Breaking Down St. Louis Rams' Likely Opening Game Starting Lineup
The St. Louis Rams are halfway through the preseason, and we're beginning to see training camp battles play out.
The preseason isn't good for much, but it is a solid way to settle roster disputes and determine which players are worthy for the starting lineup. If a player cannot make an impact against preseason competition, then chances are that he has no business in an NFL starting lineup.
This article will take into account the reports out of training camp, as well as the film from both preseason games, and take a shot at predicting the final roster. Let me know in the comments section what changes you would make to this lineup.
Starter: Sam Bradford
This one is obvious enough. Unless Sam Bradford suffers a devastating preseason injury (knock on wood), there's absolutely no way he's not the Week 1 starter.
A knee injury ended Bradford's 2013 season last October. Last Saturday, during St. Louis' second preseason contest, Bradford took the field against real competition for the first time in more than 300 days, and he turned in excellent results. He went 9-for-12 (75 percent) with more than 100 yards and a touchdown in just over a quarter of play.
Considering the other Rams quarterbacks went a combined 7-for-16 in passing efficiency, there's no doubt that Bradford looked like a blue-chip prospect compared to his colleagues.
Bradford will take the reigns in St. Louis yet again. If he show finally show up, the Rams could be a legitimate playoff contender. If not, the Rams will be in the hunt for a new passer in 2015. This season will set the tone for the rest of Bradford's NFL career.
Starter: Zac Stacy
Zac Stacy entered the 2013 season as a rookie fifth-round draft pick. He was an underdog compared to second-year players Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, but Stacy proved to be the superior back.
Stacy earned his keep by producing more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns despite receiving almost no playing time for the first quarter of the season.
As a result, Stacy will lead the way in 2014. The Rams will mix in Benny Cunningham and Tre Mason to compliment Stacy, but he'll take the bulk of the carries.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Wide Receiver: Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, Tavon Austin
Tight End: Jared Cook
Say what you want about St. Louis' lackluster and unproven receiving core, but no one can deny that the Rams have acquired imposing size and strength at the position.
Receivers Brian Quick and Kenny Britt, as well as tight end Jared Cook, are all over 200 pounds and stand at 6'3" or taller. In the red zone, these players will be a total nightmare for opposing defensive backs.
Britt is a veteran newcomer from free agency and is easily the most talented receiver the Rams have had since Brandon Lloyd in 2011. He has been quiet in the preseason, but expect that to change once the regular season starts and the Rams begin to spice up the playbook.
Quick has been a disappointment since being drafted No. 33 overall in 2012, but the third-year receiver is surprisingly generating some legitimate hype here in the preseason. In the exhibition against the Green Bay Packers, he pulled in a 41-yard reception and managed to draw a pass interference penalty on the very next play, which set up the Rams' only touchdown of the game.
This isn't the first time Quick has teased us with preseason dominance, but if his new and improved edge turns out to be legitimate, it'll be a major upgrade for the offense and a welcomed surprise.
As for Cook, he came on strong during his first season with the Rams last year. He turned in 671 yards and five scores, but his promising numbers were spoiled with inconsistent play. He'll be eager to contribute more on a week-to-week basis in 2014.
And finally, there's Tavon Austin, who'll undoubtedly look slightly ridiculous lining up in the slot alongside St. Louis' tall receivers, as he stands at only 5'8". However, if Bradford can get him the ball in open space, he'll certainly get the last laugh with his lightening speed and jaw-dropping agility.
While the other receivers will be the chain-movers and red zone monsters, Austin will be the big play specialist. The Rams are hoping that a combination of these skill sets will finally result in a respectable passing game for the first time in years.
Starters: Jake Long (Left Tackle), Greg Robinson (Left Guard), Scott Wells (Center), Rodger Saffold (Right Guard), Joe Barksdale (Right Tackle)
The Rams have excellent talent blocking up front, but the major question on the offensive line for St. Louis this year, as usual, is the overall health of the unit.
When left tackle Jake Long is at the top of his game, he's a borderline Hall of Fame talent, but he's coming off a major knee injury and will likely experience an adjustment period before he's back to his usual self.
Scott Wells and Rodger Saffold have similar stories. Wells, a former Pro Bowl center with Green Bay, hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2011, while right guard Saffold hasn't completed a full season since his rookie campaign in 2010.
Rookie No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson and fourth-year tackle Joe Barksdale are the only members of the line without extensive injury issues, so the success of the line will undoubtedly fall on the health and production of these two players.
If this group stays healthy for 16 games, the Rams could field one of the better offensive lines in the league; however, expecting this group to go injury free is wishful thinking at best.
In all likelihood, the Rams will depend on their backups to produce. Ultimately, players such as Tim Barnes, Barrett Jones and Davin Joseph will have to step in and dominate for this unit to thrive, as injuries to the starting five are inevitable.
Starters: Chris Long (Left End), Kendall Langford (Tackle), Michael Brockers (Tackle), Robert Quinn (Right End)
This unit is easily the crown jewel of St. Louis' 2014 roster.
Chris Long and Robert Quinn will team up to form the most dominate 4-3 defensive end tandem in the NFL, second to none. The duo should exceed 25 combined sacks with ease.
Michael Brockers will return for his third year as a starting defensive tackle. He has silently taken promising steps in the right direction ever since being drafted in the first round in 2012, so expect a breakout year for the 326-pound monster.
The only mild shocker here is Kendall Langford. The Rams used a first-round pick on Pittsburgh tackle Aaron Donald, who will eventually take over as the starter, but expect Langford to begin the season as the top guy.
Langford is a veteran and has been a solid starter for the Rams. Sticking with Langford will allow Donald to slowly ease into his role rather than being immediately tossed into the fire, but expect him to get plenty of action as a pass-rusher.
Frankly, every Rams defensive lineman will get an enormous amount of playing time. This team constantly rotates the group, so the starting lineup is a bit irrelevant.
Starters: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree
James Laurinaitis will return for his sixth year as St. Louis' starting middle linebacker, and the veteran has yet to miss a single start in his career.
Laurinaitis will be the leader of the group, while second-year pro Alec Ogletree is expected to be the playmaker. Ogletree was a first-round pick a year ago. He has elite athleticism and a knack for making big plays, so expect him to take the next step in 2014.
The third linebacker spot is a bit shaky and unpredictable. Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Ray-Ray Armstrong have been battling for the job, but neither player has been able to run away with the starting title this preseason.
Expect the Rams to stick with the veteran in Dunbar to start the season, but don't be surprised if Armstrong finds his way into the starting lineup by midseason. He's far too athletic to wait on the sidelines forever.
Starters: Janoris Jenkins (Cornerback), Trumaine Johnson (Cornerback), T.J. McDonald (Safety), Rodney McLeod (Safety)
Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson have the starting cornerback jobs locked up. The depth behind them is extremely raw and inexperienced, so their job security is intact.
All eyes will be on Jenkins this season. He had the look of a Pro Bowl corner in the making during his rookie year in 2012 after producing four defensive touchdowns, but his playmaking skills were unfortunately absent in 2013.
Jenkins' big plays were vital to the Rams winning games in 2012, so the team desperately needs him to regain his form. If he doesn't rebound, it will be a major disappointment for the defense.
T.J. McDonald will return for his second year as a starting safety and has looked excellent this preseason. He'll be reunited up top with 2013 starter Rodney McLeod.
One of the biggest preseason disappointments has been the lack of competition at safety. McLeod was one of the weak spots on defense a year ago, so he was expected to get serious competition from Cody Davis and rookie Mo Alexander, but McLeod remains the safest option.
It's possible that either Alexander or Davis could take over the starting job at some point this season, but for now, this is the foursome the Rams will field in Week 1.
Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams' game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or by following him on Twitter.