An exciting change in the NFL’s process of player development was announced on Monday night, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that within the next week, the NFL is expected to approve the increase of the size of practice squads from 8 to 10 players per team. As is the case with every team, this is a significant development, because they’ll have two more spots with which to develop young players. It’s also great for the players—especially the record amount of young players who declared early for this year’s draft—because they’re given a greater opportunity to catch on with a team and have a structured environment in which to develop their skills.
The rules for the practice squad are quite confusing, so here’s a quick rundown. Players are eligible if they do not have an accrued year of NFL experience (which means they are on the active roster for at least six games). If they have an accrued season, they are still practice squad eligible if they were on the 46-man active gameday roster for fewer than nine regular season games during their accrued season(s).
Players are allowed to be on the same team’s practice squad for two seasons. They can spend a third season on the practice squad if the team has 53 players on the active roster at all times. Basically, this means that the player would have to be procedurally released every time the team made a roster move and then re-signed.
Here’s the list of Rams who have practice squad eligibility, including the list of players who have the conditional third-year eligiblity. It’s important to note that all of these players must clear waivers before they can be assigned to the practice squad, so obviously you can’t expect to see early-round draft picks, or maybe even a talented later pick like Michael Sam, get passed over by every team in the league and make it to the squad.
Practice Squad Eligible Players: S Maurice Alexander, TE Alex Bayer, WR Emory Blake, OG Travis Bond, DE Kourtnei Brown, S Christian Bryant, CB Jarrid Bryant, DT Matt Conrath, P Bobby Cowan, S Avery Cunningham, TE Justice Cunningham, S Matt Daniels, OT R.J. Dill, DT Aaron Donald, WR Austin Franklin, CB E.J. Gaines, QB Garrett Gilbert, DT Deantre Harlan, WR Jordan Harris, LB Aaron Hill, OT Sean Hooey, LS Jorgen Hus, C Barrett Jones, FB Kadeem Jones, CB Lamarcus Joyner, RB Tre Mason, LB Johnny Millard, WR T.J. Moe, OL D.J. Morrell, CB Greg Reid, C Demetrius Rhaney, CB Marcus Roberson, OT Greg Robinson, LB Etienne Sabino, DE Michael Sam, LB Pat Schiller, TE Brad Smelley, LB Phillip Steward, RB Trey Watts, DL Ethan Westbrooks, CB Darren Woodard, OL Mitchell Van Dyk, WR Justin Veltung
The expansion of the practice squad could have effects on how the Rams compose their roster. They theoretically could accommodate players from every position group on the squad, and if they wanted to go lineman-heavy on the practice squad, they could avoid having to place second-year offensive lineman Barrett Jones on injured-reserve as he recovers from back surgery which could keep him out into the regular season. In addition, they could choose to put rookie center Demetrius Rhaney, who is expected to miss four to six weeks with a bone bruise, on the practice squad and give him time to recover, as opposed to placing him on injured reserve and saving him for next season.
Also, the expansion gives the team plenty of roster room to have a third quarterback, presumably rookie Garrett Gilbert. Even if they don’t keep him on the 53-man roster, they could attempt to sneak Gilbert through to the practice squad and keep him around as the scout team quarterback, easing the workload of veteran second-stringer Shaun Hill. The roster limits obviously were too much of a constraint in the early part of 2013, as they only kept Sam Bradford and backup Kellen Clemens on the 53-man roster and had no QB on the practice squad. After Bradford’s season-ending injury, the club re-signed the previously released Austin Davis and signed veteran Brady Quinn, but shortly after, Quinn suffered a season-ending injury and was never replaced.
Most importantly, the Rams have built up a wealth of talented but raw depth at several positions (wide receiver, cornerback, and defensive end) and have depth concerns at several others (running back, offensive line, and linebacker), so this setup will allow them to both develop the players who have legitimate changes of developing into impact NFL players while also providing themselves with insurance policies at the positions they need protection at. Guys like wide receivers Austin Franklin and Emory Blake and cornerbacks Greg Reid and Marcus Roberson, who previously may have been competing for a single practice squad spot at their position, now have a shot at gaining a spot even if their competition has one as well.
The ultimate step for the NFL’s player development is going to be instituting a legitimate developmental league where young players can hone their skills in an authentic game environment. But until then, this is a positive step which will ensure that fewer talented players with potential slip through the cracks.