Rams mailbag: Sorting through the running backs

The St. Louis Rams are in southern California as they prepare to spend two days practicing with the Dallas Cowboys. They're coming off an 18-3 loss to the Oakland Raiders in their preseason opener, but the time with Dallas is the real main event in the eyes of coach Jeff Fisher.

With that in mind, let's get to your questions. As always, you can find me on Twitter @nwagoner. Please use hashtag #RamsMail and submit questions any time.

@nwagoner: That's a good, tough question. I actually liked some of what I saw from undrafted rookie Malcolm Brown against the Raiders, though he had only three touches so the sample size was small. It was the first time in this camp/preseason he'd done much that caught my eye. But he was a guy the Rams liked coming out and gave a decent signing bonus to, so don't be surprised if he at least gets a chance to earn a spot. Isaiah Pead is still in the mix and had a couple of moments against the Raiders. This is his last chance, but if he can prove valuable on special teams, perhaps he sneaks a spot. It's safe to say Todd Gurley, Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham and Chase Reynolds are locked in here. The question then becomes who wins the fifth spot or, perhaps even more important, is there a fifth spot? Remember, the Rams likely will be heavy on offensive linemen and will carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. Perhaps they'll go with one less back than they have in recent years.

@nwagoner: You asked this before the preseason games started but my answer then remains the same: zero. The reality is that the offensive line is a work in progress. Youngsters Jamon Brown and Rob Havenstein had some good moments against the Raiders and some rough ones, but overall they held their own for the two series they were in. I'd say Brown is closer to being ready for the season than Havenstein, but I'm sure they'd be the first to tell you they still have a lot of work to do between now and then. Havenstein had a tendency to play a little high in pass protection against Oakland and that's something he'll need to correct sooner than later. The good news is that there's still a lot of time for them to get up to speed, but I still think it wise to expect some growing pains for the offense as a whole and the line in particular.

@nwagoner: While Dunbar's absence certainly didn't help things in that regard, I would venture to say that plugging Aaron Donald into the lineup and moving Michael Brockers to nose tackle was the biggest factor in the team's improved run defense. Akeem Ayers is a big, physical type who should be fine against the run when he's in there as well. Dunbar still will have a role (it could be to help on running downs) but again, I wouldn't attribute the struggles against the run in the early season last year solely or even mostly to his absence.

@nwagoner: Well, that's one school of thought, I suppose. Of course, another would argue that they've been trying for 14 years and Spanos hasn't had much cooperation, which is what makes him the most qualified to move. And remember, this isn't the NFL, this is the NFL owners making the decision on who lands in Los Angeles. Those owners are going to make that decision based on a variety of factors, but these two are at the top of the list (in order): 1. Whatever most enriches and benefits them individually; 2. The person or people they believe can make it work in Los Angeles long term.

@nwagoner: Even before E.J. Gaines suffered his foot injury, Joyner projected as the team's slot corner with Gaines and Janoris Jenkins on the outside. Without Gaines, that only seems to have solidified Trumaine Johnson outside with Joyner in the slot. Joyner has earned rave reviews from the coaching staff for how he returned this year, but he had some rough moments against the Raiders the other night. Still, he's the most likely inside corner when the Rams go to the nickel heading toward the season.