NFL Wire News

Jones one of three competing for Rams’ starting center job

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EARTH CITY, Mo. — The St. Louis Rams selected four offensive linemen in this year’s draft, and it’s possible two will be starters on the right side when the season opens.

Second-round pick Rob Havenstein has been working with the first unit at right tackle in OTAs, and third-round pick Jamon Brown has been doing the same at right guard.

It’s possible free-agent addition Garrett Reynolds could end up starting at guard, but either way the right side will feature newcomers after right tackle Joe Barksdale signed with San Diego and right guard Davin Joseph wasn’t re-signed.

There will also be a new starter at center after the March release of Scott Wells, and while none of the current candidates is a rookie, there isn’t much game experience either. That’s why line coach Paul Boudreau has been rotating all three players — Barrett Jones, Tim Barnes and Demetrius Rhaney — during OTAs on a daily basis among the first, second and third units.

A fourth-round pick in 2013, Jones arrived in St. Louis with a Lisfranc injury to his foot suffered in the SEC Championship Game that required surgery. He played just three games as a rookie, and then played only seven last season after undergoing back surgery.

Barnes has been with the Rams since 2011 and played 45 games, mostly on special teams. He did get his feet wet as a starter for four games in 2013 when Wells was injured. Rhaney was a seventh-round pick last year and missed the entire season after suffering a knee injury in training camp.

Obviously, whoever starts on Sept. 13 against Seattle won’t have a lot of games under his belt.

Said Jones, “We have three good candidates from what I see, and I think it’s pretty open. You’ve got to make the most of your opportunities for sure. We’re all working hard, and grinding. On different days we get work with different groups.”

During the Rams’ first full week of three OTAs, each had a practice working with the first unit, and each also worked with the twos and threes.

“As far as I know it will continue that way until somebody says otherwise,” Jones concluded.

Head coach Jeff Fisher said, “We’re not going to make a decision real early. We’ll let them all play. We’re rotating them. They’re all getting opportunities to work with (quarterback) Nick (Foles), so he’s familiar, not only with the exchanges, but also the communication. We’ll make that decision when somebody shows us he’s earned the job.”

Barnes entered the offseason as a free agent after the Rams elected not to tender him as a restricted free agent. He talked to a few teams, but ended up back with the Rams on a one-year deal worth just over $710,000, significantly less than what the restricted tender of $1.542 million would have been.

He has described taking “a do or die” approach to this offseason and training camp, knowing that it’s possible he could be the starter, backup, or off the roster.

Rhaney is the wild card in the competition. He worked to add at least five pounds of muscle in the offseason, and is comfortable with some of the zone blocking philosophy that has been added to the offense because it’s what he experienced at Tennessee State.

Jones said the new concepts on offense are working well because the coaches “have done a great job of making things simple for us. Everyone’s on the same page. There was a learning curve, but that’s why we have this time together now. We’re right on schedule and we’re learning a lot every day.”

He also hopes what he learned from Wells will help in his quest to win the starting job.

Said Jones, “He embodied the word veteran. I learned a lot from him on how to approach the game week by week. How to break down film and learn the things that make you a pro; that separates you in this league. I’m very grateful for that. After he left, I texted him to say how much I appreciated all the time he took and taught me some of the tricks of the trade.”

The mental side of being the center and making the calls are also important aspects of playing the position.

As Fisher noted, “It’s really important. Scott did a really good job with it. Scott was really smart. There’s no indications at this point that there’s going to be limitations from the mental standpoint with the guys that are competing. They all understand.”

NOTES, QUOTES

–With the Rams in their second week of OTAs, six other NFL teams will be holding their three-day minicamps. Next week, when the Rams wrap up their OTAs, 25 other teams will have minicamps.

It has become head coach Jeff Fisher’s philosophy to not have a minicamp. This year, the Rams entered the offseason with a new offensive coordinator (Frank Cignetti), a new quarterback (Nick Foles) and with the certainty of having three new starters on the offensive line, two of whom could be rookies.

A minicamp would result in three additional practices, but Fisher said he never reconsidered his stance on conducting one.

“No, I didn’t think it was necessary,” Fisher insisted. “I think when you look actually at the veteran minicamp, it’s really no different than an OTA. You’re allowed to go on the field once. You get to have a walk-through. You get to keep them in the building for 12 hours rather than six. I personally think that’s too much and too long during the offseason. There’s a distinct difference between what we can do with the rookies and what we can do with the veterans. There’s a six-hour time limit window on OTA day and two hours on the field. There’s no restrictions with the rookies.

“We’re getting a lot of extra time with the rookies in the afternoon. We’re getting caught up. I’ve just always been one of those that has been opposed to the mandatory minicamp, especially back in the days when you’ve got to go on the field twice a day. It just made no sense to me that you’re taking professional athletes and making them practice twice a day in the middle of the offseason. It didn’t make sense, probably because I hated it (when I was a player).”


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