– With the Rams having a day off from practice and meetings today, they can take a minute to rest and relax. Because when they come back to practice on Thursday, the roster will look drastically different and the real competition will begin. That’s because the team’s free agents will be able to step on to the field for the first time since signing their respective deals. Included in that group are the guys they have re-signed such as Danny Amendola and Jacob Bell. But for the purpose of this exercise, we’ll take a look at the nine, count ’em nine, unrestricted free agents the team has signed and where they figure to fit in now and this season for the team.
– S Quintin Mikell – He was the team’s top free agent target and they wasted no time signing him to a lucrative deal. There’s little doubt that he’ll plug in as a starter right away. He’s familiar with coach Steve Spagnuolo’s defense so his learning curve won’t be sharp. The only question is whether he’ll play free or strong safety though the difference in this system is really pretty negligible. Regardless, Mikell will be one of the cornerstones and leaders of the Rams’ defense in 2011.
– G Harvey Dahl – Like Mikell, this is a no brainer. Dahl was signed to step in, start and make an impact at right guard from day one. He’ll do just that when he steps on the field tomorrow. Dahl is a big, physical guard with a nasty disposition. He should immediately bolster the Rams’ running game and could have a very positive effect on right tackle Jason Smith.
– WR Mike Sims-Walker – Walker signed a one-year deal with the Rams for not a lot of money but built with quite a few incentives. To reach those incentive, he’ll have to produce. In a crowded wide receiver group, Sims-Walker might be the most accomplished in the mix. He has 14 touchdowns the past two seasons playing for a team that centers its offense on running the ball and then running it some more in Jacksonville. With a more pass-oriented offense and a more talented and accurate quarterback, Sims-Walker could have a breakout season. He might not run with the top unit right away but he figures to hold the role of a starter before all is said and done.
– LB Zac Diles – Diles doesn’t have the name value of some of the other signees but he should also figure into the starting lineup right away. Spagnuolo says the Rams want to see Diles play both outside positions and then put him in where he fits best. Most likely, he’ll get his first crack at the weak side though the WIL and SAM are fairly interchangeable in this defense much like the safety spots.
– DT Justin Bannan – In hopes of getting better against the run, the Rams brought in this big body to help occupy blockers. Bannan will probably be plugged right into the starting lineup as well, holding down the position next to Fred Robbins on first and second down.
– RB Jerious Norwood – While he might not be the guy that would be asked to handle the load in the event of an injury to starter Steven Jackson, Norwood brings a different element to the Rams’ offense. Known for his blazing speed, Norwood will almost certainly take over the kickoff return duties and get some touches on third downs during the game. All of that, assuming of course, that his knee is completely healthy.
– LB Brady Poppinga – He projects as a strong side linebacker with good size and run stuffing ability. It’s likely he’ll compete with Na’il Diggs and David Vobora for the starting spot on the strong side and work his way into a special teams role. Like Norwood, Poppinga also must prove he has overcome the injury issues that kept him out last year.
– CB Al Harris – Will serve in almost a player/coach role. Harris has experience under Spagnuolo, knows the defense and has played a lot of snaps in the NFL. He is coming off an injury but has the type of press cover skills the Rams covet. He could figure in immediately as a nickel back. His value to the defense will work itself out in camp but his value in the locker room will be felt immediately.
– DT Daniel Muir – Like Bannan, Muir comes with a reputation for occupying blockers and stuffing the run. He figures to step into the rotation right away and provide depth up the middle.
– The Rams may not quite be done in free agency yet as they are continuing to pursue another running back to add even more depth at that position. But it’s clear they have added quality players to the starting lineup and improved the roster top to bottom. This is as active an offseason as they’ve had in a long time and while the dividends from that activity remain to be seen, there’s no doubt the Rams are doing everything they can to win and win now.
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