COMMENTARY | For the most part, NFL training camps are much ado about nothing
But with the around-the-clock coverage it receives and the fans that show up in droves each day for practice, you could easily be fooled into thinking that something meaningful was happening on the regular at these camps.
With the Rams in 2013, though, there will be a number of things to pay attention to in the weeks leading up to the start of the regular season, not the least of which are a couple of wide-open position battles for playing time.
The following are my top three things to watch in Rams training camp.
1. The battle for playing time at running back.
With Steven Jackson now plying his trade in Atlanta, the Rams will likely spend a lot of time in training camp finding the right combination of pieces to give them a productive running game.
Although no one player currently on the roster has established himself as a sure-fire superstar, there are no shortage of talented players waiting for their opportunity.
Daryl Richardson had a productive 2012 season in his stints spelling Jackson. He had a more than adequate yards per carry average and he showed flashes of developing into a home-run threat.
Isaiah Pead had a much less successful 2012, but there is no denying that he is talented. There is a reason he was a second-round pick. When he has been asked about Pead, head coach Jeff Fisher has been very positive about his development and like so many others on offense, he can only stand to get better with another offseason of working in Brian Schottenheimer's offense.
Zac Stacy is the new kid on the block. The Rams moved up to draft the Vanderbilt product in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Stacy was a little overlooked in college because, even though they are much improved, Vanderbilt is no Alabama or USC.
What he did at Vandy was impressive, though. He became the first Vanderbilt player to rush for more than 3,000 yards in a career and he holds the school record for the longest rush (90 yards). At just 5'9", there will be the customary concerns about his size, but I'm betting on him being productive in whatever role he is assigned.
Terrance Ganaway is an interesting name, if only because he is a big back like Rams fans are used to seeing in the backfield. I'm not sure he is the type of guy that will force his way into heavy rotation, but teams can always use a bruiser like him in the offense.
2. The safety position
While it's not as well-publicized as the battle at running back, the Rams are dealing with similar issues at safety.
The two most productive safeties from last season are gone. Quintin Mikell, who gave the Rams the steady play they were looking for when they first brought him in, was let go and is currently flirting with joining the Carolina Panthers.
Craig Dahl is also gone and while he was no great shakes at the position, he was experienced.
Left on the roster are youngsters with high ceilings (rookie T.J. McDonald), undrafted free agent fliers (Cody Davis and Ray Ray Armstrong), holdovers from seasons past (Rodney McLeod and Darian Stewart) and journeymen (Matt Giordano).
Something tells me that the Rams aren't done at this position, though. As training camp gets underway, there are always veterans that get caught up in a numbers game and end up getting released. There are bound to be some safeties among that group and the Rams will likely be at the front of the line to bring one of those players in.
In any event, I think McDonald ends up seeing the field a lot. It is what happens after that that I'm not sure about.
3. Rookie Watch
Rookies the Rams expected to come in and contribute right away have been something of a mixed bag lately.
Some, like Robert Quinn, James Laurinaitis and, of course, Sam Bradford have done just that. Others, like Brian Quick and Isaiah Pead, struggled right out of the gate and never really caught up.
Generally speaking, you can get a good read on how these rookies are coming along in training camp.
If coaches are saying things like "(Player X) is getting adjusted to the speed at this level. He comes out here and gets better every day, but it's a process and we're taking it one day at a time," it's probably safe to start worrying that the player he is talking about is in for a rough rookie season.
With Tavon Austin, the Rams are hoping that he is unlike nearly every wide receiver the Rams have taken early in the draft over the last several years. In order to find a rookie wide receiver that you could describe as a true impact player right away, you probably have to go all the way back to Torry Holt.
With Alec Ogletree, the Rams are hoping he turns out just like the last linebacker they took in the first couple of rounds, James Laurinaitis. Granted, he's a different type of player than Laurinaitis, but Ogletree becoming a star from the get-go in the same manner will go a long way toward the Rams defense going from middle of the pack to among the top ten.
As I mentioned in the discussion about the safeties, T.J. McDonald will be another rookie to watch. A starting job in the defensive backfield is his to lose.
Joseph Healy lives in the St. Louis area. His work has been featured at BleacherReport.com, TheFanManifesto.com and Scout.com.
You can follow Joseph on Twitter @Joe_On_Sports.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Isaiah Pead
- James Laurinaitis