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Roster Analysis: St. Louis Rams

The SportsXchange

Here is a close look at the St. Louis Rams as they head into their season opener against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, 4:25 p.m.(ET)

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Sam Bradford. Backup - Kellen Clemens.

Bradford has shown he is truly comfortable now that he has in the same offense for the second straight season, and the offense's added weapons should produce improved results. Bradford was still good last season, passing for 3,702 yards with 21 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a solid passer rating of 82.6. Improvement is necessary in the red zone, but that also depends on the success of the running game. Clemens beat out Austin Davis for the backup job, and brings experience and a knowledge of the offense to the meeting room.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Daryl Richardson. Backups - Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy, Bennie Cunningham, Chase Reynolds.

There are a lot of unknowns here. How many touches is reasonable for Richardson? Will Pead establish himself when he returns from a one-game suspension? How well will any of the backs pass protect, or will help be needed from a tight end? Without Steven Jackson, the group is incredibly young and inexperienced. Coach Jeff Fisher says he's not concerned about the youth at running back. But there will have to be a certain amount of success running for the passing game to be as good as the expectations.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Jared Cook. Backups - Lance Kendricks, Cory Harkey, Mike McNeill.

Cook could be poised for a breakout season after having 44 receptions in Tennessee last season. His size and speed should also open things up for the rest of the receivers. Kendricks is battling back from an offseason knee injury, and is a capable receiver and blocker. Harkey is also a very good blocker, but will miss the first part of the season with a slight fracture in his lower leg. McNeill is also a good blocker and has ability as a receiver.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, Tavon Austin. Backups - Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey.

The Rams will likely split formations with either three wide receivers or two tight ends. With Kendricks coming back from a knee injury and Harkey out, it could be more three-receiver sets at the beginning of the season. That means more time on the field for Austin, who will be used in a variety of ways. He will even line up in the backfield at times. Givens and Bradford have developed a special bond, and they specialize in plays of 50 yards or more. Givens is also becoming a more complete receiver. The Rams need Quick to step up and improve. His size should create mismatches, and it will be intriguing to see if he starts seeing more time than Pettis, who is excellent on third down.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Jake Long, LG Chris Williams, C Scott Wells, RG Harvey Dahl, RT Rodger Saffold. Backups - T Joe Barksdale, G Shelley Smith, C/G Barrett Jones, C/G Tim Barnes, G Brandon Washington.

Most important is that everyone stays healthy, especially Long, Wells and Saffold. Together, this has the makings of a good line if that stability can be built. Another key is Williams or Smith, whoever ends up seeing the most time at left guard. The Rams have 10 offensive linemen for now, but not much experience behind the starters.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Chris Long, T Kendall Langford, T Michael Brockers, DRE Robert Quinn. Backups - E William Hayes, E/T Eugene Sims, E Gerald Rivers, T Jermelle Cudjo, T Matt Conrath.

This unit sets the standard for the defense, and the depth is impressive behind the starters. Brockers, who played most of last season on an injured ankle, has the ability to develop into one of the best tackles in the game. Hayes produces sacks off the bench to go along with Long and Quinn. Sims will see time on the outside and inside. Rivers is explosive, but certainly will be tested at this level in regular-season games if he is active.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Alec Ogletree, MLB James Laurinaitis, SLB Will Witherspoon. Backups - OLB Ray Ray Armstrong, MLB Jonathan Stewart, OLB Daren Bates.

Ogletree is the one to watch. He explodes to the ball, and is learning pass defense. Big plays are part of his arsenal. Laurinaitis remains a tackling machine and is usually aro0und the ball. With Dunbar gone, Witherspoon starts and needs to step it up on run defense. The other three backups are all rookie free agents, but should add quality play to special teams.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Cortland Finnegan, RCB Janoris Jenkins, FS Rodney McLeod, SS T.J. McDonald. Backups - LCB Brandon McGee, LCB Trumaine Johnson, RCB Quinton Pointer, FS Darian Stewart, SS Matt Daniels, SS Matt Giordano.

Finnegan is the leader of the group, with his feistiness and cover ability. Jenkins is supremely talented and just has to stay focused and not take too many chances that lead to big plays against. Youth will be served at safety, especially if Stewart and Giordano remain injured. Daniels has come back from a knee injury, and if he can stay healthy, he might be the best of the bunch.

SPECIALISTS: K Greg Zuerlein, P Johnny Hekker, LS Jake McQuaide, KOR Bennie Cunningham, KOR Isaiah Pead, PR Tavon Austin.

Zuerlein can hit field goals from anywhere on the field, but he needs to be more consistent all season. Hekker is outstanding, and is also a threat to pass from punt formation. Austin should provide big plays on punt returns. The question for the opener is who will return kickoffs with Pead suspended. Cunningham might be the best option.
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