelling a line will become extremely imperative and it would behoove the Rams to identify the best candidate for the job sooner than later. With padded practices coming in camp, that process should be sped up.

Mattison will likely get the first look but will have no shortage of competitors. Ojinnaka was signed as the team’s primary third tackle but will probably get a look at left guard and could always kick back outside if need be.

The rookie Watkins could be one to watch as well. He is in need of polish but Fisher cited his punch and power as reasons he could ultimately win the job, even if it’s not from week one.

Turner is seen as an interior swingman at guard and center but could also get a look, same for Barnes.

The Rams figure to keep eight offensive linemen with Saffold, Smith, Wells and Dahl settled into spots. Beyond that, though, the competition figures to be fierce. Ojinnaka, Valdez and Richardson could duel for the third tackle spot with undrafted rookies such as Long and returning young vets like Hughes and McKee trying to sneak into the mix.