Breaking down the Rams' roster: defense

ST. LOUIS — The Rams defense will be under new leadership in 2014 with the addition of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and figures to be one of the best in the NFL. Here's a quick look at the St. Louis defense going into the regular season.

Defensive line (9)
Robert Quinn
Chris Long
Michael Brockers
Kendall Langford
Aaron Donald
William Hayes
Eugene Sims
Alex Carrington
Ethan Westbrooks

The strength of the Rams defense got even stronger since last season with the additions of first-round pick Donald, free agent signee Carrington and undrafted rookie Westbrooks. … Quinn established himself as a legitimate defensive player of year candidate in 2013 when he racked up 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles. … Long has been a steady performer over the years with at least 8.5 sacks in each of the past four seasons, including a career-high 13 in 2011. … Brockers is just 23 years old and entering his third NFL season as a starter. He had 5.5 sacks a year ago and feels better this season after dropping some weight. … Langford has started 32 games the past two seasons and had five sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 2013. … Donald, the No. 13 overall pick in the 2014 draft, earned about every award possible for a defensive player during his senior season at Pittsburgh. Now he’s expected to join a disruptive defensive line rotation in St. Louis. … Hayes has 12 sacks and 21 tackles for loss over the past two seasons as a reserve defensive end. He and Sims are strong backups for Quinn and Long. … Carrington is a former third-round pick who signed with the Rams this offseason after four years in Buffalo. … Westbrooks, an undrafted rookie, was the biggest surprise of the preseason for the Rams, emerging as a disruptive force as a defensive end or defensive tackle and forcing his way onto the 53-man roster.

Linebackers (5)
James Laurinaitis
Alec Ogletree
Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Ray Ray Armstrong
Daren Bates

The Rams only kept five linebackers on their 53-man roster but it’s possible they could add a sixth for special teams purposes if they find somebody they like. … Laurinaitis has been the rock in the middle of the Rams defense for the past five seasons, playing 16 games every season and leading the team in tackles every year except 2013. … Ogletree should have gotten defensive rookie of the year consideration a year ago after the first-round pick from Georgia led St. Louis in tackles and added six forced fumbles and a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown. He should be even better this fall if he gets a chance to rush the quarterback more frequently in Gregg Williams’ aggressive scheme. … Which Dunbar will we see in 2014? In 2012, his first year with the Rams, he was an impact outside ‘backer who had 4.5 sacks and 16 TFLs. But in 2013 he missed four games with a suspension and wasn’t much of a factor. Being reunited with Williams, his defensive coordinator in New Orleans, should help. … Armstrong and Bates both made an impact as undrafted rookies playing special teams a year ago and the Rams will need them to excel in those roles again.

Defensive backs (10)
Janoris Jenkins
Trumaine Johnson
T.J. McDonald
Rodney McLeod
Lamarcus Joyner
E.J. Gaines
Brandon McGee
Maurice Alexander
Cody Davis
Marcus Roberson

The biggest question for the Rams defense in 2014 will be whether the secondary can take the next step and be more consistent than they’ve been in recent seasons. It’s still a young group but Jenkins, Johnson and McLeod are all entering their third seasons. … Jenkins had four interceptions and three touchdowns as a rookie in 2012 but had only one interception last season. … Johnson had three interceptions a year ago when he started 12 of 16 games, but he will miss the first few weeks this year after suffering a knee injury in the preseason. … McDonald only played in 10 games as a rookie because of an injury but showed promise as a safety. He’ll be expected to make a bigger impact in his second season and the Rams need him to. … McLeod is an undersized safety who has worked his way from undrafted rookie free agent to 16-game starter. … The Rams traded up to select the diminutive Joyner in the second round of the draft. His skill set fits what St. Louis is looking for in a nickel cornerback and his feisty attitude is a welcomed addition to the D. … Gaines slipped until the sixth round of the draft despite a strong resume while at Missouri. Now, after a strong preseason, he could end up starting the season opener with Johnson out. … Rams coach Jeff Fisher praised McGee during OTAs as a player who was stepping up going into his second season. McGee has shown glimpses of that this preseason but has also struggled with injuries. … Alexander, a fourth-round pick, is a feel-good story as a local kid who used to clean the Dome after games, but he’ll need to show he can make the transition from Utah State to the NFL and emerge as a special teams contributor and backup safety. … That’s what Davis did in 2013 when he played in 12 games as a rookie after the Rams signed him as an undrafted free agent. … Roberson joins Westbrooks as the only undrafted free agent rookie defensive players to make the Rams’ initial 53-man roster. He was a solid player at Florida when healthy and gives St. Louis another bigger option at cornerback besides Johnson.

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

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