(FootballStL) -- Observations/news and notes from Rams training camp:
-- The Rams had on shoulder pads today and did a little bit of hitting (though they didn't actually tackle people to the ground) in this afternoon's practice. At the end when they started to do some 11-on-11 it got fairly chippy where guys were going after others and starting some pushing and shoving. This is nothing at all out of the ordinary for training camp. You've got guys who are competing for jobs out there and it gets the competitive nature out of them at times. This happens in just about every training camp on a fairly regular basis throughout the NFL.
-- There were a few national writers who were at training camp today and one of them said to me during the 11-on-11 "is that Jo-Lonn Dunbar starting at outside linebacker?" and I said "yes that is, opposite Mario Haggan" and he responded "oh, that's not good". Obviously the perception from the outside, and many inside is that outside linebacker is not an asset to this football team right now.
To be honest, it's very hard to tell who is really making stride and impressing because, let's face it, they're not in full pads and no one is really going full speed. You can't tell who is doing what until you start getting into these preseason games. And even then a lot of opponents don't show you everything they've got so it's difficult to tell then, too, who is really impressing and who is just a product of the situation. But, having said that, outside linebacker is the one area of this defense under the most scrutiny. Dunbar and Haggan don't have long track records of consistently productive play. Dunbar, in 4 seasons with the Saints, played in 53 games and had just 159 tackles. That's less than 40 tackles a season. Now he did have his best season by far and away in 2011 with 79 stops...57 of them solo...and 22 assists.
Haggan, meanwhile, is coming off a 2011 with Denver in which he had just 23 tackles in 16 games (though he is just one year removed from an 87-tackle season with the Broncos). Defensive tackles Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers should make it very difficult for linemen and fullbacks to get to middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. But the outside linebackers need to make plays too. And that's one area where, right now, the Rams have the least track record of success.
-- Speaking of MLB James Laurinaitis, I expect a monster season from him. He's not only a beast in his own right (376 stops in 3 years; 142 of them last year)...but he's never had the help in front of him that he's going to get this season from Langford and Brockers. I don't even think we know what this man is capable of if he gets a good supporting cast. You could be talking about one of the elite defenders in the entire NFL. Not just middle linebackers, not just linebackers in general, but one of the best overall defenders in the league. Remember, he's been dominant with little help. The Rams have made it a priority to get him some more help this season and beyond. He's been all over the field in training camp so far and is next in line to get a contract extension similar to what DE Chris Long got just this week.
-- I really like what the Rams have so far in RB Isaiah Pead, the 2nd round pick out of Cincinnati. He's got a burst that many running backs don't have and he's a very good receiver out of the backfield too. But what separates him from some of the other guys in the league that have those qualities (and there are many) is that he's a willing blocker. If you're going to be a 3rd down back -- and with Steven Jackson here that's exactly what Pead will be -- you have to be able to protect your quarterback from blitzing linebackers. If you aren't willing and let someone go by you...guess what...Sam Bradford's going to be on the ground holding his ankle again and this season could be lost very early. Pead seems like he enjoys taking on blitzing linebackers and has pride in that aspect of his game. Again, as I said earlier, it's too early to suggest he'll be any good at it. We aren't in game situations yet...but he's willing to do it. That's a lot more than most speed oriented running backs can say.