EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With the St. Louis Rams set to open training camp at the end of the month, we'll spend the rest of this week taking a look at four of the position battles worth watching as camp approaches.
The Rams report for training camp on July 29.
The position: Strong side linebacker
Outlook: This is a classic battle of veteran incumbent versus newly-added free agent. Dunbar has been the starter the past couple of seasons though his snaps dropped precipitously in 2014. The team opted to keep Dunbar around after signing Ayers to a two-year deal worth $6 million with the idea of creating more competition and depth at linebacker. Ayers' status and contract alone would seem to make him the favorite to win the job, but that doesn't even take into account the high praise he earned from coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in the spring. The Rams view Ayers as a player capable of providing more pass rush from the strong side position as well as the ability to be physical and run with tight ends. Dunbar has more experience in this defense, and his leadership in the locker room is a valuable commodity. He also has had some excellent performances against the run, though most of those came before last season. Both players will probably play but with safety Mark Barron also figuring into the mix when the team uses its "big nickel" formation, there might not be many snaps for the loser of this battle.
Projection: Fisher has consistently said he will let Dunbar and Ayers battle it out for the position, but it would seem that Ayers has a fairly clear advantage heading into training camp. Ayers' ability to rush the passer and play all three downs will likely earn him the starting job and more snaps than Dunbar. Dunbar, meanwhile, will probably find his way on to the field in certain packages and situations while finally giving the Rams some much-needed depth at all three linebacker spots.