<
>

Rams offseason roster review: Seeking improvement in static secondary

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams officially began organized team activities Tuesday and with most of the offseason heavy lifting complete, the roster you see now likely has the vast majority of players who will be on it come the start of the regular season.

With that in mind, we'll spend the next week or so delving into each position group with thoughts on who will start, who might be on the bubble and how the depth chart could shake out.

Position: Secondary

Returning: Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Rodney McLeod, T.J. McDonald, E.J. Gaines, Lamarcus Joyner, Marcus Roberson, Brandon McGee, Mark Barron, Maurice Alexander, Cody Davis, Christian Bryant

Newcomers: Imoan Claiborne, Montell Garner, Jacob Hagen, Jay Hughes

Departures: None

Projected starter(s): CB Jenkins, CB Gaines, Joyner (nickel), FS McLeod, SS McDonald

Battle to watch: Let's put a finer point on the potential position battle set to take place at cornerback. Jenkins figures to have one starting spot locked up. The way the other outside spot shapes up will have a definitive trickle-down effect on how the rest of the picture looks. At the March owners meetings, Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he anticipated Gaines and Johnson battling for the spot opposite Jenkins. After Gaines' impressive rookie season, it's hard to imagine him losing out on that spot but the Rams might feel like they can go different directions to put the three best corners on the field in the nickel. In other words, it's possible Gaines will win the job opposite Jenkins and then kick into the slot in nickel situation. Perhaps more likely, Gaines will stay outside with Joyner in the slot in those nickel packages, leaving Johnson as the fourth corner. Really, the question could be whether the Rams feel better with Johnson on the outside or Joyner on the inside to determine how this all eventually works out.

Outlook: This is a big year for the Rams, especially at cornerback. Jenkins and Johnson are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after the season and my hunch is that they'll attempt to keep Jenkins. If he can cut down on some of the lapses he had in coverage a year ago and continue to make big plays, he'd be worth a future investment. Gaines looks like he's going to be a big part of the team's future one way or another but the Rams will need to find his best fit. Joyner also still figures into the plans as a nickel back capable of helping at safety if need be. Roberson is an X-factor, for whom the Rams have high hopes for down the line. McGee will need to prove himself all over again and Claiborne is an interesting name to watch among the undrafted class. At safety, it's still status quo but it's an important year for McLeod as he heads toward free agency. The Rams think highly of him and would like to keep him around. A big year could mean a nice payday. McDonald was one of the team's most improved players a year ago and should only continue to ascend moving forward. Barron is perhaps the most intriguing player on the entire defense as coordinator Gregg Williams will continue to devise ways to get him on the field more in his second season with the team. Overall, this group should be improved in 2015 but there's still plenty to prove for a unit that allowed too many big plays in 2014.