While the Rams offense was undergoing something of an overhaul during the offseason, the Rams defense added only a few pieces to a group that seems poised for a breakthrough in 2013.
The defense moved to the middle of the pack in points and yards allowed in 2012 and with a second year in coach Jeff Fisher’s defense pairing with the addition of a defensive coordinator in the form of newly-hired Tim Walton, the group is looking to crack the top 10 or better in 2013.
Perhaps no position on the team was more productive in 2012 than the defensive ends. It’s also a group that could well boast the most depth on the team heading into this year’s training camp.
Starters Long and Quinn both hit double digits in sacks last year as Long led the way with 11.5 while Quinn had 10.5, his first double-digit production in his short two-year career.
That duo will again look to wreak havoc on opposing passers and continue to complement each other.
Behind them, the Rams have a pair of versatile ends capable of lining up all over the line in Hayes and Sims. Hayes was a revelation for the defense in 2012, racking up seven sacks in a backup role with many of those coming from stepping inside on passing downs.
Hayes is also the Rams’ best run defender at the position and should continue to get plenty of playing time after signing a three-year deal for less money to stay in St. Louis back in March.
Sims is entering a contract year and could earn another deal should he continue to make the strides he’s made each year he’s been in the league. He had three sacks last year and is also solid against the run.
With those four in place, it could be hard for youngsters such as Brodine (who spent time on the practice squad last year), Washington and Rivers to break onto the roster. But defensive line coach Mike Waufle has a knack for getting the most out of his players and it’s not outrageous to think that one of the youngsters could do enough to force the Rams to keep an additional end.
With Brockers and Langford all set to start in the middle of the line, the Rams could have a bit more competition for the backup tackle jobs than they do at end.
Brockers is entering his second season and with an ankle injury well behind him, he’s someone the Rams are expecting big things from in year two.
Langford took some time to acclimate to his new position inside but got better each week and was a solid contributor by the end of the season. He should be poised to take another step forward in his second season both at the position and in the system.
Behind that duo, the Rams leaned most heavily on Cudjo in 2012. The powerful Cudjo flashed his potential with a sack and 39 tackles in his spot duty which was enough to earn him a contract extension in the offseason.
Conrath was one of the team’s most intriguing undrafted rookies last year but was slowed by an early season injury and only appeared in one game. He’s healthy again and figures to again battle for a roster spot in this year’s camp.
Goebel and Lapuaho will get a chance to compete as well.
For the many young players looking to make the roster, the linebacker spot might provide the most bountiful opportunity of any position on the team.
While Laurinaitis, Dunbar and Ogletree will almost certainly handle the three starting jobs, the Rams could have a strong competition for any and all backup jobs.
Laurinaitis returns in the middle and will continue to hold that spot down for the long term after signing a lucrative contract extension before the season opener last year. Dunbar is entering a contract year after a solid first season with the Rams.
The Rams used the second of their two first-round draft choices on the athletic and talented Ogletree and he figures to step in right away next to Laurinaitis and Dunbar.
Beyond that group, only Hull brings any measure of meaningful NFL game experience. He’s played in 28 games in three years and is a valuable contributor on special teams in addition to a versatile backup at the linebacker spots.
The Rams are expected to add some veteran depth this week in the form of veteran Will Witherspoon, who can play any of the linebacker spots and was once the starter in the middle in St. Louis.
Brown was promoted to the active roster in late November and appeared in a game against San Francisco. He could also be a factor in the end competition, as he’s worked there some in the past and pass rush is his greatest asset.
Williams spent time on the practice squad after returning to the Rams. He was a former Rams’ draft pick but had bounced around since being released.
Armstrong, Bates, Stewart and Lebeau bring intriguing resumes that could translate to NFL roster spots with strong camp showings.
As is always the case with backup linebackers, how those players behind the starters fare on special teams will go a long way in determining who lands the final roster spots at the position.
Much like the other aforementioned positions, the Rams seem well set at the cornerback spot in terms of their top three or four guys.
Finnegan and Jenkins return to handle the outside and Johnson returns as the third corner, a role he primarily handled for the second half of the 2012 season.
Youngsters Jenkins and Johnson will look to take another step forward in their second year and the dependable Finnegan looks to return from a hamstring injury that slowed him late in the year and during the offseason program.
The rookie McGee is the odds-on favorite to be the team’s fourth corner and could potentially work in dime packages.
Woodard, Steeples, Thomas and Martin will get an opportunity to compete and would be well served to perform on special teams.
Amongst the defensive groups, this position comes with far more uncertainty than any of the other spots. Stewart, McLeod and McDonald got most of the work with the first team during the offseason program but which players will earn starting gigs will have to play out during camp and the preseason.
Stewart is the most experienced Ram of the group, having essentially a full season as a starter under his belt back in 2011. He was slowed by injury last year though and didn’t get many opportunities.
McLeod earned a roster spot last year and was the team’s leading tackler on special teams. He has good speed on the back end and could figure into the starting mix with a strong preseason.
The Rams used a third-round pick on McDonald and the big, physical son of former Niners great Tim McDonald did enough to earn work with the first team during the offseason program. He, too, should figure into the competition for a starting job during camp.
Giordano was a late addition to the roster and will debut for the Rams during camp. He spent the past two seasons in Oakland, mostly as a starter, and posted 121 tackles and seven interceptions for the Raiders. He’s the most experienced of all the safeties and should compete for a spot and bring some leadership to the group.
Pointer is versatile enough to play corner and safety and that versatility should serve him well in competition for a spot.
Davis and Smith also could figure into the mix.