Left guard decision looms for Rams

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Expected competition for most of the Rams’ starting jobs never really materialized at most of the anticipated positions. Most, that is, except for left guard.

While position battles are a time-honored training-camp tradition, some battles such as running back crystallized almost before they even got started. But the left guard job has remained an ongoing issue with Chris Williams and Shelley Smith taking turns.

Three games into the preseason schedule and with the training-camp portion of practices over, Rams coach Jeff Fisher hinted Sunday that some closure could finally come this week.

“We’re getting there,’’ Fisher said. “We may be ready to make an announcement this week at some point."

What has been a two-horse race really since the spring remains one as the Rams close in on the start of the regular season. Throughout camp, the offense has been fortunate to have mostly the same players on the offensive line healthy and available each day.

Right tackle Rodger Saffold suffered a dislocated left shoulder, which cost him a couple of weeks, but left tackle Jake Long, center Scott Wells and right guard Harvey Dahl have been together enough to forge at least some semblance of cohesion.

That group hasn’t consistently had one piece in the left guard slot, though, as Williams and Smith have played musical chairs.

In practice, Williams and Smith spent much of the time trading off, with each getting plenty of work with the first-team offense. That balance was mostly unharmed by Saffold’s injury as Joe Barksdale stepped in at right tackle, though Williams has been getting work -- and got a little against Denver -- as a backup option at that spot.

Williams’ versatility is what made him an intriguing option for the Rams when they signed him on Oct. 22 of last year. He played in three games near the end of last season, splitting time at right guard with Smith in a similar setup after a season-ending injury to Dahl late in the year.

For his career, Williams is the more experienced option of the two with 38 starts, including 20 at left guard, 11 at right tackle and seven at left tackle.

Smith has played guard exclusively for the Rams since they picked him up following the final round of cuts in 2012. He made six starts last year, four at left guard and the previously mentioned pair at right guard.

“Chris has been moving around, which is good,’’ Fisher said. “The flexibility at the left guard spot and then a little bit of right tackle here and there; it’s good. Shelley’s moving around a little bit, playing left guard, right guard. We’ve got depth there.’’

The presence of depth is not the primary concern for the Rams, however. Theoretically, the Rams could go with a rotation like they did with the duo at the end of last season, but for continuity sake, it would make sense to make a decision and go with it.

Neither has separated in any clear terms based on playing time in the first three preseason games, either.

Williams has played 17, 11 and 28 snaps in the first three games, starting Games 1 and 3 and working most of those plays at left guard with just a little bit of right tackle mixed in.

Smith has played more snaps with counts of 35, 28 and 16 but he’s also spent more time with the backups than Williams, particularly in the preseason opener against Cleveland.

Following Smith’s lone start against Green Bay, Fisher didn’t exactly offer overwhelming praise when asked about Smith’s performance, saying simply that Smith was "OK" before moving on.

According to Pro Football Focus’ ratings, Williams has allowed a sack, a hit and three hurries while Smith has been responsible for a sack and two hurries. Much like the competition for the backup quarterback job, neither player has grabbed the job by the throat and made the decision a foregone conclusion.

Despite the lack of overwhelming evidence in either direction, Williams probably fits the bill a bit better than Smith given his size advantage (6-foot-6, 320 pounds versus Smith’s 6-4, 297 pounds) and experience level. The guess here is that Williams ultimately wins out.