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Don't overlook Demetrius Rhaney in Rams' center competition

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- From the outside, it would be easy to overlook Demetrius Rhaney's candidacy to win the St. Louis Rams' starting center job.

After all, Rhaney is one of three candidates for the gig along with Tim Barnes, who has actually started NFL games, and Barrett Jones, who came to the NFL with one of the most impressive college resumes of any lineman in more than a decade. Rhaney hasn't so much as been on an active NFL roster for a game, let alone played in one.

So when Rams coach Jeff Fisher mentions Rhaney as a real option to claim the job, it'd be easy to dismiss that part of the conversation as mere lip service. That would be a mistake. At the March owners meetings in Phoenix, Fisher declared that the Rams have confidence in Rhaney, and Fisher has since reiterated that on multiple occasions.

It's been backed up by actions, too, as Rhaney has joined Barnes and Jones in taking turns working with the first-team offense during organized team activities. Rhaney is also confident in his ability to claim the position.

"It’s going to be a nice fight," Rhaney said. "The position is open, but right now we are just focused on learning the plays, learning what (offensive line) coach (Paul) Boudreau likes, what coach Fisher likes, cheering each other on and getting through OTAs."

That Rhaney is getting through OTAs at all is a good sign after his rookie season came to an abrupt end last preseason. Rhaney suffered a knee injury during a training camp practice and landed on injured reserve. He spent the season learning the system and trying to get stronger.

"It was tough," Rhaney said. "I had never been injured to where I couldn’t play through it, so that was my first time ever sitting out. It doesn’t feel good to sit on the sideline, but I had to be there to cheer my teammates on. They were focused on me learning the plays and getting stronger and banking on me coming back this year and competing for a spot."

Rhaney is doing just that, and though he doesn't have the experience or time in the system of Barnes and Jones, he does bring a few intriguing elements that have him firmly in the mix for the job. Rhaney said he's fully healthy and added five pounds of muscle in the offseason. The team now lists him at 6-foot-2, 301 pounds.

Rhaney is also considered the most athletic of the three contenders and could prove the best fit in a tweaked offensive scheme that calls for more zone blocking concepts.

"I’m playing fast like I was in college, so I feel great," Rhaney said. "I’m excited about what’s coming up. The stuff we are running now is similar to what I ran in college, so that’s probably why I’m so happy about it. Once I get the plays completely all the way down, I’ll feel real good. It’s exactly what I did in college. My quickness and stuff, that’s what made me stand out more."