St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher announced on Sunday in his press conference that the team will be without two of their backup centers, second-year player Barrett Jones and rookie Demetrius Rhaney, for the rest of the preseason. It’s a bit of a blow to a Rams squad that had already been struggling to build up reliable line depth behind former Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph and backup center Tim Barnes.
Jones, a fourth-rounder last year out of Alabama, has been sitting out of practice since the end of July with a back injury which now has required surgery. Fisher said that Jones is “weeks away” from a return, but you’d have to think that placing him on the injured reserve list is not completely out of the equation. Jones missed a large part of 2013 while recovering from a foot injury suffered in college, and he only got a few training camp practices under his belt this year before being sidelined once again. If Jones isn’t likely to dress for games anyway–which seems to be the case considering that Joseph, Barnes, and Mike Person appear to be ahead of him on the depth chart–it may be more beneficial simply to close the door on Jones’s 2014 season and let another player like Travis Bond, Mitchell Van Dyk, or Brandon Washington have his spot on the 53-man roster.
Jones can’t be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list because he started training camp healthy, but the team could elect to use their IR-Designated for Return tag on him. That would mean that he could take the first eight weeks of the season to recover and not occupy a spot on the 53-man roster, then he could return when healthy. That probably won’t happen, however, as they’ll want to save that spot, which can only be used once, for a player who figures more prominently into the plans for 2014.
Rhaney, a rookie from Tennessee State who was the team’s final draft pick this year, was probably destined for the practice squad this year. He was carted off the field during practice earlier this week, but suffered no ligament damage and was diagnosed with a deep bone bruise. Now that the Rams have run out of time to evaluate him, it would be surprising if he was not placed on injured reserve. That will give him time to add strength and continue to learn the system, then push for a roster spot next summer, by which point current starting center Scott Wells may be out of the picture.
If Jones ends up on IR, these injuries whittle the competition for a presumed ninth offensive line spot down to Bond, Van Dyk, and Washington. Second-year tackle Sean Hooey has also been part of the competition, though he didn’t help himself at all with a disastrous performance yesterday. The strongest performer of the three during camp has been the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Bond, who has shown some impressive physicality at guard. Van Dyk, a seventh-rounder from Portland State, has shown potential but has had the predictable growing pains in transitioning from FCS football to the NFL. Washington, who the Rams have spent the past two years developing, could still have value to the team despite the fact that he’s missed nearly the entirety of training camp with an injury.
It’s also possible that the Rams could find someone off the waiver wire to fill the spot. Free agent Harvey Dahl, who was a starter for the Rams from 2011-2013, could be a candidate if he’s healthy.