ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rams right tackle Jason Smith finds himself battling for playing time this summer with free agent signee Barry Richardson.
That's just fine with Smith, a former No. 2 overall draft pick who is working with the second string and did not start in the Rams' preseason opener at Indianapolis Sunday.
"Everything that's happening to me as far as, I think the word is demoted, to the twos or not working with the first string that's just great," Smith said. "I needed to earn the job. I needed to be accountable when I'm on the field and in the huddle."
Given where he was selected in the 2009 NFL draft, most players would expect to be entrenched as a starter. But the 6-foot-5, 308-pound Smith, who has had concussion and other injuries, has started just 26 of a possible 48 games.
Smith said he feels "great" and still believes he has what it takes to be a starting tackle in the NFL.
"Physically, I have all the attributes that I need to be successful," Smith said. "A lot of the game is mental; a lot of it is technique.
"I've had to learn the hard way. Lord's will, I'll get the technique down and be productive."
As for Richardson, he admits he was surprised to be on the field when the Rams (No. 28 in the AP Pro32) and Colts kicked off at Indianapolis on Sunday.
"I'm a little surprised, yeah," said the 6-6, 319-pound Richardson. "They called me out there and I was ready."
As it turned out, Smith was probably on the field longer than Richardson against the Colts. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said each player will get an equal chance to earn the starting job.
"We're trying to keep it pretty much even," Fisher said. "Any time you create a competitive situation, you want to be able to evaluate if fairly. We're splitting the reps on the practice field. We haven't thought about how we'll go in a game per se. But, there's plenty of reps in the game."
Richardson said he was not promised anything when he signed with the Rams but a new start after spending time with the NFL team across the state.
"It's a new beginning," said Richardson, a former sixth-round pick who had started 32 straight games for Kansas City. "New offense, new head coach new whole management team. That was really appetizing when I thought about it.
"I came in here and they told me they wanted me to be an anchor and provide depth at the tackle position and that would be my role. There's always a chance to be a starter in this league. Chance of injury is 100 percent."
Smith said Richardson already has become something of a mentor for him.
"He's a great veteran," Smith said. "He's taught me a lot of things. I'm learning a lot of things from him."
Fisher said there is no timetable to select the starter.
"Each situation is different," Fisher said. "But you obviously want to make a decision sooner than later."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.