Rams camp preview: Five veterans to watch

Jake Long (Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS — We are now officially one week away from the start of the Rams training camp and we’ll be looking at some of the players and some of the storylines to watch at Rams Park.

We’ll start with a quick look at five veterans to keep an eye on over the next few weeks as the Rams prepare for the regular season. I’m leaving a certain polarizing quarterback off this list because I’m sure he’ll have plenty written about him this season. Yes, it’s a make-or-break season for him and the Rams’ success this fall likely depends on how he fares.

That said, here are five OTHER guys to keep an eye on…

Brian Quick

Will this be the season Quick breaks out? Rams fans had been hoping for a breakthrough during Quick’s first years, but the second-round pick (No. 33 overall) in the 2012 draft has largely been a non-factor.

The Appalachian State product had 11 catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie in 2012 and then 18 receptions for 302 yards and two scores in 2013. So, in 31 career games, he has a total of 29 catches for 458 yards and four touchdowns.

Quick drew some strong praise from his offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, during OTAs.

“I’ll tell you what, probably the most improved player I’ve seen is Brian Quick,” Schottenheimer said. “He’s doing a great job. Another guy that we’re giving an opportunity to. He’s competing for playing time. He’s made the most of his opportunities. … He’s stepped up and again — like Kenny (Britt) — and made a lot of big plays for us.”

We’ll see how that translates during training camp and beyond.

Isaiah Pead

Another Rams second-round pick in 2012, the 50th overall pick in that draft has produced less than Quick in his first two seasons.

But, like Quick, Pead drew praise from Schottenheimer as well as special teams coordinator John Fassel during OTAs.

“He’s really getting better,” Schottenheimer said. “I think getting comfort in the system helps. Terrific match-up problem for the defense coming out of the backfield and he’s made some big plays for us.”

Pead has just 17 carries and 75 yards rushing in 25 career games. He also has 94 yards receiving. Still, he wants to show he can make an impact as a running back, even with a crowded backfield including Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham and rookie Tre Mason.

“Last year was last year and this is a new year,” Pead told reporters during OTAs. “I'm focusing on playing running back. Helping on special teams also but my main focus is getting back there in the backfield.”

Austin Pettis

Pettis, a third-rounder in 2011, pre-dates the Jeff Fisher and Les Snead era of Rams football. That puts the 26 year old wide receiver in a bit of a precarious situation going into the final season on his rookie contract.

He’s been a steady contributor in his first three season, racking up 27 receptions, then 30 and 38 while improving on his receiving yardage each season. He had four touchdowns in 2012 and then four in 2013.

Still, his three-year totals of 95 catches, 916 yards and eight touchdowns represent one strong season’s worth of production, rather than 42 games.

Can Pettis emerge as a difference-maker on a roster with Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt and Quick? We’ll see.

Jake Long

Long’s recovery from his ACL injury will be one of the keys to the 2014 campaign.

The Rams should go into the season with a strong offensive line with Long at left tackle, rookie Greg Robinson at left guard, Scott Wells at center, Rodger Saffold at right guard and Joe Barksdale at right tackle.

That looks like a strong group, but there’s not much established depth behind those five. So if Long isn’t ready early on, St. Louis would have to shift someone to that spot, like Saffold, and then find a new right guard.

The Rams would be fine with Saffold at left tackle, but the domino effect that missing Long would have on the rest of the line could cause trouble.

With Long, Saffold and Wells all having some injury issues in the recent past, the health of the offensive line this season will be a big key.

Ray Ray Armstrong

The “Boom King” was one of the more entertaining players on the roster last season as an undrafted rookie making the transition from safety to linebacker while making an impact on special teams.

But can Armstrong emerge as a contributor at linebacker this season?

The Rams already have veteran James Laurinaitis and youngster Alec Ogletree entrenched at two of the linebacker spots and brought back Jo-Lonn Dunbar for another season. Dunbar’s experience will help with new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ scheme but it’s possible Armstrong could take playing time away from him.

Armstrong could give the Rams another speedy option at linebacker who could cause havoc in Williams’ attacking defense.

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.

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